The Internet is a great tool for communication, freedom of speech and democracy (as well as commerce and entertainment of course). On the Internet, everyone is equal (at least in theory) and everyone can have a voice! Getting heard is another issue, but for now, let’s look at how we get our own little patch of turf on the net.
What’s involved in having a website?
There are three main elements in getting a web site up and running. Let’s take them one by one.
Domain Name Registration
The first is a domain name. An example of a domain name would be mywebsite.com. The first step then, towards a website, is registering a domain name. Fortunately this is very easy. There are many Licensed Registrars that sell domain names. Hosting companies often give away free domain names when you purchase a hosting package. And it can be a smart idea to register your domain name with your hosting company to simplify the invoicing process. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who you register your domain name with. You can always connect it with your hosting, regardless of where it’s registered.
The costs involved and availability of the name depends on the type of domain extension you want to use. Dot com extensions (.com) are the cheapest and can cost as little as $3, while premium domain extensions like .info or .xxx are much more expensive. For most people though, either a local domain name (.com.au or .net.au) or an international domain name (.com) is the best choice. Information, rules and guidelines concerning eligibility are available online on the auDA website. This information can help you determine your eligibility for a ‘.com.au’ or ‘.net.au’ domain extension, which are the two types of domain name extensions most appropriate for commercial entities in Australia. Remember, a domain name is not something you purchase; it’s something you are licensed to use for a specified period of time. Before that period expires, it needs to be renewed. This is an ongoing cost.
Once you have registered your domain name, you need somewhere for your website to live. Put very simply, this is on a server; a computer that is connected to the Internet and ‘serves’ up your site for the world to see. Hosting services are as varied as domain name registrars and come in a variety of forms. Shared hosting is the cheapest and can be had for as little as $40 a year. A more typical low end hosting cost though would be closer to $100-150 per year. Business hosting with more features and security might cost closer to $500 per year. But this is a very fast moving market and prices are changing all the time. It is also an area where in the most cases you get what you pay for. Choosing a host requires a reasonable amount of research or a good recommendation. Some people go for a locally based host, thinking the load times with will be quicker if their host is based in Australia. This thinking is logical enough, but there are many, many factors that affect load time, and many US based hosting solutions have data centers in the Asian Pacific region as well, and will host your files close to home. In the end, good service is one of the most important factors to consider with hosting, so a good reputation and a good recommendation goes a long way.
The third brick in the puzzle is an actual website. These are the physical files which hold the information that is displayed in a web browser when someone visits your website. So when someone types in www.mywebsite.com.au into the address bar of a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer etc.) the browser connects with your server (or a local cached version of your site) and serves up the files that make up your site. There are a lot of options when it comes to generating that content, so we’ll go through the main ones.
Types of Websites
Do It Yourself Website Builders
There are a variety of free and paid web services that allow you to make a website using a graphical editor that requires no coding ability. Generally they are easy to use but limited in design scope and flexibility. Often they are branded with advertising if they are free. Wix is one example of these services. If you have no budget, want a personal site and are not fussy with your design considerations, these might be a viable option. They are not suitable for a commercial website though, as they often have a very amateur look and lack the flexibility and features of a professionally built website. As well as that, you have to evaluate your own design skills. Web design is a complex and well thought out process and one shouldn’t under-estimate what a professional designer brings to a site. It’s just like photography, Just because you might own a $2000 DSLR, it doesn’t necessarily make you a good photographer.
These are two of the main languages used to build websites. HTML stands for Hypertext Mark-up Language and CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. Explaining these two technologies may help put websites in historical and future contexts. HTML has been around from the first days of the web, and is the foundation of how websites work. Essentially HTML is a set of tags that explain to the browser how the content of the file should be displayed. For example, if I put the word ‘Title’ inside a heading 1 tag it would display as large text dependant on how the CSS specified the tag h1
HTML essentially defines the structure and content of a document and the CSS controls the styling of it. CSS Zen Garden is a website that eloquently shows how CSS and HTML can work together to separate content and styling.
Until relatively recently, most websites were coded by web designers in HTML and CSS. This sort of website is known as a static website, meaning that the content will not change until someone recodes the pages and uploads them again to the server. This sort of website is rapidly going out of fashion for various reasons, but the main one is that they are harder to add extra functionality to and require specialist web designers to update or change. There are many millions of static websites still on the web, and they still do a great job for many people, but for a new site, I wouldn’t generally recommend it, unless you know the content of the site will not change and you don’t want to add any new content to it.
The newer way to make websites is based on a MySQL database. These websites are considered ‘dynamic websites’, as they are generated by the browser when a specific page is requested, taking the content from the database and the styling from a theme (a mixture of HTML / CSS and PHP; another coding language) Dynamic websites are made in Content Management Systems (CMS’s) and the most popular of these is WordPress. Other popular CMS’s are Joomla and Drupal. These are open source, free applications that control the website’s content. There are also proprietary CMS’s like Adobe’s Business Catalyst, which are designed more for bigger websites and require the use of a developer to set up.
Unlike HTML / CSS static websites, which are developed locally and then uploaded to the server, CMS’s are typically installed on the server and changes are made live on the net. So if you go in and update your phone number, the change is there on your website immediately. The main advantage of these types of sites is that once they are up and running, it is quite possible for a computer savvy end user to administer and update, even totally changing the appearance of the site by adding a new “theme”. They don’t require coding knowledge (though it certainly helps and is needed for advanced development) and they use a graphical user interface, much like a word processor, in a browser to make changes to the site. For a professional looking site however, they still require the services of a web developer to design and build them, and customise them initially with the look and functionality you want. As I’ve mentioned previously, the design of a website should not be underestimated, and that’s where a good designer can make the world of difference.
This final type of site is a combination of the above technologies. These are managed solutions, built on either an open source or proprietary CMS. They typically include both hosting and an easy to use graphical interface to administer and design the site. There are a large number of these solutions and they tend to service industry clusters. I am only really aware of ones that serve the photography industry. They are suitable for photographers and other visual artists who want high end functionality (like shopping carts and secure payment etc.) but they are designed to be easy to use and don’t require the end user to have coding knowledge. They are however at the top end when it comes to price as they are a subscription based service. For professional photographers however, they are possibly the best option available. Some of the leaders in this area are livebooks.com, photoshelter.com, zenfolio.com, 4ormat.com and smugmug.com to name but a few. If you have a decent budget, and are looking for a very slick, professional presence with high end functionality and the ability to self-administer the site, these are well worth a look.
How do I choose?
Like anything else, making choices in web design is best done by research, analysis of personal requirements and setting and sticking to a budget. Personally, I think WordPress websites currently offer the best mixture of affordability, usability, customisation, and future growth options. They are not for everyone, and are not without their detractors or issues, but show me a perfect technology anywhere…
Web Design Sunshine Coast
I make WordPress websites, starting from $695. I can also offer professional photography and copy writing as add-ons to the service (I have a Diploma of Photography and a BA in Communications). Once your site is completed, I also offer WordPress training (I also have a Cert IV in Training and Assessment and 5 years teaching experience) at an affordable rate, to allow you to take control of your own site into the future.
There are of course a million web designers and web developers out there. Some will charge $4000+ for a site, while others might charge only $500. I will only take on a job if it is within my capabilities, and I offer a personal guarantee of high quality workmanship and attention to detail. If your site is too complex for me, I can suggest more experienced developers to take control of the project. Check out my web design page to see some examples of my work, and drop me a line if you have any questions.