Nonstandard Website Construction
Coding style is as distinctive as writing style. There are also standards for coding websites. Two standards-compliant websites will look completely different under the hood, just as two articles on the same topic by different writers will be quite different.
That doesn’t mean that anything goes, for writing English or computer languages.
One of the things we do at Haden Interactive is the Live Site Refresh, where we go into a website and spruce it up, optimizing text for search, updating images, and generally making the site spiffier and more findable than it was before.
Once we’re in someone’s web site, we often get surprises. Everyone builds websites a little differently, so things aren’t always where we’d put them or labeled the way we’d label them. In a WordPress site in particular, something might show up in a widget, in theme options, or in the Editor, and you can’t always tell from the code before you get in and poke around.
Just as with writing, though, there are differences in style and then there are nonstandard things.
We had the pleasure of refreshing the WordPress website of local writer Lela Davidson recently. Lela is the author of Blacklisted from the PTA, among other things, and she relies on her website to drive sales for her book and gigs for her as a writer and speaker.
She had two websites put together so that the visitor clicking through the navigation went back and forth from one site to the other. She also had a theme which no longer did what she wanted, from the point of view of layout. Lela had done some clever hacks to make her homepage closer to what she envisioned, but it wasn’t exactly the way she wanted it.
Initially, we figured we could bend the theme to our will. We marked up a Notable with the changes we planned to make and dove in.
As we poked around, though, it became clear that whatever we did would just give her a website that would look better but still wouldn’t perform exactly right. Her theme, which had been fine for her original site years ago, didn’t suit her new design ideas, and it also was no longer being supported by the company that made it.
We decided to replace the theme, and Tom customized the new theme and created new graphics. He then imported the content from the second website and I tamed the navigation.
We ended up with a well built website that carries out Lela’s ideas and is much easier for her to update. No more hacks required.
When you think of applying this example to your own website, you may wonder whether it really matters. If we didn’t realize that the site was built in a nonstandard way until we got in there, what difference does it make?
- A nonstandard site is harder to work with. Now that everything is in the right place under the hood, Lela can update her site easily instead of having to struggle with it. If in the future she decides to make big changes, we’ll be able to do them for her faster and more efficiently — and that means more economically. So even if someone else takes care of your website, you’ll benefit from clean code.
- A nonstandard site won’t perform as well. Tangled navigation, things that look like buttons but aren’t, extra code that doesn’t really do anything — this sort of thing slows down your website and makes it behave in ways your visitors don’t expect.
- Search engines like standards-compliant websites better. Given a choice between a site with impeccable code and one that has been cobbled together, search engines will choose the well built one. Content is of course the most important thing, so Lela’s excellent content has brought her visitors — but she’ll see more search traffic now.
How does a site end up with nonstandard code? Sometimes, as with Lela’s site, is starts out fine but has many little changes made to it so that eventually it needs to be rebuilt. We’re working with another site right now that has been worked on by several fine web firms, and now is like the proverbial camel — a horse put together by a committee. At some point, it makes more sense just to start over.
Sometimes the site has been built by someone who wasn’t an expert. We talked recently with a guy who builds his own websites by copying and pasting bits of code from around the web. Imagine writing an article that way and you’ll understand why this can often end up in a mess. If your site was put together as a cheap and cheerful DIY project back when you couldn’t afford a professional site, you should put a rebuild in your budget ASAP.
If your website isn’t doing what you want it to, have a look under the hood (or have us do it for you, if you’re not sure what you’re looking for) and see whether you need a rebuild.