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2012.02 - Upgrading a Web Site

Submitted by Admin on Wed, 08/02/2012 - 19:30

In today's world, organizations with a dynamic internet presence do better than those without. Often the "Powers That Be" make serious errors in judgement because they are trying to achieve a better web presence.

In the not so distant past, a good cover meant that a magazine would sell better off of the stands. Today, with visual over-stimulation all around us, the internet user is looking for information. On the web, content is king. Users rely on search engines like Google to find the information, and it no longer matters what the cover looks like.

Is New/Different Better?

As an example, the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario recently launched their New and Improved web site at The "original" site is available at

This is Phase One, the "new public face" of freemasonry in their jurisdiction, and is being touted as world class. It is not.

"Let's Start with a Clean Slate!"

OMG! Who is this person? And will someone please keep him away from my computer!

Websites COMPETE for the attention of the user. If you wish to achieve your goals using a web site, the site needs visitors. The judges in this competition are the search engines, and your existing site, no matter how bad you may think it is, is an investment.

Build on that investment.

The Content Management System (CMS)

Hand-coded web sites are a thing of the past!

Today's sites are integrated on-line applications which allow the user to collect, manage and present information in an on-line interaction with other users. The most successful sites give the user the opportunity to participate and to become involved in the evolution of the site. Hence the rise of the CMS.

Conceptually a CMS is divided into three areas of interest, which work together, but which are configured independently:

This is the actual information which is presented. In many cases it is the text seen on a web page presented to the user, but it can also be small pieces of information, which may be grouped with other similar pieces to present lists to the user.

Content is devoid of function and format. It is just the raw information.

This is the processing of the information to present it to the user. It includes indexing and search, page production, list processing, and navigation.

Function does not affect the appearance of the site. It merely retrieves and presents the information to the user. Information Architecture is the mapping of content to function, and determines how the user goes about finding the information they seek.

This is the appearance of the site. The theme determines the blocking of information on the page, the position and behaviour of navigation items like menus, and maintains the information in a page properly formatted for search engines.

Changing the theme can drastically alter the appearance of the site without changing the content or the function.

"But the Whole Site was Hand Coded Page by Page!"

Ahhh! The joys of wget! Just as search engines can index your content, so too can your web content be extracted from your site and imported into the new one.

The new site should preserve the page references used in the original, so old links will still find the content that they originally pointed to. This will preserve your search engine position. With your existing content in a CMS, simply create your new site within that same environment, re-using and re-mapping your existing content, and creating your new content.

If you are going to change the way you collect and present information, replacing old pages from your site, you can create aliases for the old content which point to the new. This way old links will find the new content.

Throwing Out the Baby with the Bath Water

The existing Grand Lodge web site could have easily been imported into a CMS, and, after a little work, could have been kept current while the new site was being designed and developed. Who cares what it would have looked like! A reasonable corporate theme could have been quickly chosen, and the information available to the users would not have gone stale.

Work could then have progressed on a new Information Architecture to make the content more easily found by the user, and on a new theme and public face, all of which could have been done without disruption.

The new Grand Lodge web site is very pretty, and the new authorship is competent! However, there is no content! Where is the content?

The cost? The investment in information and search engine visibility from the past 14 years has been discarded. Valuable resource documents used both by the brethren and the public have not been included. Design errors like redundant menus, simply clutter the screen, and top areas expanding push information down at the expense of useability.

Obviously, Phase One of the Grand Lodge web site does not give a warm fuzzy feeling.


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