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Building Your Own 40K Site
Introduction <> Content <> Set-up <> Maintenance
Own 40K Site: Maintenance
Once you have a site, you’ll need to maintain it. There are several aspects to maintenance: let’s get to them.
The Internet is a big place and there are thousands of other 40K sites out there. How are you going to get noticed? You have a variety of options.
One way is to register your site with online search engines like Yahoo, AltaVista, Webcrawler, Dogpile, and Ask Jeeves. All these services are free, and while they reach millions of people, there’s no guarantee that your site is going to come up near the top of the list when Ferndock Creel in Buttscratch, Iowa types the words “Warhammer 40K” into Google. Young Ferndock is going to get about 125,000 entries in Google, and he’s not going to wade through more than the first ten or twenty, if that. So what else can you do to get noticed?
Well, there are “portal” sites, like The Warp, which exist to pass along news about 40K sites. With sites like The Warp, you stand a better chance of reaching other 40K players. Typically, these sites ask you to register, and whenever you have news for them, you can log in and type out an announcement, which will be seen by anyone who visits the portal site. From personal experience, I can tell you that this works well. Every time I have an update, I send a notice to The Warp and they post it for me. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s all good. But don’t stop there.
Online forums like The Millenium Gate, The Bolter and Chainsword, Eldar Online, and Dakka Dakka might seem like good places to advertise, but check the forum rules and tread warily. Some forums don’t mind ads. Other forums resent “outsiders” breezing in and using their first post as an ad for their site. I did just that when I first arrived at Dakka Dakka and got a frosty reception: not that the Dakka folks are bad or mean, just that I had inadvertently committed a social faux pas.
If you’re going to advertise on forums, you may want to pick a few you like and become a regular contributor first. That way the “veterans” will get to know you and (hopefully) won’t consider you obnoxious when you tell them about your site. An unobtrusive way of promoting your site through a forum is simply to include a link to your site (perhaps with a snazzy web banner, like the one below) as part of your online “signature” that you leave with each post you make. Lots of people do this, and it’s accepted on every forum I know of.
Another way to advertise on a forum is to get folks involved with your site. I do this every time my pal Pat has a new Thousand Points of Light article. A week or so before his next article goes online, I’ll visit a forum, explain what the series is, and ask people to send in photos of their army. So if Pat has written a list for Imperial Guard, I’ll visit an IG forum; if he writes about Tau, I’ll visit a Tau forum, and so on. I also provide a link so people can read more about the series and see sample army lists.
I usually get lots of responses. I post the best photos with the article and people visit to see their stuff online. They usually offer comments on the army lists. Hopefully, they’ll like what they saw and will come back. Hopefully, they’ll tell their friends.
Another way to advertise your site is by exchanging links with other 40K webmasters. That is, you put a link from your site to another site, and the person running the other site does the same for you. That way, someone visiting the other person’s site may see the link to yours and follow it.
How do you go about doing this? When you visit a site, spare a moment to jot down the e-mail address of the person running the site and send them a note asking if they’d like to exchange links. Most people are more than willing. If you’d like a starting list of sites to exchange links with, the Beyond the Jungle section has scores of them, and with every update, I add another one.
The downside to relying on link exchanges is that it’s slow: while just about every site has a “Link” section, visitors usually check out that section last, if at all. So it may take some time before folks come wandering by your site via another.
Finally, there’s word of mouth. If you put together a good site and keep it updated with quality material, eventually people will hear about it from others. Someone might come across one of your ads on a portal site and mention it to his friend. The friend might check out your site and the next time he goes on a forum, he might post a link to an article you’ve written. Someone might follow that link, like what they read, and mention your site to someone with a website, who then e-mails you, asking if the two of you can exchange links. And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut said.
The first decision you need to make is if you will update regularly or irregularly: on a schedule, or at your whim? Regular updates signal to your visitors that you are committed to your site, and they will know when to “tune in” for the latest, provided you tell them what your schedule is, of course.
As I’ve mentioned before, visitors like consistency. Because so few sites update regularly, you can use your dependability as an advertising facet, as I do (“Looking for in-depth 40K information, innovative ideas, and regular updates?”). While regular updates sound swell, there are two things to bear in mind.
The first is that once you establish regular updates, you are under a deadline. Some people don’t mind deadlines, some people thrive on them, and some people let deadlines ruin their life. And as long as you continue with regular updates, you are never out of their shadow: if you regularly post updates on Friday, then Saturday morning is not the day after you posted, it’s six days until you have to post again. See what I mean? Whether you update weekly, biweekly, monthly, whatever, don’t forge a deadline you can’t meet or can’t live with.
I started the Jungle with updates every Monday and stuck to that schedule for almost two years. I was able to do that because at the time, my job didn’t ask much of me and I was able to do a lot of stuff for the site during spare moments at work. Then I changed jobs; not only did my workload drastically increase (no more goofing off at work!) but I started massive site renovations, too. I had no choice but to switch to biweekly updates. Recently, for personal reasons, I went to monthly updates. I explained the change to the visitors and they understood.
The second thing to remember about regular updates is that if you don’t deliver your updates on time, you lose credibility with your visitors. In running a website, as in almost anything else in life, credibility is important. People don’t want to visit a site run by someone they think is an idiot or who jacks them around—that’s just a waste of their time. Visitors will probably forgive the occasional slip, especially if you give them a good reason (“Sorry for missing the last update, but I have been ill”), but if you’re frequently missing your own deadlines, they may decide you’re a bozo and not come back.
Thus far at the Jungle, I’ve only missed one update (for a death in the family). I’ve often posted updates a few days early if I knew I was going to be traveling for business or vacation. It’s more work to do that, but it’s worth it to me to keep visitors happy.
You may decide that regular updates and deadlines are too much hassle for you, and that’s fine. You can just post stuff when you feel like it. Maintaining the site will then be much easier for you. The downside is that visitors will have little to no idea when to expect a new update from you, and thus may not visit as often as you would like. This is especially true the longer you wait between updates. And if you update very infrequently (say more than six months or so between postings), visitors may assume your site is “dead,” i.e., no longer updated at all. And dead sites, like dead bodies, repel people. They’ll leave and never come back.
A “How-to” Guide
So talk about new units you’ve added to your army and include photos. Share with everyone the latest tactics you’ve used. Rant about how a plethora of starcannons ruined what should have been an easy win over your pal and his Eldar army. And include a batrep of said battle.
This is not to say that you can’t use updates to add new topics. Just because you started off with a site about Necrons doesn’t mean you can’t expand the site to include the Imperial Guard army you’re building. Go ahead: most visitors like to read about a wide range of 40K subjects.
Nor is this to say that you have to include everything you possibly can in an update. You’ll have to decide how much of what to include with each update: perhaps the write-up and photos of the new unit in one update, the tactics in another, the rant and the battle report in a third. Pace yourself. Certainly, more is better, but you’re only human and you have a life to lead (you do have a life outside 40K, right?).
Spreading out your material over several updates, instead of posting it all at once, will give you plenty of “lead time” to develop new material and will help keep the site from becoming a chore. I’m not getting paid to run this site, and I seriously doubt you’ll be paid to run yours, either, so you might as well make sure you’re having fun. Because if running your site becomes more of a “job” than a “hobby,” it’s time to hang it up.
It’s probably a good thing to vary your subject matter from one update to the other. If you do one thing over and over again (“Yet another battle report from yours truly!”), visitors may get bored.
Even if your site just focuses on one army or one facet of 40K (such as “painting”), there’s still plenty of room for varied material. Continuing the Necron example, you could use one update to post a tactics article on fighting Space Marines, another update could feature a “how-to” guide to converting Warriors, and a third update could have a short story about Nightbringer. Same subject matter (“Necrons”), different topics (tactics, modeling, and fiction). See what I mean?
If you find it difficult to complete an article in the time you have before your next update, may I suggest making it a series? Series allow you to discuss a topic in depth without forcing you to write everything at once. Series work well for big topics, such as building a new army, playing 40K better, or running a campaign. Segment your material in a logical fashion and post installments as desired.
Behind the scenes:
What it takes to update the Jungle
Because this site is on a regular schedule, I usually devote a small part of every day to the next update. I write most of the material, typically on lunch breaks at work. If I’m not sure about how well something turned out, I’ll e-mail it to my friend Patrick Eibel for his comments (Pat is an excellent editor). In addition, Pat frequently sends me material, usually installments for A Thousand Points of Light or some other series he’s involved with. I also take submissions from visitors, the most frequent being Themed Army Ideas.
I always have a backlog of material, in various degrees of readiness. I plan out which articles I’ll post for the next few months, varying the content with each update so as not to bore visitors: a battle report one time, a commentary and a Themed Army Idea the next, some new photos of an army unit after that, etc.
The schedule isn’t written in stone, though. If, for example, a new codex has just come out and someone has sent me some material to go with it, I’ll try to post it as soon as possible. In making a schedule, I also keep in mind events I might attend, like Games Day or Fall From Grace or a Rogue Trader Tournament.
I’ve found that having an update schedule prods me to paint army units or get together with Pat to fight campaign battles. While running the site is fun, it’s nice to get out from behind the computer and actually paint or play once in a while.
For each update, I usually have a few long articles or several short ones, or a mix. Usually, I try to make articles very different from each other so that if a visitor doesn’t like one, maybe they’ll like the another. So for example, perhaps I’ll write a rant about gaming etiquette and include a Themed Army Idea for Eldar. Sometimes it’s fun to devote an update to a single subject, like Orks, or tactics, or painting, but I usually shy away from this: what if a visitor doesn’t like Orks? Or doesn’t care about tactics? Or is sick of reading about painting?
I draft all my material in Microsoft Word 97 and “cut-and-paste” it into Netscape Composer, using templates of other Jungle pages to make new ones. As I mentioned earlier, using templates makes pages look consistent, which visitors appreciate. I edit any images (photographs or artwork) that go along with the article, insert them in the article, and write captions for them. I also check how the new page looks in Internet Explorer, which most visitors use.
When adding new material, I do quite a bit of linking. I add:
Sometimes I’ll use What’s New to post interesting e-mails that I’ve received, and at the beginning of every month, I move the old links to the What’s New Archive page. Finally, I change the dates on the Main Page so that everyone knows when the last update was and when the next one will be, and then I upload all that to The Warp’s server.
Each page and image is its own file, and I’m on dial-up access from home, so uploading takes a while. I usually upload new material late on Saturday nights, when Internet traffic in my area is minimal, and I check to make sure that everything went through okay.
You don’t have to put as much effort into your site as I do with mine, but as you can see, updating a site is more than just writing new stuff and putting it online. There’s a lot of background work that most visitors don’t think of or notice.
What NOT to include
in your updates
The first thing I advise you to stay away from is what I call a “Web Geek Update.” You know, where the “update” consists of a blurb from the webmaster saying, “In this update, I changed all the fonts to Arial 10 and re-did my banner,” or something like that. No new material, just some tinkering with the nuts-and-bolts of the site. Whenever I see “updates” like that, I wonder who, besides the webmaster, cares? An update that consists of adjusting some technical aspect of the site is not an update: it’s just a technical adjustment. People don’t come to sites to look at fonts or see what colors you’re using for links: people come for information.
The second thing I advise you to stay away from is personal stuff, especially if it’s bad. Because people have asked, I have some personal information on this site, but I try to keep it to a minimum, mostly because I think that my visitors come here for something besides details on the day-to-day life of a federal government worker with a wife, two kids, and a mortgage payment. Similarly, while I, like everyone else, have problems, I don’t think you want to read about them. I would only mention a personal problem if it were to affect my ability to update the site. Even then, I would avoid details.
The third thing I advise you to stay away from is extraneous material, unless your site is already set up to include all kinds of non-40K stuff (“Welcome to ‘My Life,’ the website about everything having to do with me, Ferndock Creel”). But if your site is dedicated to 40K, limit your updates to 40K. That’s the reason why most, if not all, of your visitors are coming to your site, so give them what they want. Preparing and posting extraneous material takes away time you would have devoted to 40K stuff and probably won’t interest most of your visitors.
First off, you’ll need to determine how much of your site you want to change and whether you’ll shut down your site or keep it open during “construction.” The extent of your desired renovations will be a big factor driving your decision to shut down or stay open. While closing a site might allow you more time to work on renovations (particularly if you previously had regular updates), you’ll have to chase after all your old visitors when you re-open. Once people stop visiting a site, they tend to stay away; getting them back will require some serious advertising. Not to mention that while your site is down, it won’t be attracting new visitors.
Hopefully, you have set up your site to accommodate renovations. Hopefully, you have used a product like Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia Dreamweaver to create your navigation areas, for example, so that when you want to change those, you can edit one page and the software will duplicate that change throughout your site, saving you hours of work. Hopefully, you have used the same background image for each page, so that you can take a different image, change its name to the name of the image you used before, and—POW!—you’ve switched the background throughout your site in seconds.
No? Well, don’t feel too bad: neither did I. Just bear in mind that, depending on what you want to change, you may have a lot of work ahead of you.
Jungle (the first time)
After learning more about site design, I realized that I needed to truncate the text toward the center of the screen to make it easier to read. I launched my first round of renovations, moving the text over and adding a bright green column on the left to fill the space. As I began, I had about 60 pages to re-do. I kept the site open and revised the pages, loading them as I completed them. During the renovation, the site had a hodgepodge look, with some of the pages on the new format and some of them not. It was tedious work, but I stuck to it and thought it was worth it.
And for a while, all was good. But about two years later, I decided that I hated how my site looked. Every other 40K site out there had a “starfield” background, and while it went with the theme of the site (40K), it didn’t go with the name (“the Jungle”—stars—hello? Anyone else sense a disconnect here?). The more I looked at the white text, the more it annoyed me, and that green column down the left side—good God, what HAD I been thinking? Ugly, ugly, very ugly.
Worse, the Jungle had grown out of control. It had never been easy to find stuff on the site, and it only got worse as the site got bigger. The Tiger Roars commentary section had mushroomed into a huge catch-all section filled with rants and battle reports and event descriptions. The What Others Said section had started off as a type of “Letters to the Editor” area, but it too was ponderous and served no purpose. The Jungle had been initially set up as a showcase for my Fighting Tigers army, but as I moved my emphasis away from the Tigers and toward other 40K material, I found I didn’t have places to put it. The site had to change or die.
Jungle (the second time)
Given the size of the Jungle then (about 150 pages) and the amount of revisions I wanted to make, I knew I was in for a long, difficult stretch. The job would have been much easier had I used FrontPage or Dreamweaver when I created the site, but even with those advanced programs, I still would have had to re-do every page. There was simply no way around it.
Site renovations, especially renovations of this scope, can be all work and no play, but I was determined to keep the site open and continue regular updates so as not to lose visitors. I also decided to maintain a positive attitude about the whole thing, viewing the revisions as an opportunity rather than a burden. This was my chance to correct every flaw I found, to edit material and make it read better, to make the site exactly what I wanted it to be. Even areas that I thought were in good shape, like the Codex, would get a few tweaks here and there to improve them.
At the start of the renovation, I decided to upload pages as I went. While it would have been nice to present the new look all at once, rather than having a hodge-podge of old and new pages, it just wasn’t feasible. I knew that correcting all those pages would take many months, and in the meantime, I had to keep cranking out updates. There was simply no point in posting updates in the old format, because then I would be making more work for myself. So I did all the updates in the new format and revised the site one section at a time. When I finished a section, I uploaded all its new pages and invited visitors to take a look at, say, the “new and improved Codex: Fighting Tigers.”
To remedy the congenital errors that hadn’t been corrected in the first renovation, I:
I did the renovations in my spare time at home, after I had finished the update material, so it took over a year to complete. The best parts about renovating were designing new layouts, deciding what would go in the new sections, deleting outdated material, and replacing poor-quality photographs with new, better images.
The worst parts were the effort involved (150 pages is a LOT to edit) and the time it took. I’m glad I did it, but I won’t do any renovations on that scale ever again. Fortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever have to; I have the site pretty much set up to grow in a manageable fashion. Any changes from here on out will be cosmetic tweaks. I’ll probably replace the logo and the background next year just to keep the look of the site fresh. Fortunately, all I have to do is swap one image file for another and the change will be replicated in a twinkling throughout the site.
I won’t try to tell you that the new look of the Jungle is the coolest thing on the Internet, but it’s a big improvement over what came before, and visitors seem to like it. So learn from my experiences and use good planning and good design to avoid major renovations.
Delaying the End
of All Things
To be sure, as the Internet grows older there will be websites that endure for years and years, just as several American soap operas and the news program 60 Minutes have lasted for decades. But these will be the exceptions. Much like television shows, the vast majority of websites come and go fairly quickly; I read somewhere that the average lifespan of a website is 18 months. I don’t know whether that figure is accurate or not, but I do know that most of the 40K websites that I visited in 1998 (when I first got on the Internet) are long gone or merely shells of their former selves.
Usually, a site will die from neglect. Updates come less and less frequently, then stop altogether. Eventually, the site disappears, to be replaced by the dreaded “Error 404, Page Not Found” message when you type in the URL.
Why do I bring up this admittedly depressing subject? What does this have to do with maintenance? Simply this: as you maintain your site, keep in mind that eventually your little production will come to an end. The Internet has an advantage over television in that websites don’t get canceled for poor ratings, like TV shows do, so the only force that determines the lifespan of your website is you. So long as you stay interested in your site, it will live. Once you stop, your site will die.
Yes, you determine how long your site lives. It doesn’t matter if the only people who like your site are your best friend and your mom. It doesn’t matter if you’re always #99 on The Warp’s Top 100 40K Sites Poll—or if your site doesn’t appear at all. It doesn’t matter if you get 5000 hits a week or 5 hits a year. So long as you’re committed to running your site, it will endure.
So what this means is that you need to pace yourself and stay involved. When you run a site, there are so many possibilities open to you that you may try to do too much and burn out. When the Jungle first started, I was anxious to see it succeed. I registered on search engines, I advertised on forums, I swapped links, I cranked out huge updates as fast as I could (sometimes twice a week). But after a while, working on the site became just that—work. I was spending more time on my site than I was on anything else, and I wasn’t enjoying it. I was becoming a slave to the Jungle.
Decide how much time and effort you’re willing to put into your site and stick to those limits. Avoid unrealistic and egotistical goals like “Having the best 40K site on the Internet.” What does being “the best” mean? How much time and energy would that take from you? What would you gain from “having the best 40K site on the Internet?” How would you feel if you found a site that was “better” than yours?
Just as you shouldn’t let yourself get wrapped up in your own unrealistic expectations, avoid the unrealistic expectations of visitors. If visitors like a site, they’ll always want more: more articles, bigger articles, more frequent updates, etc. You can’t please everyone: some visitors will want you to do one thing, other visitors will want you to do the exact opposite. Decide what you can do (and want to do) and do it, and if you can’t (or don't want to) do something that visitors want, don’t. You’re the one who has to do all the work—you might as well enjoy it.
I want the Jungle to be the best it can be given my real-life constraints, but I don’t worry much about having the flashiest layout or the most detailed battle reports. I do what I can in the time that I have, and I try to maintain perspective. Am I proud of the site? Yes. Do I think it’s a good site? Yes. Do I think I could do things better? Certainly—if I could work on it full-time and get paid for it. Are there better sites out there? Most definitely: you’ll find heaps of them in the Beyond the Jungle section.
That’s All, Folks!
Posted June 2003
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