Written by: Mark Praschan
Many small business owners are unfamiliar with verbiage and terms used to describe websites. Last month, SSB’s Steve Fredlund and I discussed an easy way to relate these concepts using the simple analogy of building a home. This article covers the same material as our recent podcast and video and is designed to give readers a basic understanding of how the pieces of a website fit together.
How can people find your website?
You can find a physical building by knowing its address. On the internet, you can think of a domain as your website’s address. This is sometimes referred to as a “dot com” or a URL and it’s one way of the primary ways a user might find you online.
The most common type of a domain is a .com and usually costs only about $12 per year to register. There are other types of domain endings (technically called TLDs or Top Level Domains) like .org (for organizations), and .gov (for government entities). There are also more TLDs (like .io, .poker, .doctor, etc.) that serve specific niches, but these should be used with caution since many users may assume your site is actually located at a “dot com”.
Where does your website actually reside?
In the physical world, a house sits on a parcel of land. Your website needs a place to live too. The files that make up your website live on a computer connected to the internet. These computers are commonly called servers because they “serve” your website to visitors when they type in the website address.
For most small businesses, website hosting should only cost around $5-25 each month. Very small sites without that don’t involve online transactions (ecommerce) can use shared web hosting which means that their website lives on the same server as other websites. This is more economical, but having to share server resources with other sites can affect the speed and reliability of your site.
What is the house built upon?
One doesn’t have to reach very far for a good analogy here. Websites are built on platforms just like a home is built on a foundation. The most common website platform (powering more than 30% of ALL websites) is called WordPress. WordPress started as a blogging platform, but has grown into a full-blown Content Management System (or CMS). When used properly, WordPress allows non-technical users to easily manage and update the content on their website.
What gives the house its dimension and shape?
While a home is usually built with a frame made of lumber, most websites are constructed using a computer language called HTML. This text-based HTML code consists of headings, paragraphs, and other elements that make up the actual content of the website.
Most novices might be scared when first looking at HTML code, but there are solutions (mentioned down below) that allow even beginners to get their website up and running without learning how to code.
What gives our digital home its style or appearance?
While HTML gives a website it’s basic structure, it will just look like plain text unless we give it some style using another computer language called CSS. Cascading Style Sheets tell a web browser how to dress up the HTML. This can be thought of as the decor or paint for the website and is one of the easiest ways to give a website a bit of personality and stand out from competitors.
Now that we have a home on the internet, can it do anything for us?
Is there an easier way to build a website?
Yes! Few SMB owners have experience building websites. That’s okay and that’s where website designers and other online service providers can help.
Hiring a website designer
By far the easiest way to create a website, is to hire a web designer or developer to build it for you. These professionals should be able to translate your business and your vision into a working website for you without you ever having to learn a single line of computer code. Hiring a website designer may be more cost-effective than you think.
If you’re looking for a more hands-on approach, many web hosting providers now offer intuitive packages that include domains, hosting, and page builders. Page builders are graphical interfaces that let users build websites using visual tools, rather than typing out code yourself.
From self-service to full-service, there are good website solutions for any comfort level.
We’ve already covered the basic components of a website, but there are a few other terms/concepts still worth exploring here.
Just as houses can communicate with the outside world using mailboxes, businesses can communicate using email. Having a website with its own domain allows businesses to use custom email addresses. Businesses should use a more professional-looking email that matches their website (ex. – firstname.lastname@example.org rather than email@example.com).
Once you’ve built your business’ home on the internet, it’s critical to protect it. Every website should take basic measures to ensure its security. Step one is to properly setup an SSL (or Secure Socket Layer) certificate that helps ensure that the connection between the website and users is encrypted and safe. This is the equivalent of locking the front door of a home.
It’s also important to consider the user experience (or UX) of your website. Is your website easy to use? Does it work as intended or work toward your business goals? The closest analogy in a home is the concept of ‘flow’ or feng shui. How well do the different components work together? Keep in mind that it’s more important for a site to work well than it is to look good.
One of the key contributors to a website’s success is it’s performance. In a home, you can optimize performance by installing eco-friendly and energy efficient fixtures and appliances. Websites are no different. Consider that search engines like Google give preferential treatment to faster websites, which means that fast websites almost outrank slower competitors, resulting in more traffic to the faster sites.
Lastly, let’s touch on website responsiveness and accessibility. These two separate (but related) concepts deal with how users with different devices, connections, and abilities experience your website. Responsive Web Design (RWD) ensures that a website performs well and looks great on any device (mobile, tablet, desktop, etc.). Accessibility deals more with how differently-abled users interact with your website. In the physical world, you see this in wheelchair ramps or braille signage. Online, it’s important to consider that users with impairments (such as those affecting visual or auditory senses) are also trying to use your site effectively.
Now that you have a sense of the fundamentals of a website, you might be wondering how to move forward. Feel free to contact a web designer like myself if you’d like help with the next step. You may also enjoy these previous articles: Why Everyone Needs a Website, Design Resources for Your Next Project.
About the author:
Websites / Ecommerce – Caro, MI
I help small businesses succeed on the internet.
I’ve been building websites professionally for 20 years and I specialize in WordPress, Ecommerce, and membership/subscription websites. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Fortune 500 companies, main-street solo-preneurs, and everybody in between.
As an owner of a small small business myself, I know how to work through the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities that small businesses and entrepreneurs encounter. I’d love to talk about your next website project.