How to Build a Digital Print Parts Catalogue

by admin on January 18, 2010

And now we will take a pause from attempting to write reasonably amusing blog posts to focus on the logistics of building and maintaining a web site. You may click away now.

Prepress Pilgrim was the first web site I ever built, apart from a blogger account (now closed) and some weird pay-for-hosting account that had the world's ugliest templates but promised to make you lots of money by advertising (it didn't). Since starting Prepress Pilgrim, I have built about 60 or so web sites, give or take a dozen. A great many of those web sites were "thin" sites, only 3 or pages, and more than a few have been discontinued ie not ever worth paying the $10 a year domain renewal fee.

The first sites I built for myself were an attemptto make money using Adsense and Clickbank and Ebay and a bunch of affiliate programs most of which I've dropped and forgotten. A lot of websites I built never made me a dime. But not all were failures.That's the beauty and wonder of the internet. There is stuff that people are not interested in, even if you think it's interesting. Then is stuff that other people find interesting and you wonder why. THEN there is stuff that people are so interested in that they buy stuff off your site or at the very least, they click on ads.

I've built some sites with very little time and effort that make money with only a few hours effort a year. Not a lot of money, but some. And as the years go by, little bits add up.

Additionally, by word of mouth, word gets out and people ask you to build websites for them and of course you get money for that. Now, building websites for people can be a real low-margin business. It's not just printers who are cheap, every small business out there watches costs like a hawk. So if you are not careful, you can get stuck building a $3000 web site for $300.  But not always.

Time passes. One day you log into your chequeing account and all this internet stuff that you are doing is no longer a hobby, no longer a dream. You're paying the mortgage, or at least you're paying the mortgage this month.

Prepress Pilgrim is not a money site for me. Well, not a serious money site. But it's still very useful to me as it's a good "authority" site and my most visible presence on the internet. For example, I can't remember the last time I sent out a resume. You want to know me, professionally, you read my blog. There's hundreds of pages of copy here, enjoy.

Another useful thing that this web site is good for is experimentation. Whenever I see a groovy new plug-in for WordPress or I get the twisted urge to edit some php code, I don't do it first on my client sites or my money sites. That's right, it gets done here. Of course, that means that sometimes Pilgrim is at risk of going boom-boom, which happened at least twice in my first year of operation in this site. And it nearly happened last month.

Recently I developed the urge to build a large site. Really big, like thousands of pages. You can do that with database-driven web sites like WordPress which backed by the MySql database. You find some good data and munge it into a CSV (comma separated values) file and use a special plug-in to import the data into WordPress and voila, you have just created 3000 new pages. In this case, I uploaded parts and supplies numbers for pretty well every darn inkjet and toner-based printer since the Apple Laserwriter,

This was an experiment and it worked, sort of. I mean, the web site didn't blow up. But it wasn't a perfect experiment by any means. For one thing the posts entries didn't get a category assigned to them. This is important, as the entries won't get catalogued unless they are assigned entry and furthermore, unassigned posts don't make MySql very happy, or so the error logs were telling me. Thus, I had to spend more than a couple of hours going through each and every post to assign it to the proper category.

Secondly, the plug-in that generates the sitemap for Google indexing basically threw up its hands and packed it in when it was faced with the prospect of indexing 3000+ pages. After a little bit of poking and editing of the php.ini file, it would generate a XML that was corrupt. Fortunately I was able to find an another sitemap plug-in that did work but some damage was done. According to Google webmaster, this blog has about 6000 pages but only 350 were considered worthy of being included in the Google index. Before the plug-in blew up I had over 450 pages included in the index. But now that the sitemap is valid, the number of indexed pages should go up.

However, because Google is only indexing about 10% of my blog, that does raise another question: How can you actually find stuff on the blog? Like for example, if you are looking for HP C5069A ink cartridges, there's no way somebody's going to go the HP category and spool through the 500 entries on HP looking for that particular yellow ink cartridge. People want a search box so they can type in the part #, and away they go.

However, it's well know that the default WordPress search box is not-so-good, so I replaced it with the Google engine about a year ago which worked pretty well. But with the parts catalogue loaded up, it's wasn't going to cut it anymore. So again it was back to the WordPress plug-in library to install the search unleashed for WordPress which has a module that will scan every last entry in the MySql database for whatever string you type in the search box. So you type C5069A and bang, it's right there in the search results.

Now of course, before being able to do that. I had to do some database maintenance and run an "optimization" script for the MySql database and build an index but hey, there were plugins for that too and I even read some of the instructions instead of charging ahead and pushing every button that I could find, which is my usual procedure.

All in all, the web sites now works reasonably well, no more MySQL hiccuping and the site comes up in the browser reasonably quickly, and if somebody want to actually order some parts or supplies off the website, they have a chance of finding it.

Mind you, there is still a ton of work to do. It would an interesting exercise to rearrange the linking structure within the web site to see if I could get more of the catalogue entries indexed in Google. And I only uploaded half of the database. That's right, there are another three thousand entries that I could upload if I ever get the courage to do so.

Mind you, why there is such an incredibly variety of inkjet and toner printers out there is almost worthy of another blog post in itself.

So anyways, if you were every wondering how much work there is behind the scenes at a web site like Prepress Pilgrim, now you know.

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