How Websites Work
We all know what we know and if it wasn’t my business, I definitely would not know about websites. Things I don’t know about - taxes, how to frost a cake, interior design, which remote to use to make the TV/stereo/husband do what I want…ok, I’ll stop. See, we all have our strengths.
We work with small businesses and oftentimes these businesses are brand new and don’t yet have a website. When I talk to the owners, sometimes it’s the first time they’ve ever had a conversation about a website’s design. Occasionally, they’ve tried building one on their own. Other times, their best friend's sister's boyfriend built them a website a few years ago, but they don’t know how to log into it and need to change a lot of stuff now and the guy who has his number has been gone for over a year. I wish I was kidding. I’ve heard that story more times than I can count though.
I get a lot of questions about how websites work and a lot of blank stares when I start saying things like hosting, domains, servers, etc.… So, I thought I’d break down as best as I can what each of these terms means for a small business.
This is one of my favorite things about my job. I absolutely love helping businesses, new or new to the digital marketing world, get excited about possibilities they hadn’t even thought of yet and watching them grow. I love dreaming with our customers and helping them see their dreams come to fruition.
Without further ado let’s break down a few of the key terms of building a website that you’ll hear people say and will probably get questions about as you dive into your website design journey.
What Are Some of the Most Commonly Used Website Terms?
Let’s start with hosting. Throughout this blog, I’ll use a house analogy for most of the terms. Your website hosting service is where your website is stored. So, think of it as the walls of your house. Your pictures, fonts, website copy, menus, and all the code that make up your site are all comprised of individual files. All of your website files are stored with your website hosting service, within the “walls”.
Some examples of website hosting companies are Bluehost, Amazon Web Servers, Cloudflare, SiteGround, WP Engine, Ionos, Wix, Squarespace, and GoDaddy.
The complexity of your site will determine your hosting needs. Typically, more complex sites, like WordPress, e-commerce, or sites with API integrations will require beefier hosting services. The main difference in hosts is that some are faster than others. There are entire MBA-level courses taught on this topic alone. So, for brevity, and to keep from boring anyone who isn’t a tech nerd, I’ll leave it at this. The bigger the site, the bigger the hosting server. These would be services like Bluehost (we’re not a fan), SiteGround (they’re cool), or AWS (we do recommend).
For smaller, more informational-type sites, more all-in-one hosting services like Wix or Squarespace do the trick just fine. We love these services because they are a bit more user-friendly and don’t require as much of an upfront investment as others.
Your domain is the URL of your website – i.e., www.garrisonagency.com. So, in our house analogy, it’s your address. It’s how people get to your house.
Domains can be purchased from a registrar like GoDaddy. Several hosting services also offer domain purchasing. GoDaddy offers both hosting and domains. Your domain is one of the most important pieces of your website, as it’s what users will use to access your site. We recommend a simple, short domain that’s relevant to your business, with a .com extension. Try to avoid special characters if possible. For example, garrison-agency.com is not as easy for customers to remember as garrisonagency.com.
Generally speaking, domain names cost around $2 – $20 per year. We also recommend purchasing a few misspellings of your business name, in addition to your main domain name.
Website Platform or CMS Tool
I don’t want this one to confuse you. So, first, let me say this term can be interchangeable with hosting services.
Back in the 1900s, when we first started building websites, you technically didn’t even need the internet to get started. You had a program on your computer, like Dreamweaver, or some other design software. You would design the website entirely using HTML, CSS, or PHP code. It was very hands-on, and you needed to be a true web developer who knew how to read and write fluently in multiple coding languages. This is why websites from the 90s looked like…well, websites from the 90s. They didn’t really have web designers then. They had web developers. In our house analogy, this would be like if your house was built 100% by the general contractor, with no input from you or a designer. No offense to GCs. But there is a big difference between a designer and a developer. I digress.
So, a website platform is the content management system (CMS) or tool that you use to build your website. Today, that is almost always your hosting service or you can also use WordPress. Wix is one of our favorites. They offer a great CMS tool and hosting all in one, for about $100 per year.
WordPress is also a fantastic platform for building a website. It just requires a bit more heavy lifting, a moderate level of coding skills, the ability to set up a separate hosting server, and a bit more upfront cost. With WordPress, everything is à la carte. So, you have to pay for plugins, your website theme, and your website hosting all individually. That’s all before you even begin on a website design. As far as a theme goes, we recommend the lifetime license of Divi Elegant Themes. For plugin recommendations, check this out.
The Parts of A Web Page
Ok, we’ve talked about what you need to get started on a website. Now, let’s break down a web page. Every website is made up of web pages.
The menu is the list of items, usually across the top, of each page of your website. Users click these items to navigate throughout your site. These should be your main/most important pages or sections. Some people call these the tabs of your site.
Found at the top of each of your pages, your menu is usually found inside your header, along with your logo. You don’t need to make the logo bigger; I promise. Every web designer on the planet has a running joke about clients who come back with, “can you make the logo bigger?” feedback. Just saying.
Your header is universal and will be the same on every page of your site. In addition to the menu and logo, you can also include a phone number or some other quick call-to-action (CTA) in your header. This option is completely up to you. Headers should stay fairly clean and simple. Don’t over-design it or overfill it. When all else fails, remember less is always more.
A website is a collection of web pages, or webpages, either one works. To give an example of a good web page, think of it as similar to the papers we wrote in school. It should have a clear title, a solid body of information succinctly explaining the title, supporting links to cite your sources, a clean, easy-to-understand format/design, and compelling and authentic images. Google is very specific in their webmaster guidelines that every web page should serve a beneficial purpose for its visitors.
Of course, you’re not being graded on this paper. But the effort you put into your web page will pay off. A well-designed page will convert visitors to customers at best and at worst keep bringing visitors back to your site, which is great for SEO. It’s kind of a chicken and an egg thing there. The more visitors you get, the more visitors you’ll get.
Some examples of standard web pages a great website should have are:
⁃ Home Page
⁃ About Page
⁃ Services Page
⁃ Contact Page
⁃ FAQs Page
⁃ Blog Page
⁃ Resources Page
Depending on the design you choose and the amount of content you have for each page, as well as your industry standards, some of these pages can be combined into one web page with multiple sections. Others, like Services or FAQs, can be expanded into several web pages.
Before You Contact a Web Designer
Depending on the type of web designer or marketing agency you work with to build your website, you’ll need to have decided, or at least thought about a few things. This section will include the branding elements of your business that you may already be using elsewhere.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in business a while and have been marketing the old-school way - at trade shows, with radio spots, through your Rolodex, networking, and word of mouth. Or if you’ve just been surviving on the website your brother’s friend built a decade ago. Or even if you’re a brand-new business and just taking the big leap to put your business out there for the first time, there are a few questions you’ll want to ask yourself before starting your website project.
If you’re unsure about any of these things, we highly recommend hiring a branding agency that can help you in discovering answers to the questions. Having well-thought-out answers to branding questions before diving into a website build can make or break your website design. Plus, it helps your web designer know whether they’re building a Traditional Ranch, a Victorian, or a Mid-Century Modern. Remember the house analogy? We’ll include links to a few of our favorite branding agencies below.
1. Have you selected a color palette?
2. Do you have a logo? (For existing businesses, when was the last time you had a designer look at your logo? Have you kept up with the times?)
3. Do you have images to provide? Some stock images ok, but usually are obviously stock and feel inauthentic. Build better connection, which equals conversion, with custom images.
4. Have you thought about copy? The way you portray your business’s personality can make all the difference. Do you want to be playful and casual? Or maybe your industry dictates a more buttoned-up professional tone.
5. Do you have an idea of the kind of website you like? Minimalist? Bold? Bright? Dark? Image heavy? Text heavy? Example sites are always a bonus!
It's ok if you have trouble answering some of these questions. They’re big decisions. Even if you’ve been in business a while and you aren’t sure if what you’ve been doing will continue to work, that’s cool too. Here are a few great branding agencies we know, like, and trust, at a few different price points, who should be able to help you define your branding more clearly before beginning your website project.
So, you’ve learned about some common website terms, the breakdown of what makes a web page, and what you need to think about before starting your website project. The last thing to do is build that website! When you’re ready, we’re here. We have a great network of developers. If it’s not a site we can build, we know someone who can. So, click the button below to get started!