(originally published in The
Jerusalem Post, February 2004)
WWW Q & A
I’d like to thank those readers who have been sending
comments and questions. Issues of general interest will be
addressed periodically in these columns.
Q: Looking thru our stats I see an often-visited
page is something called robots.txt. What is it?
A: This is simply a document that instructs
SEs (search engines) how to respond to the pages on your
site. SEs dispatch “robots” (also sometimes called “spiders”)
to visit sites and collect data. The robots.txt file tells
them which files or folders they should access and which
they should ignore. Additionally, specific robots can be
instructed not to catalog the site at all. (All sites should
place a robots.txt file in their root directories; failing
to do so will generate a lot of errors in the user logs.)
Q: Is it better to have a site that’s dynamic
[generated from a database backend] or static [composed
of HTML pages]?
A: This depends on the sort of site desired.
A company “brochure” site or informational site
with text that changes infrequently can be served well by
static pages. Development costs are typically lower, and
static design can give greater latitude in customizing the
appearance of each page. Static pages can also be preferable
for SE ranking and bookmarking purposes.
For a site using data that changes from minute-to-minute
-- or even daily -- a database backend is necessary. Examples
include e-commerce sites, or sites like Egged
Buses or Ben-Gurion
Airport, where visitors require constantly updated schedules.
Also, some sites receive data, such as orders, which must
be entered directly into a database.
Many large sites use a combination of static pages for their
basic information and dynamic pages that generate time-dependant
Q: I want to make my site useful for visitors, so
should I offer a bulletin board or chat room?
A: These can be very valuable methods of
encouraging a strong virtual community with regular return
traffic. But make sure your site is well developed and getting
a good amount of traffic before including this sort of feature.
There’s nothing as sad as a bulletin board with just
three stale messages, especially if those messages are weeks
or months old. The same caution applied to guest books, too.
And once you do implement any of these features, be sure
to monitor your feedback regularly; you’ll need to
purge the inevitable spam and other unsavory “contributions”.
Q: Why is the site design process so expensive/lengthy?
A: Both price and schedule vary widely
among design firms. Much depends on the extent and type of
- Some bare-bone “packages” involve simply
cutting and pasting your content into pre-designed templates.
These deals will often include hosting on the designer’s
own server. Advantages: rock-bottom
cost; minimal time invested in communicating with the designer. Disadvantages: servers
can perform erratically, resulting in lost e-mails, site
down-time that can frustrate prospective visitors, and
damage to search engine ratings; text usually has minimal
typographical styling, making it harder to read online;
basic appearance is “cookie-cutter” with no
branding – visually indiscernible from countless
other sites; little-to-no consultation or support. Bottom
line: a lot of sites start out like this,
but then wind up getting redesigned from scratch and relocated
to a more dependable hosting provider.
- At the other end of the spectrum, producing a site can
involve: extensive consultation, advice, and support; design
of visual identity (logo, etc.); a discovery process that
examines what competitors are doing; mapping out a comprehensive
marketing plan; a strategy for SEM (search engine marketing);
database design and implementation; and, of course, construction
of the site itself.
Most sites require a design that falls between these two
extremes. Take the time to shop around for the designer whose
services best fit your individual needs.
Do you have any questions? Contact
me and I'll try to answer them in upcoming articles. Also,
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