Secrets Web Development Companies Don't Want You to Know

  • You can register a domain name very easily.
  • Hosting is cheap. HostForWeb, and many other companies (see link above), has plans that start at $5/month.
  • Running a web site requires very little technical knowledge. Most hosting companies offer web-based control panels that allow you to manage your site easily.
  • email is not complicated, but you should be careful. Creating email accounts can be done through the aforementioned control panel. You can set the limits of the mailboxes.
  • Most people don’t read newsletters. Do you?
  • Most people are not going to visit your site. Those that do may only stay 2 seconds. That’s okay.
  • Spam protection is usually included in the hosting. Just ask.
  • Template based sites will not immediately be identified as such by most visitors. Using simple tools to make a decent looking site is okay. Most visitors are not trying to review your site, they are seeking information about your company, most commonly how to contact you.
  • Most template systems let you change templates without losing your work. You can polish your site as you have time, and interest.
  • Hackers will not steal all your hard work or ruin it. This isn’t true. However, I strong recommend all ecommerce or other sensitive data be handled by PayPal or Shopify or some other properly qualified organization. Understand the laws and regulations (http://www.pcicomplianceguide.org/), to protect yourself and your clients.
  • Search engines will index your site no matter what you do. If you put more information on the site, the site may do better in the search engine. If you are concerned about search engines, visit them and read their recommendations. Remember that they change the way the work, so your search engine ranking can change even if you don’t do anything.
  • Flashy graphics and videos aren’t really important for small sites - unless that’s what you’re selling. Most people don’t want to wait for pages to load fancy images if they are just looking for information.
  • Building a web site is not difficult. Maintaining a web site is not difficult.
  • Requesting a web company to make changes to your site may take as long as if you do it yourself.
  • Your web site probably won’t be a major source of customers. Ever. There are millions of site on the Internet. There are many great companies in the world. Focus on your products and services, and you will succeed, even if your web site is … not there.
  • In most cases, all the code and text on your web site can be copied by anyone.
  • Many web companies use free software. You are paying them to make the software work. If you only need a simple site, there is no sense in paying for a team of people to make a complicated system work.
  • You know better than anyone what you like. Any good salesperson will help you think about what you want, but in the end, you must decide what is best for you. The same is true for a web site. They are very subjective collections of code and text. If you like your site, then it is good.
  • You can start a small business without a web site.
  • There are many ways you can establish a web presence without building a site. Participate in forums. Set up a site at ning.com, or a blog with blogger.com.
  • You don’t need a social network, a forum, a blog, live support, or anything else if you are a small company starting out. Every new feature is more money, and more to take care of. Simplicity is key.
  • Pay-per-click advertising is not necessarily profitable.
  • Partnerships with open source software companies does not ensure the company has great engineers, and certification only means people passed a test. Don’t mistake these credentials for true qualifications. Talk to people who have worked with the company.
  • You do get what you pay for. If a company gives you a discount, rest assured, as they are working on the site and setting priorities, that discount will impact performance or timing.
  • Hosting companies are extremely helpful. You just have to be patient. Remember, they have a lot of servers and a lot of clients. You’re one of them.
  • A web site is only one part of a successful marketing plan. Don’t forget promotions, coupons, signs, business cards, public relations, community action, magazine/newspaper/television/radio ads.
  • You risk very little trying to build your own site, with tools. I don’t recommend trying to learn HTML/CSS and all the web technologies - it will take too long and your inexperience will show. The same is true for ‘the kid next door’. Using templates allows you to focus on the site content and not the code to deliver it.
  • Most hosting companies include statistics packages that let you see where the site visitors are coming from and what pages they look at. Free. You don’t need fancy tools to interpret the data.
  • Most hosting is reliable, most servers don’t crash, most crashes are resolved quickly, without any action on your part. Remember, many web companies outsource their hosting. Doing it yourself cuts out the middle man.
  • It can be fun to make your own site.

Important

This is not intended to discredit web companies, but to offer important considerations for people that believe a web site will help their business, but really don’t have the money to purchase one. As with all professional service organizations, from plumbers to lawyers and everything in between, a professional will usually deliver a higher quality solution.

Evaluating Candidates for Web Development Positions - HR

It may be difficult for HR personnel to determine which web development candidates to interview.

Candidates for any web position should always submit URLs of their work and a description of their contribution to the project. If they don’t, either their work is not on the public net, or they are not proud of it. In the former case, they should have some web presence, a blog, or work they have done on the side, or even posts in a forum. In the latter case, there are many reasons a person may not be proud of their prior work. It may be the nature of the site - selling products that are controversial or working with a company that is not well-liked. If may be that the overall project was done poorly. Regardless, some demonstration of work should be required. Sample code may be the best solution, it allows the person to present their work and describe it. Often, the quality of their description and the enthusiasm are worth more than the technical discussion, for the initial interview.

The link above checks a web page for some common issues that can make page maintenance extremely expensive, and usually indicates a page that was not coded properly. It can be used to evaluate the work of ‘designers’ and ‘developers’ - people who are responsible for creating the visual presentation for a website. Unless an engineer claims full responsibility for the site, the above link should not be used to examine the page. Back-end/Internet/LAMP/PHP engineers should bring sample code.

To use the tool, enter the URL provided by the candidate and click ‘Go’. The tool will display the issues it found in the code. The final score is a reasonable indicator of the quality of the page.

This link will run the tool on http://wirehopper.com. This is an older page, and would be more difficult to maintain. You can see this with the final score of ‘Danger’.

The remaining sections of the check provide additional insight into the way the page was coded, but the rating system has not been established for them.

If a candidate submitted three URLs, and all were ‘Dangerous’ - in the absence of other outstanding qualities, they should not be considered further.

As is the case for any automated evaluation, this is not an absolute indicator. Entry level employees should be given some latitude, especially those who promptly admit their inexperience and appear eager to accept direction from more senior team members.

Never forget that the quality of web work, including the underlying code, is visible to all site visitors. It is vital that pages be coded well.

HTML Checker

The link above scans a web page for common issues.

It is not a validator.

It allows you to very quickly identify the following:

  • Use of deprecated HTML tags. This indicates the code on the page is either old or written by someone who is not up-to-date with their web skills
  • Use of tables. Tables should only be used if there is tabular data displayed, or if the data really requires it. If you don’t see anything on the page that looks like it needs a table, the person that coded the page may not have a good understanding of divs and CSS layouts.
  • Font style tags. CSS is far more powerful and most cost-effective to maintain for enhancing text.
  • Use of deprecated HTML attributes. As with font style tags, these should be replaced with CSS equivalents.
  • Use of inline style attributes. These may make a page very expensive to maintain.

Where possible, a link to a reference is given to help readers understand why the issue was reported.

This isn’t a comprehensive report, it can be used as a quick check for a page, to help you decide if you would like to examine the code further. The page may validate, but valid code doesn’t ensure a quality page that is cost-effective to maintain.

The URL scanned is not stored, the page content/text is not stored.

Extending or Customizing a Live Site or Application

If your company site is based on a complex, open-source application, it’s live, and you don’t want to put a copy on a development server - create an alternate view or access path.

Any company that does or allows development live on their own site (easy to see with errors, browser incompatibility issues, layout problems, IE conditional tags which are displayed) risks their credibility, particulary if they are in the web business.

Create an alternate access path into the application and update the skins and modules as separate components accessible only through a development path until new code has been carefully reviewed for quality. Most powerful content management systems have some method to identify a site visitor entering through a different path. You can use a second domain name, a subdomain, a different URL or port. You may also need to modify the application very slightly.

The technical team (designers, developers and engineers/backend people) should build their code off-line and outside of the application, then integrate it. Complex applications have longer load times than simple pages, and it is very easy to make a mistake that ripples through the entire page.

It may be better to take the site down for major upgrades. Doing this after hours should avoid noticeable service outages.

Polished Directory Listings - Without Server-Side Code

Apache’s mod_autoindex allows you to present polished directory listings with very little effort.

Key points:

  • There are many options. Read the page carefully and test out the different options to find what you like best. HTMLTable is excellent.

  • ReadmeName and HeaderName are URIs, not filenames, and they are relative to document root. Their placement in the .conf file should relect that.
  • HeaderName can be used to reference related appication CSS files and images. This greatly reduces the maintenance cost of this system by tying it into the existing design. Use style tags in the HEADER.html file for any minor adjustments.
  • ReadmeName (the footer) is a good place for a copyright notice.
  • To support all the subdirectories under a directory, use a directory tag with a regular expression.
  • mod_auth can be used to limit access.
  • This approach is good for allowing read-only access to some elements of the filesystem that don’t require robust security.
  • Be sure to limit access through this method to only those files you wish to make accessible.