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Introductory Guide to getting your own website - one person's view

The first thing you need is a domain name, and first of all you need to make up a name. While many domain names are already in use (such as gift.com or food.co.uk), you can still invent a name which is available. Generally it is best to have some sort of descriptive name, and not too long. orientalandindianimportedgiftsmaterialsandgeneralknickknacks.com is descriptive, but like wow!. There are many registrars of domain names, you should carefully check their terms and conditions (T's & C's) before registering your domain. With some you don't actually own your name - they do. Others will charge you a fee if you ever want to transfer your domain to another registrar. If you ever have a dispute with your registrar there are bodies for dispute resolution, but this will be expensive for international domains, and for .uk domains it's Nominet who are run by registars for registrars so it's not easy, so it's worth making sure you get it right.

The cost of registration is normally about a tenner including VAT, for a .com .net or .org per year, for a .co.uk .org.uk a tenner for 2 years. You can pay more, some companies do provide extra service to make sure you don't forget to renew your domains for instance, some just charge extra because they like to. If you are using a web company to do your website they're entitled to charge more for registering your domain, as this will include advice about name, the cost and time for registration, getting your domain name on their computers (servers) and resolving any problems that can happen. If you register your domain yourself and then employ a web company, they should include a fee to cover all this.

IMPORTANT: if you expect to make a business from your website you MUST make sure the domain name(s) is registered in your name, not in the name of any web design or hosting company you may use. As domains can be administered online in most cases, you should also try and get any user id and password associated with this and keep it safe. If you are unable to use your own details then at least get it in writing that control of the domain will be passed to you free and unhindered on demand, without any reference to possibly disputed unpaid fees (except maybe the registration fee itself), or at most for payment of a small administration fee specified in writing. Any legal dispute that may arrive should not prevent you from using your domain while it's going on. If your online business thrives through hard work, and you lose the use of your domain, even just for weeks or months, your business could be permanently destroyed.

Before registering your domain you should read the next paragraph about hosting, also see "search engines" before deciding on the name in the first place.

Your domain name needs computer files to contain the information you will want to show to visitors on the Internet, and these files need to be stored on a computer. Your files take space on the computer, generally you will share one computer with other websites, and there are only so many websites that can be stored on a single computer. The computer needs to be connected to the Internet, and be able to accept requests to read the information and process programs you may have written to interact with your website visitors. This is all called hosting, and generally you will use a hosting company to do this for you; people do have their computer connected via broadband (if the supplier permits it), and set up and host their own websites on it, but this is a highly technical operation, and if you have the capability I doubt you're reading this guide.

The hosting company you choose will make arrangements for the computer, and all others they operate, to be connected to the www (world wide web). They pay the cost for this, and there is a charge that they pay per computer. Generally they will own the computers, but you could supply your own computer and only have your own website or websites on it, this is called co-location and is of course more expensive than sharing. Again, if you're reading this guide it's unlikely you'll want this until your business really takes off and you can afford your own techie, or to pay the hosting company extra to set up and maintain it for you.

All requests and transmissions of information use bandwidth, which is the amount of information which is transmitted either into the hosting computer, or out into the www. Usually there is far more information transmitted out than in. The hosting company has to pay a provider for this bandwidth, at so much per gigabit (1,000,000,000 bits of information, where one single letter takes IIRC about 12 bits or more). The usage of bandwidth is usually measured at so much per month, the sum of all the information which has been transmitted either way. They will pass this cost on to you in some way or other.

Some hosting companies provide a certain amount of bandwidth included in your monthly charge, and charge you for every gigabyte that exceeds your quota. Some (a few) restrict "throttle" the bandwidth to your quota. Some will put up advertising banners or popups on your website to pay their costs rather than charge you directly. Some provide webspace along with your connectivity to the Internet, whether via dial-up or broadband. If your website is not going to get many visitors, and is mostly text (writing), you don't need much bandwidth, on the other hand if you have a lot of pictures and get publicity you will use a lot.

Another consideration is quality of the bandwidth you get from your supplier. Don't forget you are sharing the hosting company's computers with other websites, all getting thousands of requests for information. Like Broadband or your dial-up, at busy times requests for information will be queued up, and visitors to your webpages will have to wait to see the page appear. The higher the quality of their connection, the more requests they can satisfy per second, and the faster your webpages will be displayed to the visitors. Even in this day and age of fast broadband, it is a good idea to keep your webpages efficient, this includes using tools for the pictures on your site.

Another consideration is reliability, at the top end the hosting company can keep multiple copies of your website with splitting of requests or "hot switching" in case of problems, including multiple geographical sites, which can be all over the world to reduce the time visitors have to wait. In general terms, your cost reflects the quality of this provision - if you pay less than perhaps £100 per year to host a website, you will not get the service demanded by companies paying over a million, and there may be times when your website and your email is not available. Generally affordable hosting companies will aim at 99%, which would translate to 3 days interruption in total in any one year. In case of problems you will also expect technical support from your hosting company, again this reflects what you are prepared to pay and it would be unreasonable to expect a thousand pound instant personal service for 50 pounds a year.

Usually you would register your domain at the same place as you have it hosted, as it makes it easier for you and the hosting company but this is not usually obligatory.

Search Engines.
Once you have your website, published to the www, you will want to encourage visitors. The best way is to put the address on all your company literature, or your newsletters, and if possible get coverage in local or national press. For casual visitors, you need to be registered with search engines such as google or yahoo so that people can find you. People surfing the 'Net will put keywords, often combinations of words such as "Largs festival August", into a search box, and the search engine displays a list of websites that satisfy the keywords. They will list these in an order of apparent merit of matching keywords, and this is determined by many factors. Search engines regularly "spider" websites registered with them. That is to say they automatically read the website, and construct tables of usage of keywords and relevance of material to those keywords, using algorithms that are constantly changed and improved. Generally the programmers of the search engines are trying to simulate a human visitor, so as to rank websites according to their value and genuineness of content.

There are techniques "cheats" often used to try and improve a website's ranking by the website designer. One most often used is to "spam" keywords, that is to say, using the keyword over and over, even if not in a useful context. One way of doing this has been for many years to have the words on a webpage written in the same colour as the page background colour. You can usually see a big blank bit at the bottom of pages like this, if you click your mouse on the blank area and hold the button while dragging the mouse down, you can see it. Strangely enough this is still successful on some search engines, though most of them years ago put in (very easy) algorithms to detect this - and then to down-rate and even disqualify the offending website.

Another technique is to repeat keywords in a special hidden area of your webpage script called the meta tags. At one time there was a golden rule of not repeating the keyword until you had, say, 16 other keywords after it in that special area. This very rarely works nowadays, if at all. It is OK to repeat the keywords in different phrases though (separated by commas), such as "cats, domestic cats, wild cats, snow cats". Another cheat is link farms. A good way to improve your ratings is to get other websites to link to yours. This is known as link popularity, and can be a genuine way of demonstrating a website's relevance and usefulness. But there are some websites whose only purpose is to try and improve search engine ratings for other websites by linking to them, these are called link farms, and once recognised will also be downrated or disqualified by search engines.

To be found via the search engines, such as google, yahoo, ask (ask Jeeves), lycos, altavista and so on, you need to register with them, usually by putting in your web URL and email address, with a short descrition of your website. Most will then spider your website, and you may get an early rating, though it may still take a few weeks to appear on the search engine. Some still use manual scanning, such as yahoo and dmoz. Your site will be revisited on a regular basis and re-evaluated.

Before you register your website, you should work out what keywords you want to be found on, and combinations of keywords. You should check your webpages use the keywords well, and not too repetitively - find a different way of saying the same thing. My advice would be to go for genuine content; you may get away with getting an artifically high rating on some search engines for a time, but once detected you could get blacklisted, and your only recourse would be to remove the spammed material, and beg the search engine's support to reinstate you. As well as finding you out themselves, visitors could email the search engines to report you, and unethical and nasty competitors could do so to improve their own ratings.

Hot Tip: by far the most important part of your website for the search engines is the title, and then the description. Not only is this what will be shown in the search engine listings, but it is given a higher priority by their spidering. For instance "Cats: domestic, persian, manx, tabby cats (etc. etc.)" will score higher than "My personal website I spent a lot of time on that really really tells you all about cats".

And to go back to the beginning of the guide - domain names - search engines place the highest value on keywords found in the domain name, so for instance stovies.com has an instant advantage in rankings for the word "stovies" over a domain name welikefood.com or stewartwilson.co.uk, even if stovies are well mentioned on those pages.

There are web companies that offer a service to register and improve your ratings on search engines; some of these are genuine and will help with content, the title and description of your website and keyword section which appear at the start of the webage script (the stuff behind the webpage). Some use cheats which may get found out in time, and probably will. Mostly it's free to register your website with search engines, and there are only a few that really count for 99% of visitors. Being registered to 5000 search engines for $150 may sound like a good deal, probably most of these get their entries from other sources such as the few you can easily register with yourself.

Behind the webpage that appears on the screen, there's a script that produces and formats it. This is HTML usually (or XHTML), and HTML stands for Hyper-Text Markup Language. I'm not going into how you do this, it's far better done elsewhere on the 'Net, but it is very important that the script that produces your page is correct. Some reasons for this are: 1) different browsers implement HTML in different ways, 2) there are programs such as Jaws that read HTML and "speak" your pages to blind visitors (who may be interested or want to spend money), 3) search engines programs will also scan the code differently, and 4) visitors can use settings on their browser to control the way they view the www, these rely on your pages being properly put together. If you don't follow the standards, people with impaired vision, short-sighted, colour blind or just old may not be able to read your pages (which you inconsiderately fixed to 8 pt font, with white on a pink background!). This last problem is solved by correct use of CSS (you can find out about that via search engines!). If your HTML is incorrect or badly formed, your pages may not display properly and search engines may ignore you. There is an advisory (rather than regularory) body for HTML called the W3C - World Wide Web Consortium. They have a tool to check your webpages: http://validator.w3.org. This is surprisingly not used anywhere near as much as it should be, and my guess is that 95% of webpages on the Internet are invalid. This bit I like now, W3C supply direct link material so that webapges can be easily revalidated, and you may get a surprise if you check these out:

Some legal stuff
You should be careful you get ownership of your domain (it's not actually ownership, you just have registration for a year or two or more). If you have work done on a website by a web design or internet company make sure you are very clear whether you own copyright to the website and all designs and photographs that appear on it, plus programs and scripts. You may not, it depends on the terms of your agreement with the company, just make sure you're very clear who owns what, and get it in writing. Hopefully there'll be no problems, but just in case get it sorted right to start with, save arguments later. If you need any sort of guaranteed service get a service level agreement, but be prepared to pay a lot more for that (maybe by a factor of 10). A lot of web companies just don't charge enough for the 24 hour, 365 days, mostly behind the scenes and hidden service they provide, but don't charge for.

More ...
Please note I can't give individual advice or help, I don't do this as a business, I don't have time, anyway. I now register my domains at Domainmonster whose support is great and prices low. They don't charge to move in or away, and give you control over your bind (DNS). For business reasons I have my hosting at UK2 (a dedicated server, quite expensive!), so can't recommend budget hosting any more, though you get a website with domainmonster. This is a hit or miss guide based on my own experiences and previous great interest and much research, take it as it is, or leave it! Good luck with your website.

Article dated 9 Nov 2005, quick update Dec 2010 © Copyright 2005-15 Elmbronze Ltd

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