Data-driven Web Sites

OK, so it’s the new thing. But when does it make sense to use a database server? Let’s take a look at the basics.

What is database-driven?

Basically speaking, a database-enabled web site allows you to customize your content for specific users, or to serve up customized information to answer a specific question by a specific user, e.g., which members or agents or salons are located in California or Ohio, or which are located in a
specific 3- or 5-digit zip code? Note that data can refer to text, numeric, or even date information.

Many organizations today already have mission-critical information arranged in databases. Enabling a web site to serve database information can add immense value to your web communications, This can very easily complement and support your customer service program, and typically reduces your
overall customer service costs while increasing the value you bring to your customer.

Databases have been ushered into the worldwide web through an ever-increasing number of stable yet versatile tools that allow site developers to capture the power of databases. Applications such as PHP, MySQL, Ruby on Rails, and XML combine with standard HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to create powerful yet elegant sites. These applications have the added attraction of being freeware; they are in the public domain so do not require a fee for the license to use the application.

How do I know whether it’s right for me?

It is a good question. Those that only need a very small, simple site often need only a “static” site, i.e., each page is hard-coded and never changes.

Those who have multiple items that each consist of multiple pieces of similar types of data are more often opting for an XML implementation.

Those who wish to display complex information or who already have their information organized in a relational database use tools such as php or Ruby to query (communicate with) a database management system (DBMS) such as MySQL or Oracle to display their data as requested.

Some organizations run their entire large web site using database technology; others only need a portion of their site to be database-driven. The benefits include:

  • streamlining business processes and procedures
  • becoming more responsive to your users
  • reducing the amount of people needed to manage business processes
  • reducing the cost of the business services, thereby becoming more competitive

But again, the best way to determine if your whole site, or a portion of your site, can benefit from database technology is to review your content and site goals with your designer before work begins. To learn more about the advantages of site planning, read Constructing User-Centered Websites. If you’d like to talk more about our database services, contact or 513.677.3887 for more information.

Data-driven Examples

  • Collection of Data from Forms
  • Dynamically sorted information
  • Employee contact information
  • Events Calendars
  • Frequently updated content
  • Gallery displays
  • Membership directories
  • Product inventories
  • Sales of Product (eCommerce)
  • Secure Online payments
  • Usernames and passwords managed

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

Talk to a website developer about CSS and your reaction might be something like, “Why are you so euphoric, and where can I get some of that stuff?” Web designers liken CSS to the next coming, or at least the best thing that’s happened since Al Gore invented the Internet. Since I tend to agree, let me tell you why.

What is CSS?

Cascading Style Sheets is a standard method for formatting (putting style to) HTML documents. In the beginning days of HTML (the language in which Internet documents are written, or marked-up) tags were used to mark a certain piece of text to be bolded or italicized, or to specify what font face or size in which to display the text. One used tags to mark up the text to define style.

There was one major problem with that method- repetition of tags both within a single file and site-wide across all files. The ramifications of repetition are several:

  • documents quickly got cluttered with tags
  • style changes were laborious and time-consuming
  • file (i.e., site) sizes mushroomed
  • download times increased

CSS allows style tags to be indexed within it’s own dedicated file(s) and the style is then referenced whenever needed throughout either a single HTML file or across many or even all HTML files across the site.


Some organizations are including more of their users by opening up access to alternative display devices such as PDAs or speech readers for the blind. Without CSS, one would need to duplicate each page in the site for each alternative device.

To multi-purpose with CSS, only the style sheet(s) are duplicated; that is a very minute portion of a medium-sized site. The correct style sheet is then served depending on the device from which the page request originated.

What’s the Cost?

Obviously it makes a huge improvement on the positive acceptance by the users of your site, so what’s the damage? In fact, CSS is a language and therefore comes without any added cost. The time it takes for a designer to build a custom site using CSS is no more, and usually less than putting style directly into the HTML file. If any change needs to be made, even in the shade of a color or size of a font, CSS is many times quicker to modify.

If you’d like to discuss in more detail about how CSS can improve your web site efficiency, contact
(513.677.3554) for more information.

Benefits of using CSS

  1. Faster loading of the web page to your browser
  2. Faster displaying (rendering) of the web page by your browser
  3. CSS files can be selected dynamically for multi-purposing
  4. Faster updating of site files
  5. Supported by modern versions of major browsers
  6. More organized, understandable code
  7. Style definitions consolidated for easy understanding
  8. Style is only interpreted once by your browser
  9. Fewer mistakes made in maintenance; quicker corrections