"Webmastering for Dummies Second Edition," Tauber and Kienan

Pros: Detailed, specific, and helpful in all ways
Cons: Mostly aimed at medium to large companies
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 10/20/2001

What was I expecting when I bought “Webmastering for Dummies”? To tell the truth, I’m not exactly sure. I think I assumed that it had something to do with the technical end of upkeeping a web site, and then there was that chapter on legal issues facing web sites, and that sounded handy.

Well whatever I thought this book was about, it isn’t what I got. Not that this is a bad thing. After the last “For Dummies” book I read, which was also the first FD book I’d ever read, I was very, very dubious about the series. WfD has restored my faith in at least the concept, if not the entire line of books.

What surprised me about this book is that it’s very business oriented. This is a book about planning out your site, budgeting for your site, marketing and promoting your site… Maybe I’m not quite getting the surprise across. I’ll put it this way: business-speak phrases like “branding” abound! Gantt charts! Proposals! Measures of success! Focus groups!

No, wait – come back! I didn’t mean to scare you away. Despite all the business-speak, you really should read this book if you do any web-work at all. Even if the word “branding” makes you turn pale, this is an invaluable resource. While most of the suggestions are clearly aimed at mid- to large-sized companies (and thus some information is irrelevant to smaller projects), that hardly makes this book useless. And unlike some business-speak, the buzzwords in this book aren’t used as buzzwords. They’re used appropriately – to represent useful concepts.

What is a Webmaster?

This is where the initial confusion comes from. This book defines the many roles a webmaster can take on, from tech to content provider, designer, marketer, and even executive. If you’ve only thought of webmasters as techs, it might open your eyes a bit.

Plan Well

There’s a remarkably strong focus in here on planning your website well. You’ll find concrete suggestions: checklists to go down, questions to ask yourself, charts to make. And yes, it really does help. I read the book cover to cover, but couldn’t help stopping here and there to play with some of the ideas – and the proto-website I’m working on is already much cleaner, much easier to navigate, and much better, even though it’s still all on paper.

There are fabulous rules of thumb, like the idea that anything particularly important on your web site should be no more than a certain number of clicks away from the main page. Or the idea that lists of items (like that one on your navigation bar!) should be between 3 and 7 items long for maximum readability. Those are just two of many, many simple suggestions and items in here that you can make use of. You’ll even find out which days of the week (and what time of day!) you should send that email newsletter out on in order to get the maximum number of click-throughs.

It isn’t wizardry, either. I found that most of the rules of thumb made a lot of sense once I stopped to think about them. They just aren’t ideas that I would have come up with on my own, so this is going to save me a lot of painful trial and error. There are even suggestions for what to watch out for when interviewing web shop candidates, and what to look for when hiring for positions in the field.

Making Customers Happy

There are suggestions for ways to make your site promote community without necessarily installing high-maintenance chat rooms, forums, or discussion lists. There’s information about the results of online reading habit studies, and a chart from a study showing how most people find web pages. You’ll find out how often you need to update your site to attract repeat visitors, how to make your site more readable, and even the number of users you need before you can successfully get chat rooms or message boards going.

There’s stellar information on getting to know your customer base and getting them to trust you – not flash-in-the-pan tricks, but honest-to-goodness good business practices.

The Legal Stuff

Not sure what you can legally use on your site? This book will explain Copyright, Trademark, Trade dress, Trade secret, and Patent. It has the best explanation of the fact that you cannot copyright ideas (only the expression of ideas) that I’ve seen yet.

The Tech Stuff

This book had the first good explanation that I’ve seen so far of how relational databases work. It also provided a reasonably good overview of the pros and cons of different types of web servers, as well as an explanation of different types of servers (web, database, application…). There’s stuff on e-commerce solutions, security issues, and even fulfillment issues.

Problems?

I’ve only found the tiniest of problems. For instance, the explanations of how expensive it will be to put together your web site just don’t cover the situation I’m in, so they’re a little misleading. (I had a brief moment of panic before realizing this.) This is a symptom of the fact that this book is very definitely aimed at companies – not at individuals. Most of the material can still be made use of, but a few things just can’t and you probably shouldn’t try! As a very, very tiny nit-pick, the discussion of image formats didn’t cover PNG – this book was recent enough that it really should have.

That’s it. Those are the only problems I found. Really! So if you’re building a web site, go buy this now; I predict that you won’t regret it. (As usual with books regarding web technology, look for the most recent edition of this book rather than a specific one. The edition I read was the second edition.)

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