If you are a mechanic, or maybe just someone who knows anything about cars, there are things that are obvious to you that are completely lost on me. You probably know the difference between an alternator and a carburetor, while I frequently forget that I actually have to get gas.
I would feel so much more comfortable walking into a repair shop if I actually understood what they were talking about, and by the same token, I feel my clients are more comfortable working with me if they understand the basic terminology of web sites. It CAN get really confusing, so I hope this basic primer will help! You can get much more thorough and technical information on the web, but I’m sticking to an overview.
The domain name is something like janestacos.com – it is a name (typically the name of your business) followed by a suffix (like .com, .net, or .edu). Domain names are unique, meaning only one person or entity can register a particular domain name at a time. However one person could register janestacos.com and someone else could register janestacos.net.
In order to register a domain name, meaning that as long as you have it registered no one else can use it, you have to go to a Domain Name Registrar. A registrar is a company or organization that is officially accredited to manage the reservation of domain names to people like you. Godaddy is a popular domain name registrar as they are more affordable than some other options. Some hosting companies, such as Bluehost and Hostmonster also offer one free domain name registration when you use their hosting.
Be careful to keep track of when your domain name registration will expire! If you do not renew it on time, you can lose the domain name. If someone else registers it, you are out of luck.
A URL is the full address to a web site or a page or file on a web site. An example of a url is http://www.janestacos.com or http://janestacos.com/About
Where the domain name is the address to your home, a hosting account is like the actual land your home sits on (or maybe the air it sits in). When you pay for a hosting account, you are given space on a server where all of your web site’s files are stored and delivered to the computers of anyone who visits your site. Most hosting companies also provide a control panel that lets you upload files and make changes to your hosting account.
Choosing a hosting company is one of the most important decisions you will make when you plan your web site. There are thousands of companies that offer web hosting, some great, some ok, and many others that are just bad news. Good web hosting does not have to be expensive – the companies I recommend range from $4 to $7 per month – but don’t allow yourself to be swayed by super cheap pricing and special offers, or even think that very expensive hosting is necessarily better.
Most hosts also offer free “Build Your Own” web site programs. Please think twice about using these programs. They usually have some pretty examples to show you, but the typical results are never that nice, and will not represent your business well.
Most hosts also like to tout the “Free” ecommerce programs they offer, like ZenCart or OSCommerce. These programs are free to anyone, however, no matter what hosting you use, and they are quite difficult to set up and customize. You can end up spending much more time and money whipping them into an attractive and effective eStore than if you had used a paid option.
BEFORE you purchase hosting, you should develop a game plan with a professional web designer, who can then typically make a recommendation for you based on their experience. I can’t tell you how many times a client has come to me with their hosting already paid for, who then had to change hosting companies because theirs did not have all of the necessary features for the site they wanted.
NOTE: Your domain name can be registered at a different company from where you purchase your hosting. Some people prefer the convenience of having both at the same company, others prefer to keep them separate. I don’t have a preference as long as both are with a solid reputable company.
If the domain is the address and the hosting is the land, the Web site is the online “home” for your business. It is what your visitors will see and experience. They will see photos, graphics, and text, but the files that create the visual presentation use a variety of different kinds of code and markup to present them. For the most part, if you are hiring a designer, you don’t need to know much about these, but it can be helpful to just have a general idea of what these terms mean.
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is the basic building block of web pages. It uses “tags” to tell your web browser how to present the information.
CSS (cascading style sheets) define the appearance of the web pages – the colors, layout, fonts used, and much much more.
PHP is a scripting language used to create dynamic web pages, i.e., web pages that can change from one viewing to the next, or depending on who is looking at them. It is used with content management systems to pull data from a database to show to your visitors.
Flash is a multimedia platform that is used to present things like animation, video, and music on your page. There are many web sites made entirely in Flash, and many more with only portions of the site created in Flash. I do not recommend using Flash, as it does not work on iPads or other Apple idevices. Flash can also be slow to load, difficult to navigate, and in general is more expensive to develop and maintain.
Content Management System (CMS)
A CMS allows you to edit the content of your web site without knowing any of the various types of code or programs above. You don’t need any expensive software – just a web browser, like Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, or Opera. You have a page with a log in, and then you can click on links to the pages on your site to edit the text, add photos, etc.
Common CMS include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal among others. Most professional web designers who work with CMS will have a specific one that they prefer. I do recommend if you are going to use a CMS to stick with one that is used by many many people. If you use a CMS that was cooked up by a local programmer, and then said local programmer disappears, you are stuck with any problems the site may have in the future, as no one else will know how to fix it.
To Sum Up
To have a web presence, you need to:
1. Register a domain name
2. Purchase hosting
3. Create a web site or have one created for you
4. Have the domain name pointed to your hosting – this may happen automatically if you have domain name and hosting are at the same company, or may have to be set up later. If you have a web designer, they should be able to take care of this for you.
Questions? Feel free to contact me to see how I can help you get the web site you need to grow your business!