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what next?

where should I go after HTML

10:15 pm on Jul 30, 2001 (gmt 0)

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I have been using HTML for a while and am quite comfortable with it, but now I'm trying to step into the realm of professional site design and I'm not exactly sure where I should go next. How do most people feel about CSS? I was thinking CSS and DHTML would be my next logical steps, are both of these supported enough to be considered essential web designer material? What else should I know? If you have a suggestion and could point me in the direction of a specific resource on the subject that would be great.
12:24 am on July 31, 2001 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member mivox is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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I would definitely suggest CSS/Javascript (DHTML). The newer browsers are all moving towards much better support of CSS, and basic javascript has been pretty universal for some time.

I think DHTML/CSS is a much more promising avenue for simple dynamic content than Flash right now, since it requires no software beyond a compatible browser, and it's much easier to ensure a CSS page degrades gracefully than it is to build an entire non-Flash site for folks with older browsers/no plug-in.

12:42 am on July 31, 2001 (gmt 0)

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I'd also suggest learning the nuances of XHTML, though it certainly isn't that difficult to pick up. :)
1:26 am on July 31, 2001 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member marcia is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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Welcome to Wmw, Jake.

To be perfectly honest, I've pretty much stuck with plain vanilla HTML, trying to keep code as search engine friendly as possible, as well as easy to maintain. Therefore, I'm sure others will give you much more sophisticated advice than I can.

DHTML is wonderful, but does have compatibility issues, but it fine as long as it properly degrades, as mivox pointed out.

>trying to step into the realm of professional site design

Once you step into this realm, with the accompanying site updates that occur, as well as the amount of repetitious coding that has to be done on larger sites, what I would suggest for immediate study, sooner rather than later (like me), are two things that you'll find to be tremendous time-savers:

1. CSS to avoid repetitious page and text formatting. As mivox mentioned, it needs to degrade gracefully, and although there are some who choose not to use it for one reason or another, there is one person of my acquaintance, for whose work I have the greatest admiration and respect, who I consider to be one of the most capable, highly talented web designers around, who always uses CSS. Not only are his design skills superb, but he is a dynamite SEO. Based on seeing his incredible work and learning as much as I can from him, I will be incorporating CSS into my sites.

2. Learn to use Server Side Includes for site navigation, a tremendous time-saver, and better to incorporate sooner rather than later. There are also other uses, but avoiding the grueling task of changing pages and pages of navigation code was my initial motivation. I would never use hosting that wasn't equipped for it, unless it was a site tha would never need updating.

I say SSI without hesitation because right now I'm in the middle of a site update, adding directories and pages. Not only does all the navigation on all the pages need to be modified, but in going through the stats in detail, I now know that certain keyword phases are pulling more traffic than others, and know that there should be individual pages added to get specific rankings for those particular products. This was enought to convince me to switch over to using SSI with any site that will need pages and/or products added, at least on the first update if not to begin with.

Another basic is to learn to use a bit of CGI. Knowing how to use Formmail (or the equivalent)for forms is critical once something is needed beyond the simple mailto: email link. Formmail is almost universally used, so common that I consider it the best place to start, since it's installed by default with so many web hosts.

Last, I'd recommend a big coffee pot and a big bottle of vitamins so you don't need much sleep. Read and learn as much about SEO as you can. I may be biased, but I believe that a search-engine-friendly skill-set for web design is foundational. Much better to do it right in the first place than to have a gorgeous site that cannot get rankings and have to tear it apart and redo it.

Another reason to learn SEO, aside from the fact that it will give you an additional, invaluable service to offer, is that knowledge of it helps immensely in acquiring new clients. For example, there was one particular site I had (since taken over by the former client, who redid it themselves), that got me a steady stream of serious inquiries. Like one local lady said when she called on the phone, "I typed in my product at the search engine, and the site came up. It was just THERE!" That site, although very simple, had one or two people a month wanting one like it for some reason (note: that didn't mean they did it), but that would not have happened if they hadn't found it in the first place.

Another thing you'll have to deal with is doing ecommerce sites, so becoming familair with the different shopping carts and payment options that are available is also an important skill. A related, important issue is dealing with dynamically generated pages, if you'll be working with those at all.

>point me in the direction of a specific resource

You've found it ;)


11:26 pm on July 31, 2001 (gmt 0)

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If you are going to do new work, you definitely should use XHTML. There is no cost and it prepares your site for the future. There are twelve basic changes you have to do for XHTML, listed below.

Learn CSS, but beware that it doesn't work universally in all browsers.

Use Server Side Includes (SSI) to include common things onto each of your web pages.

Learn some sort of Server Side Scripting: CGI, ASP, JSP, etc.

Stay away from JavaScript, frames, and Flash until you understand exactly where and how they are useful.

Differences between what you are currently doing in HTML and what is necessary for XHTML 1.0. Excerpted from the XHTML 1.0 spec, which you can reference for more details and examples. We strongly recommend encoding web pages using the XHTML 1.0 spec, but using the feature set of tags and attributes from the HTML 3.2 spec.

1) Documents must be well-formed
2) Element and attribute names must be in lower case
3) For non-empty elements, end tags are required
4) Attribute values must always be quoted
5) Attribute Minimization is not supported
6) Empty elements must either have an end tag or the start tag must end with />
7) Whitespace handling in attribute values is different
8) Enclose script and style elements in CDATA sections
9) Certain elements cannot be enclosed in other elements
10) Use the id attribute to identify fragments, not name

A couple of additional points:

1) Place a space before empty closing tags, as in <br />
2) Don't use the abbreviation for empty elements where you don't have to. In other words, use <meta></meta> rather than <meta />. The main two you must use empty elements on are <br /> and <hr />. Some of the search engines don't seem to process empty elements correctly.


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