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Domain Name and Website Basics

The reading level for this article is Novice

Is this the right article for you?

If you do not already have a company or a product or service, then this article is perhaps not the best place to begin. I would suggest reviewing articles on writing a business plan, finding a product, or business ideas.

However, if you do have a business and are ready to develop a website for your business (or if you want to develop a website for any other reason) then you are in the right place.

The importance of your website

Your website is the representation of your company on the Internet, often gives the first impression of your company to a visitor, and may be your only chance to impress that visitor and earn their business. There are hundreds of millions of websites on the Internet, so if yours does not clearly convey the benefits to the visitor right away, is difficult to navigate, takes too long to load, or has horrible copy then you might as well forward your website to your competitor’s.

However, with a little bit of learning and practice, anyone can create a well-designed, easy to navigate, and quick-loading website that performs exactly the function you wish.

This article will teach you

1. How to register a domain name
2. How to obtain the right hosting for you
3. How to decide whether to do it yourself or hire a web developer
4. What software you need to do it yourself
5. Why you don’t really need to know HTML
6. How to create your home page
7. How to give your pages titles
8. How to put pictures on your pages
9. How to create a multiple-page site use links
10. How to create basic graphics
11. How to find free professional templates for your website
12. How to publish your site to the Internet via FTP

Registering a Domain Name

The first step to building a website is to register your domain name. A domain name is the letters or words that visitors must type in to come to your website. For example, Yahoo.com, Amazon.com, and MSN.com are all domain names. Essentially, they are words (although numbers can be used), that tell your browser which server to go to and which website to display on the screen.

While, there are a number of free services that will host your site for you (like geocities.com), unless you are creating a personal site, you will not want to use these. If you wanted to buy some pearls online would you rather buy from http://www.freshwaterpearls.com or http://www.geocities.com/members/shoppark/jewelry/~fwp/pearls.htm?

Almost everyone would feel more comfortable buying from the merchant that has their own domain name. A domain name gives you a greater level of credibility than a free service and gives you complete control.

So if your site will be representing your business or you want to sell products you must have your own domain name. Not to worry, however. Domain names are inexpensive and easy to register.

The hardest part about registering a domain name is figuring out what you want your domain name to be. Almost every word and combination of words in the English language and many other languages have already been registered by someone else. It took me from noon to 8pm one day just to find a domain name for a content site I wanted to create. I had a number of ideas, but the first few hundred I thought of were already taken.

However, there are a number of extensions you can register for your site. If the .com extension is taken you can always register the .net, .us., .biz, .info, .cc, .org, or .pro. However, the .com extension remains the standard and with another extension you risk losing visitors as some will become confused and type in the .com when they try to return.

If you already have a business name, then you will usually want to register your business name as your domain name. However, you’ll want to keep it as short as possible (best around 5-10 characters) and no longer than 14. If your business name is longer than 14 characters, then see if you can abbreviate your name. For example, a law firm by the name of Morrison and Foerster LLP could have registered morisonfoerster.com, which would have been long and harder to remember. Instead they registered the mofo.com, a very easy to remember domain name.

Don’t have a business yet? If the website will be for your business and you do not have a business name yet, you’ll want to develop your business name first. Be sure to do a trademark search and register with your local government. If you will be incorporating your business be sure to read the articles “How to Incorporate Your Business” and “Is Incorporation Right for Me?”

On the other hand, if you will just be posting information and articles and creating a community, then your domain name can be whatever you wish. Be sure to keep it short and easy to remember, however.

So how exactly do you register for your domain name? Well, there are many options. If you are just looking for a domain name and not hosting, then you can register your domain at sites like register.com and 000domain.com, among others.

You can expect to pay anywhere between about $8 and $35 a year to keep a domain registered. There are many discount domain registrars (like 000domains.com) that enable you to keep your domain registered for about $10/year. For more options, you can find a list of ICANN accredited registrars at www.internic.com.

Register.com costs a bit more but is unique in that it will register your domain name and also host a basic 3 page site for you. This can be a good option if you will just want 3 pages, do not need total control, and will not be selling anything. However, if you wish to sell anything, grow your website beyond 3 pages you will want to obtain hosting for your site.

Note: Keep track of how many years you originally register your domain for and what company you registered it with. Often competing registrars will mail you official looking domain name renewal notices when your domain comes up for renewal that are simply ploys to get you to switch registrars.

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So What Is Hosting and How Do I Select What is Best For Me?

For a website to come up when a visitor types in your domain name, all the files for the website have to be stored somewhere on a server. Hosting simply is the storage of these files on a server. Large sites will generally own their own server, and supersites like yahoo.com or amazon.com have floors of buildings filled with nothing but servers. However, for sites in the 1-2000 page range, generally you won’t need your own server. What you will need however, is space on a server.

To obtain this space, you’ll need to purchase a hosting package from a hosting provider. You have two options when it comes to getting a website started. You can register your domain name first, then buy hosting, or you can do both at the same time and save time and money.

Generally, the registrar sites I mentioned above are just if you want to secure a domain name but do not want to start building your site right away.

If you do want to get going as soon as possible, I’d suggest buying hosting and registering your domain through the same company at the same time. In most cases, the hosting company doesn’t really register the domain themselves. They usually just register a domain name from a registrar. However, they’ll take care of setting everything up for you and making sure you are ready to go as soon as possible.

So what are the options for hosting companies? Again, there are thousands. Personally, I use a host called Hostway at www.hostway.com. They seem to offer a good balance of price and quality. However, if you are trying to save money everywhere possible, you can save about $6 per month by going with a discount hosting company like OLM at www.olm.net. However, don’t expect the same level of customer support, speed of servers, or uptime. If you are looking to the higher end of the spectrum and price is not an issue, then I’d suggest looking at hosting from Verio at www.verio.com.

So how much space and what features do you need? Most hosting companies offer a number of different packages that vary in a number of ways. If you will be creating a small site (less than 10 pages or so), all you’ll really use is about 10 megabytes (MB) of space. Generally even the lowest priced option has 50 MB, so you should be fine going with the low end package.

For example, one of the sites I own receives 120,000 visitors monthly and is 185 pages in size. The site uses 95.2 MB of space and 4 GB of bandwidth monthly. My hosting package (which is $21.95 per month), gives me 200 MB of space and 10 GB of bandwidth monthly. Most likely, your site will (at least initially) be smaller than this.

Many hosts also offer ecommerce hosting. However, this is a bit misleading. Even if you plan to sell products from your site you generally will not need ecommerce hosting. If you plan to sell products on your site and will have less than 50 products or do less than $500,000 per year in sales, you’ll likely want to have your shopping cart hosted by a third party provider. They host everything on their website and as such your server does not need ecommerce capabilities. If you do plan to sell products from your site be sure to read the articles here on ecommerce and ebusiness.

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Congratulations, You Have a Domain Name and Hosting! Now what?

Once you have registered your website and obtained hosting, generally within 24 hours they will send you an email with your IP address and login password. What is an IP address? IP stands for Internet Protocol and is the numbers that define which server your site is hosted on and where on the server the site is.

Once you have the IP address and login password, you can begin to upload your website to your server. However, typing in your domain will not bring up your site just yet.

It usually takes about 72 hours for your domain name to become live once you register for hosting. Why? You hosting company has to tell ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) that you’ve registered the site and which DNS servers to point the site to. Don’t worry if you don’t understand all this. Your hosting company will take care of this for you.

After about 72 hours (hopefully), you’ll receive an email that lets you know your domain is live. Congratulations! Now you can type in yourdomain.com in a browser and your site will come up.

However, you haven’t uploaded anything to the server yet so likely all that you’ll see is a under construction or coming soon page that your host has provided for you.

So How Do You Create a Website?

Creating a website can be fairly simple or rather difficult, depending on what you want. If you just want to a three page site with a picture of your offices and some information on what your company does you shouldn’t have a problem doing this yourself.

However, if you aim is to create an ecommerce website with two hundred pages, database capabilities, an affiliate program, etc. you will either need to spend quite some time learning or hire a website development firm to do this work for you. You should be able to find a firm that can implement all the features I’ve stated above for less than $5,000. And if this type of site is what you need do be sure to read the articles here on ebusiness, cgi, affiliate programs, online marketing, and site design.

I’m going to assume, however, that for now you are interested in building a basic website and wish to do it yourself.

So what are the first steps? Well, first you’ll need three software programs. You’ll need a website design & development program, a graphic design program, and a FTP Program.

As far as site design/development software, you have a number of choices. Back in the golden days of the Internet (pre-1998) the only option available was to learn HTML and hand code sites in the language. However, today there are much simpler programs where all you have to do is type where you want text and place pictures where you want pictures. These type of programs are called WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) software and as you can imagine are much simpler to learn than a programming language.

Popular options for WYSIWYG software include Net Object Fusion, Front Page, Nemo Web Editor, and Dreamweaver. Prices range from $100 to $299. In my opinion, Dreamweaver is by far the best of these, however, Front Page is less expensive and a bit easier to use. The good news is, however, that Front Page Express, a free limited version of Front Page comes with most all PCs (just do a search for it under Start > Search/Find). Also, if you have the Microsoft Office Suite then you already have FrontPage somewhere on your computer. Thirdly, if you want to try out Dreamweaver you can download a fully functional 30 day trial version from www.macromedia.com. If you plan on only creating a small site, 30 days should be more than enough time to create the site. However, you’ll need a program in the future if you wish to edit your site.

Note: You can also use the word processor Word to create very basic sites.

If you cannot find FrontPage on your computer, I’d suggest downloading the trial of Dreamweaver. It is about 30 MB so if you have a dial-up connection it may take a couple hours to download. However, if you have a cable modem or DSL it will only take about 5 minutes.

QUICK TIP: If you do wish to do it yourself and you are not a great graphic designer, you may wish to use a site design template. Good ones will look professional, load quickly, and have clear navigation. Many hosts provide a few templates, but if not, check out www.freesitetemplates.com.

Once you have the site development software, if you’ll be working with pictures or want to learn how to create your own graphics, I’d suggest downloading a graphic design program. I’d suggest Fireworks by Macromedia. Again, you can download a fully functional 30 day trial from www.macromedia.com. This may take a few hours if you are using a modem and not a high speed connection.

And finally, the last essential you need is a FTP (File transfer protocol) program. The most popular options are Cute FTP and WS_FTP Pro. Personally, I use WS_FTP Pro and would recommend it. You can download a fully functional 30 day trial at www.ipswitch.com. You will use the FTP Program to upload the pages and graphics you’ve created on your computer to your server so the rest of the world can see them.

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Now I have the software, how do I create my home page?

First, install your site design software (Dreamweaver or FrontPage) if you haven’t already. Then, open up your software. The first thing you’ll see will be a blank white screen. This is the canvas for your future site.

Just like you would type in a word processor, start typing. Put your text where you want it and use tables to separate your text into rows and columns. If you have an image you’d like to insert, simply put the cursor where you want the image to go and insert the image using the menu bar at the top of the screen (generally Insert > Image).

Experiment a bit until you get a handle on everything. If you want to create an graphic (like your logo or a button) go into Fireworks (or whichever graphic design program you are using). If you are unsure how to do something, go through the proper tutorial under the Help menu. Both Dreamweaver and Fireworks have very good tutorials. If your company does not have a logo it is likely best to hire a graphic designer to create one for you. You can find designers willing to this for anywhere between $30 and $500 depending on what formats you need it in and how specific your vision is. If you just want a very basic logo with your company name in an image, then you can likely do this yourself in your graphic design program.

Let’s assume you want to create a three page site. One page will be your home page, one will an About Us page, and the third will be a Contact Us page.

You would first create your home page. Input the text you want on the page and any pictures and graphics. You may wish to create a button for both the “About Us” and “Contact Us” page. You can always just use text, however. Once you have either the buttons or text, you’ll want to link your page to the other pages. Select the “About Us” text and using your properties manager type in aboutus.htm. Then select the “Contact Us” text and input contactus.htm (or whatever else you want to call the pages, just make sure it ends in either .htm or .html).

The HTML code for this will look like:

<a href=”aboutus.htm”>About Us </a> | <a href=”contactus.htm>Contact Us</a>

This way whenever someone clicks on these links they will be taken to your other pages. You can also put links in the middle of sentences and link images, of course.

Now title your page by right clicking and going to Properties. The title is the words that show up at the top of a browser when you are looking at a page. Generally you’ll want to stick with your company name or site name for the title. I’ll talk more about changing titles and inserting meta-tags so you can be better placed in the search engines in other articles.

Now save your home page. Generally, you’ll want to call your home page index.htm.

Now, create a new page and create a page that has information about you. Then save this page as aboutus.htm in the same folder as your home page. Then create a page that has your address and email address on it, title it, and save it as contactus.htm.

Now you have a three page website. But visitors on the Internet will not be able to view it yet. They will still get the under construction or coming soon page provided by your hosting company. You must now upload your pages using your FTP program to make them live.

Open up your FTP program (WS_FTP Pro that you downloaded earlier). You’ll need to create a new site so your program knows where to connect to.

Input your domain name and your login password in the proper places, then click connect.

Note: If you do this within the first 72 hours after registering for hosting (before your domain name is live) input your IP address and not your domain name.

In WS_FTP Pro and in most FTP programs, there will be two sides. The left is usually everything on your own computer and the right is everything on your server.

Usually, when you connect to your server you’ll be taken right to the part of the server that is yours. However, generally this is not the place to upload your files. Most often you’ll have to double click on the icon named “www.” This will take you to the right place. You’ll know when you’re in the right place because you will usually see a index.htm file. This is your under construction or coming soon page provided by your host. You’ll want to overwrite this.

To overwrite this and upload your other two pages, simply select them on the left and hit the arrow that goes left to right. It should take a few seconds, but once done your site will be live. If you’ve used any pictures or graphics on your page, make sure you also upload these or else they will not load for others looking at your website.

Congratulations! You now have a working website on your own domain name!

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This Ebusiness article was written by Ryan P Allis on 2/9/2005

Ryan P. Allis, 20, is the author of Zero to One Million, a guide to building a company to $1 million in sales, and the founder of zeromillion.com. Ryan is also the CEO of Broadwick Corp., a provider of the permission-based email marketing software and CEO of Virante, Inc., a web marketing and search engine optimization firm. Ryan is an economics major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is a Blanchard Scholar. [learn more.

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