Web Hosting FAQs

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Web Site Starter's Guide

So you want to start a web site, but you don't know where to begin?

You may heard of brands like GoDaddy and WordPress; and terms like "the cloud", web hosting, domain names, and HTML. But what does it all mean? Don't worry, this guide will provide a quick overview of the various terms and concepts you need to know.

Categories

Most websites can be divided into a few categories: blogs, forums, ecommerce/online stores, and portfolios.

There are also web sites that serve as a kind of calling card--just one or two web pages with some information about who you are, what you do and how to reach you. I'm not sure what to call such a web site, but I'll to offer guidance on how to go about building one.

Blogs (web logs)

Blogs display posts much like the posts in a Facebook feed. Posts can be a couple sentences or paragraphs or full-fledged articles with hundreds or thousands of words; or an image or video with no summary/text. Blogs posts are typically displayed in reverse-chronological order (i.e. starting from the most recently published post followed by increasingly older posts).

A blog can be an online journal, a news publication, a list of random musings, interesting links you want like to share with the world, etc.

Forums

Also known as discussion boards, forums are like email chain letters open to the public. A person can start a discussion thread and then have others post replies.

eCommerce/Online Stores

Many business have a web site, but they aren't necessarily online stores. To be an online store, a web site must be able to accept and process payments via credit card, Paypal, etc.

Portfolios

Online galleries that showcase an artist's work. They can display big, full screen images that a visitor can scroll through or a wall of thumbnail images that can be clicked on for a larger image (much like Facebook or Pinterest).

Methods

There are three ways of creating a web site.

1. Learn how to code

You can build a web site by learning HTML and CSS, along with any number of programming languages including JavaScript, PHP, Ruby and Python.

2. Proprietary Web Site Builders

You can build a web site without any programming knowledge. Companies like Squarespace, Wix and Shopify allow anyone to create a web site using a web browser (e.g. Chrome, Edge/Internet Explorer, etc.). Just point and click to build a web site (much like creating a Facebook page). And you don't have to start from scratch. You can just browse a gallery of templates and then choose the one you want to use for your own website. Or you can design a site from scratch.

3. Content Management Systems (e.g. WordPress)

A content management system is software used to manage to websites with a predictable, repeatable layout. For example, every article in an online magazine has the title, excerpt, and article text all appear in the same order, stylized in a particular way. Sometimes a magazine might try to come up with some elaborate, custom layout for certain articles, but generally they use a template. Since CMSes use templates, that means an author can create a web page by simply filling out a form with the title and article text for the page they want to create. Once the form is submitted, the CMS will automatically create a web page using a particular template.

A CMS is software that runs on web a server. Some companies will manage the technical aspects for you, but most will require you to assume to deal with technical issues on your own.

You can use a CMS for running an online video site like YouTube or an online classifieds site like Craigslist or a real estate listings site or a car dealership site with a database of cars available for sale (along with specs and pictures).

Content management systems are very open-ended and can do pretty much anything you want them to do. You can add features using plugins and add new templates using "themes".

WordPress is the most popular CMS and it's free. Using WordPress is not much more difficult than using Facebook. But understanding how WordPress works is much more complicated. You can use WordPress without any idea of how its all put together, but in that case, you need to make sure that you are using a web hosting provider that can assist you when something goes wrong.

Note: Proprietary website builders (like Squarespace, Wix, etc) also offer CMS functionality.