10 Things Everyone Should Know To Update a Website

June 24, 2011

Nearly two decades after the advent of HTML, we still struggle with formatting words, paragraphs, and pages on the Web. For a website practitioner, using HTML and managing website content is second nature. But to other professionals, who are just now taking on the task of regular website and email content updates, the foreign system of tags and nuances might as well be an alien language.

So if you are newly tasked with managing your organization’s website, blog, or email newsletter — or if you’ve just launched a website — here’s a couple of things that will make your experience much, much easier.

1. Anyone can edit a web page. The modern website is typically powered by a content management system (CMS) that allows administrators to log in and change web pages on that site using a secure section of that website. You really don’t need to know HTML. But you do need to understand a little of the behind the scenes that makes this work.

2. You can not copy and paste formatting from Microsoft Word. For those of us who learned desktop publishing at the same time we learned how to use computers, this can be an awkward change in our mindset. You know Word, and how to use it to create bullet lists, bold text, and centered paragraphs. All of this is possible on a web page, but you can not simply copy and paste from Word. Think of it as translating.

So the trick to formatting online content is to first copy and paste whatever you have in Microsoft Word into some sort of plain text editor. In Windows, this is Notepad. On a Mac, you can download the excellent plain-text editor TextWrangler and paste into it. Our websites come with a text editor that has a “Paste as plain text” button to make this easier.

But however you get it there, you must get a clean copy of your content without any formatting in it. Yes, of course there are exceptions to this, but if you want good, reliable, clean content every time, this is the most foolproof way to do it.

Once you have the plain text version of your content, then copy that into your website’s text editor. This will give you fresh, clean content, which you can then format using the website’s built-in text editor.

Most all content management systems (CMS) today have a text editor that will let you edit text just as you would in Microsoft Word. This is called a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor. If you don’t have one, contact your web provider and ask them to install one.

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