Introduction to Web Sites

This is a simple introduction to the basics of a website contract.

The Web Site Domain Name

There are two elements to any web site contract, although these are often combined in various offers. First, the Domain Name (often described as URL or Uniform Resource Locator) – the web site address that will locate your web site on the internet. There are various issues relating to the name and also the country or site extension that you can use, and inevitably, availability of the name you would like to use will also be a factor. This is discussed in more detail HERE

Web Site Hosting
The second element is the Hosting, or simply where the computer files which hold your web site are based. Large web sites will be located on clusters of computers called ‘servers’, smaller sites will be based on a single dedicated server and very small sites will share the resources of a single server.

Your own Domain name

A domain name of your own is not expensive – you should allow about £10 per year for the registration of the name. To retain it you will have to pay this every year but it will often come with web space for your site too, so if you move and want to keep your web site then nothing changes, including any literature you produce.

Simple ‘Static’ Web Site

In order to assess what your hosting requirements are it is useful to understand whether you want to change the content of the website on a regular, or even per viewer, basis or you are happy for the site to remain static from day to day with infrequent updates of additions.

Your PC uses a piece of software called a browser to view a web site, typically Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. The browser reads a language called HTML (hyper text markup language) and all web servers ‘serve’ web pages in this language, or a variant of HTML.

In the case of a static site you can simply write the details of each of your web site pages in html and attached links to any pictures, logos and other pages on your site and store these as files on your web space on the server. A visitor types in your address and then receives the html page and attachments and your browser displays them on your PC. The next visitor will be sent the exact same files and will see exactly the same information. Your web site is like a brochure or leaflet.

Although it is possible to make your html site more dynamic using scripts (for example Javascript or perhaps Flash) which operate within the framework of your browser, html is not suited on its own to a more dynamic site, with search facilities, contact forms or even ecommerce.

Dynamic Web sites

The solution to obtain a more dynamic web site is to use a processing software language like PHP which can be used to perform a range of dynamic functions, from calculations, dealing with a database of records which can help with search routines, ecommerce, blogging, forums, input forms or any site where processing of data is useful. In this case the server will process the files to create the web pages to be served.

The clever bit is that the server uses the PHP program to effectively write the HTML code ‘on the fly’ (a geek way of saying while you are waiting) and then the server delivers the content to your browser as HTML. Depending upon what you have input and the circumstances the HTML will be different every time – a totally dynamic web site.

To check this out on any web page you can usually right mouse click and choose ‘VIEW PAGE SOURCE’ or similar and your browser will show you the HTML of the page you are viewing.

Ecommerce Site

This is where you sell things from your web site. You will need to have a number of features, for example a database, and the site will need to be powered with a language like PHP or some other system which allows for calculations.

Payments on the site need to be secure and the facility to use SSL encryption (as when you see the padlock symbol in your browser) is useful, although not essential if you take payments by Paypal or cheque. However you will need to be careful with personal information and so at the very least you will need to deal with passwords.

Depending upon your requirements it is possible to obtain ready made programs, often written in PHP, which can deal with all of these requirements and simply be personalised to your needs.

Creating Content

It is possible to write in html with html editors, or you can use a ‘wysiwyg’ program (what you see is what you get) to create the pages for your web site and then convert them to html. The problem with this approach is they will often produce unoptimized html that will run less efficiently as a result.

If you don’t want to have to learn how to code in html it is possible to use a dedicated system to create your web site content (often referred to as a CMS or content management system). Often these are free to use and can be personalised to your needs by changing the imagery and adding ‘plugins’ which give greater functionality – say shopping carts for ecommerce, forums for clubs, contact forms.

These CMS systems vary in complexity and it is possible to use simple blogging programs like WORDPRESS and adapt it to your needs.

The main consideration is how you want to update your web site. One option is to have a web site designer add all of your files and create the web site to your requirements and then simply email him with changes, which he will undertake for a fee. The cost might go up with regular changes.

A second option is to consider a CMS that you can manage yourself, once installed by your designer, who can simply check from time to time for upgrades and other security issues and be available for advice and guidance.