Microsoft FrontPage SEO? Say it isn't so!

I admit it. I've been using MS FrontPage since before it could even be called a proper website editor - a copy came free with Windows NT 4. Yes, it was crap. But up until then I'd been using a text editor (vi) and actually having a semi-WYSIWYG was a big improvement at the time.

Since then, I've used Dreamweaver, CoffeeCup, HTML Kit, Amaya, Homesite, and even Notepad. Of them I was most drawn to Homesite, but I can deal with almost any interface (eventually). But time and time again I ended up back with FrontPage - v2, v3, 98, 2000, and finally 2003.

I complained about it's proprietary features, code bloat, etc. But the fact that my clients are almost always from Windows shops and tend to send me things in MS Office format simply made it easier to use FP. Whatever it' s drawbacks, FrontPage has two things going for it - I was very familiar with the interface, and it handles MS Office files better than anyone else (no surprise, of course). Then one day Microsoft discontinued FrontPage.

That was an interesting day. At first, I was kind of shocked. After all, FP had been a comfortable if occasionally annoying tool for me for more than 12 years and I had finally figured out how to generate clean, compliant code with it quickly and easily. Yup, you could do it. It just wasn't it's out-of-the-box settings.

But then MS announced that it was replacing FP with Expression Web. Naturally, I figured this was just another name change. But EW really is different. It is actually designed for web professionals, instead of Office users who need to make a web page.

First, it starts with standards, then adds .NET functionality, rather than the other way around. It designs using XML and CSS rather than FP Templates. CSS support is really good, rather than being a clumsy add-on like in FP2003 or non-existent like in previous versions. It has built in checkers for W3C standards and usability. If you declare a doctype, it warns you when you use coding that strays from the doctype, even if you are hand coding. Speaking of which, the hand coding editor is really good. The list goes on, but it's a good list.

Anyway, Once I got used to the new interface, I was a very happy camper. If you use FP, dump it and get EW. Don't even wait. If you use DW, it's a tougher call. If you want to support standards, use EW. Yes, You heard me right. The MS product is better at supporting standards than DW! It's better at detecting issues, better with dealing with them (if you open old pages, for example) and better at creating compliant code.

On the other hand DW has tons more widgets, plugins and so forth. So if you are new to website design and need your hand held more, DW is the tool of choice.

Funny, not so long ago FP was for the newbs and DW was the pro choice, but now EW is the standards gorilla and I'm finding that newbs have embraced DW to the point that being a DW user doesn't say anything about your skill set. You could be a web god, or a total drag and drop drone. Weird. The world always changes and now the perceived roles have reversed.

I personally know a lot of so-called "professional" web developers using DW that can't understand raw HTML code for the life of them. Maybe I'm getting old, but I still think that a website designer should be able to read, understand and hand-edit HTML, regardless of the other tools they use. This applies to FP drones, as well, of course. It's just that the DW users are more likely to claim "pro" status, and I hold anyone claiming that status to a higher standard. Like knowing HTML. Anyway, I digress.

Even Adobe (DW's owner) has posted an article about how good EW is, and they were only looking at the beta at the time. I've no doubt they are planning upgrades to address EW. I understand that CS3 is pretty good.

No web tool is perfect, and EW is missing some things (no Mac support, etc). One thing that it was missing is SEO tools. Oh, the usability features like automatically bringing up the ALT attribute editor when you drop in an image certainly help with SEO, since SEO is 80% about usability when you get down to it. But some SEO friendly functionality was missing.

Today, I found a nifty site called Expression Extras and they have a plugin for EW that lets you:

  • Create an XML Sitemap (for Google, Yahoo, Ask, etc) at the push of a button, supporting EW's "Do Not Publish" tag for internal docs.
  • Create a Google Webmaster Tools compliant robots.txt that automatically creates and links to the xml sitemap autodiscovery directive.
  • Easily lets you track and edit the Title, Keywords and Description tags (EW lets you do this, of course, but the tool makes it way easier)
  • An ALT attribute checker to easily check and update all image ALT attributes on a page
  • A time tracker for people who design and bill by the minute/hour.
  • plus more...

I don't know this guy, have an affiliate link, or anything like that. I'm just sharing a cool tool. It only costs $16. Oh, and there are some FREE downloadable Web 2.0 style "glass" buttons and medals on the site, as well.

If you use FP, or are looking for a standards compliant but easy to use WYSIWYG website editor, get EW. If you have EW, I recommend you check out the Expression Extras Site.

There are some other EW plugins available from other sources, as well. I'm having fun.


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