The web made its debut back in 1991, adding a graphical user interface to the internet. As such, web design was born.
In its infancy, web design was heavily restricted by technology and hardware, with a web presence being little more than black text on a white background. Thankfully, technology and web design have reached a far more creative and imaginative stage in their evolutions. Skipping past frames, tables, and animated GIFs, web design has become far more sophisticated and will continue to grow and develop. Look back a couple of years and take note of what was ‘on trend’ and how the underlying infrastructure helped shape a website.
The progression of web design has always gone hand-in-hand with technology, and technology never takes a backward step, which in turn means that web design and the web are always going to be informative, inspirational and essential.
Think about what you use the web for and how you would achieve these tasks without it. In a couple of decades that the web has been around, it’s gone from a plain text, email-checking entity to the key communication and information tool of governments, businesses, and individuals. And, what is it that makes the web such a crucial tool? Web pages and websites. Whatever information, service or product you need it will be wrapped up in a web page just waiting for you to say hello.
Why build a website?
It’s a simple question, but why build a website? There is no single answer to what is undoubtedly a very broad question. However, the answer could be something as simple as ‘because everyone else has got one’. And, to a certain extent, this simple answer reaches the crux of the matter very succinctly. The worldwide web is a global phenomenon that’s awash with millions, if not billions, of websites covering every subject you can possibly imagine. There is no better place to be seen and get your message heard. A website can be viewed from England to Australia, while astronauts have even tweeted from the International Space Station’s A 24/7 online global presence is one very powerful reason to build a website.
“Websites cover every aspect of life, whether it’s personal or business”
There is no doubt that websites cover every aspect of life, whether it’s personal or business. On a personal level, everyone has an interest or hobby that they love and many simply want to tell the world what they do. A website is a perfect platform for getting across personal opinion and it also acts as a reference point or calling card, where a user can promote themselves. If it’s not a personal platform for opinion and promotion a site can be great a way to stay in contact and tell friends and family what you’re up to. An online diary can include the latest activities and a host of photos, much like a personal Facebook. This could be another reason, for those not interested in being part of the Facebook revolution, and want greater control, then a personal site is a great alternative. The web also provides the perfect platform for those looking to build a business. The outlay is minimal and the potential audience is huge. No need to rent premises, no need to keep a huge pile of stock and customers will come from miles around to pay a visit Provide the right product, promote in the right way and the number of visits will shoot through the roof.
Beyond personal opinion and comment, a website can have more commercial use. Web designers instantly have the perfect platform for presenting their work. What better reason does a web designer need to build a website? A portfolio site is a great shop window for their work and a constant point of reference, allowing web users to visit at any time of day or night. As already mentioned, if you’re looking to build a business the web is a great starting point. A report from www.eMarketer.com shows that 150 million users across the United States are buying online. This is a staggering 73 percent of all web users demonstrating exactly how important an online business could be. Another interesting snippet of information reinforced in the report was that people like to shop online for convenience and to save money.
An online shop is the most probable and popular purpose for business, but another and less obvious reason is affiliate marketing This is a website specifically set up to promote affiliate products, where money is made via commission.
What are websites used for?
The internet is very much influenced by what is happening outside of the web. Remember it’s people that build websites and people always want information, people always need to go shopping, people will always need to go to the bank, people will always want to stay in contact the web provides the ideal platform to replace more traditional services.
So what do people use websites for? In a nutshell: pretty much everything! But to be more concise, the purpose of a website is to relay a message or offer a service. To get a more immediate picture of what websites are used for, take a look at some of the most popular sites on the web. Facebook, YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, Amazon, iTunes, eBay, BBC, Sky, Word Press, PayPal, Skype, Flickr, Walmart, Lastminute, and Microsoft to name but a few. This brief selection of sites pretty much covers the spectrum of what websites are used for. Facebook is a huge social networking site and epitomizes what people like to do on the web – stay in contact and tell others what they are up to. YouTube allows web users to stream and watch videos from a vast library of variety. Sitting along the same lines are services such as Netflix and LoveFilm, which take the online streaming and viewing experience to a new level. Google, a service that nearly everyone in the world has heard of, presents a different tool for the web, but search engines are key to finding websites. Good luck if you’re thinking of building a website to take on one of the search giants!
The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is a fountain of knowledge. It’s one of the first online locations web users will hit when looking for an answer to a question. if Wikipedia doesn’t have the answer then it will be a surprise. Again, this is a vast undertaking and the knowledge base has been built up over years by the general public, but it provides a great blueprint for anyone looking to build a creditable knowledge site.
Another big name on the web is Amazon, this is one of the pioneers of the online shopping experience and the site has developed to such a level that it is often first in the queue when a product needs to be purchased. A similar online experience sits in the hands of eBay, this is an online shopping experience, but users get to bid in an online auction rather than buy a product at a fixed price. The auction has a few imitators, but none can match its capacity and completeness. The BBC website covers a vast swathe of subjects, but it has one primary, and very popular, purpose and that is to bring the news to the masses. No matter if it’s local news, international news or sports news, the BBC will have it covered.
WordPress is the most popular web publishing platform on the internet and provides the basis for over a million websites. Typically seen as a blogging platform, it has matured into something much more complete. What it also provides is a brilliant platform for people who want to produce their own website without the degree of knowledge in web design and development. Plus, it offers the user more than just one incarnation of the website; almost any type of site (blog, eCommerce shop, information-based and more) can be built from the WordPress platform.
Sitting amongst the giants is Flickr, a photo storage and sharing site that provides a platform for professional photographers and amateurs alike. The Flickr platform can act as a shop window or, in the true spirit of the internet, act as a source where images are freely available for others to use. When it comes to music there are few that can match the massive entity known as iTunes. The Apple powered store provides a shop front for a million musicians and in turn, allows for an intuitive online buying experience.
The above does not cover every single use of a website – for example, we’ve not mentioned online banking – but it does offer a great representation of the scope of purpose of exactly what a website can achieve.
Where are websites stored?
The web to some degree is a mystical entity that just exists out there somewhere, but obviously this is not the case, all the information does have a home. The web is part of the internet, which is effectively a collection of connected computers that create a mass of routes around the globe. This provides the infrastructure for one computer to connect to another and view any website that exists on the web.
A web page is a file that is typically stored on a local/home computer hard drive. A collection of web pages becomes a website. However, before any website can be seen it needs to be transferred from a local/home computer to a web server where the website is ‘hosted’. A web host provides the service that gets a website out onto the internet for all to see. Web servers are like a desktop PC in the fact that they have similar hardware, but they are much more powerful and run different software.
A web host provider such as Revelhosts (revelhost.net) provides a wealth of services including web space, monthly bandwidth, email accounts, databases, platforms and typically a host of web building tools. All of these services are included with a web hosting package, but each web host will have different hosting plans. The different plans provide everything from starter plans through to powerful plans for the business. What type of plan is. needed depends very much on what type of website is being set up. If it’s a simple blog site that gets updated once a week and has an audience of around 500 visitors a month then a cheap starter plan would be ideal. If it is a company website with much more content and a lot more visitors expected then a more professional plan will be needed.
So what does all the jargon mean? The more important considerations are web space and bandwidth. Webspace is storage space, the same as a hard drive. How much is needed obviously varies depending on the content, but if it’s a blog with standard text and images then it’s unlikely that more than 1 GB of web space will be needed.
If more than text and images are going to be displayed, for example, video, photos, music, then 1GB of web space can be filled very quickly. Ten gigabytes or more is a better option for such a site. It is a good idea to estimate how much web space you will need before embarking on choosing a hosting plan. Don’t worry too much though, because webspace can be upgraded easily and typically within 24 hours.
The other major factor is bandwidth, which is usually measured by the month. Bandwidth is the traffic or the amount of data that is transferred to or from a website. A quick method for estimating monthly bandwidth is the sizes of the pages on a website multiplied by how many visitors are expected. For example, if a website has a total page size of 1MB and the expected visits are 500, a bandwidth of around half a gigabyte is sufficient. However, if there is a spike in visitors due to sudden interest then this could easily be doubled. Again, there is no need to worry as the bandwidth can be increased when needed.
“Building a website is like building ‘a house – you need a host of tools”
Other considerations are databases if setting up a WordPress blog then at least one database will be needed. If building a static brochure site that just consists of text and images then a database is unlikely to be required. If setting up a site with a
shop then a database is likely to be needed. As a general rule, it’s always worth getting a hosting plan with at least one database included. Email accounts are an obligatory addition to any hosting plan and even the most basic package will include more than are usually needed. As an example, the Revelhost Starter plan provides 10 email accounts. The other major web hosting consideration is the operating system (OS), typically Windows or Linux. This is not dictated by the OS your computer is running; it relates to OS that the webserver is running. It only matters if you’re going to build a basic HTML and CSS site. However, if a certain technology is to be used, it may only run on a certain operating system.
Tools of the trade
Building a website is much like building a house; a host of tools are needed to make sure that the job gets done. There are a few essential techniques and tools that a web designer/developer will need to know to get a website up and running. The most immediate is HTML and CSS, these are the most important elements of any website, as without them the web simply would not exist as we know it. HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) provides the base from which every website is built. Anyone looking to build a website will need to know at the very least the basics of HTML. The latest incarnation of HTML is HTML5 and newcomers to web design will need to make sure that, along with all the standard HTML tags, they also add HTML5 tags to the learning list.
Sitting alongside HTML in the web design hierarchy is Cascading Style Sheets, which is commonly known as CSS and it is just as important that website builders know at least the basics.
CSS adds style to the front end of a website and defines the layout, whatever it may be, style fonts, borders, images, and create a background canvas for a webpage. In fact, any aesthetic seen on a web page has almost certainly been in contact with CSS.
Getting to grips with jQuery is not an essential element of design, but it is something that should be put on any web designer’s to-do list when they’ve mastered HTML & CSS. Other backend technologies that power many websites are PHP and MySQL. PHP is a programming language that plays a big part in the makeup of the Word Press publishing platform. Typically, PHP is embedded into an HTML page and produces dynamic results. MySQL is a database application, which means it stores information entered into a site. It is often combined with PHP and a typical example of the two in action are WordPress posts where the content is stored in a MySQL database.
Getting all the essential technologies onto a page is the work of a selection of tools. An HTML editor is critical and one of the most popular software packages on the market is Dreamweaver. Part of the Adobe Creative Suite, it offers a user-friendly interface and an impressive set of tools that assist any web designer with what they need. The alternatives are explained elsewhere. An HTML
editor needs to be accompanied by an image-editing package to make sure that a website is beautiful while functional. The popular choice is Photoshop, which provides powerful tools that are perfectly capable of creating any web graphic in the right format.
Beyond page building, there is the web designer’s favorite web publishing platform: Drupal.
The beauty of the platform lies in its ability to build a complete site in a couple of hours. The framework is provided and then It is just a matter of selecting a theme for the desired finish. The user adds content while Drupal provides the structure.
Web sites are viewed in web browsers and the four major web browsers – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, and Safari – all offer different levels of support to HTML and CSS. And for this very reason, they are an essential part of the web design process. All sites need to be tested in each browser to make sure that they work as intended, so it’s always a good idea to find out a little about what browsers support when building a site. Finally,
while not really tools of the trade in the traditional sense, services such as YouTube and Twitter are still key players. Both offer the opportunity to embed or integrate elements into a web page with code supplied via the mother site.
Different ways to build a website
The tools needed to build a site are all integrated into a website in different ways. A website is by its definition a web presence, and how it gets built is almost irrelevant – users want to see a functional site in action, very few care how it was built, apart from web designers of course!
The options for building a website range from the simple to the specially made. At one end of the scale, there are instant, no-nonsense, no-knowledge services such as salonpixel.com. These are services that appeal to those who want to get online quickly, or those who want an elegant, easy-to-customize web presence. Users build a page from predefined layout elements and styles and draw content from existing services such as WordPress, Twitter, Flickr.
Template builders sit very closely in the building process and are often found with many web hosting plans such as Revelhost. These provide predefined elements, pages, images and so on in a logical step-by-step process and need no web design knowledge. Stepping up the ante is Word Press, which in principle is another quick and easy website building tool. There are two versions available; wordpress.com, where a site is hosted on the WordPress servers, and a self-hosted version. The .com option is created online and offers a simplified version of the platform. The self-hosted version is the full package where the user needs to provide their own webspace to install the web publishing platform. Once installed users can change a theme, add plug-ins, customize the code base and completely restyle the look.
Finally, at the top end of the scale is the bespoke or custom website that is built from scratch using all the latest web technologies and tools. This gives over total control of the build to the designer,
with the only restriction being the designer’s own imagination and knowledge.
What to do next
Once a site has been built and hosted on the web, what happens next? What more can you do with your site? Looking past the practical considerations blogs, photographs, eCommerce and so on a site needs to be seen. It doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing, innovative and intuitive a site is, if no one gets to see it, it’s worthless.
Any new website exists in a vast labyrinth of online experiences and promotion is the key to getting a site seen. The methodology and techniques to achieving a starring role on the web are wide and varied. The first and maybe most important is the domain name. This is the address people will type into the browser (for example www.iloveshopping.com).
This should reflect the name of the site. There is little point calling a site ‘I Love Shopping’ and using the domain name www.shoppinglove.com the two should match for brand completeness. And, if possible, get the .com version.
Google is the top search engine across the globe that is used by over 80 percent of internet users, which equates to billions of people, so your site needs to be made Google-friendly. There are a host of elements that add value to a page: meta tags, sitemaps, alt tags and more. The best way to get Google-friendly is to call on Google themselves. Try out their Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.
You shouldn’t ignore social networks, either. Outside influences such as Twitter and Facebook are great communication channels with potentially huge audiences. Every time something on a site is updated, you should be sure to tell your followers and friends. If nothing new is happening then make it happen!
Finally, make sure your website content is consistent, error-free, current and regularly updated with new and exciting content. Nobody wants to visit a website that hardly ever has anything new to give its readers.