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How Websites Work

Everything you need to know about a website, in 5 minutes.

November 8, 2019 - Boston, MA

Domain cartoon icon showing www and computer

A domain is your unique name and address on the internet.

What is a domain?

A domain – also called a domain name – is your unique web address, for example: mybusinessname.com.

How does a domain work?

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.

How much does a domain cost?

Domain registration is typically $10-20 per year.

Tips for domains:

Domain cartoon icon

A website is essentially a collection of Word documents.

What is a website?

A website is a set of computer files. These files are primarily HTML documents, which are similar to Word documents.

How does a website work?

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.

How much does a website cost?

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.

Tips for websites:

Hosting cartoon icon

Hosting connects your website to the internet.

What is hosting?

Hosting – also called web hosting – is a service that connects your website to the internet, making it publicly accessible.

How does hosting work?

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.

How much does hosting cost?

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.

Tips for hosting:

Browser cartoon icon

A browser is a program made for viewing websites.

What is a browser?

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.

How does a web browser work?

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.

How much does a browser cost?

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.

Tips for browsers:

Google cartoon icon

Google is a website that lists other websites.

What is Google?

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.

How does Google work?

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.

How much does Google cost?

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.

Tips for Google:

Final Thoughts...

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.

Thanks for reading!