Help me learn old school web design
May 11, 2013 11:11 AM   Subscribe

I have recently taken charge of an old webpage that is a bit out of date on a university server. I am primarily familiar with Google Sites and Wordpress, where there's a CMS editor, but here it's just an ftp site with raw index files that require Spry to run. What do I need to edit it? Would it be relatively easy to create a redirect to a site that I control running a CMS I understand? How do I keep that from ruining all the old backlinks?
posted by anotherpanacea to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What are the changes you wish to make? If you look at the source of the page, the textual content is right on it and you could edit it with a text editor.

If you are worried about links, they all look like:
<a href="/gvpt/elkin">Stephen L. Elkin</a>

The href= part points to the target url of the link, the part following the > and preceding the </a> are what appears on the page to be clicked to take you to the link.

You can ftp the index.html file (save a backup in case you destroy something!) and edit it in any text editor and replace it.

If you want to change styles, it will be a bit harder (but still doable.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:32 AM on May 11, 2013

Response by poster: I want to make some pretty major changes, not just textual changes. Basically, I want to do some small edits like you've described right now (changing the editor, for instance, since he's retired.) Then I want to move the site to a new address, and start doing things like adding a news/blog feature, posting regular updates, and making the whole thing more accessible. So the big questions are:

What editor should I use? (Can I edit the index file in Word or will that mess things up? Do I need Dreamweaver?)

How do I do a redirect?

How do I preserve backlinks after the move?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:45 AM on May 11, 2013

You -can- edit HTML in Word, but you really don't want to.

Dreamweaver is a very nice tool -- but it may be more than your need. At least at first. You might try something like Komodo Edit (for free) to play around for while and see what it's like working with HTML often and what tools you use the most.

There are lots of different ways to do a redirect -- the simplest is to do a link on your old site to your new site with HTML.

You can also force a redirect to your new site that doesn't require anyone to click -- this is setting on your sever or host, not HTML, and will depend on what software it is running.

To preserve inbound links, you can either wait for search engine crawlers to discover and update, send a note to major engines like Google to have them crawl your site when you're finished, or hire someone to do SEO-type stuff for you.
posted by pantarei70 at 12:14 PM on May 11, 2013

Whatever else you do, do not, for all that is sane & holy, do any editing in Word. MS products inject boatloads of crufty pseudocode that will bork your page to hell and back.

You can edit in any vanilla text editor; you do not under any circumstances need a web-authoring tool. I do most of my scripting & markup in Notepad++.

I used to recommend Evrsoft's 1stPage as a full-featured web authoring suite, but Evrsoft appears to have been subsumed under WebDesignLand, and their tool looks more or less exactly like 1stPage did.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:16 PM on May 11, 2013

What editor should I use? (Can I edit the index file in Word or will that mess things up? Do I need Dreamweaver?)

If you know HTML, you can use any text editor. I'm assuming you're on Windows, and Notepad++ seems recommended pretty frequently as a decent text editor for Windows. You could use Dreamweaver (or KompoZer or something) if you want a WYSIWYG editor, but you most definitely should not use Word.

How do I do a redirect?

Depends. You can either do it via the web server (e.g., in Apache, you could do something with mod_rewrite in .htaccess, or in a script) or just replace the HTML file with an HTML file containing a redirect. See also URL redirection on Wikipedia.
posted by retypepassword at 12:18 PM on May 11, 2013

Honestly, depending on how much of the old content you want to keep, it might be faster for you to recreate this site from the start, using tools you are familiar with. (It's unclear to me which parts of the original site are still relevant to you.) This also has the advantage that you can update the aesthetics and the usability too. Squarespace might be an option if you want to go that route.
posted by tinymegalo at 12:58 PM on May 11, 2013

Do you have the option of talking with the main web department at your university? I work in the main web department at a university, and would be overjoyed if an employee came to me asking assistance / resources for a small sub-site. They may have resources that you are not immediately aware of (such as a university-wide Wordpress installation), and can help you to understand how best to proceed.

I know this doesn't answer your immediate question, but I highly recommend you find out what your web department can help you with before going out and reinventing the wheel. If you've already done so and have been unable to get anywhere, the other answers here are good. Notepad++ is a great recommendation.
posted by kellygrape at 1:49 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just moved an old html site to WordPress. I don't see any real reason you would need to do individual redirect pages, though it certainly can be done (and there should be no problem googling info on that). Is there really crazy high levels of traffic from links to the site that this concerns you? Can you check the traffic logs and consider doing a more general "this site has moved, please update your links" page?

I also have had a good response in the past when emailing specific webmasters and saying "Hey, that page on my site you are linked to has moved. Here is the updated link. Thanks!" They will probably update it, not as a favor to you but to remove a broken link from their own site. So if most backlinks are not notable but one or two sites are really driving traffic to this site, one or two emails may go a long way to resolve that issue.

If you are just going to have a different url anyway, I would do the WordPress install there, play around with finding a design I liked, start putting together the new pieces, etc. Then move the old content, which is likely a tedious but not technically difgicult copy-and-paste job where you then do edits and updates. Then do any redirects, etc. Since you sound like you want to change the URL anyway, it sounds pretty simple. You need an FTP program and a text editor so you can copy and paste the raw html into WordPress then delete headers, etc, down to actual content. (Perhaps there is a better way but I know that method works. I just spent three weeks doing exactly that.)
posted by Michele in California at 3:20 PM on May 11, 2013

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