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Friday, June 23, 2006

Magpie RSS

If you're a PHP programmer and you've never used Magpie RSS to parse XML files you are missing out. We just recently incorporated into our design to gather RSS data and display it properly. Not only does it do a very nice job it is extremely easy to set up. We highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Uses of the hidden input field

One of my former co-workers IM'd me to ask what the type="hidden" input field does. I was shocked. I don't think I could live without it. It's most basic use is for passing data from previous forms. You want want your users having to fill in the same information each screen do you? Or having forms that are fifty lines long? (Yes, yes I know all about sessions so don't even go there.)

The other use is for forms that process themselves is to use use a hidden input to act as a trigger to process the form. It's as simple as <input type="hidden" name="process_this_form" value="yes" />. Then you just have to ask in your post (probably don't want to use a _GET for this one) if ($process_this_form == "yes") {etc, etc}.

And that's the joy of the hidden input field.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Designing around a CMS

Let's face it, in a perfect world every chunk of every site would be hand coded. We do not live in a perfect world--time and money are almost always a factor. Sometimes your clients just need a simple CMS (Content Management System) and it is your duty to make it work around your current design.

This is not a particularly savory task. Frequently navigation links can be created on the fly by the client and your design has no choice but to adapt to that. Obviously this means there are features that you should avoid. Using background images of any noticable design need to be eliminted. We strongly suggest using a simple background color fill for any area that could potentially be expanding without you knowing.

For SEO purposes the ability for the enduser to be able to create pages with usable filenames is also preferred. Who wants to see http://www.example.com/nav.aspx?nav=12 when they could have http://www.example.com/nav/history-of-blue-widgets.aspx? It might seem simple but every chance you have to plug your keywords should be taken advantage of. CMS don't do that so whomever you have working on the website design integration of the CMS (or visa-versa) needs to be a very savvy programmer as well.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


We recently inherited a new website written in lasso. What is lasso? Excellent question--it was one of the very first server side languages and is quite horrible to work with. It really screws up the HTML around it and is generally unpleasant. And we thought CGI was bad--at least CGI reads like normal code.

Lasso is *kind of* like PHP:

'Hello World';

You also escape characters the same way: <?lassoscript That\'s the way ?>

My personal largest complaint is the way Lasso sends data to the browser:

output: 'Hello', -EncodeNONE;

Having to remember the EncodeNone; is really irritating and the fact it can't magically interpret data streams will get on your nerves in no time. Soon though our client will have a nice new .net site and everyone will be happy.

Monday, June 19, 2006

301 Redirects - htaccess

Whether you're doing web design in Tallahassee or in LA or in New York one things that ALWAYS will help you out is ranking higher in the search engines. One of the things Google looks at is the age of not only your site but also the pages found within. Each page carries some amount of "pagerank", a number between one and ten that determines the "worth" of your page to the internet (in Google's opinion). The older the page, typically, the better so you want to preserve your pagerank on existing pages.

When the time comes, and it will, for you to move pages around the absolute smartest way to do it is with 301 redirects which essentially say, "I know you're looking for this page but it's not here anymore...it's moved over here". This will preserve your pagerank. If you're on a Linux host (like we are) you will have to create a file called .htaccess. This file is to be stored in your root directory. Within that file simply put: redirect 301 /pagetomove.html http://www.example.com/pagemovedhere.php

Now when the search engines spider that page they'll know not to look at pagetomove.html for that information but rather pagemovedhere.php. Just a hot tip for you.

Friday, June 16, 2006


God, I hate tables yet they're everywhere. Tables were never, ever, ever designed to hold your ugly designs. Tables were not intended to be the beneficiary of Photoshop slicing. Tables were designed to display tabular data. Hence the name "tables".

The curse of tables is that idiots know how to use them and once a site is built in one it's much easier just to keep it the way it is than to redo it with proper CSS. Don't get me wrong--when I started I tabled everything out too. I think everyone does when they're new to design and programming--it's easy. Frames are evil too but we all frown upon those now--when are novices going to learn that tables are a big hassle?

I had a coworker who wanted to know why his layout looked so bad when he added text to the body of the page. His tables (of course) were pulling apart along the navigation. Sorry friend but valign="top" isn't going to save you. I asked him why he did it such a huge site with extensive navigation in tables. He didn't know. What was really horrible about it is that he didn't even have anything that needed to be sliced in Photoshop--the site was very boxy and quite frankly I could have designed and coded it in about an hour. He, though, was on day eight because he used tables.

So remember this: <no>tables</no>

Thursday, June 15, 2006

SEO Claims

One that really burns me up about some of the other Tallahassee web design companies is that they offer these "amazing" SEO (Search Engine Optimization) packages. Let's get something straight right now: it is impossible to guarantee any sort of SEO results. I should know, I wrote a massive paper detailing as much of the Google's algorithm construct as they put in the patent. Yahoo, MSN and Google all have daily algorithms because every day requires different results to be returned. If you type in "gift" in February you want to see things related to Valentine's Day whereas in December you probably want to see some sort of Christmas sites.

That said, there are certainly things you can do for your site to help yourself out in the search engines. If you have even the most basic of HTML skills you can certainly save yourself the $50-150/hr rate you pay your web designer. First of all make sure your title tags have your keywords in them. If your site is about Puppies make sure it's in there at least once, if not twice. Every page of your site needs to have the title tag optimized for your keywords. Don't slack off--your competition is doing it. The next big thing to hit is the Meta Description. Again, hit upon those some keywords here--help the search engines figure out what your page is about. Honestly, there's a lot of debate about whether the Meta Keywords do anything anymore. Most search engines are smart enough to know what your page is about without you having to explicitly say "These are my keywords." although it can't hurt. Don't over-optimize for these because the search engines are only going to read the first few. When I say few it's because I don't know exactly how many. There is speculation it's from five-ten. Some people try stuffing keywords in (I can think of one local web design company) and it gets them nowhere. Finally, the optimal keyword density is around 15%. Contributing to that number is the density within the header tags.

And there you go--a crash course in being able to optimize your own pages.