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Ecommerce Forum

Ecommerce By Hand, Or By Database?
Which method of constructing a fully SE compatible E-commerce site to use

 9:21 pm on Apr 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hey everyone

I was wondering about this, and thought this would be the best place of getting an opinion.

I have been building static html sites for ages now and have mangaged to get some good success with my previous sites and get great results on most search engines..google a bit lower ranked but not too bad to worry a great deal...

If you had the time/money/patience (which i pretty much do at the moment) would you prefer to build html ecommerce sites, being able to customise your product pages exactly how you want them, without any restrictions of a template and the added benefit of being "tastier" for spiders or go for a database solution.

Dead interested in your views and opinions. Don't know any php/mysql which seems to be the flavour of the month! What is the easiest way of migrating from static e-commerce sites to php/mysql, any software/programs that are good to use? Suggestions/comments welcome.





 9:53 pm on Apr 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'm more or less a neophyte here myself, but WebMerge and Mambo are programs you might look at. Mambo has some templates.


 11:24 pm on Apr 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

If you have fewer than 10 products and use an external shopping cart like paypal that can give you stats... static is probably fine.


 7:37 am on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

to template or not to temmplate is not the question. To use or not to use a database and to what extent is the better question. I have about `150 or so products, static web site. The shopping cart is driven by a product database so I am thinking about transfering to somewhat database driven site due to the problem updating one product on several pages when sales price changes happen. If I do it I will leave the product descriptions and the rest of the page static only making the price displayed data base driven.


 8:22 am on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Ill always jump in on the side of HTML, Ive used D base systems before and have never really had any luck.


 9:16 am on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Yeah, I mean my newest site is 500 products big and still growing...

I've made it all using straight html by hand. This is A) I only know html and a little js, B) i was concerned about how well search engines can read the dynamically created pages that a database system provides. As we are an internet only retailer, we have to rely heavily on organic SE traffic to make ends meet and i'm unsure as to how effective a database site would be in terms of getting indexed etc.

Is it a case of simpler is usually better? Or should a site made with click cart pro or something like that be read by search engines with no problems?



 12:00 pm on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

All my sites so far have been HTML, but I now have one database driven site.

I have to say that my HTML sites outperform the database site, but that is just because it is so new and not really the way I want it to be.

The beauty of a database driven store is that it is easy to change everything in one move, something that would take hours any other way. You can also customize your site to make it more SE friendly, take out the CGI-BIN from the URL etc etc.

If you are selling only a few products, then just stick to a simple HTML site. A database would be overkill for a small site.

Just my 2 cents worth ...


 1:42 pm on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

How does using a database have anything to do with whether a search engine can spider it or not? A spider sees the pages as a person clicking on links would see the pages.


 3:47 pm on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Creating an ecommerce store WITHOUT a database seems archaic to me (and a waste of time). A spider only sees the HTML code that is generated by the server. Any savy programmer can use a combination of scripting, mod_rewrite, and database calls to create a fully-spiderable website that is generated from a database. If your guy is good, the bots will never know that it isn't a static page. Sticky me if you need more information.


 3:47 pm on Apr 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Ideally, I would love to use a database driven backend while making all the URLs "look static" using mod_rewrite. That's how WebmasterWorld's forum is set up. If your inventory does not change and it will always be in stock, then a static site seems fine. If you have a frequently changing inventory, database driven would seem like the only way to go...


 7:29 am on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Go with both is something you can do also with carts like X-Cart that will take the PHP and turn it in to HTML.. I find that works good to as there is no way in hell I could do 5000 pages by hand I would go crazy...

I am crazy never mind...


 11:07 am on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hi, guitarslinger. Welcome to Webmasterworld! The main ecommerce site I work on is a database driven site made in cold fushion. It does very well in the search engines:)

Two things to keep in mind, from my experience. 1) Either use mod_rewrite or keep those variables at 2 at the most in the url. All of our pages have been indexed and we do not use mod_rewrite, but there are no more than 2 variables. I''ve read in this forum several times (and I'm pretty sure Google_Guy has said) that Google has no problems indexing urls that have 2 or less variables.

2) You still gotta build static pages! The main *problem* I've found with dynamic sites is lack of PageRank. Build a few static/content pages a week to keep building up your PR.


 11:30 am on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)


Some interesting views here...

Looking around, i think i would experiment with Clickcart Pro first as it seems relatively easy to set up with no knowledge of any database scripting.

I was just checking the urls on their demo store and they were HUGE, full of stuff i don't understand...I take it this is bad for SE's then?


 12:45 pm on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)


We have website that is purely done in ASP. We have a pagerank of 6. Are you saying that if it was static it would poosibly have a higher page rank?


 1:00 pm on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

I created my first (hobby) site using static HTML. I have just developed my first 'proper' big site using PHP/mysql and I couldn't imagine going back to all those horrible tedious-to-update HTML pages. In fact I am now going back to my first site to make that php as well.

My URLs aren't nasty either. They look something like this


I then tell the db to select all the products in the category 'greenwidgets'. I just update the db and leave the pages alone.

I didn't know any php when I started the site but have found it not too difficult, and invaluable.


 3:06 pm on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

You can set apache to parse .html files using php. Basically you should be able to redesign you site using a dynamic back end and have it look EXACTLY the same to any search engine spider or user. There is no need to make ANY compromise here if you do things right.

Go get the mysql book by Paul DuBois, a good book on php, and take a few weeks to work through them and experiment with concepts. Then sit down and redesign your site.


 4:45 pm on Apr 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

another alternative is to maintain your items in a database, but use a script to write static html pages. another advantage of static html is that the performance will be better for your users if you're not familiar with caching.

There's some tools available for Windows out there, let me know if you'd like to know which. But I'm porting my site over to PHP and Smarty and will be doing the same thing with that.

I basically loop through the database and write eac product page to a static file.


 4:11 pm on Apr 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'd try to do a mixture...

Database sites are greater for easier maintenance and better tracking.

But static is loved by search engines..

1. limit your the number of url variables.
2. Use proper seo
3. Name your folders/files in seo style.


 4:44 pm on Apr 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

Database sites are greater for easier maintenance and better tracking.

But static is loved by search engines..

This is a false dichotomy. There is no need to compromise any aspect of SEO because you have a database backed site. True, some database backed sites do suck because they are designed they way they are. But that is completely the fault of the designer. Others are indistinguishable from static sites.


 7:01 pm on Apr 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

Search engines simply do not like sites with url variables. They prefer to have no url variables at all..

That is the only real difference to a search engine.


 8:39 pm on Apr 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

Using a database to handle your site won't cause you any problems as long as you optimize the site correctly. All the major retailers use databases and I don't think it hurts their rankings.


 9:21 pm on Apr 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

Ok - so let's pull this together....

There is no need to sacrifice organic search engine performance when using a database backend as long as you don't pass too many variables. - That seems to be the summary of what is being said.

Ok, so let's talk practically: How would a relatively successful/accomplished web designer who has a firm grounding in building html sites go about building a new database driven site that will appear correctly for SEO purposes. Which software? Will i have to mod some code? If i'm restricted as to how many variables i can pass to the web page from the database, what sort of things can i store and change easily in the db? If anyone resquests it, I will send them a sticky with my latest two urls so you can see the type of sites i'm creating....and you may offer your advice accordingly if you like?



 9:40 pm on Apr 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

You can use any language that you want - choose that one that you are most comfortable with. Scripting languages simply output HTML code. You should also become familiar with a database system, Apache, and mod_rewrite.

Here are some links:






 1:19 am on Apr 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

As far as the database and passing variables goes you should be able to get by with passing just the product/page's unique identifier. This can be worked into the url and mod rewrited into a variable. For example, on my site:

[mysite.com...] is really

[mysite.com...] you could also do

[mysite.com...] mod_rewrite to


green_widgets and 1 are both usable as a unique identifier that will pull all other product/page/category related information from the database.


 1:44 am on Apr 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

You can also create database generated pages that are without any query strings and look like: ht*p://yourdomain.com/any-page-you-want.html
I learned how to do this using php and mysql from an article titled "How to Succeed with URLs: A List Apart" (You'll have to search for it since this forum won't accept the url)

I use this method to create pages that look like static pages, but are dynamically generated from the database. :)



 12:17 am on Apr 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

I like to make things, so building a static page is right up my alley. My creative skills aren't the best, but if comparing my home-made site to a database driven template I usually end up liking the look & feel of my own work. If I have to customize a template then I might as well build the thing from the start.

Having said all that, I've started using a database for some of my items. I have one item with over 12 thousand possible combinations, and hard coding all that on the various pages was a real PITA. And, hard coding all those items created huge, very slow loading pages. Now, for that item alone you get a database driven page, and I can present my customer will all the possibilities in a matter of seconds.

The short answer, use the right tools for the right job. If you use the tools correctly, you shouldn't have to worry about the SE aspects.


 6:56 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the use of database driven carts that generates an html catalog. Examples include x-cart, litecommerce and jshop server. I am using litecommerce at the moment and the ranking achieved for individual product pages is excellent.

I had looked at this problem for over 2 years before settling down on litecommerce. Originally, we had web sites written completely in static html. However, I could see no difference between the ranking achieved by the static catalog compared to the original static pages.


 7:16 pm on Apr 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

Since my last posting on this subject Ive given it a little more thought.

You can write a HTML site and just database buy now buttons with a program like OSCommerce, this I intend to do as the customer support modules are superb.

With HTML pages I can tweak them as desired to gain a higher placing. I hope.


 12:26 am on Apr 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

With HTML pages I can tweak them as desired to gain a higher placing. I hope.

There is no reason you can't tweak dynamically created page too. Let's say your application uses the product name to generate a title tag:

Widgets - My Site

It would be no problem to add another database field that allows you to override that title formula if it is not blank. For example:

Widget & Golden Widgets - My Widget Site

So you can retain the ability to customize certain pages without giving up the time saving and consistency benefits that using templates gives.

The advantage of using this system is that if you find you get higher click throughs with a certain format of title tag, you can change your formula in one place. With html pages you would have to hand edit every single page. The same can be done for meta tags, text descriptions, etc....

Unless you want a site with pages that don't use a consistent navigation structure and design, I still don't think that there is any additional edge that you can get from static html pages.


 7:45 pm on Apr 19, 2004 (gmt 0)
database is the best way to do it...
why waste time? when you could be doing something else.
static takes too long and its a constant headache.
if you are happy with having to do the same thing all the time, then its cool but theres alot more you should be doing. dont be slowpoke.. keep up with me. j/k
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