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How to Make a Website

A website is just a collection of individual web pages linked together. How to make a website is really just learning how to make a web page and then learning how to connect that web page to other web pages you make.

So far this is really easy, huh?

Building a web site is really easy once the mystery is removed. There are actually several ways to make a website. The list below explains the most common methods, followed by my recommendation on the best way to get started making your first website.

HTML Editors
There are two main types of HTML editors, one in which you always work directly in the code; and another that is called WYSIWYG. The goofy looking letters, WYSIWYG, are an acronym for What You See Is What You Get. That just means you can build a website without actually looking at the code that lies beneath the visible web page.

Most HTML editors create code that will render a web page very close to what it will actually look like in a browser. That's the good news—the bad news is that the code is often bloated with unnecessary data that will slow your web page's load time down. Load time is simply how long it takes the page to download to the browser. The excessive code is also not very search engine friendly, making it harder to get good search engine rankings.

Some HTML editors also use proprietary code. Proprietary code is not based on web standards, so your web pages may not display correctly in some browsers if you use an editor with proprietary code extensions.

If you don't learn HTML to make a website, using an HTML editor also means you are limited in what you can do with your web site to what the HTML editor can do. If you want to insert a code snippet of your own into the HTML editor, if the program doesn't understand the code it may try to "fix" it, meaning it will change the code. This usually results in broken code that won't work properly.

As web programming languages evolve, so too must HTML editors. That means if you want your site to evolve, you'll be tied to program upgrades. While there are some free HTML editors, the best ones are quite expensive, often costing several hundred dollars. The upgrades can be expensive too.

Conclusion: While an HTML editor can make many tasks easier, there are also several negatives to using one. Still, some people know no other way to create web pages. If you don't mind the drawbacks and don't want to learn HTML, an HTML editor may be the way to go.

Website Builders
A Website builder is an online application offered by some web hosting companies that allow you to build web pages without learning HTML. You sometimes have to pay an extra monthly fee if you want the builder included.

I've never used one, but I do know some of the drawbacks through friends who have. If you become dissatisfied with your hosting company and want to change hosts, the new host's website builder may not work the same, so you'll have to learn a new application. You also may have trouble moving your site to another host, so it's possible you'd have to start from scratch.

The need to change hosts is a very real possibility. I started this site in 1997 and have had to change hosts several times. The first time I had to change hosts was because it grew too popular and the host couldn't handle the traffic it generated.

I moved once because the host wanted to jack up my hosting fees by almost $100 a month. Another time I changed hosts because the host had grown too fast and the reliability and support deteriorated to an unacceptable level. Another time the hosting company simply disappeared. Their site was gone and so were all the sites they hosted. Poof!

Conclusion: This would be the last way I'd ever build a web site just because I wouldn't want to be tied down to one host.

Content Management Systems
A content management system (CMS) includes software applications like Drupal, Mambo, or Joomla, or even blog software like Wordpress. These work similar to a hosting company's website builder, only the applications are not host dependent, so they are the same no matter which host you use.

Some people swear by these type of server-side applications, others find them tedious and unnecessarily complicated.

While they have some definite benefits, they can be frustrating. On a site where I'm teaching an online class I use one of these systems. The longer the post you try to make, the greater the chance it gets lost! It sucks spending an hour working on a new page only to have it disappear when you try to save it.

The main reason I'm not a fan of this kind of software is that it's usually open source. The premise behind open source software is a good one—the source code is available to developers to improve the software and add features. It's like having an army of talented, innovative people helping to develop it.

The drawback to open source is the source code is also available to hackers. They can look for vulnerabilities so they can hack your website. I've had my site hacked through open source software, so admittedly my opinion is biased against it.

Conclusion: These applications can be wonderful, but you will probably have to learn and stay on top of things you don't want to know, such as security issues. You'll have to check regularly for program upgrades and have to learn how to install the upgrades without losing your data. These upgrades are often security patches needed to thwart the latest round of hack attacks. It's too much messing around for me. I'd rather spend my time creating content.

Exception: My exception to this rule is I like to have a blog on the side of a static site. A blog sends a "ping" when you post new content. A ping is simply a notification that a new post has been made. It's a quick way to get your post indexed by the search engines. Ideally, I like to make a short post about the new pages I add to my site. When the search engines get the ping they also follow the link to my new pages, getting them indexed quickly.

Learning HTML
Learning HTML is much easier than it sounds—but becoming an expert does take some time and effort. You don't need to be an expert to make a fully functional and useful web site though, nor do you need to be an expert to build a site good enough to earn money with, if that's a goal.

This is the way I recommend everyone start out. If you go through my Beginners Guide to HTML I think you'll be surprised at how easy it really is.

If you follow the step-by-step guide you can make your first web page in less than thirty minutes! Then just click the link for the Web Design Tutorials Index to learn more. You CAN do it!

Even if you decide to use an HTML editor or some kind of server-side application later, I recommend learning at least the basics of HTML first.

Here's why:

  • When things go wrong—and they will—knowing HTML is the easiest way to troubleshoot the problems. In fact, it's the only way to troubleshoot the problem. If you don't understand HTML you can't spot what is wrong, so your only option is to start over.
  • A friend of mine who started his own web design business always used an HTML editor to build his client's web sites. This particular editor used proprietary code that required special server extensions to function properly. One day he started getting calls from his clients that their web sites weren't working. He found out the host had upgraded the server extentions, and that upgrade broke most of his clients web sites. He had never learned HTML so he was lost as to how to fix the problems. To make a long story short, he lost most of his clients and was so discouraged he went out of business.
  • You're not tied to expensive software upgrades. I make all my sites in Notepad. All you really need to make a web site is any plain text editor.

Learning HTML code is simple. HTML uses tags to represent HTML elements. These tags tell the browser what to do. Here's an example:


That's the bold tag. It tells the browser to make the text that follows bold. Other than these tags, a web page is just text. It's the tags that format the text, bring an image into the page, and so on. Here's how I made the world bold show on the page in bold text.


The bold tag made the word bold render on the page in bold type. The second tag canceled the bold tag. Any text that followed the cancel bold tag would be in normal weighted text.

Making a web page then, is simply a matter of opening and closing these tags. There are tags to make text italic, to change the text color, to place an image on the page, or a video, etc.

Conclusion: How to make a website, in my opinion, is best done by learning html. If you want to use an HTML editor, website builder, or content management system later on, you'll find it much smoother going if you have a basic understanding of HTML. Addtionally, if you build a website using one of these other systems without learning HTML, you won't be able to troubleshoot any problems that come up—and believe me, problems do come up.

Sound easy? In a way it's even easier than that. You don't even have to memorize the HTML codes. You just need to know where to look them up as you need them.

I have an HTML Tags / Codes Chart that lists all the HTML tags, and each HTML tag links to a tutorial that describes what the tag does and shows an example of how to use the code.

There's a little more to it then that, but it really isn't very hard. Give my Beginners Guide to HTML a try and you will likely be able to make your first simple web page in less than 30 minutes!

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