Composr Tutorial: Dos and Do-nots of a (Composr) website

Written by Chris Graham (ocProducts)
This tutorial will detail a few of the miscellaneous do and do-nots of running a website powered by Composr.


  • Use a clear colour scheme that is easy on the eyes
  • Make it easy to navigate your site: people should not need to think to find where to go, it should be obvious
  • Provide good, fresh, and new content on your site; or if you are making an aggregation site, content that is organised in a unique way

Do not

  • Make a website that is too busy, as it will be slow and will distract from your site message
  • Use every Composr feature on your site just because they exist
  • Plagiarise content: if you use other peoples content, credit them


The Admin Zone dashboard contains a number of tips which are reproduced here also:

Admin Zone dashboard said

Level 0 (emerging):
  • Welcome to the Admin Zone, the administrative heart of your website. The first thing you should do with a new Composr installation is to run the ‘Setup Wizard’ to perform basic configuration. You will find the site wizard at Admin Zone > Setup > Setup Wizard. If you are not sure which area of Composr to use to perform a task, try using the ‘Search for’; feature in the top-right. You may also refer to the Composr documentation for help. Dismiss this tip when you are ready to move on to the next level of tips.

Level 1 (embarking):
  • You can create a quick personalized theme using the ‘Theme Wizard’, located at Admin Zone > Style > Theme Wizard.
  • Content is King: almost all good websites have good content, so get working on your own unique content as soon as possible.
  • Presentation is key: visitors judge websites in a fraction of a second.
  • Quality not quantity: Composr has a huge number of public-facing features for you to use, but don't feel the need to use them all, because you can't afford to overwhelm your visitors or dilute your site.
  • Keep regular backups: even if you make no mistakes and know precisely what you're doing, there could be a fire in your remote data center, for example.
  • If stuck, check the documentation (including the FAQ). If you're still stuck, the chat button in the footer opens up your support options on the page you're at. You should actually read the documentation anyway as you will find it an enormous help – we have provided general advice on running websites as well as Composr-specific advice.
  • Please give feedback to the developers so that we may improve things in future versions. It is enormously important to us that your Composr experience is as good as we can make it.
  • The developers of Composr are available to do work on a commercial basis. If you need new features developed for your website and can budget for it consider contacting the developers. (If not that's cool too, Composr is Open Source so our business model is to serve both the open community and corporate userbases)
  • The news system is very flexible and can also be used for blogs and articles. It is actually possible for you to set a privilege (‘Have personal categories’, under the ‘Submission’ set of privileges) that allows all members of your site to have their own blog.
  • To delete something in Composr, go to edit it: you will see options for deletion on the edit screen (except for root categories, which cannot be deleted).
  • Try to not add excessive text to your website: people have a short atten-
  • You can quickly make edits to most data in Composr just by clicking on it and typing into the edit box that appears. This is one of many examples of cutting-edge ‘AJAX’ technology used within Composr.
  • Want to discuss things with other Composr users? Visit the Composr forum.
  • You can find just about anything using the Admin Zone search. You can even type in CSS class names and it will give you a link straight through to the code.

Level 2 (establishing):
  • If you like to edit template files by hand using a text editor then you may do so, as long as you disable the Template cache until you finish your editing.
  • It's important to understand the structure of your website: Composr actually goes to incredible lengths to make sure that all your data is meticulously organized so that permissions can be assigned in an easy and logical way (and of course so that your website isn't a muddle to navigate). You can see the complete structure of your website using the ‘Sitemap Editor’ at Admin Zone > Structure > Sitemap Editor.
  • If you are a Windows users, you might consider ditching Internet Explorer and use an alternative but equally free browser, Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Not only are these browsers better at displaying pages, but by switching you help break the monopoly Microsoft have constructed with IE – for years IE has stagnated, and developers such as the Composr developers can attest to the inordinate number of development problems that occur due to Microsoft's neglect. It limits progress in a real way.
  • Don't attach files more than a few dozen megabytes in size to forms whenever possible – instead, upload them using FTP and reference their URLs. It is a limitation of the World Wide Web that form-based uploads are unstable.
  • The best design tool in the world is a pen and pad of paper, or if you have one, a whiteboard. Design your website layout off the computer, and then implement it bit-by-bit in Composr.
  • A forum community can make a website come alive – it can also make a website lose its controlled, professional feel. This is just one example demonstrating why you need to give thought to which Composr features you want to use, and how to use them.
  • Use either Google Analytics, or the inbuilt statistics features to see how your site is being used. With careful study, you can identify navigation problems, and where your strengths and weaknesses are (to allow you to focus your efforts).
  • A common need is to give people access by default, but to be able to take away access on abuse. To do this, you could switch a user's usergroup to one with less privileges, but this requires maintaining of full permission sets for multiple usergroups. If you are using Conversr (the inbuilt member/forum system), a better technique is to define a new ‘default usergroup’ that only has permissions for the abusable feature – new users will be put into that usergroup as well as the main usergroup which has wider permissions. To remove a user after their abuse, just remove them from the new ‘default usergroup’.
  • Composr can cater for websites large and small – as your site grows, stop trying to set permissions by editing things, and start using the ‘Permissions Tree Editor’ – it'll save you a lot of time when making batch changes as well as allowing you to see a complete view of your permissions!
  • People will always abuse you and your website regardless of how good it is. Large websites will always get negative feedback from users who are super-liberal (thinking they have a right to free action on your website without following any rules) and users who are super-conservative (thinking that everyone should act in the certain way that represents their personal viewpoint). As a webmaster, you need a thick skin – try and be fair and balanced, and don't take criticism too harshly, especially when it conflicts.
  • Use transparent redirection pages to allow zones to share panels.
  • If you want the forum to be the heart of your website, add a transparent redirection so that the Welcome zone ‘start’ page points to the Forum zone ‘forumview’ page.
  • Make good use of your browser developer tools. Browsers now contain great tools for interactively working with CSS that you can use in supplement to Composr's own CSS editing capability (to test out ideas interactively before saving them in Composr).
  • Consider using permission-restricted forums for discussion between staff even if you have real-world meetings. You will find them a very convenient for having quick thoughtful discussions where no participator feels pressed to ‘answer on the spot’. There is also less need to co-schedule or take minutes.
  • The point system is a great community invigoration tool – by creating an economy, you add a new facet to your community that raises interest level and a competitive factor.
  • Regularly change add content to your website, or randomize content display using the main_content block. This will keep your visitors returning, which in turn will make them more likely to recommend your website to others.
  • You will find the ‘Show template edit links’ and ‘Template tree’ and ‘Language’ options in the list of options in the footer very useful for changing the templates and language strings of the page you are viewing.
  • Turn on Ashfell error e-mails if they're not already. We regularly fix minor bugs that people wouldn't bother report based on these, making the product more stable for everyone. You can do this by going to Admin Zone > Setup > Configuration > Site
  • Use the Comcode hide tag to place messages that are obscured until consciously uncovered. This is great for placing warnings (such as spoilers or disclaimers) or hiding answers to questions so to give the reader time to think.
  • If you want panels to be omitted for some pages, and don't want to make a whole new zone, you can use some Tempcode to make the panels blank for certain pages, e.g. {+START,IF,{$NEQ,{$PAGE},example1,example2,example3}}...{+END}. Blank panels will not be shown at all.
  • If you want to make a default module run from another zone (say cms_blogs in the site zone) you can do it using a transparent redirect. Go to Admin Zone > Structure > Redirects, and set up a transparent redirect from site:cms_blogs to cms:cms_blogs. If you also set a non-transparent redirect of cms:cms_blogs to site:cms_blogs then it will only run from the site zone.

Level 3 (established):
  • If you have untrustworthy people around you, switch to conceded mode after using the Admin or CMS zones… that way, anyone using your computer will need need your password to cause any mischief.
  • Use the ‘SU’ feature to test your site as any user of your choosing. It's easy (regrettably, but inevitably) to make mistakes when setting permissions and lock off an important portion of your site to those that should be able to see it. You can activate ‘SU’ manually by appending &keep_su=<username> to the URL. ‘SU’ is superior to logging in as another member not just due to speed, but also because you will still be able to see things such as stack traces.
  • When designing Composr sites, you need to consider the modularity of the system. Modularity is fantastic because it allows Composr to serve so many different kinds of website with just a shuffling around of the features: but it also inevitably requires a different way of thinking. You need to think about how to achieve things using the features Composr provides, rather than trying to force Composr to conform to rigid preconceptions. The end result is often a better website than what was originally planned, because of the extras Composr offers.
  • When themeing, you need to think in terms of editing and rearranging individual sections of the site as well as global sweeping things such as ‘standard boxes’ – in other words, you need to think in terms of the design framework that Composr defines, rather than just in terms of an end design. With experience, you won't feel limited by Composr, but assisted – you'll be able to make use of the framework to carry your style.
  • While the ‘Theme Wizard’ can automatically create a theme for you, it won't create unique designs variations. You can, however, radically change the layout of your website by changing three things: CSS, templates and theme images. All the tools to allow you to do this are in Composr – you will need a basic understanding of the technologies involved, but once learnt, you'll be able to make your website unrecognizable to any other Composr website. Alternatively you could download a premade theme as an addon, or pay someone to make one.
  • If you need to place some Comcode within Comcode, written in literal form (i.e. not parsed), either place it within a Comcode code tag, or put \ symbols before the [ symbols.
  • Please refer Composr to others and help grow the community.
  • You can quickly add large numbers of downloads by uploading them to a directory using FTP, then using filesystem download importer to add them all to the download system in one sweep.
  • Don't ever edit Composr files if avoidable. Instead, make proper use of the Composr _custom override system: for example if you edit the file sources/global2.php, save your edit as sources_custom/global2.php. This will allow you to perform upgrades more easily. The same applies to theme images: use Composr's theme image forms to update images, rather than overriding the source files in the default theme.
  • Press Alt+O to bring up the Commandr command line wherever you are on your website. Experts use Commandr to interactively work with the guts of Composr, so that they don't have to program new features into it every time they want to do something unusual.
  • You may place other websites' syndicated news on your site by using the RSS blocks. These blocks support both Atom and RSS feeds.
  • Use Custom Comcode to quickly build Comcode pages that follow a common pattern.
  • The calendar is useful for much more than just group scheduling – the reminder system is particularly useful and allows it to be used as a secure substitute for a diary (as the Internet becomes available just about anywhere, the advantage to storing information on the Internet becomes more significant).
  • Use the Comcode page tag instead of the url tag whenever referring to local URLs. By doing this you can gain protection against changes in URL behavior between versions and the effect on URLs by pages moved between zones.
  • The language editor is not just useful for translating the original Composr British English to another language – it is also useful for stylistic customization of language.

Level 4 (expert):
  • If you have the associated notification enabled, Composr will send out notifications whenever it parses Comcode with broken links in it: this will help you make sure your website stays stable. If you clear your Comcode cache, then Composr will have to reparse all Comcode, and hence will pick up any newly broken links.
  • The calendar can be used as a scheduling system for system commands. If you're a real Composr Pro, you'll be able to write scripts in Commandr to execute at regular intervals of your choosing.
  • When editing templates, use Tempcode if you need to perform simple or even advanced calculations; for example, the IF_NON_EMPTY Tempcode directive is very useful when wrapping extra HTML around a template parameter that may sometimes be blank (we use IF_NON_EMPTY to only apply the extra HTML in the case where it is surrounding something actually there).
  • If you are running a site where security is a high priority and if you are using Conversr, consider enabling IP address-based security for your primary usergroup. This way, even if someone manages to steal your password, they can't access your account from a computer other than yours, unless they have access to your e-mail.
  • If you are struggling to find what permissions to set, and don't mind dealing with some technical tools and language, you can use FirePHP with Composr. You need to install FirePHP into your browser (or a compatible system such as FirePHP4Chrome). You then need to temporarily append &keep_firephp=1 to your website URL in your browser. If things have gone right, a full list of permissions, templates, and queries, used to generate the screen you're viewing will be shown within FirePHP.
  • RSS/Atom if a fantastic way to keep on-top of activity on your website. If you'd like to use RSS/Atom feeds but need them to feature privileged content (i.e. more than just guest content), add &auth=1 to the URL in your feed reader. This will cause the reader to prompt you for login details, and will result in an privileged feed.

Writing articles

We have an inbuilt page template for how to write good articles which is reproduced here also:

Article template said

Article (a template guide)

This guide provides advice from journalism to sales letters. It's in a template rather than a tutorial so that you can chop the advice down (i.e. mark it off) while you write in your real text above it.

The inverted pyramid

Using the inverted pyramid style yields results.

Writing using the inverted pyramid style has been shown to be effective in capturing attention.

When busy people are reading they tend to scan read the first few words of an article, then read deeper into it. They won't all read to the end, so by progressively giving more and more information you can:
  • entice readers;
  • avoid boring those that wouldn't want to read the article;
  • serve a range of different interest levels.

Who is the audience?

You need to be clear on who you are writing for. Are they an expert, or a novice? Are they highly educated, or may not have secondary education? Define concepts in appropriate detail, as and when is appropriate, for the particular needs and interests of your audience. Avoid using complex words for the casual reader, but use established terminology as a short-hand for writing to the expert.

If it is a persuasive piece:
  • you may want to put a lot more thought into who the reader is, perhaps building up a written persona describing them (make sure such people exists in enough number, and would realistically be a customer!).
  • as a general rule describe things in terms of benefits rather than features.

Basic parameters and ideas

Consider some basic parameters that you can plan against, and assess your final article against…

Do you need images? Original photos, or stock graphics? How many? Note that some people best learn via reading, while others learn better through images, or even video.

How many words should your article be?

Will you be using outbound links?

Do you need to build in particular key words or phrases, for SEO purposes?

Are you intentionally writing the article on the back of a particular craze, and hence aligning it to people interested in that?

If it is a sales piece, have you considered providing an offer to incentivise, and potentially add a sense for urgency (perhaps using the main_countdown block to count down to the end of an offer)?

Do you want to tie in some third-party live chat software, to capture leads who are reading the article?

Dr Expert said

Do you need to gather some quotes or testimonials?

Long copy or short copy?

There is a long-standing debate on whether to use long copy or short copy. This simply refers to the length of your piece. Most modern content writers and branding experts use short copy, however both techniques can work well and have strong advocates. Generally short copy is good for quickly getting a response from a busy reader, while long copy can build considerable rapport, a loyal readership, and potentially lead to a bigger goal. Your choice of copy technique may be determined by other factors, such as brand, platform limitations, or editorial guidelines.

Short copy techniques may include:
  • A large headline image or video
  • Story-telling through images
  • Short snappy sentences, typically stating key points or benefits, perhaps directly or perhaps indirectly
  • Minimal text that gets across a key message, usually either heavily emotionally-driven, or a direct delivery of unique-selling-point(s)
  • Termination with a call to action (for example, a join link, an ecommerce link, a newsletter signup block, or a phone number)

Long copy techniques may include:
  • (Most of the techniques of short copy)
  • More elaborate story-telling
    • traditional story-telling, from a particular narrative viewpoint (for example, a character perspective)
    • sales letters: getting into the readers head by talking in a personal way, addressing likely objections/doubts, laying out strong logical reasoning for them taking in your message the way you want them to
  • More elaborate definition of a USP, defining both the problem and the solution
  • Use of different styles (font, colour, highlights, italics, etc) to call out key points throughout the article, building structure and delivering key messages (often the same repeated messages written in different ways)
  • Interspersed quotes and testimonials
  • A whole range of psychological techniques, such as co-opting the view-point of those who may otherwise be opposed to your piece, framing, tapping into primal feelings; hopefully you'll only use those ethically!
  • A guarantee
  • A final "p.s." section
  • Talking about free bonuses that have been thrown in
  • May be written for skim-readers, immersed-readers, or ideally both

Address the key angles

Give a full picture:
Who. What. When. Where. Why. How.

What angle is your article taking that makes it worthwhile? Is it merely conveying information? Is it about something new, is it simply an entertaining read, is it designed to educate?

Add some sizzle

Most readers want to read an article that connects to them on an emotional level. Make sure to cover the personal interest (for example personal challenges, a life story, a shocking truth, or something incredible to the reader).

Think about what people like and respond to, and how this could be built into the article. Add controversy if there is some but remain honest. Use hyperbole, if appropriate. Consider carefully crafting a gripping headline.

Consider using humour.

Get it proof-read

Everybody makes mistakes. Either get a friend or colleague to proof-read your work, or at least read it again several times yourself after long breaks.

Depending on the need for demonstrating accuracy, you may want to build citations, or at least quotes.


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