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Lesson - How to get your own website

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Introduction Expand

So, you want your own website hey? Good for you! A good website should be for life.
Unfortunately, like most people, you have little-to-no idea what steps are involved, and what/who you'll have to pay.
This lesson takes you through the basics of what's involved in obtaining your own website online - I hope you get something out of it!

Getting your own, fully functional website involves five main steps:

  1. Planning ........................ (do you need a site, what type of site do you need & what steps will you take)
  2. Web design ................... (making/designing the website itself)
  3. Web hosting .................. (putting the website online)
  4. Domain registration ..... (getting a URL for your site)
  5. Promotion ..................... (getting the most from your site!)

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Terminology Expand

Before you face the big bad world of making a website, here are some terms you should know:

  • HyperText Markup Language (HTML): is a simple markup language in which most web pages on the web are written in (yes, including this one). The language is a mixture of words and tags, and isn't too hard to learn, although these days, there are many good web-page editing programs (like Microsoft FrontPage and Dreamweaver), allowing you to make webpages easily without learning HTML. An example of what a basic HTML page looks like:
    <html>
        <head>
            <title> My Website </title>
        </head>
        <body>
            <p> Here is some text in a paragraph, and here is a word in <b>bold</b>  </p>
            <p> Here is a <a href="http://www.andrewnoske.com/">hyperlink</a>   </p>
        </body>
    </html>
    {more info}
  • Server / Web Server: a computer on the internet, which is always on, and stores a number of websites. It runs special software "web server software" which, when it receives a request message for a website from your computer, is able to send the necessary data/html back to your computer; allowing you to browse that website. Web servers can range from huge computers with super-fast connections, to an old/unstable little home computer which you or a friend set up.
    INTERESTING NOTE: Whereas most personal computer run Windows, most web servers in the world run Linux. It is a misconception that you need a Windows web server if you run windows at home - uploading your website to a Linux web server from a Windows computer at home is just as easy as uploading to a Windows web server.
  • Web Hosting: is the service a hosting company provides whereby they "host" (in other words store and manage) your website on their servers.
  • Domain Name: a domain name is the first (eg: "andrewnoske.com") part of the web address (URL) of your website.
  • Top-level Domain: is the last part of the domain name (eg: ".com").
    NOTE: Different top-level domains have different meanings ... for example: ".com" is (usually) for commercial sites, ".net" stands for network (for unrestricted general use), ".org" is for organizations (eg: greenpeace is a voluntary organization) .... and so on.
    Furthermore, different countries have different "country top level domains" - eg: Australia is ".au", United Kingdom is ".uk" .... but be aware that country domains are not always used, and top-level domains are not always used properly .... for instance, a more suitable domain for this site would have be "andrenoske.net.au", but I chose ".com" because it was shorter and cheaper to register.
  • Domain Name Registration: the process of paying to use/reserve a domain name which hasn't already been claimed. Domain names are controlled by central registries and governing bodies and different top-level domains are more expensive than others, however the general process of registering a domain is the same (you have to pay through a website like: planet domain), and reserve that domain for a year at a time. {more info}
  • Content Management System (CMS): is a system which lets you log in, and change most of the content of your site using an online web interface. As an example, the CMS might have pages where you can upload photos to your photo gallery, or upload new items, or change the text/images on the first page of your website WITHOUT having to know html code, or using/learning special software.
    NOTE: A CMS is an easy, powerful way to be in control of your website, but NOT all web hosting companies will support it! CMS's are popular with large website which often need to update content.

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1) Planning Expand

(what type of site do you need & what course of action will you take)

Before you rush headlong into anything you need to ask these questions:

  • 1) What type of site do you want?
    • This question comes first and foremost. Are you designing a small/fun personal site for yourself, or a site for a business/organization which you want to look professional.
    • If it's a personal website, your best (and certainly easiest) option is probably to create a free blog site (see the Web Hosting section). However, if you want something professional for an organization however, you will probably want something custom designed.
    • If you have something more specific - for example: online survey, music site - chances are there is a website/service out there that suits your needs, you just have to find it using google. It might be frustrating, but hey; it will suck more if you pay lots of money or spend forever designing a solution which already exists.
  • 2) What do you want out of this site?
    • Something you should really ask yourself is what you hope to achieve, and are you expectations realistic.
    • If you want a personal site - a few of your friends might visit (and a few randoms) and you'll probably end up killing lots of time updating it (more time than you expect), but that's okay, it's all in the name of a bit of fun.
    • If this is for a business, you want a site you can be proud of and put in all your ads (yellow-pages, business cards, front of your building). You want as many potential customers as possible visiting this site and deciding your business is fantastic - which in turn should lead to more business. A good website will make your company look good and give you an edge ...... if your company is something like accommodation, chances are many of your competitors already have websites! However, if your company is a small, low-key restaurant, cafe or laundromat, a website is a not really worth your while! A custom designed website can cost you thousands of dollars, plus at least a hundred a year to maintain and host online .... and you might find you only get ten visitors a month - and most of those completely uninterested in your product/services.
    • A website is an investment, and you don't want investing more time/money in it than it is worth, so write out your goals and decide if a website is worth the time, effort and money.
  • 3) How much are you prepared to pay?
    • Paying thousands for a custom designed website is a scary though - but it really all depends on how big your site is, and there ARE alternatives. Alternatives are making the site yourself, or getting a friends and/or computer-inclined friend to do it. You have to be careful with this though - if you have a caravan park and you pay your little cousin $50 to make your site, chances are it will look shitty. Making a nice web site from scratch takes a certain level of artistic talent, persistence and/or experience - and not that many people have that. They say any man and his dog can make a website these days - and that's true - but only a few people (and fewer dogs) are really good at it. A budget-looking website (we've all seen them) can cause more harm than good.
    • You might be pleasantly surprised, that with a lot of hosting sites, if you pay the $100 a year for hosting, you'll also get give a few nice easy-to-use tools, which already have nice-looking ready-made templates for a website - you just have to add the pictures and content in the right places.
  • 4) What content do you want on the site?
    • Most web design companies charge per page ($40-$100 per page) depending on what extra features you want, so it's good to sit down and plan what you want to put online. For the average small business you'll probably want most of the following pages: ( about us | products/services | contact | testimonials | photos ) - have a look at some other websites to get an idea.
  • 5) How big will your site grow?
    • The size of a website isn't necessarily proportional to the number of pages. Each html page only takes a tiny amount of space (5-50kB), but big images can take up 50-250kB each, mp3s/sound take up ~5MB for the average 3min song, and videos take up LOTS of space! A good test is to copy all the images/files you want on your site into one folder, and then determine the size (select the folder, then right-click > properties). Now think about how much this will expand. The reason you should do this now it to help work out how what hosting plan to get .... and if your site is tiny (<50 MB) you might be able to get free hosting. Don't forget the size of images - especially digital photos - can be reduced using software - if the photo is >200kB you will probably want make it smaller for the web (reduce it's size, and save it as a medium quality JPEG).
  • 2) Will you need dynamic content?
    • Ask yourself: Is this just a small site which will have a little bit of information about you and/or your business and contact information - information which you will rarely have to update ? Or is this site something you need to frequently update - like adding news items, photos, or updating prices?
    • If your site is simple, you will probably only need simple, static "html" pages - which usually end with ".htm" or ".html". These are called "static pages", because unless you overwrite or change the file yourself, it will always show the same content.
    • If your site has complex, changing information on it (like new inventory & prices), you will probably need dynamic pages. These pages tend to end in ".php", ".asp" and ".jsp" (there are others) - and you've probably noticed bigger site have these type of pages everywhere. These pages have special code on them which lets the webserver make decisions about what information to display, and it generates/modifies much of the html code/page before it sends it. They usually tie in with databases, such that by changing the entries (records) in the online database, the contents of the page will change. Dynamic pages also let you do fancy things like upload files (and automatically create links to them), and fill in forms. The bottom line is that if you need any of this functionality you will need to make/have dynamic pages, and use a webserver that supports these technologies All webservers let you see "html" pages, but not all webservers will have PHP web servers and mySQL database servers! More on this later.
  • 6) How much maintenance will your site require?
    • Some sites - for example "Bob's little pool service" - might never need changing. Bob shouldn't have to pay too much for his site - he just wants some nice pictures of pools, a couple of testimonials, and contact details. However some sites - like a company selling computer parts - will need updating all the time, and that can get time consuming and/or costly! This is the tricky part. If you will be updating/changing your website almost every day, you don't want to be paying a web company $50 per hour (and waiting a week for it to get done) every time you want to change the content! What you really need is a way to update the site yourself, immediately, and with minimum effort. The best solution is a content management system (CMS).
    • Content management system (CMS) is a collection of tools designed to allow the creation, modification organization& removal of information from a Web site .... and it's common for a CMS to require users to have no knowledge of HTML in order to create new Web pages. Unfortunately, CMS's usually have to be tailored/suited to each site, and therefore are NOT cheap.
    • Maybe instead of updating prices all the time, you can just show what you sell (and list the date), and tell visitors to call you for more info and prices.

I hope all this does not seem to intimidating already!! It's important to think about the bigger picture of what you want, and YES, there is a lot to think about at once. What I really recommend is talking to anyone you know who has a website or helped set up a website. Their experience and hard-learned lessons will be priceless. Keep reading.

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2) Web Design Expand

(making/designing the website itself)

I can't emphasis enough how important it is to sketch out a little outline of your site! Ideally should make hand-drawn story board sketches to show the different pages, and what you want on each!

When it comes to web design your three options are:

  1. Get a professional to make it.
  2. Get someone else (like a friend) to design it for you.
  3. Design the website yourself, but use a template.
  4. Design the website yourself from scratch.

Option 1: Get a professional to make it:

If you want a professional job: hire a professional .... but be warned ... it's not cheap! You get what you pay for, so if you're a big business, I would recommend finding a web design company with a fantastic looking website, and a great portfolio. An example of such a site is here: http://cityofcairns.com/portfolio.html. It's pretty obvious they offer quality solutions - just by visiting some of the site's they've made! They charge $95 per page, but hey; it will be a quality looking page.

A fantastic on in Melbourne is http://www.getstarted.com.au/ - and they also create content management schemes.

Getting a company overseas - or even in a different city to design your site seems very risky to me - and ultimately the design of your site won't be very interactive! The best thing you can do is look in the phone book for all local web design companies; see which ones have the best websites, cost and portfolio - and then give some of them a call! Nothing beats sitting down and talking to someone. Make sure though, you have your shit together - bring along some samples of what you want on your website. If they have to waste time scanning in your photos and retyping information from your brochure onto the website, they will charge you $50 or more per hour for it!

Whether you chose a big company or a small company, I believe, will probably depend on the size of your own company! If you can find a guy who is honest and friendly, gives you his mobile, and lives not far away, then he's might do a terrific job for you. On-the-other-hand if you're a big company, you'd probably prefer having the real content management scheme, and good infrastructure.

BUYER BEWARE: There are still lots of "companies" out there promising cheap prices .... but although they look respectable (on account of they have a big/flashy website and multiple e-mail addresses to contact) these "companies" are often just a single dodgy guy working in his own dingy little garage with unregistered software ... and probably isn't half as good at his job (or people skills) as he is at overcharging and dodging tax. Looks can be deceiving.

A few questions to ask the company:

  1. How long has your company been around and how many employees do you have?
  2. Can I have a look at some of the latest websites you designed, and can you tell me how much each cost? (after which you should contact those customers and ask them if they were happy with their service, and the performance of their site)
  3. So, how much will it cost to go design this website - and can I have a quote in writing.
  4. Once you've made my site can you help me host it and how much will it cost? (most bigger companies offer hosting as well as web design)
  5. How easy and expensive will it be to update my site?
  6. Do you have content management software?
  7. Are you prepared to sit down with me and help me make this website the way I want it?
  8. What's the best way to contact you?
  9. How many people do you think will visit this site?

If they get too defensive then you should try elsewhere! The best sites will have this info on their website already. If they don't offer you a quote but estimate your website will take X hours at $50, bank on them taking twice that long! Making a website doesn't take too long, but fine-tuning it (so that it's exactly the way you want it) usually drags on and on ... I talk from experience.

Option 2: Get someone else to design it for you:

Yay for cheap/slave labour!!! You'd be surprised how many kids these days are web-page enthusiast. Most high-school kids these days learn how to use basic HTML, and so can potentially make you a web site. Whether it will be any good is another question, but if your in no rush for a website, you don't have TOO much to lose, except upsetting his parents when you take his website and plant it in the trash. If you have connections at a university, I would highly recommend getting in contact with IT students or lecturers, because every year students will have to design websites as part of a project, and instead of making useless websites about motorcycles, it would be nice if one (or a few) of them made a website for your company - it gives them something real to work with, and they'll (most probably) do it for free.

Oh, but by the way it's not practical to ask someone with no experience to make a dynamic website - that requires more skill and coding knowledge - and much more can go wrong - leaving you with a mess. The free labour option is for simple, static sites only.

Do however, be aware that once it's designed, they'll dump it on you, and it's your job to know what to do with it, and how to put it online. Putting it online won't be part of their assessment, and probably WILL cost money.

Option 3: Design the website yourself, but use a template:

As I mentioned before, some hosting companies have templates you can use to design sites - in essence these are content management schemes where you can pick the look of your site. Acutely, there is a pretty broad range of services offering templates - most blogging sites and even personal pages will let you customize the look of your page/site to some extent. Most of them are pretty easy to use, which is great, but you should beware that; chances are you'll suddenly think of something you want to change about the site (eg: one of the margins is way too wide), or add something - like a feedback form - and find you can't! It's at this stage your probably screwed, and won't be able to change it unless you know someone who knows HTML code.

Even if your web hosting does not provide easy-to-use or one-click-install CMS, there are a few different ones around which are free, and are not difficult to install yourself - all you should need is PHP and MySQL. A friend of mine recommends http://www.etomite.org/ .

Option 4: Design the website yourself from scratch:

Yay! You've chosen to tough it out and design your website from scratch! Actually HTML is not as hard as it sounds, and, if you have the right program you probably won't need to learn/know much HTML at all! One of the easiest programs for making websites is Microsoft FrontPage - and it usually comes with Microsoft Office. Nerds sometimes call this a "WYSIWYG" (what you see is what you get) web-page editor. It lets you create a webpage just like you were creating a word document, letting you make bold text, insert images, etc. To make a hyperlink you just select the text and link to the appropriate document/URL. Actually, you can also use Microsoft Word to make static webpages, just by clicking File>New>Webpage, but it will often produce messy looking documents.

If you want something more powerful, I suggest Macromedia Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver is what most of the real professional use - it allows you to insert all kinds of code snippets, and use Dreamweaver Templates (very powerful for changing the the layout of all the pages in your site at once) - but isn't cheap! The CHEAPEST option is actually Notepad! Because HTML code is just plaintext, any old text editor can be used to write html code; you just have to know the syntax and save the file with a ".htm" extension. Purist argue this is the "only" way to make a website - but I think they're full of shit! Using a good WYSIWYG makes development so much faster - and if you need to fine-tune the HTML or write your own scripts, most of them let you do that too.

Designing a website from scratch can be the most rewarding. I designed almost all of this website myself, and I'm happy with it, I know how to change any aspect of this site quickly and easily. However, the code for the image gallery I got from elsewhere. If you're designing a dynamic site you will find it's especially useful to find some good sites offering free snippets of code for you to use. If you write it yourself you'll know how it works better, but you can save a lot of time by getting other people's code for something big like an image gallery!

By the way: if you have no artistic talent you can pretty much steal the layout from any page just by copying the source code (View>Source Code), and pasting it into your editor - but that's pretty sneaky/immoral - go to a place offering free source code instead! But hey; if you see a site you like, nothing is stopping you from making something similar.

Oh - before you even touch an editor, make sure you sketch up a really good outline for the site!

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3) Web hosting Expand

(putting the website online)

So you've made a website! That's terrific ..... but currently it's just sitting on your home PC and no-one can see it. So what now?!
In order for people to see your site, you have to upload it to a web server. A web server is a machine which stores webpages, lets you upload/modify webpages, and of course lets other people in the internet view your web site. Companies which offer web-hosting will give you an account (username and password) which lets you upload your website to their server.

If you want a website the main types of web hosting options available to you are:

  1. Free template pages (blog sites etc).
  2. A home webserver.
  3. "Free" web hosting.
  4. Paid web hosting.

Option 1: Free template pages (blog sites etc):

If what you want is just a basic personal site, your best option is probably just to create a blog by registering with a free blog site/online journal provider. Some of the most popular ones are: http://www.blogger.com/ (probably the best one - is done by my favourite company google), http://wordpress.com/ and http://www.bebo.com/ (is more friend oriented). Yahoo & msn also have their own versions and there is a nice comparison of some major blog sites here. Most of blog sites offer plenty of space, some nice templates (much nicer than most of us can make ourselves), ability to upload pictures, friends to post comments - and pretty much everything you'd want out of a personal site. Best of all most are free (they just have some minor ads and space limitations), and they take ALL the worry of web design and web hosting away! Wohoo!

More and more of these types of sites are becoming popular - and many of them have their own angle. Some are "friend oriented", some sites will offer free hosting of your pictures or music. In fact, you can even make a single page about yourself using MSN directory, or a dating site, except this is a different kind of "personal site" and one you probably don't want your friends seeing.

If you want a personal site, but want to design it yourself, and treat it like a learning experience, you will probably have to pay at least $100 a year for web hosting, although there are 2 alternatives - free web hosting or a nerdy friend with a webserver - both of which are difficult to find, and definitely lacking in reliability.

Option 3: A Home Webserver:

Another option you *might* have available is to find a nerdy friend who has, or knows how to set up a basic webserver using an old, unused computer.

Advantages: it's free and you'll probably get more space then you could ever use, and a good learning experience.
Disadvantages: the site probably won't be very fast, secure or reliable - the site will often go down, and you'll rely/depend on your friend whenever you have problems. I hosted on a friends computer once, and my site was down, say, 5 days out of 30 (83% uptime), and then it was hacked into by (bored) mexicans who erased the whole thing! Dang mexicans.

Option 2: Free Hosting Provider (is usually a catch):

The better alternative is to find a free hosting site, such as http://www.blackapplehost.com/ (50 GB and I definietly recommend) or http://geocities.yahoo.com/ (quite popular). {read about more free web-hosting at: http://www.100-best-free-webspace.com/}.

Advantages: "free".
Disadvantages: the big catch with these sites is usually advertising and very limited space. Most of these sites will either add a really annoying, messy ad banner to all of your pages (very unprofessional), or have pop-up ads on your site. They will probably have very limited features AND they will probably also keep bugging you to upgrade to a paid service. Even more annoying, most free hosts only lets you have a small amount of space - say 15MB, or 50MB at most - which is enough for lots of pages, but photos/images take up a lot of space (between 50-250kB each) - so if you want lots of photos (>50) you'll probably run out of space.

If you belong to a university you might actually find your uni offers you webspace. At my old uni I could simply make a "public_html" directory in the root of my space, plunk pages in there, and see them on http://www.jcu.edu.au/~jc130551/ (no longer there any more). It was only for basic html pages, nothing fancy, but hey; it was free!

Option 4: Paid Hosting:

If your like me - you'll instinctively want something free. I hosted my first sites for free, but finally decided I valued this site enough that I wanted it to be reliable! When you think about it, $100 a year (< $2 a week) is not much if you want reliable web hosting with no ads. But, having said that, there are lots of bad web hosting companies out there, so you have to be careful who you give your money to! For this reason I have written small guide to choosing a web hosting provider and package here. The quick overview is you'll spend probably $115 a year for between 300MB-5GB plus a domain name, but you have to be careful that you chose a package which has all the feature you need, and the hosting company which is reputable - meaning it is not a dingy backyard job. You want a hosting company which has been around for a while, has (mostly) good user reviews, and is reliable! You want your site to load quickly and rarely, if ever, drop out!

Once you've gone thought the process of entering your credit card number, you'll get a password, and you'll get instructions on how to access your space and upload files. If you've already designed your website you should be able to easily upload it by going to a special ftp address (eg: ftp://ftp.ftpplanet.com/) in Internet Explorer, enter a password, and can then just transfer/copy files across. I use a free FTP program called core FTP to do this job however - and there are many others. More info on FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is here. Now your site is online!! Woot!

The problem now is, unless your web hosting came with a free domain name, you will have to access this website at address which looks like this: http://103.95.45.43/, and that does NOT look professional - not something you'd put on a business card ... .... you, my friend, need to register a domain name!

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4) Domain registration Expand

Most professional sites have their own domain name (eg: http://www.redcross.org/), and luckily getting a domain name is relatively easy to do! To register a domain name costs about $15 per year, but that depends on what type of domain name you are after. ".com", ".net" and ".org" are all about $15, but surprisingly, ".au" domains, such as ".com.au" cost 4 times as much ($60 or more) due to different regulations by our government (hence the reason this site is ".com").

So where do you buy your domains? Most hosting companies will get a domain for you (check you don't already get one for free with your package!), but some might charge a bit a bit extra to set it up for you. If you want the absolute cheapest (if every dollar matters) one site which looks pretty good is: Cheap Domains US - it seems to offer the best prices you'll see anywhere. In actual fact, there are hundreds of sites like this, and most only vary in price by a few cents extra per year - and the occasional site trying to rip you off by charging an extra $5. I'm sure your time is more valuable than a few cents, so don't waste too much of it searching for the "best"/"cheapest" domain registration site.

The process is this: once you've bought a domain, you will get an account through their site, and you can log in and then set up "redirection". Instructions will be on the website itself, but in most cases will involve you selecting your domain name, and entering two (or more) Domain Name Servers (DNS) which will probably look like this: "NS1.YOURHOSTDNS.NET" as "NS2.YOURHOSTDNS.NET" - these name server addresses will be provided to you by the company hosting your website. Once you've saved that, it should only take 2-10 minutes before you can type your domain name into your browser and see your website. Hooray!
Redirection maps your domain name (e.g.: http://www.mynewdomain.com/) to the IP address of your website (eg: http://103.95.45.42/).

Note that with most FREE hosting they will NOT give you a domain name host; meaning you will have a web address like http://cx.atspace.com/ (or longer), but they won't want you to map the same site to http://cx.com/ because they'd prefer visitors to see/notice the word "atspace" - although atspace are actually pretty good, and do provide DNS servers which will at least let you redirect from your own URL to their URL.

Actually, I found the HARDEST part of domain name registration was finding the perfect URL - finding a clever URL which wasn't already taken/reserved by someone else. If your making a website for your company, "www.yourcompanyname.com" is probably ideal, but alas, you'll find almost all combinations of two or three English words already have been taken/reserved as ".com" domain names! It really sux, but if your company name is taken consider a different top-level domain (eg: ".com.au/"), or maybe hyphen the name, or add "1" to the end.
NOTE: If you want a personal site, I'd suggest just using your last name or full name as your site - that way people can remember. In the case of this site, I would have preferred"www.noske.com/", but a "domain name reseller" company had already bought it, and said they'd only sell it to me for $5000. Bloody hell !

A very good site to search for available domain names is here.

Domain registration is a way of "mapping" the URL someone types this into the address bar to the server your site is hosted on. If you go with a free hosting, you'll get something like www.freehosting.com/yournameororganisation/ for free ... and you'll probably have to put up with the fact that your URL is long, but if you're paying for web hosting, registering a domain name is a must. Make sure it's a good/sensible domain name too, because you will want to keep it for life - if you ever change it you will lose customers/visitors. Finally, you'll find with most paid hosting packages, they include a free domain name, which is great, because they (should) set the whole thing up for you. :-)

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5) Promotion Expand

Okay, so now you have URL and a website online! Wohoo!!! That great, but no-one is visiting it yet! Bugger.

1) Add a Web Counter / Web Stats

The first step you should take is make sure you can monitor how many people visit! ... if you can't keep track of visitors you won't have a clue what's going on ... ... and if you spend time updating a site, only to discover you are the only one visiting it, you will feel pretty stupid.

To measure how many people are visiting you need some sort of counter. A counter can be as simple as a single number which updates every time a someone refreshes your page or a web tracker/web stats package which logs visitors and can give you a breakdown of when people visit, how many, which pages, where they're from, what browser they use, and ALL sorts of good stuff!

To write your own counter and/or log visitors you need knowledge of dynamic server scripts, and I wouldn't even recommend trying when there are plenty of great, free packages out there which will generate lots of nice graphs for you.

The one I use is: http://reports.webstat.com/ - they have some nice graphing options (and I'm not going to get more than 20,000 page hits a day!) ..... although hey; there are many others ... do a google search for "free counter". The way most of these work is, you create a free account, tell them the URL of your website, chose which type of counter display you want, and they'll give you a little fragment of code (2-3 lines) which you have to paste at the bottom of your main page (or all of your pages if you want). The way they work is, when you visit the page, this fragment sends some basic info about your computer (IP address, browser type) to the site you've registered with, and they store/log this visitor info in a database. When you login to the site, you can view these results as nice graphs, etc. In return, you little counter will link to their site, making them more popular, and of course, they will also want/ask you to pay for a more full-featured version. The main thing is to chose a good package, and be aware that if you change from one "webstat site" to another, you will lose all that data.

An alternative is to find a full package, such that it will host/store the log of visitors on your own site/database - but I wouldn't recommend this! ..... it makes your site that much more complex.

2) Advertise to Friends and/or Customers (email, business cards, ads)

Once you've got a counter you'll probably see that, even though you might have many hits - they are probably all from one visitor - you! The easiest place to start is to tell friends about it. Send out an e-mail, and make sure you change your e-mail signature to advertise your site - because often people will get curious, and click on it. And of course, make sure you put in on your business cards, yellow pages advertisements, etc. If people want extra information on a company/product/person, they will visit your website.

3) Creating Links to your Site

Lets say I just made a website "wet tropics waterways" ... you might expect that people will be able to find it when they type "wet tropics waterways" into their search engine. Wrong!! When you've just uploaded a site, not only do none of your friend know about it, but the search engines can't find it. Most search engines work by sending out "web crawlers" or "bots" - think of them as little programs which randomly start at a site, follow hyperlinks, and send back info on the pages they've visited to a search engine site/database. If there are no links to your site, then the search engines will never find your site.

Your challenge (and it is a challenge) is to get as MANY sites as you can to link to your site. The more links to your site, the more crawlers will find your site, and when someone types in "wet tropics waterways", you should be so lucky that your website appears.

Google is THE most used engine, and it works by treating the internet like a giant web (or graph). It ranks each site by how many links it has to it .... and when it returns a set of results, it orders them by their ranking (and then by the appearance of your search words). Other search engines use variations, and some, like Yahoo, are actually more like a giant directory (people manually add and/or veto site) than a real search engine.

To get links to your site, you should search around for any forums, or anywhere you can post something, and include a link to your site. If you have friends with a site, and it has a good google rating, ask them to make a link to your site too. Furthermore, you'll find there are a LOT of directory sites around the web, for example, in Cairns we have (http://www.cairnsconnect.com/), and a few other similar sites, full of sections on accommodation, attractions, restaurants, and other services - and in those sections they will provide links for those companies with websites. Use google to find directory sites / online guides which applies to your company and contact them - asking them to make a link to your site (or even add a write up) .... most will do it for free.

The take home message here is: more links to your site = better rating = more visitors.

4) Metadata Tags

A meta tag is a HTML tag inside the "head tags" which you can put at the top of your web document, and will looks something like this:
<meta name="keywords" content="Andrew Noske, home page. Professional, IT, computers, resume, web design, work portfolio, free games, applications, multimedia. Student, university help, advice, geek, download source code, programming, UQ, JCU, SSHS, Nakara primary, swan files. Personal, photos, artwork, videos, music, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, nice0guy0at0uq, andrew0noske, nice_uni_guy">
<meta name="description" content="I am a IT PhD student and tutor at the University of Queensland ... ">

Meta tags use to be really very popular device search engines used to index pages, however, unfortunately, many people started abusing these tags, and (very often) using popular words like the old favourites "free p**n", "hot s*x" and "free accommodation" trying to attract more visitors - even though their sites usually had nothing to do these words. Following this abuse, most search engines, such as google, and search/index pages using the text content in the body of the document and ignore keywords and meta tags . It's not essential, but I still think it's a good idea to put them in (it can't hurt), and some search engines will display the summary text you put in the "description" tag of your page (instead of the text in the body) if your page is listed in the results. I would suggest using meta-tags (like above) for your home page/index page, and not both with any of the others.

5) Paying for Web Site Search Optimization

Quite a few companies offer to improve the number of visitors to your site, by registering you with many search companies. Unfortunately they charge for this (and apparently some search engines charge/site charge just for you to be listed), and I would suggest that, before you commit to it, ask them exactly what they do, and consider that it might not be worth your while. I've already illustrated above some ways you can make your site more popular, and this might be sufficient.

6) Updating and Maintaining Your Site

A few months after your "website release", the excitement of having a new site will probably die down. Unfortunately, so too might the number of visitors to your site. Every month or so you should check how many new and return visitors you have had, and if people aren't coming back it's probably because they don't have reason to come back. This depends entire on the type of site you have - some sites you simply don't need/want people to come back to, and you've got no reason to change the content. However, if you do want and/or rely on return visitors, you should update and/or add to your site every so often, or your site WILL stagnate, gather cobwebs, and people will never return. Add a few new picture, or a forum feature, or a new page, or cartoon, or even just change the colours/look to surprise people. By doing this you ensure that you'll have at least a small "fan base" of people who visit every few months when they get bored - curious to see what's new.

A really good website should not only be a thing of beauty, but interesting and dynamic enough that people will want to return or tell their friends to visit it. And if you have that type of website, then you, my friend, have done well for yourself, and receive the gratification of friends/customers visiting you and saying: "hey, you have a great website" and your boss will love you too. :-)

 

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Choosing a Web Hosting Provider: Expand

Buying web hosting is not unlike buying a mobile phone: if you've done it before, the copious number of companies, deals, options and new words they throw at you can become too much to take!

Hopefully by reading my guide above you now have an idea of how much space you need, and you should also know what kind of extra features you need. Do you need a PHP support and MySQL database - or ASP - or just a basic site. Now you just want the best value for your money. I faced this problem very recently, and let me tell you, it's easy to get a headache and waste DAYYS trying to find and commit to a web host provider. Hours of surfing the net, looking at reviews and getting sore eyes.

I found a lot of pretty crappy sites, and the first good looking site I found was: hostingshop (in Brisbane). These guys won the NetGuide best value in Australia award for 2005, so I thought great! They were offering 250Mb web space for $125 ... but unfortunately I needed more space than that, and I noticed their prices went up about linearly with the amount of space (most of them do). Next I found blue host (in the US), which was offering 10GB!! of web space for ($6.75 USD a month - $110 AUD per year)! How could that be fair - they offer 40 times as much space, for less cost - AND have more features - and they've won all these awards! They also have CPanel - which is an awesome web interface for managing PHP websites - they have demo here. But then I realized there is more than space to consider when getting webspace - and besides - do I really need 10GB !!!! Most sites have their own set of packages; so what package was best for me.

Main package options - what they mean:

  • Main Package Options:
    • Monthly cost - Most american sites charge per month, but some seem are very sneaky at locking you into 2 or more year contracts as soon as you enter your credit card, and you can't escape when/if you discover they have crap service. Most US sites will offer 1GB or more space for about $7-10 USD per month ($115-160 AUD per year).
      (NOTE: 1 USD ~ 1.33 AUD --> see xe.com)
    • Setup cost - For most big sites/providers, the setup should be completely automated and instant, and so they really shouldn't charge you anything for this - if they do I would take it as a bad sign.
    • Space - (in kB or GB) - You need to leave room for expansion, but do you need 1 GB?! One advantage of lots of space though is you might trust a friend to share the cost of webspace and both share a site on the same account - although you both might want your own domain name, and some packages might only offer one domain on your account.
    • Bandwidth - (in GB/month) - Bandwidth is how much traffic can get though to your site each week. 1GB should allow more than 100,000 hits to your sites per month - which should be more than enough unless your site becomes REALLY popular. If this is exceeded, no-one will be able to access your site until the count resets at the end of the month - and when that happens you'll probably want to upgrade to the next plan and congratulate yourself on having a popular site!
    • Uptime - (as %) - This represents how often your site is suppose to be up - so 99.5% should mean your site is down less than 2 days each year. Some sites guarantee a certain uptime (or your money back); which mean they have good infrastructure; however god knows if they would actually pay up - I doubt it.
    • Support - Good sites will tell you at least a little bit about their support system. Some have support chat, where you talk on a little IRC (internet relay chat) program and ask questions. It's a little weird, but it does work - but you may be kept waiting for an "operator" for extended periods - and chances are your operator is in India, talking/typing to a dozen people at once, and using standard responses for most of your questions. Other's have a ticket system - which is SLOW - bad if you want an instant answer for what's gone wrong - you have to wait for an e-mail back. There is nothing better than someone on the phone in my opinion, to help you figure things out, but actually the chat isn't so bad I found. I guess you have more time to figure out what to type, and what questions to ask with IRC - you can pace yourself. There are many user reviews around the internet though which indicate that larger companies have terrible support - and are far from "24/7".
  • Domain Features:
    • Free Domains: Chances are you don't already have a domain, and so many packages off you a free domain for a year. Registering a ".com" domain independently costs about $15 AUD per annum - registering a domain is actually not hard at all - but if it's offered to free with your package, all the better - hopefully a bit easier to manage.
    • Add-on Domains Allowed: Add-on domains let you take multiple domain names you've registered, and use the same web space to host multiple websites. This is especially useful if you want to share space with some of your friends. You'll usually have more than enough space to do so, it's more a matter of asking do you trust your friends? Obviously the hosting sites know this happens, which is why they often limit the number of add-on domains. I found it worked quite well though - I share this same space with my friend, and www.albertyang.com is hosted on the same space - CPanel created an extra directory "albertyang" at the root level, and traffic to his site is transferred to this folder.
    • Parked Domains: These are not as valueable as add-on domains. If you have an old/extra domain name you're not doing anything with, you can get it to "point" to your site, so that if it someone types this into the browser they'll be redirected to your new site (& url).
    • Sub domain: A sub domain is the front part "noske" in "http://noske.krimzon.net/" - which is also equivalent to "http://www.krimzon.net/~noske/". What's the point of this? It's actually a good way to have multiple users on the one site (each with their own password and access to only their sub domain), and split your website up. However if you only intend for one user, just use folders/directories - (eg: "student" directory in http://www.andrewnoske.com/student/)- it's easier. If you don't know what sub domains are you probably won't need to use them.
  • Supported Features:
    • PHP / ASP / JSP Support - Remember I was talking about these before? Your site might depend on one of these technologies, and so you'll need to make sure your hosting supports it. Chances are it will - but you'll notice that it's the Linux machines/web servers that offer PHP support, which Windows web servers with offer ASP. Lots of people say/claim Windows servers are less stable and easier to hack into - which is probably true - but if it's a reputable hosting company you should be safe, and their servers well protected ..... I'm certainly not getting into a debate about PHP vs. ASP vs. JSP - use what you're comfortable with (in my case PHP).
    • FTP - Most host providers should allow anonymous and secure FTP ... this mean you can use free FTP programs (or even Internet Explorer) to copy files - whole directories across to your website. If you just use a web interface to upload your web pages it can take forever! (you can only select so many files to upload at once). If it doesn't offer FTP I'd find another site which does.
    • Databases (MySQL etc) - Many sites have a limit on the number of databases you can have, but don't let that worry you too much. One database is more than enough for most sites, or, if your site is static, you won't need one at all!
    • Control panel - A control panel is a neat web interface for uploading files and adding scripts, and control pretty much everything about your website. CPanel is really quite good (see demo here)! And fantastico is a really neat addon to CPanel - a collection of great free scripts which allows you to add a photo gallery, journal, poll, CMS and all other cool stuff with just the click of a button {more about fantastio}! It will set up the PHP and MySQL and everything else for you automatically .... make sure your site has CPanel - and hopefully fantastico too. If you want you can just upload to your site using a FTP program, but having a web interface is handy for everyone.

Speed and Reliability:

So after all that did I go with bluehost. No I didn't. There is one thing they won't tell you about on the site which is critically important. Speed. I read a couple of really bad reviews about blue host - people which said their sites were inc readily slow to load, and sometimes didn't load at all!!! All that space is useless if your site is slow! They also claimed blue host pays for good reviews and questionable awards, and their service was terrible! Sites like this look extremely attractive, but you soon learn to be skeptical when you read reviews about peoples bad experience and null-support with the same companies!

So maybe there is a reason a site like hostingshop wins an NetGuide award - they don't offer huge amounts of space, and they're not as cheap as some - but the sites they host are fast, and probably never go down!

Space isn't very expensive - hell, most web-mail clients offer 1GB or more right there - but powerful, reliable web-servers (especially those with load-sharing) - costs more.

So, how do you find out how reliable and fast a hosting company is. That's a good question my friend. I spend almost two days straight searching google for user reviews, and getting mixed reviews about EVERY site I entered. Many of the review sites were questionable too! It was SOO frustrating. It's a case of there are hundreds of big companies out there, and thousands of smaller ones, and it's much easier to make a decision if you didn't have that much option!

In the end I settled for MD web hosting, because they based in Australia (well sort of; the servers are all in america), because I talked to someone online who answered most of my questions - and because they have an excellent website and tutorial movies (always a good sign). They offered 2.5 GB + a free domain name for $115 per year. I did read a couple of negative reviews among the good ones, but there will ALWAYS be negative reviews!!! So far so good with MD; but hey; in the end it's only $115 per year - if I see bad downtime after a year I'll change, but moving your website is a pain! It takes longer to upload than download! Took a day to upload this whole site (~400 MB)!

If you want some more options for websites there is a review of a few big ones here ..... whirlpool is an excellent Australian site which compares broadband companies, but also has a forum on web hosting .... but like I said - if you search too long you WILL get a headache ... the more options you have the harder the decision. It's a case of how much research you can invest before you go mad surfing the net!

I would say expect to pay about $100-150 per year, and make sure you get a company which is BIG and well established, and offers CPanel. Personally I wouldn't chose any cheesy site which says "sign up in the next two minutes and" out of principle alone. If you're still unsure, call them up and ask:

  • how long have you been operating?
  • where the servers are?
  • how much downtime have you had over the last year?
  • what kind of support do you offer if my website isn't working?
  • can I see some examples of websites you host? (and then see how quickly the sites load - although hey - they're not likely to show you the really slow ones are they!)

Final Recommendations:

If you don't want the nightmare/trouble of searching I'd recommend MD web hosting.
you get: 2.5 GB + a free domain name for $115 per year
and they've been good to me so far - no downtime.

Oh, my friend Luke recommends: http://www.siteground.com/ - they look pretty damn good
you get: 12 GB (although no domain name) for only $80 AUD a year!
I don't think you'll get better than that. He uses them and said he's had no problems with downtime yes, and apparently they also answer tech support within 10min without fail. Hrmm... I might switch. :-)

Feel free to email me if you've had any really good or bad experiences or recommend another provider.

And best of luck!!

 

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