How to build a website

This page explains the basics of how web pages work and how to create a website.

How web pages work

A web page is a document created with HTML code stored on a computer that is being used as a web server. The code tells a web browser how to display the text and the graphics, images, audio and video. The only thing on the document is the code. The actual graphic, image, audio and video files are stored in a different file or folder on the server that can be accessed.

How does a web page get to my computer?

  • When you search for a page your browser (such as Firefox or Google Chrome) finds the page on whatever web server it’s stored on.
  • The browser retrieves the web page from the web server and copies it to your computer.
  • The browser then displays the web page on your computer.

Creating a website:

There are basically two ways to build a website.

The first way is to create the pages offline using your own HTML coding (it’s not that hard, seriously) or a web design software program like Dreamweaver and then upload them to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or host via FTP. Wait, don’t freak.  FTP is a file protocol transfer and using it isn’t rocket science. Most hosting services make it really easy.

The second way is to create your pages using a content management system or a website builder.

Creating sites offline:

There are two ways to create a site without using an online application; HTML and web design software programs.

HTML:

You can create your website offline by using HTML code or by using a web design software program.

If you are creating your website offline using HTML coding, you can do it in any text editing program such as NOTEPAD (Windows) or Text Edit (Mac). DO NOT try to use Word or any other word-processing program as your coding will be mucked up sooner or later. I know some folks will tell you otherwise. Don’t believe a word of it!!

Creating pages this way is totally free and you’ll learn a lot. Learn about HTML here

Web design software:

If you are creating your website offline using a software program like Windows Live Writer or Dreamweaver, you’ll have to buy the program. This can cost you anywhere from $20 – $300. Mac users should be sure to check out Rapidweaver.

Read web design software application reviews here

In either case, creating your website offline means that you’ll have to do two things:

1. Create and buy a unique domain name. This is a good thing. Honest. Learn about domain names and how to register here

2. Find an internet hosting service (ISP) and lease space on their server. You have to do this in order to make your site searchable on the web. Your site can’t be searched if it’s just sitting on your computer. Don’t start pulling your hair out. This isn’t hard or expensive. There are lots of hosting services out there and they make it very easy for you to put your pages and files on their servers. Bluehost and GoDaddy are among the options. See web host reviews here

Pros of offline site-building:

  1. Cheap (or free) to build
  2. Highly customizable
  3. Don’t have to have Internet access to work on them
  4. Learning HTML is extremely valuable
  5. You use your own domain name

Cons of offline site-building:

  1. Some software can be expensive
  2. Requires an ISP and time to learn the file protocol transfer (FTP) of the ISP (shouldn’t take too long though, really)
  3. Requires your own domain name which will cost you about $10 a year (but this is a ‘pro’ too)
  4. Learning curve for more complicated software can be steep

Creating sites online:

You can choose to do your web-building online by using either a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or an online site-builder like Googlesites.

Content management systems like WordPress are suitable for beginners and probably a little more customizable and flexible than most site-builders. You can choose from a variety of “themes” and each theme has built-in options.

Site-builders like Googlesites or iWeb are great for beginners, because a lot of the design and formatting is already finished (on a content management system). Most of them offer a range of “template” designs along with a simple “what-you-see-is-what-you- get” editor. You can also update your website whenever you want.

The cost of an online web-building application varies and can even be FREE, depending on what you select. If you choose WordPress, for example, there’s a FREE version that WordPress will also host FREE for you. It’s way easy. The catch is that your options for design are limited unless you learn how to sneak in the backdoor and do your own coding. You’ll also get a clunky domain name with .wordpress in it.

You can also buy premium WordPress themes that are highly customizable and then upload them to a service provider/web host (and, remember, you have to pay them a monthly fee). Most providers make it very easy to upload and update WordPress on their servers. If you do it this way, you’ll be able to use your own domain name. See a WordPress review here

Googlesites is free to use and hosted free by Google, but it has very limited customization options. See a Googlesites review here

iWeb is bundled into Mac computers so it’s basically free, but you’ll have to pay a service provider to host. See an iWeb review here

Pros of creating sites online:

  1. You can work on them from any computer, just log-in to the adminstration panel
  2. There’s lots of support. Forums abound. You can also use the application’s help menu or ask Google.

Cons of creating sites online:

  1. Must be online to work on them.
  2. Most cost $$
  3. Free apps are often have limited customization possibilities

Choices, choices! What should you do?

  • Play with them. You can get trials of most applications and software for free. You can play with HTML for free.
  • Read about the software or system and look at reviews.
  • Explore the available tutorials and help forums.
  • Consider your budget. If you don’t want to spend a penny, then the free version of WordPress, which is hosted by WordPress, is probably the best way for you to go.
  • Consider the long-run. You’re going to put a lot of work into this, so it ought to be done well.

What would I do?

Truthfully, if I were where you are (still in school, about to bust open my career), I’d do the following:

  • Buy my name domain and any other domain I think I might want to own
  • Sign on with a host (I use Bluehost and I’ve never had a problem)
  • Learn the basics of HTML and CSS*
  • Create a way-cool site with Rapidweaver or Dreamweaver

*CSS stands for cascading style sheets and it’s style sheet language for coding … but that is a story for another day.

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