How to Structure Your Site
Navigation structure, file structure, now site structure? What’s with all this structuring!?! Of them all, site structure is the most critical to developing your site, and it is this area that causes the most confusion and frustration for newbies.
Web design is all based on references—references to other pages, to images, and to other content. If these references are broken, the site won’t function properly. So if you’re new to all this, here’s one suggestion: After you’ve decided on a site structure, draw it on paper and keep it beside you as you work to help you stay on track. Okay, let’s have a closer look.
What’s File Structure?
File structure refers to the way you organize and save all the files used in your site. When you create hyperlinks or use images and other media, you’re creating reference paths to other files in your site structure.
Typically, I create a folder on my hard drive and name it after the project I’m working on. This folder is called the “root” of the site. Inside this folder, I organize all the content related to the site into subfolders. How you decide to organize your own project is completely up to you, but usually simpler is better. I always suggest creating three folders on the root level (the top level) of your site, htm for all HTML files, img for all images, and media for MP3, PDF, and other files.
Many times you can begin to understand how a site is structured just by looking at your web browser’s address bar—that is, unless the web site is database driven (in that case, you just get a seemingly incoherent line of text). We’ll spend more time discussing site structure in the next chapter, where you set up your first site in Dreamweaver.
What’s the Deal with Index Files?
Okay, this is critical. The opening page of your site (your home page or splash page) is typically called something like index.htm, and it has to be placed at the root level of your file structure—otherwise, your site won’t work. When you navigate to a site, say geoffblake.com, your web browser will look for an index.htm file. If the browser finds it, it’ll display it on your screen. If it can’t find it, it will display a directory listing or an error message of some sort.
You can use this behavior to your advantage. Let’s say I want a survey on my web site. I could create the survey page and save it in my htm folder, but this would result in the following URL: www.geoffblake.com/htm/survey.htm. Kinda lengthy. To make the URL shorter and easier to remember, I can set up the URL to read www.geoffblake.com/survey. How? Well, I can create the survey page and then save it as index.htm inside a survey folder in my site structure. When a browser is pointed at a folder, it will try to find an index file to display. A site can have more than one index file, just not in the same directory.
Knowing this, you can make important URLs much more succinct and easier to remember. If I ran into you in the grocery store and asked you to fill out the survey at my web site, the second URL would be much easier for you to remember than the first one. Use your imagination; you can use this approach for a products page, a bio, a resume, or whatever else you want.