00 - Building a Small Business Site with ExpressionEngine - Overview

ExpressionEngine from EllisLab is a very powerful content management system that’s been around for a few years now and has thousands of users.  However, what’s been missing is a cohesive book or series of tutorials on building a complete site using ExpressionEngine (EE).


After seeing a number of requests in the support forums for such a tool, I started this series on Boyink.com and called it “Building an ExpressionEngine Site.”  The series comprises 17 chapters, and took roughly five months to publish end to end – with segments getting completed in between client work and life as we know it.  The compiled version with screenshots was compiled into a book and served as the launchpad for the site you are now on (and is still available as such).  Since Train-ee.com is now rising in popularity as a source for ExpressionEngine learning materials it made sense to move this content from Boyink.com to Train-ee.com.

Who Is This Series For?
This series was written for someone who is already familiar with building web sites using (X)HTML and CSS, and is just new to ExpressionEngine. If you aren’t comfortable editing CSS selectors, using div tags, or don’t know how to use the W3C CSS and (X)HTML validators then this tutorial series may not be for you.  A good share of the issues I’ve worked through with people using this series are straight HTML or CSS related - missing div tags, extra spaces in CSS files, etc. The more comfortable and experienced you are at solving those problems, the easier it will be to make the jump to ExpressionEngine.  And of course, the more you’ve already explored the existing ExpressionEngine resources such as the EE support forums, the EE knowledge base, and the EE wiki, etc., the easier time you’ll have grokking the code and build approach in this series.

So What’s the Plan?
In this series we’ll take a free CSS site template and work through the process of bringing it into ExpressionEngine from start to finish.  I’m planning on a typical, genericized small-business site architecture of:

  • Home
  • About
  • Products
  • Services
  • Weblog
  • Contact
  • Search

Please do not use any of the default templates that install with ExpressionEngine as your basis for the templates in this series.  Nothing against them - they just have some advanced features that make it hard to use them as a simple starting point.  I also think the practice of using a static, non-EE template is closer to how many EE sites get developed.  This series assumes you are using a commercial copy ExpressionEngine 1.6.1 or newer.  Most of the series will work with EE Core however.

Before You Begin
The EE integration approach used in this series should be viewed as “one way to do it” – not necessarily the “only” way.  ExpressionEngine is incredibly flexible, and there are always at least a couple of different ways to implement the same thing.  What I tried to do in this series was demonstrate a good way to build out a small business website, using a simple/clean approach favoring native EE functionality,  while also showing some of what I feel are good foundational coding practices that will set you up well for learning more advanced techniques later on. 

Also - this series is in no way meant as an exhaustive treatise on ExpressionEngine, and will not cover some portions of the software (such as the Wiki module, Photo Gallery, Discussion Forum etc).  The intent was simply to show, step-by-step, an approach to implementing a site using EE.

Let’s get to it.

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Previous Comments

Picture of Mike

by Mike

Date: Saturday, November 1st, 2008
Comment: #1

Trying to learn EE. I have yet to find an EE site that has validated code. 22 errors on this page alone!

Mike Boyink

by Mike Boyink (Author)

Date: Saturday, November 1st, 2008
Comment: #2

EE really has very little to do with validated code - it’s in the implementation.

FWIW - one carriage return in a content field fixed 17 of the errors on this page.

But just a heads-up.  While in general I’ll try to create pages that validate, I don’t obsess over it.  You’ll likely find more issues as you move through the tutorials.  Again - those would be my responsibility and in general not due to EE directly.

Picture of schmidtjra

by schmidtjra

Date: Tuesday, November 4th, 2008
Comment: #3

Also, whenever you introduce a CMS to an End User, there are bound to be validation errors that are End User generated, not the developer.

Picture of Alex

by Alex

Date: Thursday, December 18th, 2008
Comment: #4

Agreed.. I use EE and have had no problems with invalid code in the content. Crafting templates on your own? (which EE has no part of) .. That’s where you’ll find errors and the need for a quick CSS refresher course.

Picture of Zeal

by Zeal

Date: Tuesday, December 30th, 2008
Comment: #5

Is there a site that I can get a pdf of the documentation, something like an offline documentation about EE

Picture of Jason Schmidt

by Jason Schmidt

Date: Tuesday, December 30th, 2008
Comment: #6

I don’t know about a free one, but PacktPub has an e-book about Expression Engine that is pretty helpful and recent. It was published in July.

Here is the link:

Mike Boyink

by Mike Boyink (Author)

Date: Tuesday, December 30th, 2008
Comment: #7

No PDF,  but you can download the HTML version here.

Mike Boyink

by Mike Boyink (Author)

Date: Tuesday, December 30th, 2008
Comment: #8

Aww man…hyping the other guys book on my site? :-)

Picture of Jason Schmidt

by Jason Schmidt

Date: Tuesday, December 30th, 2008
Comment: #9

I didn’t mean it like that.

Oh yeah, don’t forget you can purchase great materials right on this website. ;)

Mike Boyink

by Mike Boyink (Author)

Date: Tuesday, December 30th, 2008
Comment: #10

Hah! No worries. I have the Packt book and learned a few things from it.

Picture of Chris

by Chris

Date: Friday, July 24th, 2009
Comment: #11

Hi Mike, Great Tutorials. I have completed the entire series on “building a small website”.
It seems the core version is very extensible using third party plugins and modules (solspace, LG, etc.) for most basic company sites. With this in mind, what is the benefit to purchasing the commercial version? Also, if I purchase the commercial version, will I be able to use it over and again to build several different client sites, or is it one copy of commercial EE per client (each client has their own server)?

Mike Boyink

by Mike Boyink (Author)

Date: Friday, July 24th, 2009
Comment: #12

Hi Chris

I’d really reccommend reviewing the EE licensing agreement and contacting them if you have further questions:


Picture of L.

by L.

Date: Friday, November 13th, 2009
Comment: #13

I just want to say THANK YOU soo much for making this tutorial. It was so incredibly helpful to me as I’m just starting out with EE and have been a bit lost….I tried reading the EE user guide but it wasn’t as helpful as I hoped…..but your tutorial cleared everything up! Really really amazing and helpful. Thank you!!

Mike Boyink

by Mike Boyink (Author)

Date: Saturday, November 14th, 2009
Comment: #14

Glad to hear it!

Picture of Combson's Yachts

by Combson's Yachts

Date: Saturday, September 4th, 2010
Comment: #15

The more I look and learn about Expression Web Engine, I find it better looking than plain Wordpress blogs and other CMS. But i’m asking myself if it will be worth my time to start over, from the beginning.

Mike Boyink

by Mike Boyink (Author)

Date: Saturday, September 4th, 2010
Comment: #16

That’s a question only you can answer..;)

If you do decide to proceed - note that the online version of these tutorials are written for EE 1, while the latest ExpressionEngine release is EE 2.  The code will work with some small changes (see link to guide in the sidebar), but if starting totally new then the book I recently published might be with the price to get straight into EE 2 code.

Picture of cjpoki

by cjpoki

Date: Monday, October 4th, 2010
Comment: #17

Can you please send me a free tutorial on EE v 1.6.8 am so eager to learn but can’t afford to purchase ebooks online.

Mike Boyink

by Mike Boyink (Author)

Date: Monday, October 4th, 2010
Comment: #18

I have nothing to “send” - all the free tutorials are here on the website.

Picture of pass4sure cissp

by pass4sure cissp

Date: Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
Comment: #19

express engine has helped me a lot in making my website .... i am not a professional one but still this helps me a lot…

Picture of joan

by joan

Date: Tuesday, April 19th, 2011
Comment: #20

I think that using Expression Engine for a small business site is a great idea. I have done this several times with cms. It is a great way to the business in control over the content and they can change it as frequently as the need to.  I was reading on an internet marketing blog about the differences between cms websites and other websites that web development companies manage.  I think that cms websites are perfect for companies that require a lot of content changes.

Picture of adf01

by adf01

Date: Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
Comment: #21

Will you be creating this in a video tutorial? Or do you know of any good ones? My eyes get soooo tired after a while! LOL!

Picture of Boyink

by Boyink

Date: Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
Comment: #22

No, there are no plans to create video tutorials for this series.  IMHO the work is far too detailed for delivery via video, and videos are far harder to produce & maintain as the core product changes.

We instead updated the series for EE 2 and created a new book from it, available here on Train-ee.com or on Amazon.

Picture of Anthony

by Anthony

Date: Friday, July 29th, 2011
Comment: #23

I use Wordpress for a lot of sites and can you explain why EE is a better CMS to use?

Picture of James

by James

Date: Thursday, September 1st, 2011
Comment: #24

As a WP user also, I would like to know what advantages there are in using EE over some of the more easy-to-use systems.

Mike Boyink

by Mike Boyink (Author)

Date: Thursday, September 1st, 2011
Comment: #25

Nope. :). But others have - just Google it.

Mike Boyink

by Mike Boyink (Author)

Date: Thursday, September 1st, 2011
Comment: #26

James-same answer. Neither this series nor this site is intended to be a comparison tool - mainly because I know little about Wordpress.

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