Our website is 18 years old today. Not the content or design I mean it’s been 18 years since we launched the first version of www.k-international.com. This makes me feel old. We had to have the dash because a logistics firm in NYC registered first, something which pains me every time I have to type or say the domain. It’s a bit like when you have to use yournameXX@gmail.com where XX is some random number because somebody else got there first.
Originally it was Dermot’s idea. I remember vividly when he said to me, “you know what Rich? This internet thing looks like it’s really going to take off, even Pepsi Cola has a website… I reckon we should create one”.
So we did. It was 1997, Titanic was on at the cinema, the Spice Girls had just made it big in America and at the end of August, the whole nation stopped and watched the horrific news that Sunday morning finding out Princess Diana had died.
Websites back then were created by learning HTML. This was done by going to a bookshop and buying huge books taking them home and then reading them. Looking back the markup language was not that complicated (although you’d think we were putting a man on the moon given the size of the books we read) it was the random incompatibility of the browsers and screen resolutions that seemed to be the biggest challenge.
The ‘internet’ back then was changing rapidly (or at least our experience of it). So far it had consisted of CompuServe or connecting to bulletin boards via dial-up. At the time this was like science fiction, even if you had to pay per minute for connection time.
Our first version of the site had a grey background, 5 pages, hyperlinks centred in blue on the top of the page and we were very proud that it worked in all versions of Netscape and Internet Explorer. And of course, while we made the site we used the very latest in gif technology to signify the website was ‘under construction’.
The latest version of our site which Jonny and I designed/launched last year was version 6, this is the story that got us there.
DreamWeaver saved my sanity. It meant we could do things like use templates to speed up the production process, manage the remote content directly from the design environment, draw design layouts in Photoshop and then design over them. We still had to code but this made it so much easier.
What it also gave us (which was great) was a place to experiment, to push HTML and CSS to see what it could do. We went crazy with layers, we had tables, we had frames. We subscribed to all the web design magazines we could think of and concentrated all our spare time to keep up with the latest fashions online.
Flash arrived in ‘96 and we’d been playing with it since version 2. Mostly making internal projects, early 1980s game clones (space invaders, breakout, galaxians) and the odd localization project for clients. I actually really liked it as a development platform and we used to use it to train some of the team to write code.
The funniest thing we used it for was the ‘Rosalba Play Centre’. This was a soundboard of our boss (Rosalba) telling us off in different voices which Charlie designed and built, it was hilarious and took the sting out of typesetting user manuals for 14 hours a day.
In 1999 we decided it was time – we were going to include flash on the website. Off the back of the legendary ‘party like it’s 1999’ calendar we designed a UI based on different squares which animated as the site loaded. I love it. When people saw it they said, “WOW”. I thought we were going to win a design award for it.
When the flash intro stopped playing it loaded the website. It looked like fairly normal HTML layers.
We put real people who really work here on the site because a) stock images look really stupid and b) we wanted to show our clients what we looked like. We bought a decent digital camera (a Sony DSC-F717) which took amazing 4-megapixel pictures this helped us to edit and publish the photos the same day and started to develop service pages for the long tail searches.
The CMS. A New Hope
We started to create a LOT of content. We needed a CMS. So we made our own.
This meant we moved away from DreamWeaver as the development environment and concentrated on the quality of content. Our developers made a CMS from scratch making the content agnostic from the design. We based the markup language on the one used by Wikipedia (a new website which had the impossible task of curating the world’s knowledge in one place) and started the task of populating the site with as much information about our services and language that we could think of. The design was clean. Navbar at the top, sidebar down the right and main content 2/3 width on the left.
Joomla. The CMS Strikes Back
It got too complicated to run through our own CMS. I wanted to outsource a lot of content creation which meant providing support to the content creators, something which got more complex as the project went on. I thought it would be easier if we used an established system and we needed to include a blogging engine and social media integration.
I stripped the design of the site back to the bare bones. Threw most of the content away (it was the fashion at the time) and spent a whole summer rebuilding the site in Joomla.
It lasted two years.
WordPress. Return of the Content
We knew early on Joomla was a mistake. Using it was like sticking pins in your eyes. Every time we made a change to the site we needed to clear the cache in 3 places. Even typing this sentence makes me think about that system and makes me angry. The problem we had was that we had a lot of content and changing CMS would be difficult. We bit the bullet in 2014 and after a brief fling with PyroCMS we invested the time to develop a design for WordPress.
This was the best thing we ever did. The environment is transparent, I type all my blog posts directly into the CMS (it even checks my bad spelling) and if we need anything new we install a plugin. It’s no secret that I love WordPress.
Even in the last 18 months, we’ve seen a lot of changes in the way Google (we get 90% of our organic traffic from their search engine) rank pages in their search engine results. Sometimes this is a joke as we see people spamming the living daylights out of their own blog networks (you know who you are!) and holding top ten slots for competitive keywords, but hey! what you gonna do? We now concentrate our time on creating relevant quality content that we hope people in our niche will enjoy, share and link to. Have a look around our blog and see some great examples.
Happy Birthday Mr Website
So… you’ve grown so much. Like any parent, I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved together and as the random walk of the SERPs make us laugh every day I hope we continue to grow together as the years go by. Happy Birthday Mr Website.