Revamp a business website in five hours

websites

Kevin Partner overhauls his site in no time at all with a little help from Genesis

My writing, coding and publishing business, Scribbleit, celebrates its tenth birthday this year.

While merely surviving this long is an achievement in itself – the Office for National Statistics tells us around half of businesses close within five years – the business environment has changed beyond recognition during that decade.

The economy is around 35% larger, but more important still are the changes wrought by technology. Ten years ago, I was using Office XP on an Evesham Micros PC and backing up to an Iomega Zip drive; today, I write in the cloud (using Office 2013 or Google Drive) on a Mac mini running Windows 7 and back up to Dropbox. I can work from anywhere that offers Wi-Fi, whether in my back garden using my Chromebook, or at a café table on my Nexus 7.

The economy is around 35% larger, but more important still are the changes wrought by technology

The work itself has hardly changed – then, as now, I was creating words for print, websites and videos – but the publication process has been revolutionised.

Back then, self-publishing meant handing over your life savings to a printing company and hawking the resulting paperbacks round local and not-so-local bookshops in the boot of your car. It was called "vanity publishing", with good reason, since it made no financial sense (except for the printer).

Today, however, I can publish instantaneously to electronic devices the world over, and employ print-on-demand services such as Lulu and CreateSpace to put my paperbacks into the major online bookstores for no upfront expense.

Scribbleit Site

Scribbleit has become a Nielsen-registered publisher with its own range of ISBNs, an aspect of the business I see expanding greatly in future: self-publishing is growing and changing so fast that formatting, publishing and promoting ebooks is becoming a saleable skill.

As for writing code, the main change has been my abandonment of Flash/ActionScript, but PHP and Python remain important, and the development tools I use haven’t changed. The way I build websites has been transformed, however, and my recently revamped Scribbleit site is an excellent case in point.

Back in 2003, I was an uncomfortable Dreamweaver user – I’m slightly ashamed to present this original design for public derision, but I was a graphical novice and Dreamweaver didn’t help.

2003

As my PHP knowledge deepened, I started coding sites directly, and, although I wasn’t hardcore enough to do it in Notepad, I taught myself CSS without the luxury of a wysiwyg editor. The resulting sites were lean and efficient, but terribly hard to update without using an IDE.

Today, I use WordPress for all my website development, whether for myself or for clients, which slightly limits the sort of briefs I can accept – I was recently forced to decline an invitation to create a Facebook/eBay hybrid with a budget of £400, but that’s an exception.

I’ve yet to encounter any project I seriously wanted that WordPress couldn’t achieve if liberally sprinkled with custom PHP.

In fact, www.scribbleit.net was the first site I converted to WordPress, and I discovered that, when combined with the Thesis framework, it produces a good-looking, sophisticated site in a fraction of the time required to build a PHP site from scratch.

2008

That was in 2008, and, to my shame, I’d left Scribbleit’s design unchanged until recently. Originally, I set it up as a technology blog, but nowadays I prefer to use Google+ for that purpose, and, in any case, I wanted to start emphasising the publishing aspect of the business rather than ranting about Apple.