So You Want A Website?

Let me give you a brief overview of what is needed to create any website.  Every client has the same initial questions and these points need clarification.

Every website must have a domain name.

The domain name is a memorable name that is associated with the company, which will be used by the WorldWideWeb system to locate your website.  The domain name is ultimately the first part of any URL (uniform resource locator). The domain name of this site is “websmartsierra.com.  Capitalization is not important, so you will see WebSmartSierra.com on my business card – it makes it easier to read and hopefully remember.

You purchase a domain name from any of several domain registrars. A Google search will help you find the cheapest price at the time you are ready to go forward.  GoDaddy is a popular seller, as are NameCheap, NetFirms, 1&1 – but there are also dozens of other registrars, and all will perform the same function.

The cost for a domain name can vary significantly by registrar, and can be different depending on your purchase term.  For instance, at Netfirms.com, the 1 year cost for websmartersierra.com is $7.99, and 3 years costs $31.97.  While at GoDaddy, that cost is $11.99 per year regardless of term.

On a registrar site, do a search for your desired name; if it is available, you can purchase the name for a specific period – 1 year, 2 years, etc.  Do not make any plans around the domain name until you have actually purchased it – you can leave the website design for a later date if necessary.  The registrar will simply display a page saying “under construction” until you get your design done.  The registrar will bill you in advance of your domain expiration; also, my experience proves that all registrars provide exactly the same service, so just find the best deal!

You will need to choose a “Top Level” for your Domain Name.

When you do the search for a domain name on a registrar’s site, you will notice they will offer you several choices for the top-level of the domain name. Oddly enough, this is actually the back part of the URL that specifies the type of enterprise or the country.  See here for a complete list of available top-level indicators.  For example, I was offered WebSmartSierra.com, WebSmartSierra.net, WebSmartSierra.org, and many others.  I also recently created PawsitivePooch.dog, but most of these unusual top-levels are not widely used yet.

The “.com” part of that name is the most popular “generic” indicator, usually used by commercial businesses.  The “.net” version is another generic, which most enterprises buy just to protect their .com name.  If you have a choice and the funds, buy both; if not, buy only the .com version.  I do recommend buying the .com name if it is available; people may by habit type in “.com” and that will take them to a possible competitor.  If your desired .com name is not available, you should possibly come up with another name. I came up with WebSmartSierra simply because someone already had WebSmart.com.

However, for the aforementioned “PawsitivePooch” site, the “.com” was not available because it belongs to a completely different type of business in a different state. Since “.dog” is both funny and pretty easy to remember, we went with that – and have not had any problems.

If you are building a site for a non-profit, your choice is easier: .org.  If you are part of a larger non-profit, you may need to add something to your desired name to differentiate you from the national.  For instance, we use NewcomersNC.org because the cost of Newcomers.org is near $1000!

Every website needs a host.

A host is a company that runs your website software on its machines – called servers.  Although much of the design and coding of a website can be done on a desktop or a laptop, the website itself must run on a host server (remote) that is tapped into the internet system. The registrar of your domain name (URL) may also be the host for your site, but that is not necessary at all; the registrar must allow you to point your domain name to any host you wish.

You pay your host a monthly fee ranging up from $6.95; depending on the host, you may be able share even that small cost with other companies because you can use your hosting account to “host” many websites.  I have used my hosting account for up to 12 sites at any one time – but only if they are non-profits who have me maintain their sites completely. (I do not host sites being maintained by the owner because I cannot be sure they are keeping their sites’ software current – which risks hacking).  You can also save money (and hassle) by paying in advance.

You can get a free host, but my experience is not very positive with the ones I’ve tried – spam, hacking, and ads are not worth the price.

Every website needs a platform.

A platform is the set of software used to code the website.  Originally, sites were all built with the root language of HTML (HyperText Markup Language), but over time, many Content Management Systems (CMS) have grown up and are used extensively to build and maintain websites.  I mention two types of CMS on my home page: Joomla 1.6 and WordPress.  Joomla is a fairly complex set of software with tons of add-ins that can help make a very nice website that can be modified in some limited ways by the client after design and implementation.  I find that WordPress is much more user-friendly and only slightly more limited.  Both are open-source software – meaning no one is making money off of them unless happy users donate – but I’ve found them very reliable. However, there is a website called WordPress.com where you can pay to build a WordPress website; I find it limiting and expensive, but that is because I have the skills necessary to do what they offer their customers at a fairly significant charge.

Beware, however: there is a website called WordPress.com that will host your site for a price. I find it limiting and expensive, but that is because I have the skills necessary to do what they offer their customers at a fairly significant price.

There are many other CMS platforms available, but those two are the most popular today, I believe.  With each, your site is created exclusively online, using Internet access to your host server.  No matter how fancy the CMS that supplies the content (Joomla, WordPress, using databases and other languages like Javascript, PHP, SQL), the language that displays the ultimate resulting page is the HTML necessary to display sites/pages on the Internet.  If you can figure out how to display the source of any webpage, you will see a bewildering hodgepodge of code.  That is the final result of any web tool:  HTML.

This page – and my entire site – was copied into WordPress in a few hours, from what I had originally developed in “native HTML” using Dreamweaver. The most popular tool for building native HTML is Dreamweaver, but there are many other tools available, and the choice is up to the builder.  However, WordPress is much, much faster from start to finish.  There are security concerns with WordPress that are less with native HTML, but proactive updating and a few security plugins make that a moot point.