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Web Development

Can a Joomla site be well-built by an inexperienced designer?

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Joomla is like chess. It’s easy to learn the basics. Doing it properly and well is another story.

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After a recent email rant to a friend about how difficult it is, as a web developer to make money, in these stringent times, I was told that it was because I use Joomla CMS. This is very easy for anyone to learn how to use!

My friend knows ordinary non-technical people who do this, themselves. I was sent a URL of a mutual acquaintance’s new Joomla web-site as an example of what just about anyone can do.

What totally amazed me was my underestimation of how bad it can be, when an amateur tries to do the work of a professional.  I was expecting a decent, but not brilliant site. It turned out to look and feel much worse than that.

In fact, it is an unlocked, undesigned, home-made primitive affair, whereas a good web-site must be a highly secure, well-designed work of hand-manufactured art.

To achieve that requires expertise, experience, talent and a massive quantity of knowledge.

I compared that site with my own company site and most of the sites in my portfolio.

They are mostly built with Joomla, although I have created sites with Drupal  – a lot more complex and difficult to learn – and  WordPress, of course (as with this blog site).

Top TenBelow are the top ten differences between Joomla sites that I have built and the unfortunate one that I was pointed to. I have left out the advanced stuff and deal with only the basic tenets of a well-built Joomla site.

  • 1      My sites: Very few defaults are used. Everything is customised, so each site is totally unique and according to the client’s taste. Even the templates are uniquely customised, which requires extensive knowledge of PHP, CSS, Javascript and XHTML. I often use Artisteer to start the process.

    Other site: how it would be without any customization, at all – just using the built-in defaults from the ‘rhuk_milkyway’ default template. There is no custom header with logo, no contact page, no log in etc.

  • 2      My sites: everything is secured, properly, so the sites cannot be hacked, so easily. Most of my sites don’t even look like Joomla, because they have been so obfuscated.

    Other site: an open book, ripe for a hacker to have a go.

  • 3      My sites: Analytics systems are applied, on most of my portfolio sites.

    Other site: has no way to check the effectiveness of pages or even the whole site.

  • 4       My sites:  conform to proper web standards and, therefore, are universally accessible and machine-readable. This is why they are almost always accepted for inclusion in the prestigious W3C Sites showcase and the Joomla Community Showcase.

    Other site: not too bad, but the designer has not known that all images MUST contain an alt attribute, to be valid to this XHTML transitional schema. I also found that the CSS also has an error, where a font name has incorrect quotes around it.

  • 5      My sites:  all fully search-engine optimised.

    Other site: uses the default keywords: “joomla, Joomla ” and the default description: “Joomla! – the dynamic portal engine and content management system “. SEF is not installed and running (requires knowledge of the use of .htaccess files). The front page copy is not optimised for SEO.

  • 6      My sites:  include many plug-ins, 3rd-party components and non-standard modules, which require lots of understanding and experience to configure.

    Other site: has no additional functionality in use, except the built-in Joomla Web-links component.

  • 7      My sites: Careful attention to permissions systems are built-in to my sites, without which, front-end editing is not possible, even for the site owner.

    Other site: Front-end editing is not possible, because there is no secure log-in facility.

  • 8      My sites: I have no broken links in 50 articles (hopefully).

    Other site: has at least one broken link, in spite of the tiny size of the site (2 articles).

  • 9     My sites: make certain that navigation is clear, extensive and self-explanatory, in spite of complexity and size of a site (e.g., my site has  50 articles in two languages, each well sign-posted to the visitor, in multiple ways).

    Other site: has good navigation, but that’s because it is only a blog site, with 2 page articles.

  • 10     My sites: have favicons for easy identification, search engine friendly URLs, etc.

    Other site: uses the default Joomla favicon, unfriendly URLs etc.

Of course, an amateur can build a good Joomla site, provided nothing too advanced is required. However, a lot of study and hands-on experience is required.

On the other hand, it may well be more sensible (and cheaper, in the long run) to get a professional to, at least, advise, if not build the site, to the clients design specifications. This is especially true for commercial sites or sites with a long and/or complex plan.

Otherwise, I have recommended that this site owner uses WordPress for her purposes, not Joomla. It is so much simpler to use for a beginner and designed for a simple blogging site, like that owner’s.

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