Category: Web Site Basics

How Do You Build A Web Site?

This is perhaps the most asked question I hear from potential clients. How do you build a web site (when you do not know how)? Essentially there are three components to every site. First you must register a domain name, second you must have a web server to serve your web site, and lastly are the web pages themselves.

In Choosing Your Domain Name, I kind of covered some basic ideas on how to come up with a domain name for your site, so I will not cover that subject, but instead talk about what registering your domain name really means.

Domain names are not really owned as much as they are leased on a yearly basis, or for whatever amount of years you pay to register the domain name. Once you register your domain, your personal information is kept on file for that domain and is available to any one who does a WhoIs search on your domain. Some people find this disturbing and the industry has come up with privacy protection, where individuals who register domains can purchase privacy protection for an extra yearly fee. This privacy protection is still not officially recognized, so the registrars are doing this on their own to help customers have a service they want.

Besides letting know everyone, that you own the domain for a certain amount of time, your registrar also provides options to change your DNS record, the most important part of this being the official nameservers for your domain. Nameservers are the servers that tell the rest of the internet, where your actual website pages are located, on what actual machine. Your DNS record points any requests for your web site to these nameservers, who in turn point the request to the appropiate server, once it gets there, the web server knows which directory your web pages are and then serves them to who ever requested them. When you first purchase a domain name the nameservers will be defaulted to the registrar that you registered the domain with. You must change them if the registrar is not providing you with a hosting account from which to host your pages on.

This brings us to step 2, the web server. This is the physical server that will actually serve or deliver your web pages to any computer or device that requests them. This is what is meant by a web host or web hosting account.

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What Not To Do When Designing Your Web Site

The idea behind the World Wide Web was to use the Internet to publish information and have it openly accessible to everyone. In the early 90’s the Internet was essentially Mosaic running on a computer, but now it is quite possible to browse web sites without a computer. You could use a PDA, a cell phone, even some kitchen appliances now connect to the Internet and download data automatically. The introduction of RSS feeds also offer new and innovative ways for information to become quickly accessible on more than just the traditional computer screen. Then there are the programs that search all this information and try to index it. All this accessibility is only possible if your site accommodates it, and so if you are just starting to build your web site you should keep in mind the following points, because accessibility is what the Internet is all about these days.

No Frames Please

If your site uses frames think about how confusing this is to Google and Yahoo. Most of the time, sites use frames for navigation, with a top frame or a side frame having all the links to the areas of the site. These are unnecessary, as the same effect can be easily recreated without frames. This is one case where someone invented a neat new way of doing something, and then realized the old way was in fact better. Other reasons not to use frames range from the fact that not all browsers support them, to increased page download times, to making it harder to bookmark specific pages on your site.

Under Construction Sites

Today when I see a graphic or message that states that the site is under construction, I immediately think amateur. If your site is truly under construction, then it should not be accessible period! Most site visitors will understand if a site is down for maintenance, updating, or if you are just moving in to a new server. If you really have a new site and it is not finished, think about having a message similar to a movie trailer. Putting up a nice graphic that depicts your site’s subject matter with the words “Coming Soon…” is a lot better than some yellow construction graphic. Your site’s theme should always come first.

Click Here To Navigate

If you actually put the words “Click here” to see other pages, then your site is stuck in the year 1991. An entire generation has already grown up on the web, and the term url is as common to them as cassette tapes were to my generation. You should never have to bring attention to your site’s navigation, because if you do, then you either do not understand how web pages work or your site’s navigation is so confusing that you yourself thinks it is bad! The exception would be if you have some special links which are different in some way, like when a weblog has article links to publications on a different site, or when the web site owner wants donations, like “Click here to give me money”, but these exceptions are quite specific.

Fonts, Fonts, No Really Fonts!

One of the best things you can do with a site is use CSS to make your fonts stand out. Perhaps CSS positioning is a little too hard to understand right off, but CSS styles are easily to learn and they can do a lot for making a site look ten times more professional than relying on the old html font tag. But whatever you do, do not make paragraph text blue. The color blue is most often reserved for links and making whole paragraphs of text blue confuses many site visitors. In fact if you need to bring attention to what you are saying on your web page, you might consider editing your message so it is more clear. Color is not what should get people’s attention. You want people to focus on your message, not the rainbow of colors you are using to convey that message.

Graphics You Love, But Which Everyone Else Hates

Probably the easiest mistake to make when designing a site is to want to include some graphics which you think are eye catching or interesting, because you absolutely like them. Sometimes it is very hard to admit to ourselves that we do not always have good taste or simply that something we like will not work. Film directors wrestle with this all the time, because they often shoot a scene that they totally love, but which they know will not work in the final edited film, so they end up cutting some of the scenes that they personally love in order to produced the best film they can. The same thing applies to web design, you can often make a really interesting graphic, but somehow it will not fit into your site’s theme and so you make it fit and the end result is a bad web design which everyone else except you will hate.

Your site should have a theme from the beginning, and understanding that theme is what should guide your site design. If a graphic is too large in size, the wrong color, or simply does not fit into the them, you should not use it. The web site has an audience, and that audience is what will drive the success of you site.

Additional Resources:

For further reading, look over some of the criticisms atWebPagesThatSuck, which has tons of examples of when web design goes bad. You can read over Alertbox: The Ten Most Violated Homepage Design Guidelines, which is revelant if you are designing a corporate web site.

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The Personal Web Page

Having a Personal Web Page is how everyone starts. You have that one idea, for whatever reason, to publish one web page out there for your own personal reasons. I know my first web page was back in the 1990’s and it was certainly exciting to have a web page out there with some links to other sites I liked. However in today’s Internet, the personal web page has now evolved beyond the simple index page into multiple page volume sites that could easily expand to thousands of pages of content and still be referred to as a personal site. This has largely happened because of the weblog revolution which allowed many people for the first time to publish easily and without the necessity to worry about the technology and code behind it all. In a sense, the pen and paper letter was replaced by the wordprocessor and email, and now the blog. The blog is instantly a personal site, or a publishing column, or even just a modern business card which is digital and constantly changing.

As a web designer, one has to see the blog not just as a trend but as the new standard for personal web sites.

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