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Simon Collison | Colly | Journal | Expression Engine Top Ten Tips - Part Two
This is the celebrated journal of Mr. Simon Collison A.K.A Colly

Expression Engine Top Ten Tips - Part Two

17th October 2006

It’s me again. And as well as checking my Guest Author Instructions to see if there’s anything about not being allowed to enter competitions, I’ve been drafting some more Expression Engine tips (part one here). Read on to find out when to use weblogs, how to safely modify a live website and more.

1. Use weblogs wherever you can

Sometimes it’s tempting not to use weblogs for the simpler or more static sections of a site. I’ve been guilty of hard-coding content into templates or bunging it all into a boilerplate template group myself. Problem is, you lose so many useful functions, like search, categories and status to name just three. It may take you ten minutes longer to go through the process of setting up weblogs, but I usually find it’s a real stitch-in-time. Don’t forget that the weblog tag can be used to pull-out a single entry or a range of entries using entry_id= or url_title=. Bottom-line - think of weblogs as “content”, and keep your content in them. I even change the Weblog Designation Word to ‘content’ or ‘section’ to help remind me!

2. Test using templates

Recently a client wanted to try out a different configuration of a contact page. I made a copy of the current contact template, named as new_contact, made the changes to the new version, and mailed her the new URL to approve (viewable only by her Admin member group). Then I simply swapped template names, and used the Template Preferences Manager to squirrel away old_contact, keeping a copy safe but non-viewable. This quick-and-dirty testing and staging can be so useful for making modifications or adding new sections to a live site, and the Template Preferences Manager makes it a simple job to control who can and cannot see the updates before they go live too.

3. Plan your way around problems from the start

It’s always worth getting out the yellow legal pad / Moleskin / beer mat / whiteboard before you dig into setting up your EE-based website. Working out how weblogs and categories map onto your content and site plan early on greatly reduces the chance you’ll hit roadblocks further down the line. An example - it can be tempting to tackle your site with a single weblog and a big bunch of categories, especially now each weblog can contain multiple category groups. But that immediately limits your ability to set different publishing access levels for different sections, because permissions work on a weblog level. It’s also worth keeping your north eye firmly fixed on Expression Engine’s ability to create relationships between entries (and therefore weblogs). The documentation shows a useful example of linking together a ‘performers’ weblog with an ‘events’ weblog, providing you with the ability to easily show all the performers at a given event, or all the events for a given performer. Moral of the story? Although it’s possible to amend-as-you-go, it’s much easier at the paper / whiteboard stage.

4. Nothing is what it seems

Expression Engine works very much like one of those Swiss Army knives - what one person uses for getting stones out of horse’s hooves, another uses as a toothpick. In a similar way, categories make a great navigation or page-tree structure system, status can be used to build a complex workflow and approval tool, and tell-a-friend can become invite-a-friend. It just takes a little working knowledge of EE, and a dollop of lateral thinking.

5. Spread the word

Expression Engine users often play their cards quite close, and I’ve been equally guilty of wanting to keep it a well-guarded secret. After all, it’s a powerful and incredibly cost-effective tool, so why would you want it becoming commonplace? I think it’s a simple answer. As EE has gathered momentum, resources have become available for the nice pMachine people to add more developers and bring in a proper support team. And that’s got to be better than any perceived advantage that comes from being coy about your web publishing system. So, continue to spread the word, people.



# Nik responded on 17th October 2006 with...

Just finished reading Part 1, and Newfire tells me part 2 is online! Great stuff! :)


# ashley responded on 17th October 2006 with...

Great tips for anyone in the industry I could not agree with more about the blog since starting one on my site my hits have nearly tripled.

Dave Sherratt

# Dave Sherratt responded on 17th October 2006 with...

These tips are coming out fast… Simon had better watch out ;)


# Nik responded on 18th October 2006 with...

Tidy site and photography btw

Cheers! Much appreciated.

I’m just finishing off implementing the excellent AJAX Star Rating system into an Expression Engine powered site. It’s working well, grabbing the {entry_id} from EE to generate the unique vote score for each post.

John Henry Donovan

# John Henry Donovan responded on 18th October 2006 with...

Great compilation of tips. I use EE for practically everything now. I have never had to say ‘no’ to any hurdle I came across as EE can handle just about everything that that is thown at it

Will Bolton

# Will Bolton responded on 18th October 2006 with...

#5 Check out pMachine’s affiliate network.


# nek4life responded on 18th October 2006 with...

Nice tips, How about a link to part 1 so myself or anyone else does not have to search for it.

Travis Smith

# Travis Smith responded on 19th October 2006 with...

I like tip 2, but wanted to share my 2 cents: if you change template names (page_test to page, page to page_old) you shift any previous template versions with it; it might make more sense to leave one template as the page_test template, with the many testing versions in its history, and leave “page” as the canonical template, with only a few defined historical template revisions.

Just a thought.



# Rake responded on 19th October 2006 with...

What do you mean by saying “guest author”?

Simon Collison

# Simon Collison responded on 19th October 2006 with...

Will Bolton: I have an affiliation with EE as it is, but it appears I didn’t tell the guest author. It is a good scheme, I agree. I make loadsamoney!

Rake: He is the author of the post, and is my guest (there is a link in the intro explaining this). I’m not writing it, he is. I’m too busy, and he has lots of stuff about EE that I am too lazy to write. Well, too busy. Lots of blogs have guest authors - I like it. Keeps things fresh.

Laura Zucchetti

# Laura Zucchetti responded on 19th October 2006 with...

Thanks so much for part one and two of these Top Ten Tips! I am ready to start the redesign of zucchetti.co.uk as I am a bit fed up now of the structural constrains of Wordpress.


Nick Tatt

# Nick Tatt responded on 19th October 2006 with...

It’s nice to hear how EE gets used by others. We tend to look to EE when we need a flexible CMS. I think point 4 is quite important: it’s very easy to structure EE to suit your needs, even ones it has not been specically designed to cope with.

Keep ‘em coming.


# Ryan responded on 19th October 2006 with...

Great stuff! Thanks for the tips…

Erwin Heiser

# Erwin Heiser responded on 22nd October 2006 with...

Some top tips, even for seasoned users!

Jake Souva

# Jake Souva responded on 24th October 2006 with...

I use EE for everything. It’s as flexible as you could need it… Great post, keep the coming…


# mrtopher responded on 4th November 2006 with...

Nice article! One question though… I agree with #1 but is it possible to put EE code into a blog post? For example, I have a weblog setup for index pages in a site I’m working on and I want one of the pages to display a list of posts from another blog but the EE code isn’t getting processed (and I think thats because it’s in a blog post and not in a template).

Is it only possible to use EE code in templates?

What would you recommend for this situation?

John Henry Donovan

# John Henry Donovan responded on 4th November 2006 with...

mrtopher: Allow EECode Plugin That you point you in the right direction

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