Since you’re looking at this website, we can assume you know how to either click a link or type an address into the browser (that’s the program that you use to view websites). We’re going to go a little deeper so you have a better understanding, without getting too technical.
All websites have some things in common:
A Domain Name is the plain-English address of the website. It’s what you type into the address bar at the top of your browser, and might look something like this:
In this case, the Domain Name is: amazon.com, which is part of the Uniform Resource Locator or URL (sometimes pronounced like the man’s name Earl) or web address.
A Domain Name can end with .com, .org, .net, .biz, .gov, .edu, .info, .us and many other variations related to countries and other factors.
When you type in a domain name or web address, or click on a link, your computer sends a message to a special database that looks up information about where the computer files for that website are stored (the web host). It’s similar to a telephone number, it’s just a way to tell the computer how to connect you.
You can purchase a domain name from any of thousands of online sources. You don’t have to buy a domain name from the same company you are hosting with, either, though that is typically the most convenient thing to do. Domain names are paid for on an annual basis, and prices range from about $10 to $45 for regular registration fees. You will sometimes see special offers for cheaper domain name registration; much like a credit card with a low introductory rate, the price is likely to jump up significantly after the initial year.
Web hosting refers to where your web site files are stored and accessed. The files must be stored on a physical computer drive somewhere, and that computer must be hooked up to the internet with a super-fast connection and special software that ‘serves’ the files to your web browser. A good hosting company will have systems in place to keep websites online including back-up power in case of power outages, on-going backups, and security systems to fight hackers. A good system will have the latest software installed and be capable of processing thousands of instructions per millisecond.
Building on the phone number analogy, you can think of web hosting as the supercomputer that answers the phone when you dial a number.
There are numerous options for web hosting, and every company has it’s own set of hosting plans. What differentiates one plan from another are the types of physical equipment being used, whether it’s a private server, a virtual private server, or a shared hosting platform, and the size of the space and bandwidth and other features being offered.
For purposes of a beginner, a shared hosting plan will probably suit you best. Share hosting is the most economical choice, yet is quite secure. What this means is that your website will share a server and resources with other websites. I can’t come up with a good phone analogy to explain shared hosting, it’s more like having an apartment in a large building. Everyone lives together, but in their own separate space, with their own mailbox, their own phone, and plenty of privacy. But they share common areas like the lobby, the laundry room, and the maintenance man.
Shared hosting prices cost anywhere from $14.95 per year to $39 per month. Most shared hosting plans are paid for annually, a few let you pay monthly or quarterly (you pay more in the long-run this way because of the costs associated with managing small payments). Some companies offer a better rate when you pay for multiple years at the same time.
Some of the features you should compare when shopping for hosting accounts are:
- Storage Space, usually measured in megabytes or gigabytes
- Bandwidth, usually measured in gigabytes
- Number of Email accounts
- Database options (do they have mySQL?)
- Languages/Scripts (php, perl, cgi) and whether the software is current.
- Installation scripts for installing open-source software
- Add-on domains (hosting more than one domain per hosting account)
- The availability of SSL, in case you need it later.
- Technical Support (is it American? or outsourced)
How do I create pages for the web? I don’t write code!
There are several options for beginners with little or no HTML code skills necessary.
You can use ready-made templates to create a site, usually in HTML. Most hosting companies offer some sort of template packages with their plans. These are a one-size fits all and may be hard to change or add features to later unless you are willing and able to dig into the code. Usually templates must be downloaded, modified and uploaded to your hosting space. They should be edited with some sort of a WYSIWYG HTML editor. There are free HTML editors on downloads.com. (confused yet?)
Web Building Sites and Hosted Solutions
There are a variety of point and click solutions out there. Some are free (Weebly & Wix), some are paid WebsiteTonight (from GoDaddy) and the VistaPrint Website Builder. They all have some attractive templates. And a good portion of my business has come from business owners who tried to do it themselves with one of those services and gave up because they are too restrictive. Your content absolutely must fit their mold and customizing is pretty much out of the question.
Content Management Systems (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal)
WordPress, Joomla & Drupal are three of the most popular open source (free!) programs available. WordPress has recently overtaken the other two because of it’s ease of use, and is the fast-growing open source program in the world. Each of these programs are database-driven, using themes and templates to control the graphics and positioning of what people see. This website, in fact, is done completely in WordPress, using a premium theme.
As with anything, additional features take more time to configure. There are thousands of plugins for WordPress available (mostly free) to add additional functionality to a website.
There are tens of thousands of WordPress themes available online. Some are free, some are “premium” themes and may cost anywhere from $10 to $200. You can also have custom themes designed to match your business identity.
For the beginner, I recommend the following steps:
- Choose a domain name
- Choose a hosting plan
- Install WordPress
- Install recommended plugins
- Install a WordPress theme
- Configure the settings
- Add your content
Done! Then tell your friends and invite the search engines to index your website.