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Planning New Niche Site
Getting the basics of the site correct before I start
Nick_Hope

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 11:05 am on Jul 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'm planning a new site on marine life and I would like some advice so I start on the right foot.

My Rough Business Model

1. Traffic generated mainly from search engine hits.
2. Selling my own marine life DVD's, either through the site or through the sister site (which is already going).
3. Affiliate marketing. Specifically books, videos etc. from National Geographic, Amazon, Discovery Channel Shop.
4. Pay per click advertising. e.g. Google Adsense.
5. Other direct advertising with aquarium companies, scuba diving operaters etc..
6. Possible membership fee for viewing premium videos online etc..

What I Already Have

1. The domain (which is basically named after the subject) and a hosting account.
2. I have a large collection of my own photos and videos of marine life, all categorised by species.
3. Plenty of knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject. I am prepared to write articles and add rich content regularly.
4. Dreamweaver and some knowledge with it.
5. Experience building 2 sites but it was all HTML with complicated table layouts (ugh!).
6. Some programming experience, but not in PHP (yet). But I'm sure I could pick it up.

What I Know I Want

1. I want to have highly authoritative individual pages for the individual species. Each page will contain information, photos, and in many cases videos of that species. Users will arrive at the page through a logical hierachy for example: fish > sharks > leopard shark. So I hope to make my page eventually hit top SERP for a search on "leopard shark". I envisage building upto 100 pages quite quickly and ending up with thousands of individual species pages as the site grows.
2. Site search will be very important indeed.
3. I want a forum. phpBB looks appropriate for this.
4. I may well want a shop, unless all sales are handled by the sister site. Looking around I fancy Zencart (a PHP shopping cart based on OsCommerce).
5. A front page with news/articles and an RSS feed, as well as quick links to the different main marine life families.
6. Slick photo galleries such as incorportating "Coppermine" or "Gallery" software into the site.
7. I really fancy PHP over ASP for dynamic stuff.
8. Plenty of space for the ads.

My Questions

1. Is XHTML and CSS the way to go?
2. Should the whole site be dynamically written in PHP? There will be several PHP components in it anyway.
3. Should all these individual species be entered in a MySQL database to make life easier?
4. Should I be looking at a content management system to make life easier? If so which?
5. Is phpBB a good choice of forum software?
6. Is Zencart a good choice of shopping cart software?
7. Should I kick off with a template or build the whole thing from scratch myself? If so then where is a reputable source of suitable templates?
8. Should I build the whole thing around a blog? If so where to start?

thanks!

 

mack

WebmasterWorld Administrator mack us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 8:41 am on Jul 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

This is a very good question, and one I will try to answer as best I can. I am glad you have a good idea of what you want to acheive, very oftem people just start blindly and build a site with little of no direction. Good planning from the start is essential.

Is XHTML and CSS the way to go?

It is looking very much as if this will certainly be the future. One benefit being you do not dictate what the user should use to view your pages. A lot of hand helds for example now render xhtml very well. As for CSS again this is definatly going to play a very large part in the furure of the web. I say CSS is definatly the way to go, because in a couple of years it will be the standard.

Should the whole site be dynamically written in PHP? There will be several PHP components in it anyway.

This really all depends on your own experience and ability. To an extent it also depends on the overall size of the site. From an seo point of view using php or plain html/css will make no difference. Because of this it is importaint to look at from a maintainance point of view. What language will make the site easier to maintain. Very often this will be php because of the way various different elements are simply included. I know this can be done with ssi but php definatly appears to be the way to go with large scale sites.

Should I be looking at a content management system to make life easier? If so which?

A content management system can be a great investment if you plan to grow a very large site. In fact it can be great for a site of almost any size if you desire to alter pages in as simple a way as possible. A cms really comes into a class of it's own when you want to build a very large scale site. The features and ease of maintainance makea cms a very good choice.

opensourcecms.com might be a good place to have a look for a suitable application.

Is phpBB a good choice of forum software?

It is certainly one of the most popular, for this reason I would say a lot of people must like it. phpbb can also plug into a few of the cms systems currently available. Some use a cms bridge to share a member base between the forum app and the cms it's self. Others have a phpbb module.

Is Zencart a good choice of shopping cart software?

Again it's popularity says a lot, if an application is widely used then this is usualy for a reason. Personaly I haent used it (or any other eccomerce solution) so my comments are a little limited. Perhaps someone else will be able to voice their oppinions.

Should I kick off with a template or build the whole thing from scratch myself? If so then where is a reputable source of suitable templates?

I think the best option is to design your own template then use this design site-wide. I say this because that way you understand all the code, you knwo exactly how to use the template properly and you have very little chance of coming across another site using the same design. If you do choose to use a template then it may be worth having a deigner create a "one off" design for you. If you use a cms you should also set up the themes/templates of the cms to suit your needs.

Should I build the whole thing around a blog? If so where to start?

I would say never build a site around a blog, but rather, build a blog around your site. The main content areas can be within your site or cms, the blog can be used for less importaint information, or information of a lesser qualiy. A blog can also be very good for traffic if you allow sites to syndicate your articles.

Mack.


Nick_Hope

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 1:45 pm on Jul 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

Mack,

Thanks very much for your comrehensive reply, much of which confirms what I'm already feeling.

Looking into the CMS world it looks like Mambo would be as good as any open source CMS to build this site on.

Does anyone agree / disagree that Mambo would be a good way to go?

trillianjedi

WebmasterWorld Senior Member trillianjedi us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 3:02 pm on Jul 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

Hi Nick,

Mambo has a good reputation.

We had a good post about alternative open-source CMS's in the General forum a little while back:-

[webmasterworld.com...]

Worth a read.

I second the vote on phpBB - it's good software, but when/if your forum gets busy, expect to have to do some code customisation. Very few things are right for everybody straight out of the box. The same goes for the CMS. Any CMS.

I highly recommend that you mod_rewrite the forum and site URL's also, from the beginning (it's easier to do it from the start).

TJ

httpwebwitch

WebmasterWorld Administrator httpwebwitch us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 4:33 pm on Jul 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

1. Is XHTML and CSS the way to go?

yes
or at least HTML (strict) and CSS

2. Should the whole site be dynamically written in PHP? There will be several PHP components in it anyway.

yes, if you're comfortable with that

3. Should all these individual species be entered in a MySQL database to make life easier?

yes, definitely

4. (skipped)

5. Is phpBB a good choice of forum software?

the best IMO.

6. (skipped)

7. Should I kick off with a template or build the whole thing from scratch myself? If so then where is a reputable source of suitable templates?

none. make your own.

8. Should I build the whole thing around a blog? If so where to start?

No, dont' start with the blog. Make an authority content site with articles and features and dynamic content, or whatever have you. Assemble it with all the rich features you want and a slick navigation structure. Then add a blog as a supplimental feature.

gomer

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 7:44 pm on Jul 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

Sounds like you have given this a lot of thought and planning which is great.

I think all the things you are considering could be wise choices but I also think, especially for those new to something, it is nice to start slowly and then build on that.

This is what I mean by that: the options you are considering (a shopping cart, PHP and a database, a content management system, forums, premium content and site search) are great things but they don't have to be added at the start. They represent an investment of both time and money.

I would start by building a static html site with the valuable content you are describing. See where that goes. For now, sell your videos (perhaps through your sister site making it real easy) and throw AdSense on it and a few other partners on it. See where that goes.

As you probably know, these days it can take a while with getting a site out of Google's sandbox. The other search engines out there don't seem to be that reliable either. If you are relying on free serach engine traffic as you say, no point in building a rich and expensive system until you have something to build on.

When starting out, the iterative model works well. Perhaps don't envision your system as you finally want it to be. Envsion it in stages. In each stage, you will give it certain functionality and expect certain measurable results. The iterative model will also help you adjust the plan as necessary. If things are working out well, grow with it.

It is nice to have the vision you have. Perhaps just don't try and do it all right out of the gate.

vabtz



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 11:09 pm on Jul 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

As far as CMS's go I have tried a zillion including mambo. I am using Drupal since it makes more damn sense when you modify it.

Drupal and Mamo are both about equal in terms of complexity and ability IMO.

--

phpbb has had a terrible history of exploits. I use it but I would never use it for a new forum. If you do choose it keep up on the updates.

--

Nick_Hope

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 2:43 am on Jul 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

Thanks everyone for your replies. What a helpful and civilised site! All these replies are very useful, especially as I am probably quite typical of someone who has made a couple of websites the wrong way and now wants to attempt something better and bigger.

trillianjedi, thanks for the tip to mod_rewrite URL's straight away. I must get my head around those dreaded regular expressions.

Gomer, I hear what you're saying about building it stage by stage. Wise words. I think I will probably start with a couple of static pages plus the forum and go from there. I'll also work my way through my PHP/mySQL book as a good foundation.

vabtz, thanks for the Drupal tip. I have heard of that and will add it to the shortlist. Their homepage looks promising. Regarding forum software, what would you use instead of phpBB if you were starting a new site now?

twist

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 5:40 am on Jul 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

My 1 cent,

The problem with phpbb is it does too much, a lot of overhead, a whole lot of overhead. Phpbb does everything under the sun almost, and what it can't do, there are mods that will. The problem is there are a million phpbb forums on the internet. Most have the same bland boring look, also, most are empty. To make your phpbb look different/original can take a lot of work and time. You could get a phpbb template but no matter what template you pick it also has already been used a thousand times.

Beyond just the look of a forum they can be a lot of work. Building a forum can take a lot of time with little payoff at first. Even if your lucky enough to get your forum off the ground you could end up spending an hour or more a day deleting spam from it. It already sounds like your trying to take on a whole mess of things.

I would suggest that instead of trying to start with a forum you start with a comment area under the articles you write. The article gives people something to write about and doesn't have all the overhead like a forum would. No logins, cookies, dynamic addresses, or people starting flame wars. If people leave a comment you don't like just delete it, only maintenance required.

Not that you couldn't add a forum later, it just seems with all the stuff your trying to take on it would end up consuming a lot of your time. You should focus your time on a new site on things like SEO, setting up compression and things like that.

Nick_Hope

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 10:51 am on Jul 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

Thanks Twist. I hear what you're saying about the forum. Can you please explain what you mean by setting up compression?

Vabtz, I've had a look at Drupal and it looks very promising. Also it includes a lightweight forum out of the box which is handy. However it doesn't appear to include email notification of replies (thread subscriptions), which is a shame.

I also get the feeling Drupal's "taxonomy" approach might handle deeper levels of classification better than Mambo. In some cases I will want 6 levels of classification. For example:

Marine Life
>Arthropods (phylum)
> Crustaceans (class)
> Decapoda (order)
> Hippolytidae (family)
> Lysmata Amboinensis (species)

From what I understand, Mambo can only handle 3 levels deep classification.

vabtz



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 12:47 pm on Jul 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

If I was picking a forum now I am not sure what I would go with. I would definitly look at UBB, since that seems pretty well supported and I hear less problems about it.

I also agree the forum should come later after you have steady traffic. I personally have started to many sites and popped a forum on there too early. They sit there empty and I think people wonder #*$! is wrong with the site.

Drupal has a lot of modules that are very easy to add ( you just copy the code to the modules folder ) one of them may do what you need.

twist

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 4:10 pm on Jul 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

For example:

Marine Life
>Arthropods (phylum)
> Crustaceans (class)
> Decapoda (order)
> Hippolytidae (family)
> Lysmata Amboinensis (species)

I don't remember where I read this but I recall some search engines say the less levels the better, meaning they might not go past 4 or 5 levels deep. So if your website is like this,

www.example.com/1/2/3/4/5/6

the search engine may only index these pages,

www.example.com/1/2/3/4

I am not completely sure about this, maybe someone else will know more. I do recall someone on here saying that one way to deal with this problem is to combine variables. Lets say you have 100 types of arthropods, 300 crustaceans, and 500 decapoda. Your variable would look like this 035152235. 035 is the arthropods number. 152 is the crustacean number and 235 is the decapoda. It would allow you to use as many levels as you want and never be penalized (if it even is a penatly).

Setting up compression

Try something like "setting up gzip compression" in a search. Also try "compress css" if you want to compress that also. Compression can make your site more accessable to 56k users and save you bandwidth.

mrowton

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 4:35 pm on Jul 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

I don't remember where I read this but I recall some search engines say the less levels the better, meaning they might not go past 4 or 5 levels deep.

I would assume this is referring to the number of hops from the homepage that a spider would have to navigate. However you wouldn't necesarily have to click on category 1 to get to category 2, then category 3, all serial. Most categories would have a subcategories listed, which would cut out a number of hops. Other navigation such as a sitemap also give more direct access to spiders.

As far as the actual number of folders in the URL, I can't imagine this being a problem. Some of the larger news sites have URL's containing half a dozen or more slashes.

docbird

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 2:40 am on Jul 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

Lest of interest, based on having Dreamweaver site before, being told of cms a year and a half ago, and now 2 sites w Mambo.

I'd opt for cms; seems to me the ability to integrate extras like forum, gallery is neat. Can readily make site-wide changes - publish a news item w press of a button (and choose for it to unpublish by certain date).
Against which, can make site-wide screw-ups: get a tiddly bit of code wrong in wrong place, and all pages might just display short error message. (I haven't learned php, just cut n paste from others; happily, much forum info, so been able to solve problems, so far.)

To me, seems URLs important with cms. Not just trying to improve on gobbledegook of raw cms URLs, making them more search engine friendly; also to try for URLs that may be "cool" - so there's chance you won't have to change them, as upgrade software etc. With latest Mambo plus an add-on (Xaneon), I've managed urls ending, say, green-widgets/jolly-green-widgets.html, which I hope I can mostly retain. (But out of the box, current Mambo can spawn multiple URLs per item.)

For Mambo, there are things like Simpleboard forum, which is built for Mambo, so integrates well. Plenty of free stuff, including Xaneon. But after much enthusiasm, Xaneon development maybe stalled - as can happen w Mambo add-ons (even some that people charge for).
So far, I've managed ok, but might make a non-open source cms worth a look, as may be less hassle making it worth the money. Tho, w opensource, seems as one project fades, one or more spring up; and you can maybe make some contribution to development.

Yes, only three levels in Mambo. Might help in some ways, such as simpler navigation, plus search engines. But others too want more; and I think Mambo 5 will have unlimited cats. Mind you, seems to be always on the horizon (plus won't be ready site upgrade from current versions).

Nick_Hope

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 8:45 am on Jul 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

I will definitely have a sitemap and I don't think I want any pages more than 4 clicks away from the home page, even if "behind the scenes" they are stored in a hierarchy that is 5 or 6 levels deep.

Fishbase.org (which is great but more scientific and less "sexy" than my site will be), shows individual species at URL's such as this:

[example1.org...]

That's a total nightmare from an SEO point-of-view. If I were to do this all by hand I would use a URL such as this:

"http://www.example2.org/sharks/grey-reef-shark.htm"

I'm definitely tending towards a CMS and Drupal at the moment is winning for me. Im hoping that whatever I choose will allow me to make URL's approaching that simplicity and search-engine-friendliness.

[edited by: jatar_k at 3:43 pm (utc) on Aug. 5, 2005]
[edit reason] removed specifics [/edit]

quiet_man

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 11:06 am on Jul 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

Regarding CMS, I have no direct experience but was impressed by the info shared in this thread:

4 Best Content Management Systems [webmasterworld.com]

I would echo what Gomer said regarding 'start slowly and build', and am glad you agreed with that post. There is so much to consider with a new site that you can easily lose momentum no matter how much enthusiasm you have for the subject. That said, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience here on best practice in setting up a new site, and while there is a danger you could end up spending all your time reading and researching instead of 'doing', these two threads are worth the read:

Building The Perfect Page (Part 1 - The Basics) [webmasterworld.com]

Information Architecture for the Small Site [webmasterworld.com]

Best of luck with your project, and I hope you'll keep us updated.

Nick_Hope

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 5:44 am on Aug 1, 2005 (gmt 0)

quiet_man, I hear what you're saying about taking it step by step.

Some useful links you posted there. The CMS link highlights 4 CMS products. The first 2 are written in Perl, which I definitely don't want to get into.

The third is Civicspace, which is an offshoot of Drupal. Drupal was top of my list anyway, so this is a contender.

The fourth is DragonFly, which I will take a closer look at too. It's an offshoot of PHP-Nuke.

Any informed Drupal/Civicspace/Dragonfly comments would be greatly appreciated.

laertes

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 7:37 pm on Aug 1, 2005 (gmt 0)

Civicspace is a distribution of Drupal that comes bundled with some modules that are not in the standard Drupal installation. I think the primary reason to use Civicspace would probably be the admin panel, which is a little simpler to get around in the the one in D, and which helps guide you through the site set-up and installation process.

Civicspace is really meant as a tool to build a community based site which will have many contributors, as it was developed and evolved out of the Howard Dean candidacy website.

In terms of starting small, certainly that is good advice so as not to become overwhelmed. I would just caution; make sure you can scale up on what foundations you build. I have some sites I began as straight HTML sites which I now am in the tedious process of changing over to .php file extensions to be able to migrate to a CMS, and I wish I had started out with php files!

NotTheMSM

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 6:08 am on Aug 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

I have a few sites that are hybrid blogs/standard sites. The blog part is MT with custom templates. The other pages are static HTML that I create using PHP. In your case this would involve writing a PHP script called build_fish.php. You'd run that and it would read data from MySQL and write out the static pages. See PHP's ob_start() function. I believe this is less resource-intensive than requiring database queries each time someone visits a page that has no need for dynamic content. It also means I'm only relying on the webserver running; MySQL could crash and the static pages would continue being accessible.

trillianjedi

WebmasterWorld Senior Member trillianjedi us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 9:39 am on Aug 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

That's a total nightmare from an SEO point-of-view.

Actually, it isn't at all.

I'm assuming that you're in this for the long haul and this isn't a "throw it up and make as much as possible" short term thing?

If that's correct, all you really want to achieve with the URL's is to make them not look too ridiculous for humans, and make them indexable by bots.

If I were to do this all by hand I would use a URL such as this

That's a very short term approach. Think about how the SE's are thinking about this, and how they chop and change their algo to take into account "fashionable" practices.

URL's are not easy to change further down the line. Pick for the long term with them, not the short term.

If you're using a CMS you don't have the URL luxury that you have when hand-coding a site. With the additional automation, there is a risk that some URL's will come out looking like spam (especially if you take page title as your base for the URL).

You do not want spammy looking URL's.

TJ

lorax

WebmasterWorld Administrator lorax us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 1:50 pm on Aug 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

I've been converting a homemade CMS to Drupal site over the past few days. Saw your post on the Drupal forum too. Some stuff I've noted:

  • Drupal is quick
  • The footprint is small by comparison to many of the other CMS options
  • I like the way the themes are seperated from the code - easy to make visual changes and still maintain an easy path for upgrades
  • I like the simplicity of adding/removing modules - anyone who's worked osCommerce will appreciate this
  • I like the relatively easy SEO'd paths - modules like pathauto make this easier
  • I haven't found a good solution for completing the breadcrumbs. The path part is easy but the last piece of the breadcrumb (the file name you're looking at) is missing from the breadcrumb solutions I've found
  • I like the flexibility to manage blocks by path, by user type, or by content type - adds a lot of control to the content
  • I like that I create and manage users and what they view based on roles - much better system than PHPNuke, Typepad and the other CMS systems I've played with

All in all I'm quite impressed with how well built the package is. I talking with ergophobe about this package, he noted that the code is about 1 generation from being at it's best. But while there's room for improvement - what's there now is pretty good.

Nick_Hope

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 12:12 pm on Aug 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

You do not want spammy looking URL's.

Do you really think that

"http://www.example2.og/sharks/grey-reef-shark/"

might get penalised by search engines for spamming? To be honest that's what I would call the URL even if I didn't care less about the search engines.

[edited by: jatar_k at 3:44 pm (utc) on Aug. 5, 2005]
[edit reason] removed specifics [/edit]

mack

WebmasterWorld Administrator mack us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 9:20 pm on Aug 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

I think the example URL structure you showed is a fairly logical setup. It follows a pyramid scheme, and allows for growth.

Deciding on directory structure is very importaint if you plan to enable your site to grow.

Mack.

Tazzam

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 2322 posted 9:11 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

Hi Nick,

I built a website for a national dive company. I rebuilt the entire site from asp into a dynamic site that also created an html catalog once a day for fresh content. We transferred the site as well as chaged URL's, and did this successfully with no loss in traffic or PR.

Here are a few things I would try to keep in mind;
1. If you can build the site around an xml feed, the run it through a ColdFusion Server to create your pages, you will surpass your competition by far. Maybe if you just included some xml or rss feed into your main category pages to feed fresh content, you would still put you leaps ahead.

2. Regardless of how you build it, replace any "?" or id= from the URL's

3. A nice interface I use for storefronts and e-commerce is monster commerce. Creates the entire site based off of an excel file and allows alot of customization (be sure to purchase their html catalog for fresh content)

Good Luck

[edited by: mack at 2:58 am (utc) on Aug. 9, 2005]
[edit reason] no specifics please See TOS [webmasterworld.com] [/edit]

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