Website 101 (Part 1: The Basics)

I’m celebrating the launch of my new website by finally finishing a blog post I’ve had siting in my folder for a while. This is Website 101 for Authors (or really anyone else who’s thinking of building a website. But mostly authors).

I decided to write this for friends and clients who want to build a website but are overwhelmed at the prospect and aren’t sure where to start. However, before we talk about options for building your website, I think it’s important to go over some basics.

Part 1: The Basics

There are three main components that go into getting your website online: the website (the files and code that make up your website), the domain (the web address, or what you type into your browser to find a site), and the hosting (what gets your website out onto the internet).

You need all three of these things to get your website up and running online.

Where most people get confused is when these three things get all jumbled together; sometimes they all come from the same place, and sometimes they’re all from different sites/companies. So, before we talk about how and where, let’s briefly go over what each of these things do.

Your Website

When I start a new website, I think of it in terms of three things: the content, the design, and the code.

As an author, you probably have a pretty good idea of what you want to go on your website; if you don’t, I recommend looking at sites of other authors in your genre (or comparable businesses, if you’re not an author) to see what they include. Things like a bio, FAQ page, pictures, book blurbs and synopsis, blogs, and contact forms are all considered content. A good designer lets the content drive the design, so it’s important to know what you want to include up front.

Web designers look at what your needs for your site are (including audience and purpose) and what content you want to include and create a design.

When you’re looking at examples of author’s websites, pay attention to the design as well as the content, specifically what you like and don’t like. You don’t necessarily have to know a lot about design for this. If you go with your gut, it can help your designer get an idea of the style you’re going for.

If you have a clear vision of what you want from your site visually, you might be all set to go forward and build it yourself. If not, don’t worry, that’s what web designers are for.

Once the designer has the content and a design plan, they can go ahead and build the website.

In the most basic sense, a website is a folder containing files of code. However, before you panic, know that today there are lots of options for creating websites that don’t involve coding, which we’ll talk about in Part 2. (Keep in mind the type of website builder you use will affect your hosting and domain needs, so don’t run out and buy a hosting bundle just yet.)

Your Domain

The domain is pretty much synonymous with URL or web address. It’s what people type into the browser to get to your website. You can purchase these individually through websites like GoDaddy or you can buy them bundled with hosting or with an all-in-one builder like Wix or Weebly (again, more on that in Part 2).

Domains can usually be purchased in 1-20-year increments: basically, you’re purchasing the right to use that domain for that allotted amount of time. Big companies typically buy up similar domains as well to prevent customer confusion or to keep people from creating fake or competing sites with similar names.

As tempting as it is to run out and buy your dream domain name before anyone can snatch it up, I like to tell people to wait and buy their domain once they’ve figured out how they’ll be building and, by extension, hosting their website. The reason for this is that many hosting services offer a free year of a domain with new hosting plans, which can save you money on your start-up costs.

Your Hosting

Hosting is what physically gets your website on the internet. You can purchase hosting through websites like GoDaddy, Bluehost, and Host Gator, and dozens of others, and it typically runs from under three dollars a month to five or six, billed annually. Like domains, hosting can be purchased in increments ranging from one month to ten years (depending on the website), and is usually paid for upfront.

Again, it’s important to wait to purchase hosting until you know how you’re going to build your site, because many site builders like Wix or Weebly include hosting in their pricing (more on that later).

However, if you know you’re going to host your site yourself, there are a few options you should be aware of.

When you go to purchase hosting, the first thing these websites usually ask is if you want to host with a Shared Server, a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or a Dedicated Server. For a simple personal website, I recommend my clients go with shared. All this means is that the files for your website will be saved on the same server as other small websites, which isn’t usually a problem unless you have a large website with lots of traffic. (For a more in-depth explanation, read here.)

There will also usually be multiple options for shared hosting. Again, for a single, simple website I usually recommend the most basic hosting package, unless you’re planning on hosting multiple websites at once; however, make sure you look over the detailed comparison so you know what you’re getting for your money.

Putting it Together

Okay. So. Website, Domain, Hosting. Three separate components that can either all come together or be sourced separately, depending on how you’re building your site. We’ll go over ways to build and host your website in Part 2.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

 

Still feel overwhelmed? Feel free to contact me!

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