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Managing Your Site's Structure with Dreamweaver

One of the more common mistakes new Web designers make is plunging into developing a site without thinking through all of their goals, priorities, budget, and design options. The instinct is to simply start creating pages, throw them all into one big directory, and then string stuff together with links. Then, when they finally test it out on their audience, they're often surprised when users say the site is hard to navigate and users can't find the pages they want to use.

Do yourself a favor and save yourself some grief by making a plan. By having a plan, you also stand a much better chance of creating an attractive Web site that's easy to maintain and update. You need to understand the common planning issues of Web design. You also need to grasp how Dreamweaver makes it easier to manage a team of developers and how to get the most out of the site management features, such as site synchronization and integrated e-mail. If you do find yourself in the unfortunate predicament of trying to fix broken links, you may also appreciate how Dreamweaver makes that task easier, too.Managing the structure of a Web site has two sides: the side that users see, which depends on how you set up links, and the behind-the-scenes side that depends on how you organize files and folders.

What the user sees

The side that the user sees is all about navigation. When users arrive at your home page, where do you direct them from there? How do they move around your site? A good Web site is designed so that users can navigate easily and intuitively and create their own path to the information most relevant to them. As you plan, make sure that users can access key information easily from more than one place in the site. Make sure that they can move back and forth between pages and sections and return to main pages and indexes in one step. Setting links is easy in Dreamweaver; the challenge is to make sure that they're easy for visitors to follow.

What you see

The second side to managing your Web site structure happens behind the scenes (where your users can't see the information, but you want some kind of organizational system to remember what's what). Before you get too far into building your site with Dreamweaver, spend some time thinking about the management issues involved in keeping track of all the files you create for your site. Files consist of all the images, HTML pages, animations, sound files, and anything else you put in your Web site. As you create pages for your Web site, it's best to organize them in separate folders or directories.

Some Web developers get 20 or 30 pages into a growing Web site and then realize that having all of their files in one folder was a mistake. In fact, it's more than a mistake; it's a mess. And to make matters worse, if you start moving things into new folders after the site grows, you have to change all the links. Not realizing this, some people start moving files around and then find that they have broken links and don't remember where things are supposed to go. Fortunately, Dreamweaver includes site management tools that automatically fix links when you move pages around or create new folders, but starting out with a good plan is still better than having to clean up the structure later.

Before you build those first few pages, think about where you're likely to add content in the future. After you've put together a list of the key elements you want in your site, you're ready to create a storyboard or outline. Use the list and outline to create logical sections of a site that anticipate growth. For example, you may start with one page that lists all of your staff; however, after they see how cool it is, staff members may want to develop their own pages. In that case, you may want a separate folder dedicated to staff pages. If you're providing information for your sales team, you may find that you want a separate section for each product. As you add new sections, create new sub-directories or sub-folders to store their respective files. Creating sub-directories also makes it easier to manage a site that's built by multiple people. If each subsection has a separate folder, then each developer can better manage his or her own files.

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