Advice / best practices for managing multiple template based websites

2009/5/22 Brandon
> I have 96 websites that are all based on the same template.  These
> sites are all hosted internally by the company at their corporate
> office so, I get to work directly with their admins and not a hosting
> company.  Each site represents a single field location and these
> locations are scattered across the United States.  These sites were
> built a couple of years ago and were done very quickly by an
> inexperienced developer.  Semantic markup, lean stylesheets,
> appropriate use of images, seo, analytics, mobile usage, and
> accessibility were not high priorities.  Now it is my job to take them
> on and clean them up.  The design will stay as close to the same as
> possible but what is going on behind the scenes is up to me to figure
> out and handle.
> Does anyone have any advice or best practices for managing this many
> sites in this manner?
> >From what I’ve seen so far the basic structure looks like this:  (
> pretty standard stuff but lots of duplication )
> Site 1
>     >images
>          >icons
>          >links
>          >ect
>     >includes
>     >styles
>     >documents (for attached articles and the like)
> Site 2  ( The rest area all the same )
> Site…
Assuming you have some server-side scripting available, you should be
able to do something that will allow for a fairly simple interface for
custom updates while keeping the architecture clean enough to
maintain. I think you can get something done with a few components:
– simple custom CMS + database for non-techs to update content (text
only, no styles)
– some kind of lightweight caching mechanism for the public sites
(though, this may not be necessary if the traffic is light and the
content fairly static)
to get there, here’s some things to start on:
– define what website components are custom & which are common
– for the custom parts, design a database to hold the custom content
(including standardized naming conventions / file locations as
– for the standard parts, design templates that can be easily
populated on the fly with the appropriate content (possibly as
determined by the domain name)
That should be enough to get you going. This is an ideal situation to
justify the separation of structure from content. The web developer
creates the templates, database, CMS and let the subject matter
experts fill in the details for each of their own sites. You could
even add an additional layer of intelligence with a site management
tool (i.e. create new locations) and writer / editor / publisher
permissions for making content public (depending on the size and
complexity of organization).
What thoughts do other people have? What did I miss? How would you
approach this problem?

– Randall Noval


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