Websites: What’s Under the Hood — for the Layperson

Websites are like cars. We want to use them but we may not know how they work.

I am a web designer and I get a lot of the same questions from prospective clients. I’d like to take the time to answer some common questions so you, the person who is looking to have a website built for you, knows some of the lingo and you have a basic idea of how web hosting works.

What’s under the hood

Image Source

COMMON QUESTIONS

DON’T I HAVE TO HAVE MY DOMAIN NAME IN THE SAME PLACE AS MY HOSTING SERVICE?

Image source

No, you don’t. A domain is the address of your site but your address can be registered with one online service and your site can be hosted by an entirely different service. Where ever the domain is, it gets pointed toward your web hosting server. The way it gets pointed is with a url that is the address of the server that is hosting your website. This url is called a DNS setting.

HOW MUCH DO DOMAINS COST?

For the first year domains can cost anywhere from $0 to thousands of dollars. The first year could be free as a promotional gift included in the price of your web hosting. After the first year a .com will go up to $10 to $20/yr. Domains with other suffixes (extensions ) can cost more or less. Some people purchase domains thinking that someday someone will be looking for that domain. If the domain you want is in that category, someone may want to sell it to you for thousands of dollars. Just remember, there are many different domain extensions and there are creative ways to have a variation of the domain you are looking for. For instance, if you want dog.com and it is unavailable or too expensive you might find dog.biz or d-o-g.com.

Here is a list of extensions

The domain companies I use are

Netfirms

GoDaddy

Host Gator

Ionos

WHAT IS WEB HOSTING?

Image Source

Your website gets built and displayed on a server owned by your web hosting company. There are a lot of Web Hosting companies and most are owned by a conglomerate called EIG. If you feel it’s unfair to have most of an industry under the control of one company then you may want to consider an independent company. Two independent companies are Inmotion and A2 Hosting. Your web designer may be a retailer of a web hosting company. That means they have a large account that can host several sites and they can build your site within this account. You would then pay them directly for the hosting and they may include maintenance of the site with that charge. For instance, I am a retailer of A2 Hosting.

WHAT IS WORD PRESS?

Image source

Wordpress is considered a website platform. There are other platforms such as Drupal and Joomla and then the do it yourself wizard type platforms offered by Wix and Godaddy. What’s important to keep in mind here are two factors. One is the platform’s ability to articulate customization. The other is how difficult the platform is to learn. The first factor is the ability to make things look exactly as you want them on your site. The ultimate control regarding this factor is to know coding and to program your site from scratch. The other factor has to do with you yourself being able to add content along the way and not have to rely on someone else to do it for you. If you have a do it yourself kind of platform you can easily add content but in a limited way. If you have a more robust platform but it has a learning curve for which you don’t have the time or aptitude to learn, then you end up relying on someone else ( a web designer ) to make ordinary changes to your site.

Personally, I like a balance of these factors: a platform that can articulate customization and yet can be taught to the client without too much difficulty.

WHAT IS A THEME?

Image Source

In the category of vehicles we have trucks, cars, motorcycles. planes, etc. Wordpress would be like the car category. A theme is like a particular kind of car. Divi is a wordpress theme. It’s like a Toyota car. I use Divi because it has a lot of ability to articulate and yet the steps to completing a task can be learned fairly easily.

WHAT IS A PLUGIN?

Image Source

A plugin is a smaller software program that works within a platform. It is usually designed for a very specific purpose. For instance, if you want to put a call button on the mobile version of your site, you can install a plugin for this. Simply by activating it, adding your phone number and choosing where you want the button to appear, the plugin will automate the process. Many plugins are free but some have a charge. The ones that charge vary in that some plugins can be used on multiple sites and some on only one site. These distinctions are good to know. If there is a particular function you want on your site and it requires a payed plugin and your designer has no need for that plugin, otherwise, you will probably need to pay for the purchase. If your designer would theoretically want to use the plugin on other sites but the plugin is only allowed on one site, then again, you will need to be responsible for the cost of it’s purchase.

WHAT IS A TEMPLATE?

Image Source

Within a particular theme, designers often create templates ( also called layouts ) for a particular kind of site: Art, Music, Non-Profit, Legal, Food etc. These themes are very often reused and sold. Another reason I like the Divi theme (although there is a charge for the theme) there are many many templates included for free. So then if you’re a restaurant looking to create a website, you can start with a pre-made template and be already half way there with the design.

WHAT IS AN SSL CERTIFICATE?

Image Source

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It’s a way of creating a secure pathway from a web browser to a server ( which is where your site lives ). This can be important if you’re collecting a lot of personal information from you web visitors. Most people did not pay much attention to this until a few years ago when Google decided that only sites with SSL certificates would get a good rating. Otherwise they would be considered unsecure. This created a demand for SSL certificates and many web companies took advantage of this and still do by charging an average of $75 for an SSL certificate. To counteract this, a foundation was created called “Let’s Encrypt” which issues free SSL’s for people that enroll. Many web companies decided they would not host this service for their clients because it takes business away from them. Some do however, usually the independents. A2 Hosting and Pair Networks are examples of web hosting companies that allow Let’s Encrypt for their customers.

HOW MUCH DOES A WEBSITE COST?

Image Source

This is a difficult question to answer because so much depends on what you are looking for. I generally charge by the hour. It takes me about 5-10 hours to create an average basic website. If you want to take time to get the perfect colors, images, layout it can take an additional 5-10 hours. If you want special effects, an elaborate cart system, moving image sliders etc. that can be an additional 5-10 hours. If you’re very particular and you want to get every thing just right it could be 5-10 more hours of tweaking.

There’s something I’ve found to be true in any industry. It’s usually a reasonable expense to get something good. If you desire something better than good, the cost increases logarithmically. Let’s use the car analogy again. Nice cars these days cost $25K. To have something a little bit better the price can go up by $10K. And then to get something just a little bit better it can cost $10 or even $20K as much again. Why? Customization is time consuming. Very often it requires advanced skills (coding) or not so obvious solutions. So it can take a long time to achieve just a little bit of an improvement.

So based on my $30/hr. charge we come up with a rough estimate that looks like this.

Not too Picky = ~ $150 - $300

Represents you fairly well = ~ $450 - $600

Cool Features = ~ $750 — $900

Masterpiece = ~ $1050 — $1200

Remember that if your web designer is hosting your site there will be an annual charge. With normal traffic I charge $100/year to host a website. This includes a yearly maintenance session where the platform, theme and plugins are updated.

WHEN DO I PAY FOR THE WEBSITE?

Image Source

As a web designer the way I have worked in the past is to be payed weekly. That way the payment stays abreast of the web work. However another method works reasonably well.

I just got a new roof put on my house. The roofer asked for one half of the estimate upfront and one half on completion. I believe this is a reasonable protocol for both parties. It indicates a commitment to the agreement on the part of the buyer and a motivation to satisfactorily complete the agreement on the part of the seller.

WILL I HAVE CONTROL OF MY WEBSITE?

Image Source

We talked about this previously but here is a bit more about it. If you choose a platform/theme that is a good balance between articulation and ease of use, and you have a web designer who is a good teacher, you will be able to maintain your site and continue adding content ( one of the factors that contributes to good SEO ratings ) on your own. In this scenario you will only to need to rely on your web designer for annual maintenance. Like I stated before, if your web designer is hosting your site, he may offer maintenance as part of the hosting fee.

WHAT IS SEO?

Image Source

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This is how well Google finds you in web searches and how high you show in the rankings on results page. There are plugins for SEO but done really well SEO is a category of it’s own, requiring experts who specialize in this service.

These days, because there are so many websites ( 1 billion ) your website is like a tree in a forest and people will probably not find you easily even with reasonable SEO. With the increasing popularity and use of Social Media, website owners are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked in, etc. as ways to bring people to their site. I consider the link between your site and your social media platforms to be essential and regular posting, including blogging or vlogging, to be necessary in today’s marketplace.

CAN I USE GOOGLE IMAGES?

If you type a word in a browser search bar the results will show a menu item that says images. If you click on this item you will see a slew of images that fit the word you typed in. I think of this body of images as the collective (un)conscious. These images can range from somebody posting a photo from their phone to masterpieces of graphic art. There are many sites that exclusively host images for sale. Fewer in number are sites that host images for free. Here are some free ones.

  1. Unsplash
  2. Gratisography
  3. Morguefile
  4. Pixabay
  5. Stockvault
  6. Pexels
  7. Picjumbo
  8. Pikwizard
  9. Rawpixel
  10. Reshot

Usually when an image for sale ends up in Google search results it is marked with a logo. This is called a watermark. This mark makes the image unusable and forces you to buy the image if you really want the image. There are many opinions about proper use of google images on your website. Google’s answer to the question above is “No”. Having said that, Google also suggests if you really like the image, find the owner and ask permission. There is a blogging platform called Medium. Their suggestion regarding using images in blogs is to include a link to the url of where you found the image. This link is called the Image Source.

HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR THE CREATION OF MY WEBSITE?

Image Source

To use another analogy, web creation is like audio recording. If a band has a clear vision, knows their songs inside and out and can perform them under virtually any circumstances then when they get in the studio, the time will be very well spent. Whereas if they are unsure about aspects of the music, they will be spending recording time to figure these things out.

To help in preparing for your web design I have created a questionnaire which will aid both you and your web designer in knowing what you want. Part of the questionnaire is what I call the 7 Wize. This is an exercise where you ask yourself why you want a website. When you give the first reason you then ask yourself why that reason is significant. You repeat this process until you have 7 reasons, each progressively deeper and essential. I find this exercise reveals reasons you didn’t even know you had.

From these 7 wize it is fairly easy to write a Mission Statement. The idea of writing a Mission Statement may be intimidating to you but when you break it down, it’s actually easy. I like to use the format called DDP ( Definition, Direction and Purpose ) suggested by the Perelandra Organization. The 7 Wize are actually your Purpose. The Definition is the What. For instance, if I have a website for web design, the what is, a website to host my web-designing services. It is a basic description. Perelandra’s Direction I have modified slightly. I find Details is a better word to describe this second aspect. It’s where you break the What down into components. I’ll give an example. I recently created a DDP for All Aspects of my Life. It reads as so.

Definition: All aspects of my life aligned with spirit.

Details: Including Health, Relationships, Business, Creativity, Spirituality, Environment, Recreation, Learning, Vision/Dreams and Miscellaneous.

for the Purpose of: the best outcome for all beings.

I believe the 7 Wize and Mission Statement are the most important part of the questionnaire because when things get dicey, confusing and difficult — when you’re wondering why you’re doing what you’re doing ( and there will be times like this ), your mission statement will remind you of your essential why and give you the motivation to persist ( which you will need ).

Here is the questionnaire link

CONCLUSION

There are a lot of moving pieces to a website. It’s important to know what these pieces are and how they fit together so you can have a realistic expectation about the total cost involved. The expense of a website is like the expense of a car. You get a reasonably good car for a reasonable cost. As you add quality the price increases logarithmically because customization takes time and usually demands a higher pay grade. Web creation is also like audio recording. If you’re well prepared and you know what you want, the time the designer spends will go toward actual designing as opposed to figuring out what you want.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT WEB SITES?

Respond below in the comments section.

Website Questions

Image Source

You can find out more about the author and his services by clicking on this link.

My father took bicycles and cars apart and put them back together. I've taken the Universe apart and I'm trying to put it back together.