Is the Internet a mystery to you? Like your radio or television, your computer is probably just another “black box” (albeit a more temperamental one) that works when you turn it on, and connects to the Internet when you perform that magical sequence you've finally mastered.
Unlike radio or television programming, however, everyone has the opportunity to build their own Web site and broadcast a personal message into “cyberspace.” Just as you are not a producer of programming over the regular broadcast channels, you probably find yourself completely unsure where to begin in building your own Web site. Fortunately, Locksmith Ledger is here to give you an overview.
So how does it all work anyway?
A Web site essentially consists of special text documents – yes, text documents – with special instructions for Internet browsers, such as Internet Explorer, concerning how to read and display them. These instructions for browsers are called HTML – or Hypertext Markup Language.
First, let's tackle the word “hypertext.” If you have a young child or grandchild, or maybe have seen one, you definitely know the meaning of “hyper.” Imagine this as meaning “jumping around” or “not linear.” This means that you can jump from page to page on a Web site without pursuing any one set path. You can search for the information most interesting to you. HTML gives you the ability to put “hyperlinks” in your Web pages that help people to jump from page to page to find what they are looking for.
HTML is a language. Before you allow this to scare you away, consider that it is much easier to learn HTML than a foreign language, or even some of the very in-depth computer languages you may have heard of. The very basics of HTML can be learned in as little as one hour, and the scope of it can be covered in a few days.
“Markup” just refers to what HTML does to the text it surrounds – mark it up with instructions. You can decide to italicize or bold certain words, or to make new paragraphs, if you know the right commands (these are called HTML tags).
If you are interested in learning HTML yourself, there are many ways to do this. You can read a book on the topic or take a local community college class. There are also many excellent learning resources on the Web, and many are available for free or a small fee. W3Schools (http://www.w3schools.com/) and Web Monkey (http://www.Webmonkey.com/) both offer comprehensive and free tutorials. My favorite is the International Webmaster 's Association, or IWA (http://www.iwanet.org/), which offers HTML and other Internet classes for as little as $80. You can take classes that cater to beginners and even build up to learning more advanced techniques.
Of course, if you don't want to learn to write HTML markup for your Web pages yourself, there are other options. Programs called HTML editors act like desktop publishing software. They will write HTML for you. Even those that don't require knowledge of HTML will still allow you to play around with the code the program writes or even to write your own. This makes using an HTML editor useful, even crucial, for everyone from beginners to seasoned Web developers.
HTML editors can either be free or come for a fee. There are many free software programs you can download, such as through a Web site like http://www.download.com, which don't require you to have any knowledge of HTML. More expensive programs such as Microsoft Front Page and Adobe Dreamweaver offer added features that the free programs do not.
Download the program of your choice and read the tutorial. Most free software should be easy to get started with. The more expensive choices may require spending extra time with a tutorial, or even buying a book or taking a class. If you are using a program that doesn't require knowledge of HTML, it should have an easy-to-use interface that is similar to a word processor.
For the faint of heart and strong of purse, there are even services that will build, publish, and maintain your Web site for you. All you have to do is give them a vision for your Web site and supply the content. To find these services, check your local Web pages or do an Internet search. Beware and do some good comparative shopping, however; some Web sites that seem to offer objective rankings of these services are often paid listings. The best thing to do is to ask around. Find some Web sites you like, and email someone on their contact list to see which services they might have used.
Building and publishing your Web site
Let's say, for the moment, that you've acquired the skills or services you need to build a Web site. Once you've written the documents that compose your Web site, what do you do? They're sitting, nicely organized, in folders on your desktop computer. But how do people access it? How do browsers get a hold of it to turn all of that magical markup into a visual display of your site?
For people to be able to access your Web site, you need to place it on a Web server. This is just a special computer with a lot of space that is always connected to the Internet. These are also called “Web hosts,” since they host your Web site for you.
There are a wide range of Web hosts out there. Some are free, some are inexpensive, and some are very expensive. There may be companies in your area that offer Web hosting, and you may also use a national service. Of the free providers, I have found Award Space (http://www.awardspace.com/) and Bravenet (http://www.bravenet.com/) to be the best. They also offer paid services. Currently, GoDaddy (http://www.godaddy.com/) is my favorite paid provider, because it is reliable and affordable (at least as far as I have used it).
Getting started with these services is as easy as registering for an account, paying (if applicable), and learning to use them. They are usually straightforward and user-friendly.
Let's say that you've just built and published your first Web site. Congratulations! What do you do now? There are a few things to take into consideration moving forward. You will need to maintain your Web site. Visitors will not return if they do not find relevant content that is updated regularly.
Also, you want people to be able to find your Web site readily and easily. If they type in “Locksmiths” and your city into an Internet search engine such as Google, you want your Web site to come up on the first page, if possible (or even at the top!).
The process of making sure that your Web site comes up on the first pages of searches is called Search Engine Optimization. Again, this is one of those things you can learn to do yourself or have a Web service do for you. Some hosts even offer tools for this.
What it all boils down to is writing your Web site's pages in such a way that they contain the types of words potential visitors will be searching for when looking for Web sites like yours. You also want to make sure that search engines have you listed so that people can find you. This is a vast and quickly-evolving topic, but the basics are easily accessible (though beyond the scope and word count of this article).
To learn more, consult books or Web sites such as Search Engine Watch (http://www.searchenginewatch.com/) or SEOmoz (http://www.seomoz.org/article/beginners-guide-to-search-engine-optimization), which offers an introduction to the topic for beginners.
For better or worse, having a Web site is becoming essential. Internet marketing research predicts that the number of online consumers will grow 30-50 percent in the next few years, and many people prefer to use the Internet to find providers of products and services. Having a Web site helps potential customers not only to find you – whether you are new to town or have other shops to compete against - but to also view your business as being credible. Go forth and create!