Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Webmaster’s Work Is Never Done

A great deal of time is spent managing Classical Coins’ website, . When I began development of this business (back in the mid ‘90s) the first thing I came up against was that contracting out development of the website I wanted would run well into six figures. I would have to do it all myself, and thought I could do it in about a year.

Naturally, I grossly underestimated the magnitude of what I was getting myself into. It actually took more than five years. Including learning to manage search engine optimization, the scope and complexity of what I had to learn has been comparable to all the numismatic knowledge that must be acquired to become a coin dealer. Would I perform that task for someone else for $100,000? Today yes, because I have the knowledge and it would not take five years to do it over again. I could easily do it in a year now. I have become so proficient at website development that it is now one of the services offered by my Engineering consultancy.

It’s still a lot of work though. There is always something that has to be done. Even when I’m not making site design changes, I have to deal with all the changes that others are making. Many are initiated by my Internet hosting provider, and there is a constant battle to get their technical support staff to give priority to fixing my problems when my shopping cart suddenly stops working or I can’t access my website statistics. Other changes originate with software providers.

Tonight, for example, I have just finished reconfiguring the site map for Classical Coins - . When you visit a well designed website you will notice that it always has a site map. The purpose of the site map is to provide an organized table of links to all pages of the site, so that visitors can easily find their way around. You might think it was very considerate of the developer to give you such a handy navigation resource. In reality, whatever benefit you may derive from the site map is incidental, because the developer was really thinking about spiders.

Normal people think of spiders as eight legged bugs that spin webs to catch insects. Computer geeks think spiders are bots (a bot is a self directed computer program) that crawl around the World Wide Web visiting all of its pages.

Why would anyone care about cyberspiders? They are spies whose job is to learn and report on the contents of a website to their controlling program, usually a search engine. Spiders are very fast, but not very bright. Thus, to be sure a spider visits your entire website and is duly impressed with how wonderful and important it is, it is essential to give it an easy to use road map of your little piece of the Web – your site map. If you don’t have a site map your website will be hard for the spider to navigate.

I didn’t have a site map. I had a site map page, that once contained a very nice site map, but now it was blank except for the header and footer. I hadn’t changed anything in the site map in quite some time, but a software update had been installed. The update reduced the size of the text windows in the page template. Because the operative part of the site map is a large and very complicated table, the table became too big to fit in the reduced text window and was not recognized when the html compiler parsed the page. You can imagine how much fun I had doing all the detective work to figure out what had happened.

Now I had to completely redesign my site map to drastically reduce the number of cells in the table. That was even more fun. It was so much fun that it is now past four o’clock in the morning, and I haven’t yet gone to bed. I enjoyed myself so much, in fact, that I decided to record how delightful the experience was in my blog before I called it a night.

I think my dreams tonight might include visualizing the entertainment awaiting the guy who changed that text window, when he arrives in the corner of Hades that his deeds deserve.


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