How Websites Work
Everything you need to know about a website, in 5 minutes.
November 8, 2019 - Boston, MA
A domain is your unique name and address on the internet.
A domain – also called a domain name – is your unique web address, for example: mybusinessname.com.
Every website has a unique address on the internet called a domain. You obtain a domain through a domain registrar such as GoDaddy or Namecheap by searching for an available domain and registering it for an annual fee. Once you register your domain, you are the legal owner; no one else can claim it.
Domain registration is typically $10-20 per year.
- Register your domain for multiple years to save money and renewal hassles.
- If you’re just starting a business, find an available domain before naming your company.
- Always register a domain with your own contact information, and keep your info current.
- Don’t buy additional keyword domains and forward them to your domain. It provides no benefit.
A website is essentially a collection of Word documents.
A website is a set of computer files. These files are primarily HTML documents, which are similar to Word documents.
You can think of a website as a book. Each page is a document, bound (linked) together like a book. The main/landing page of a website is called the home page.
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) documents contain markup tags. These tags are instructions that tell a browser how to display the page – layout, colors, images, fonts, etc.
Once a website is live, it is often edited through a Content Management System, or CMS, which allows simple editing of web pages without knowledge of HTML or coding.
Web design pricing can vary widely, but a professionally-built website typically costs $2-10K. Pricing is driven by number of web pages, features, and quality. You can build a website yourself using a free web builder or web design software, but it takes time and training, and generally looks lower-quality.
- A professional website is a must for any modern business.
- Professionally-built websites cost more, but are an excellent business investment.
- DIY platforms can be difficult and time-consuming to learn, maintain, and troubleshoot.
- Website visitors skim content quickly. Keep content short, and design your website for easy consumption.
Hosting connects your website to the internet.
Hosting – also called web hosting – is a service that connects your website to the internet, making it publicly accessible.
A hosting service uploads your website files onto special computers called servers. These servers are connected to the internet, allowing people to view your website.
There are two kinds of hosting - DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and Managed. DIY hosting requires you to manage your own settings and account. Managed hosting is hands-free – you pay to have an expert monitor and maintain your account, and resolve any technical problems for you.
DIY hosting is generally $5-30 per month. Managed hosting is typically $50-100 per month. Be aware that many hosting companies offer very low intro rates, and lock you into higher long-term rates.
- Custom-built websites can be hosted with any web hosting service.
- Site-building platforms like WIX and SquareSpace require you to use their hosting services.
- DIY hosting is cheap, but can be time-consuming. Hosting company support is notoriously poor.
- Managed hosting costs more, but all issues are handled for you. This is better for the not-so-web-savvy.
A browser is a program made for viewing websites.
A browser – also called a web browser – is a software program that lets you visit and interact with websites. Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are examples of popular browsers.
When you type in a domain or visit a website link in a browser, your browser talks to the website’s server and asks for all the files it needs to display the website. The website is literally constructed in real-time on your screen, which is why you often see images jump around as a web page loads.
Browsers try to speed up the experience by saving website files on your computer. This means sometimes what you see on your screen is not the latest version of the website, but a copy of the website stored on your computer. In order to ensure you’re viewing the latest version of a website, you’ll sometimes need to clear your browser cache. This forces your browser to retrieve all new files from the website's server.
Browsers are free. Companies that offer browsers, like Google, Apple, and Microsoft, use browsers as a way to attract you to their other products and services. Chrome is by far the most popular browser, with almost 70% market share. Firefox is offered by non-profit organization Mozilla. Internet Explorer is obsolete, and considered a security risk by Microsoft.
- If you’re still using Internet Explorer, stop immediately. Upgrade to Edge or move to Chrome.
- If you're having issues with a website, clear your cache to force the browser to retrieve fresh website files.
Google is a website that lists other websites.
Google (google.com) is a website that offers the ability to search for other websites and information across the internet. It’s called a ‘search engine’ because of this functionality.
Think of Google as the world’s largest library, but instead of books it catalogs websites. At the front desk, your friendly librarian has been replaced by a search box.
When you type into Google’s search box, a complex program spits out a list of websites it thinks are the best match for your search. The top matches appear first, with lesser matches shown further down the page, spilling onto subsequent pages.
Since the top results get the vast majority of clicks and visits, businesses often invest in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to appear as high up as possible on search results pages related to their services.
Google is free. Google earns revenue from paid advertising in their search results (Google Ads). Google also sells user data, like demographics, interests, behavior, and location.
- Following Google's advanced guidelines for SEO is the best path to better rankings in search results.
- Ranking well – or poorly – in Google's search results can determine the success or failure of a business.
Congratulations, you now know more about a website than 99% of the planet!
You know that a website is just a set of fancy Word documents sitting on a computer somewhere connected to the internet. When someone wants to view a website, their browser goes to that computer and gets the website files, and quickly assembles and displays those files in real-time on their screen.
It's a common misconception to think of a website as a 24/7 storefront, always in public view, ready to catch the eye of a passerby. A website doesn't exist until someone requests it, so it can never generate traffic simply because it's 'live'. People have to know about it first, and ask to view it, before it's even displayed.
That means website marketing must be about driving traffic to your website, and not waiting for traffic from it.