What are ExpressionEngine Channels?
Most people think of a website as being like a book - a collection of individual pages. These pages are bound together and share a similar look and feel. This is an outdated concept which doesn’t, shouldn’t and can’t apply to a modern content managed website.
Understanding the difference between pages and content will help you understand how to get the most out of an ExpressionEngine website and also demonstrate the shortcomings of other Content Management Systems such as WordPress.
What is a channel?
Simply put, a channel is a type of content. If you think of a magazine you could break it down into a number of ‘channels’:-
These are not necessarily pages - for example, a single page may have 20 classifieds and one advertisement - likewise a page primarily filled with a single article may have a letter from a reader in the bottom.
This is true for an ExpressionEngine website too: the “classified” page may also have 20 classified ads and one advertisement but rarely will the page itself ever be touched. Instead you would publish a new entry within the “Classifieds” channel and the page will do the rest for you.
Isn’t this over-complicating it?
Not really.. it does require the site to be carefully considered when being built, which is why an agency like Red Carrot would sit down with the client and carefully plan every use-case for the initial website launch and then continuously iterate post-launch.
That planning goes a long way. To add a new classified you would press “Add New > Classified” and get on with your day rather than manually check it was posted in 10 places and copying and pasting where it wasn’t.
The CMS would add it to the classifieds page and maybe on the footer, post it to your social networks and where appropriate in other pages too - you only added the content once.
Wait, so there are pages?
Yep! Pages act as a shell for the content rather than the content themselves. They’re the interface making the messy behind the scenes bit look pretty. On the most part, once they’re designed by your agency they’ll run themselves.
Occasionally there’ll be pages like “About Us” which are old-style pages where the page is literally just that piece of content and there’s little chance of it being used elsewhere. That’s fine, we would just make a “Pages” channel and make a “standard page” template.
If your about us page is vastly different than any other types of “pages” on your site, it may even become a channel in its own right.
When you break it down, it becomes clear that everything is content driven, not page driven.
Clients should not fall into the trap of thinking in pages - it’ll make things harder to learn and even more difficult to get the most out of your site. If you get a decent design agency they’ll do the hard page work for you and you just need to handle content.
For other designers using ExpressionEngine: embrace the ExpressionEngine way of working with Channels and Entries. Pages are a frankly small tool within the overall site and they should be thought of in that way (although by no-means an afterthought!). Educate your clients as to what pages are and aren’t - show them this blog if you want!
- by Andie Fairlie