You probably visit them every day with your computer, but have you ever been curious to know how someone makes a web site?
What is a web site?
Here's a simple definition: A web site consists of one or more web pages. A web page is a collection of related files that provide some sort of content (text, pictures, sound, video, etc.) which can be accessed by entering a web address (e.g., "www.kadansky.com") into a web browser on a computer connected to the internet. Your web browser downloads the content of a given web page (say, three pieces of text and two pictures) onto your computer and displays it on your screen. Common web browsers include Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari, etc.
So, to create a web site, you need to decide on the address, create the content, and arrange for it to be publicly available on the internet.
Overview of the Process
Here are the essential steps, which involve a combination of marketing, engineering, craftsmanship, and administrative work:
- Come up with a domain name that no one else is using; in the web address "www.ovenmittquilting.com", the "ovenmittquilting.com" portion is the domain name.
- Register your domain name with a Domain Name Registrar company.
- Sign up with a Web Hosting company to act as your web server and store your web site's content; you can also set up a domain email account, e.g., "firstname.lastname@example.org".
- Sign up with a Domain Name Server company (DNS) so people who request your web site get connected to your web server.
- Create the content for your web site and upload it into your web server.
The good news: This isn't as difficult or expensive as it may sound, and there are companies that provide Domain Name Registration, Web Hosting, domain email, and DNS services all under one roof, greatly simplifying the process.
The bad news: This can end up being very difficult and expensive if the process gets out of hand.
Domain Name Registration
Your web site must have a domain name. Try to keep it short (e.g., "kadansky.com") but descriptive (e.g., "computerhelpfrommartin.com"). This name can be any combination of letters, digits, and hyphens (-), and it must end with a special suffix (called a "top-level domain") like ".com". No spaces or other punctuation are permitted, and uppercase vs. lowercase doesn't matter.
Then, since every domain name must be registered by its owner in the internet's central Domain Name Registry, you need to find out whether your preferred domain name is available. If it's taken, you may have to come up with many alternatives before you find an available name you like. Registering a domain name generally costs less than $10 per year, and you can pay for up to 10 years at once.
The contact information you provide in your domain registration is required to be public, which makes it another source of postal junk mail and email spam. Consider protecting your privacy by using a P.O. Box and a separate email address. Or, for an additional annual fee many Domain Name Registrars offer "private registration" which also hides your contact information from the public with less effort on your part.
Important note about Domain Ownership
In the long term, being the owner (Registrant) of your domain name is very important. If you're not the owner, you may not have the ability to control or change any of the services associated with it in the future, nor prevent it from expiring. If you've already had someone else do this work for you and they
are the current owner, you should make every effort to become the owner as soon as possible.
To make your web site available 24 hours a day, you'll need to rent some space on the hard disks of computers run by a web hosting company that will "serve up" the content of your web pages whenever anyone requests it. Web hosting costs anywhere from under $3 to over $50 per month, depending on the services you need and whether you pay in advance or as you go.
Domain Name Server
When someone types in your web site's address (e.g., "www.kadansky.com"), in order for their web browser to find your web server and download your content, it needs to translate your address into a purely numeric form called an "ip address" (e.g., 126.96.36.199). You'll need a DNS Server company to list your web site in the Domain Name System, the internet's "phone book." Most web hosting companies also provide this service.
Expect to pay most Domain Name Registration and Web Hosting companies by credit card. They usually prefer to renew automatically as well, and don't typically send you a bill.
Creating your content
Most simple web sites are written in HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language), which uses plain text "tags" to describe the content of web pages (text, pictures, links, etc.) as well as the layout (what goes where on the screen). For example, to make a phrase appear bold in HTML you surround that phrase with the <b> and </b> tags, which tell your web browser where to "start bold" and "stop bold," e.g., "The finished quilt was <b>quite wonderful</b> to behold."
Transferring the files that make up your web site from your computer to your web server is called "uploading." Most web hosting companies have an upload function on their web sites, and you can also get free or low-cost "ftp transfer" software that makes the process easier.
HTML is not an easy language to learn or use, and uploading can take a bit of practice to master as well, so before plunging into such technical issues I always recommend starting with the overall purpose, look, and feel that you want your web site to convey, perhaps even sketching it out with pencil and paper or a word processor.
Moving forward and actually creating a functional web site often comes down to two approaches:
- Doing it yourself - from scratch, filling in a template that you like, or using web design software to produce the HTML files, or
- Hiring someone to create it for you.
Doing the work yourself will probably consume more time than money, and many web host companies provide templates you can use, but it might also be frustrating if you're not technically inclined. Hiring someone (e.g., a web designer, graphic designer, writer, etc.) can get it done sooner and more professionally, but can lead to the most common complaint I encounter: Dissatisfaction with the cost and the result. I recommend lots of discussion and planning at the start to make sure you're working with someone compatible, combined with frequent reviews along the way.
Once you have a web site, I recommend:
Where to go from here
- Maintain, update, and improve your web site over time; don't let it get "old and dusty"! One good approach is to learn how to do simple changes yourself, and hiring a professional to do the more complex work.
- Update your domain registration information if your contact information changes, especially your email address.
- Find out if your preferred domain name is available. Go to http://www.networksolutions.com, scroll down to "RESOURCES" and click on "WHOIS Search." Type in the domain name and click "Search."
- This is not an all-or-nothing process. You can register a domain name now, and decide later if you want to create an associated web site, email account, and other services.
- Make sure you own (or become the owner of) your domain.
- Think twice before putting any personal information on your web site.
- Keep careful track of the usernames and passwords associated with these accounts.
- To learn more about top-level domains (".com" vs. ".net" vs. ".org" etc.) see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generic_top-level_domain and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Country-code_top-level_domain
- Talk to people you know who already have a web site and learn from their experience.
- "Domain renewal" scams are very common. Keep the names of your Domain Name Registrar and Web Hosting companies handy so you won't be fooled by fake renewal offers from other companies.
- There are companies that free offer domain registration and web hosting, just be sure you understand their terms. For example, is it free forever, or just for a few months? Must your free web site display advertising? Read carefully before signing up.
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