Many small businesses consider it vital to have their own website, but they run into problems in developing and maintaining it. Such problems can lead to high site design and maintenance costs, or to reduced website functionality or even downtime that can significantly affect earnings.
Vizier is aware of how website design is a priority for small businesses and of some of the pitfalls that may accompany the objective to have an attractive, popular website that serves as a great marketing tool, and even drives sales. So, it seems sensible to transfer some of this knowledge via blog to help small businesses with this objective.
This blog is one of a series to help small businesses with practical knowledge that they can use when developing a website themselves or working with developers to develop their website for them.
The following concepts and terminology are useful:
- A website is simply a set of files and applications sitting on a computer called a server or host that is accessible to the Internet.
- Many small businesses will rent space on the server computer (and associated email, database and software applications that the website requires) from a hosting provider such as HostPapa or GoDaddy.
- When developers wish to change the files on their server, they will have to access the website folder with a specific path and login details (username and password).
- Your website will have be assigned a unique address (an Internet Protocol, or IP address). This IP address is a number (such as 188.8.131.52), but will also have an alias which is in the form of words.
- The word form of your website’s IP address is its URL (Universal Resource Locator). This is simply another way to describe the website’s IP address. The URL for the above IP address is www.google.co.uk.
- The address for the site is called its domain.
- It will be necessary to specify what you would like the domain of the website to be called – you will have to purchase this domain name, and it will be unique throughout the Internet, so that searching for it will take a person to your site only, and not to another one with the same name.
- If you choose to build and rent your website through on online website building service such as Shopify or Wix, the domain name will be something that you select as part of the design process and you may not have to worry about approaching a hosting provider directly, because these services will do that for you.
- As mentioned, websites are mostly just a set of files and applications sitting on the server. The files are arranged in a folder structure similar to that which you might see in Windows Explorer, and they are also located using a similar path.
- E.g., just as you may save a photo called joebloggspic.jpg in C:/users/joebloggs/pictures/joebloggspic.jpg on the C drive of your laptop, you may save a text file called aboutjoebloggs.php on http://www.joesexamplewebsite.co.uk/aboutjoebloggs.php.
- The sub-files for the website will have their own names which come after the domain in the URL, as shown in the above joebloggs example.
- These sub-files are mostly just text files which can be written in applications like notepad on a normal laptop or desktop and then uploaded onto the server using an application very similar to Windows File Explorer, but which shows not only the files on your local computer, but also those on the server.
- When writing these text files, the developer will specify what language is being used. Servers are generally equipped to understand a range of different languages which they will interpret into the site that a visitor actually sees and interacts with.
- Also, websites may also use applications such as databases saved on the server to store information and carry out queries and commands. SQL and MySQL are database applications that are often used for this. Accessing the database to upload or download information will be done by commands written in the text files, so users will not see a page ending in .sql although such data files may be saved on their website server.
- However, many websites can be created without the developer having to worry about knowing the above languages and database commands. This is because applications have been designed to provide a very easy interface for website design which the requirement for fiddling about with code.
- Instead, the developer can use simple online forms with input or file upload areas, dropdown menus and selection buttons to design their own websites.
- These applications are called Content Management Systems, or CMS’s. Examples of CMS’s include Wordpress, Drupal, and even the web design tools of Wix and Shopify mentioned above (e.g. search for ‘Shopify eCommerce CMS’ on the web).
- CMS’s generally have functionality which makes it very easy for website developers to do things like add new blogs, new products (for eCommerce), and new images, etc.
- The appearance, or theme, of the website (colour scheme, font type, arrangement of headers and images, appearance of buttons, etc) is often something that can be selected from a wide variety of options, just as one might select a colour scheme when painting one’s house.
- Many small business owners are capable of setting up new websites using these CMS tools inexpensively and quickly (sometimes within a day), fully equipped with a stylish theme and attractive images, eCommerce capability, etc.
- So, it is possible to quickly develop a good proficiency with the CMS of your website so that you can maintain it as you go along. E.g., if you move premises, you can change your new street address on the site and update the contact page. Or, if you bring out new products, or change the price of old products, or wish to refresh the photo’s on the website, you can do this yourself.
However, there are occasions where development of a website is not so easy to achieve, and this is something I will address in a later blog.