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Web Development Success is Often Built on the Lessons of Webdev Fails

What have your mistakes or failures taught you or lent to your success?

     
5:17 pm on Jul 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I started building websites in 1998, so I have a bit of experience with both successful ventures AND with making my WebDev life more difficult. For example . .

One of my long neglected sites, a site that continues to draw traffic and pay its way despite neglect, is in need of an update.

As I began working on this site it was immediately apparent that what I once considered an organized approach to presenting information really wasn't that well organized. I could see that if I didn't make some changes User Experience (UX), especially "information discovery", was likely to degrade despite my efforts to improve and expand the site by adding and updating its contents.

Specifically, information that should have been organized or categorized in directories / sub-directories like this - Geo-location > General Activity > Specific Activities or Events- I instead chose to organize like this - Geo-location -> Activity . . and like this . . Activity -> Geo-location . . and like this . . Activity with NO geo-location except for geo references in the body of pages text.

As part of the rebuild process articles are being regrouped, while being updated. Therefore 301 redirects will be required, which takes time. Navigation must also be redone, consistent with the revised IA. Due to the volume of changes I've chosen to blow up the WP database, rather than attempting a salvage operation. Why? Because I'm concerned that inserting countless fixes, re-titling, etc. would make future DB management more difficult and may slow down the DB. I'm saving the guts of the various articles. Related images are being re-titled. While I'm doing that I'm also resizing images,crafting better alt-attributes . ..which image reworking is a subject, by itself, worthy of a separate post.

FWIW and FYI, I am not overly concerned about SEO/SERPs taking a hit during this process. I view this as a long term project, one that should be able to stand on its own no matter what SE love is given . . or not. That said, the improvements will likely be pleasing to both humans and SEs.

So, my BIG mistake? Shoddy IA, especially from a "planning for growth" perspective. Sometimes success can reveal failings. Who woulda thunk that would be the case?

Read and respect the following classic WebmasterWorld threads about IA, ones that have enduring relevance and that are worth a read, listed here: [webmasterworld.com ]

So what have you done or failed to do that made your WebDev life more difficult? What lesson(s) did you take away from the experience?
6:50 pm on July 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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From the start (20+ years ago) I never used any type of WYSIWYG editor. I always just coded by hand so I could learn, but most other pages I was studying *were* created by these types of editors.

So on one of my first sites, I named the pages: Home, Page1, Page2, Page3, etc... for about 200 pages. As SE algos evolved, I led the pack if you were searching for "page."

Nowadays file names, although slight, contribute to how that file is indexed. I now name pages, images, and other on page files with names that will contribute to indexing *without* being spammy.
8:33 pm on July 29, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Oh, I did even worse than Page1, Page2. Each html document had a name, but in the <title>, they were all identical. The title tag was always <title>My Business Name</title>
It did not take long to figure out that isn't the way it was supposed to be done.

A little learning can be a bad thing. At least the worst boo-boos were limited to my first site. The idea that I would ever want to build more than one site did not enter until I had a much better understanding of "how this works'. If there was a bad idea out there, I probably did it. Auto-play music: check. Marquee scrolling text? Of course. Yes, I thought that specifying some font meant everyone would see it just as I could, even though I had huge font libraries that 99% of visitors would not likely have.
12:19 pm on July 30, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I too built my first site in the mid 90's although it was a corporate department site so I suppose that doesn't count. My first personal site came a few years later and, like Not2Easy, the title tags were all the same, as were the description and the keywords! Find which popular keywords (lots of them) fit the site theme and stick them all on every page. That works right? Nah.

A lot of reading and researching and it's all slowly coming together. My biggest mistake was thinking I was a "web builder" because of the corporate experience. I was designing sites but the SEO kinda got left behind. That was left to others. My biggest aha! (actually my daily aha's) came when I signed on to webmaster world.

I don't contribute because I don't think I have anything to offer but I do read this forum daily, religiously, and am putting in to practice what I learn, so I would just like to say a great big THANK YOU to you all.
2:56 pm on July 30, 2017 (gmt 0)

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If this is a WP install you can retitle a post but still use the old URL. In WP it is easy to rejig your IA. Do "quick edits" on your posts and change categories and tags. Change your theme, change your IA, change your underwear, they are all very easy in WP. Blowing away your db seems excessively radical.

Do you really need to nuke the site in order to rejig the IA? Please reconsider.
6:29 pm on July 30, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I named the pages: Home, Page1, Page2, Page3, etc...

Haha. It's only about six or seven years* since I renamed one directory's pages--filename, not <title>--from their original /LucysPics1.html /LucysPics2.html /LucysPics3 etcetera ... for a total of seven, followed shortly afterward by a similar rename of /LucysRats and so on. When you yourself can't remember which file contains which content, it's time for a rename. To this day I'm still logging redirects and 410s from guess which search engine's robot.

And then there are the subdirectories. "Oh, uhm, I guess it wasn't such a good idea to use a file structure that would eventually lead to several hundred jpgs with similar names sharing a directory." Especially when one subdirectory had the same name as its containing directory--a detail I'd forgotten until I went to look it up just now. On second thought I don't think I exactly forgot it; I think my brain blocked the memory, as brains do when necessary for survival.

On my (non-indexed) test site, <title> tags say "new document", "new page.php", "HTML template", "Blank page", "Untitled" and so on.

And now let's talk about table-based layout...

Edit: I couldn't find anything from the table-for-layout period, though the Wayback Machine probably has one or two, but I did find this (content snipped, duh) from my old AOL pages when I was moving to a free host:
<HTML><HEAD><TITLE>Game Design</TITLE>
</HEAD>
<BODY BGCOLOR="#6698FF">
<p align=center><img src=WorldsHeadline.jpg height=70 width=307
alt="LUCY'S WORLDS">
</p>

<p> <br></p>

<FONT FACE="Palatino">

<p><font size = +2>I'm Moving</font></p>
{ snip }
<HR size = 3 width = "100%">

<ADDRESS>Color Games / created January 1998 / revised May 2001</ADDRESS>
</html>

Oh, lordy...

* My notes say “before March 2011" for one, "before April 2011" for the other. I must have written it down somewhere, because saved logs only go back to the second quarter of 2011.
9:58 am on July 31, 2017 (gmt 0)

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And now let's talk about table-based layout.
Actually tables worked pretty well in their time considering they were never meant to be used for page structure.

I used table layouts on quite a few sites. As screen resolutions started to broaden, I switched from fixed sizing to percentages.

Then later when I started switching layouts to responsive, the tables just became divs. Worked out pretty well.
12:59 pm on July 31, 2017 (gmt 0)

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One problem has been three column designs that simply don't translate to a responsive design.

We used to be designing for bigger and bigger screens and suddenly our visitors all started using their phones!

The biggest problem has been the underlying listings database that I use both on the site and in the printed listings magazine. The design turned out to be far too simplistic which is a little embarrassing for somebody who actually taught Entity-Relationship modeliing in the previous job.
4:30 pm on July 31, 2017 (gmt 0)

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My big mistakes (started late 90-ies as web dev consultant) were :

1. Thinking I can retire with Adsense income, and
2. Putting most of my time into building a niche Yahoo! -like, multilingual portal based on point #1. Alone with no venture money.

Facebook and several other social networks ate the traffic of later, and Google ate majority of the income of the former.
8:52 pm on July 31, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Some great stories, when I started out someone told me Google liked small file sizes. I misheard and thought they said small screen sizes and proceeded to make my site as minimalist as possible. The site was a hit and later went back to thank them and thats when I learned my mistake.
12:50 am on Aug 1, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I misheard and thought they said small screen sizes and proceeded to make my site as minimalist as possible

You may have the last laugh.
10:06 am on Aug 1, 2017 (gmt 0)

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My biggest mistake was labelling thousands of images hexadecimally and wondering why those images didn't rank for hardly anything anywhere. In about 98/99 I renamed them all correctly and have used the same method since.

I recognise much of the above however, fortunately, did not make too many of those other than about 10-12 years or so ago I was hit with a G penalty and it took me and Tedster quite awhile to sort it out, many identical meta descriptions were the culprits, the titles were fine, doh!
11:12 am on Aug 1, 2017 (gmt 0)

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My biggest mistake was too much enthusiasm right at the outset and I registered many domains with a view to developing sites and services. As you can imagine, there's only so many hours in the day and I soon learnt that it's best to focus on a few sites and services and to do those well, rather than have many unfinished. A few years ago I decided to release most of the domain names i'd registered as I was never going to get around to developing a site and service.

On the positive side, finding a niche early on and running with it produced some excellent results. My tip on that is, be innovative, and be quick.
7:45 am on Aug 16, 2017 (gmt 0)

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...many identical meta descriptions were the culprits, the titles were fine, doh!
RedBar... I know it's not the intention of this thread to discuss fine points in detail, but fwiw, the issue of identical meta descriptions has gone through some changes... as has the core Google algo... and that raises a question that I think is on topic here, regarding what we might think is true and stable about SEO.

SEO factors are changing all the time, even those things that we once assumed were stable basics.

There was a time when Matt Cutts said that meta descriptions were not a ranking factor and explicitly said that identical descriptions wouldn't hurt you. That got revised, though, sometime around April 2006, as dynamic sites with extremely similar pages were hurt by identical descriptions... and the official word became that you were better off not including meta descriptions at all and letting Google's snippet team auto-generate them. If you had dynamic sites with very similar pages, this might be been what hit you at the time.

I assume that the similarities of many sites that got hit were they either were targeting subtle variants of a product, or exact match longtail tiny variants of a phrase. If those pages have stayed more or less the same since then, conceivably now, perhaps regardless of the meta descriptions, the same pages might be seen as being too similar because of possible Panda factors.

(It's hard to say, if pages are widely different, what the effect of identical meta descriptions would be, as I've never tried that.)

Takeaway from this ramble might be that the times are always changing.