A Joomla! 2.5 Website from Scratch

First, start with a plan

There are two kinds of website builders.

The first is all too typical. A client asks,

I'd like a website, and I want it blue; how much will that cost?

The builder responds,

If you get it with a calendar, it will cost $X, or you can also get it with a blog for $Y.

This kind of builder serves as a button-clicker. The client asks for something, and rather than applying analysis or years of experience to the problem the client needs solve, this builder simply delivers a site the way the client requested it.

The second kind of website builder has a future with bigger clients in it. When asked the same question, this builder says,

Sure, we can definitely make your website blue. Can you tell me about your organization and what you hope your website will do for it?

By asking instead about a client's organization and the problems they need solved, you will be developing a relationship of trust with your client. That means completing the site is the start of the relationship with your client, leading to further work, rather than the completion of your relationship with the client. It's much easier to get continuing work from existing clients, rather than continuously seeking new ones.

Assuming you want to be the second, more successful website builder, here are some pointers for putting together your Joomla 2.5 site from scratch.

Goals of the organization, users, and website

Start a discussion with the client about their organization, whether it's a business, a non-profit, or a personal website. You might ask some of the following questions, and there are many additional questions to these:

  • What is the goal of the organization? (Examples: end world hunger, make money by selling knitting products, provide updates about my latest activities)
  • When was the organization founded and who does the organization serve?
  • Why does the organization need a website? Does a website already exist, or is this a new site?
  • If a site already exists, what is worth keeping in the old site? What would you add to the content of the old site? Is the site's message still on target, or has the organization changed since the last site design?
  • Who will be maintaining the website? (Examples: IT staff, in-house webmaster, the secretary in addition to other duties, or the organization sends its updates to you to complete)

You will likely want to ask many additional questions to these above to fully understand your client and the answers to the following three key questions:

  • What are the goals of this organization?
  • What are the goals of the website, and how does it support the goals of the organization?
  • What do the site visitors want from the website, and how does that fit with the goals of the website and the organization?

Out of this discussion, you should identify some extension types you'll need to include on your site (for example: a calendar with an "upcoming events" module; a blog with comments and tagging; a shopping cart that interfaces with PayPal).

You should also develop a site map for your website. This is a detailed description of all pages on your site and how they link together. The term site map also refers to a page on your site containing links to every page on the site. The first site map you create is spelling out all of the pages and navigation structure on a piece of paper, and the second site map can be generated by an extension like XMap.

For more information on website planning, I recommend the following resources:

Next, consider the technology

If you are reading this book, and particularly a chapter called "A Joomla 2.5 Website from Scratch", I assume you have chosen Joomla for building this website.

Clients may wish to know why you've chosen Joomla for the site, or why it's a good choice of technology for them. Some arguments I use when selling Joomla include:

It's unlikely you'll use just Joomla's core to build your website. In most cases, you'll want to add some third party extensions to your website. A great place to start looking for these is the Joomla Extension Directory (JED). Debating which Joomla extensions are "best" or "critical" to each website is a topic of conversation that never seems to get old among Joomla designers and developers.

Do not stack your Joomla site with endless extensions. It's best to pick a minimum number of extensions, just the ones you need most, and don't load the site up with unneccesary additional technology. Each extension should address a purpose identified as part of the goals development process described above. Just because you can put in extra extensions because they're "cool" or you think they're interesting to use does not necessarily mean they should be used on the site, unless they contribute to reaching a site goal.

Now you're ready to build

With a plan established and extensions selected, and your site map in place, you are ready to assemble your Joomla website.

  1. Install Joomla.
  2. Create categories for your planned content. The categories may be driven by your site map. For example, if you have a part of the site called About Us, you might create a corresponding category. Pages like Board of Directors, History, Mission and Vision, and Management would be included under this category.
  3. Enter your content into the website using the Article Manager. Each planned page might become an article. Helpful resources for understanding this process include:
  4. Link articles to your navigation bars on the website via the Menu Item Manager.
  5. Install a template that makes the website look the way you wish. You can do this step earlier, but I find it easier to evaluate the look of a template once some content is available to me in the website.
  6. Configure any extensions required for your website. For example, it's highly likely that you will want to include a contact form for your site.
  7. Test your website carefully. Make sure the navigation links to the expected pages and functions on the site. Read all content carefully for typos. Look at the site in several different web browsers (like Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer) on both Mac and PC platforms. The site does not need to be exactly the same, but it should look reasonable in all browsers.
  8. Launch your website. You may wish to do a "soft launch" first, meaning you post the site without press releases or a big public promotion. This gives you some time to test the site in a real-world environment, while fixing any additional problems that may arise. Once the site has been active for a week or two, you can do a "hard launch", meaning creating publicity for the new site.