Search Engines & Resources

Search Engine Links

Three key components of a website

Three basic functions

are all you need to get a website up and running on the World Wide Web.

First, you’ll need an actual ‘Website’..

most commonly this would include any communication media that can be read and/or interacted with via a Web Browser. A simple example could be a series ‘hyper-linked’ web pages with text and images.

Second, you’ll need a ‘Domain Name’..

A domain name is a unique ‘web address’ that gives any Web enabled device, the information on where to find your website.

The ‘Domain Name’ is the address everybody types in their web browser to go to a particular website. Examples would be; ‘www.ebay.com’ or ‘www.google.com’. Domain Names can easily be purchased via the web.

Domain Names Explained

A Domain Name is a unique ‘web address name’ that you register, this Domain Name can then be used to direct people to your website.

Like postal addresses, Domain Names need to be unique so that people (computers) using the web can find you. If there wasn’t a unique name for every website on the web, it simply would not work.

A Domain Name has three parts:

www – Meaning ‘World Wide Web’, standard for all Domain Names.
mydomainname – Which is the part you choose to register and which, when combined with it’s extension, must be unique.
com .org .info .gov– The Domain Name Extension, which can be a geographical reference or a site definition type.

Each part is separated by a dot or full-stop (period). Examples:

  • www.google.com
  • www.ebay.com
  • www.craigslist.org
  • www.irs.gov

A Domain Name Extension forms part of the name’s uniqueness. ‘www.mydomainname.com’ is unique from ‘www.mydomainname.org’. They are two separate Domain Names.

Registering A Domain Name

The easiest way to register a domain is via the web. There are thousands of companies offering to register a domain name on your behalf. It is worth shopping around as pricing does vary. There are also options to purchase your domain name at the same time as your hosting package, which is often cheaper. We recommend www.godaddy.com

Putting the search term ‘domain names’ in a search engine will return many results of companies offering to register Domain Names on your behalf. Have a good hunt around the Web to find the best deal. Make sure you read the small print. Also, read some of the specialist Internet magazines, these often have recommendations and reviews, that may point you in the right direction.

The official organisation that oversees the Domain Name register records will vary from country to country. You may get a certificate as proof of ownership sent to you after registering.

Most companies that offer registration via the web will first run a search to make sure the domain name you wish to register is not already taken.

You don’t need a website to register a Domain Name. Because each Domain Name has to be unique, some people prefer to register their name straight away to avoid the risk that someone else might register it before them.

Domain Name Rules?

Domain Names are not case sensitive but convention suggests that names should be all lowercase. No white space is allowed, some people use a hyphen to separate words. The ‘all one word’ is the most common approach though – www.mydomainname.org

Good Domain Names?

Most people will just use their organisation’s name as their domain name, and that’s fine. But some things should be considered when choosing, especially if you have the freedom to choose anything you wish.

A website address (domain name) is obviously better if it’s easily remembered. That’s why the ‘hyphen’ is sometimes troublesome. Also, if possible, you want the spelling to be obvious (real words) or at least easily guessed at (company and made-up words).

Avoid ambiguity in spelling variations and meaning too.

Lastly, some people report that the words in your domain name can influence Search Engines. Their advice would be that if you are a Hotel you should include that word as part of your domain: www.theritzhotel.com

In Google, domain name words do get ‘highlighted’ if they match a ‘search phrase’.

Common Domain Name Extensions:

.com – Strictly speaking this is short for ‘commercial’, and was originally used to define U.S. based commercial websites. Many people today though, register a .com domain name as a kind of ‘world’ based site. It doesn’t seem to have any geographical significance these days. Not usually used by charities or non-profit organisations
.org – Short for Organisation. The most common extension used by charities. It can be used in conjunction with a country reference – .org.uk. Generally used to signify a noncommercial website.
.net – Short for Internet. used by both commercial and noncommercial websites. No geographical reference.
.gov, .gov.us – Short for Government Department, State Institution, usually combined with geographical reference.
.ru, .it, .fr, .de – Geographical references. Usually the first two letters of the associated country, (Russia, Italy, France, Germany).

New domain name extensions are always being added, .info and .tv are recent additions.

Lastly, you need a ‘Host’..

A ‘host’ is essentially just a computer configured to ‘serve’ web pages?

All your email, letter and digital photograph files are stored on your own computer’s hard drive (JPG, BMP, TXT, DOC). Web page files are no different (HTML, PHP, CSS, JS), they can also reside on your hard drive along with everything else. All the files that are stored on your computer could be said to be ‘hosted’ by your computer.

You could, if you really wanted, ‘host’ your website from your own computer. This would mean though, having your computer turned on 24 hours a day.. every day. In most cases this is not practical, unless you’re a very large organisation.

Most people choose instead to ‘rent’ some space on someone else’s computer. This is what is meant by someone ‘hosting’ your website. Terms like ‘your host’, ‘hosting package’, ‘webspace’ are all references to the idea of your website files being stored on someone else’s computer.

It is this ‘remote’ computer that sends your webpage’s to those who wish to see them. The technical term is that the remote computer ‘serves’ the webpages to the user. Computers that store and send webpages are therefore often referred to as ‘servers’.

The most common way to purchase a hosting package is via the web. There are hundreds of companies offering this service, so it is worth shopping around to find the right deal for you.

A couple of things that are worth considering straight away. First, it might be wise to choose a hosting company that has offices in your own country. Secondly, use the web or read web related magazines to see what companies are being recommended, how often they advertise, and how long they’ve been trading, etc.

Hosting companies usually offer a range packages and payment plans. Be aware that some hosts charge an initial set-up fee in addition to yearly hosting charges.

Hosting Packages – What You Get

Most website hosting companies will offer you a list of different hosting packages/plans/options, for you to choose from. Each package will then contain another list of all the wonderful things that you are getting for your money. Unfortunately, experience suggests, most people have no idea what any of his nonsense means!

Well help is at hand, and believe it or not, some of these things are actually quite useful to know. A list of common hosting terminology is listed and explained below.

 

Server Type

Just a quick word on server types. Generally there are only two server types offered by Hosting companies, and these are the ‘Linux Server (Apache)’ and the ‘Windows Server (IIS)’. 95% of all websites are run using Linux Servers, and unless you have any special requirements, just go with this.

In fact Hosting companies often don’t even mention the server type for ‘standard’ hosting packages – you can assume these will be Linux/Apache based.

Don’t make the mistake in believing that, because you’re using ‘Windows’ on your computer, you need to use a Windows Server. They’re not related.

Web Space

This is how much storage space you have been given to store your data files. This space is used to store all your HTML files, image files, Flash files, database file for CMS, etc. This web space is usually a shared hard disk identical to those found in desktop computers. If your website is really big and you want the ultimate in speed and reliability, you can rent your own dedicated server (your own separate hard disk).

Generally, the more you pay, the more space you get. This can range from about 50Mbs of space to 5Gbs or more.

Remember that unless your website is huge, you really don’t need that much web space. You should be trying to make your web page files as small as possible anyway, in order that they download quickly. Unless you have audio or video files on your site, web pages never need be more a 150Kb in size (including images). So, taking a rough average, 10 web pages equates to 1.5Mb of web space. If you are using any kind of server-side database, for a CMS say, you need to consider its size too.

Data Traffic/Transfer Per Week/Month

This refers to how much data is served (transferred/downloaded) to all your website visitor’s computer’s every month. The figure (i.e. 2,000Mb) indicates the upper limit you are allowed each week/month.

Every time someone visits your website, your host has to transfer all the pages, image files, etc, to that persons computer for them to view. Effectively each visitor to your site eats up a little more of your data transfer allowance.

Web hosts are usually quite generous with these limits though. For example, say your complete website amounted to 1Mb of data, and on average each visitor looks at half your available pages. For you to reach a limit of 4,000Mb’s of traffic per month, you would had to have had 8,000 visitors.

Be warned though, most hosting companies will charge per Mb, on you exceeding your limit.

Unlimited Email Addresses

Not as great as it sounds. This basically means you can put any name in front of the @ part of your email address. These email addresses remember, will be based on your chosen domain name:

  • yourname@mydomainname.com
  • info@mydomainname.com
  • donations@mydomainname.com
  • enquiries@mydomainname.com
  • admin@mydomainname.com

Importantly though, these names will all be forwarded to the same single email ‘account’. What this means is that you only have the one default email account to which all the messages, from all the different email addresses, are sent to. This has some serious limitations. If for example, you have one person that deals specifically with general enquiries, and another who deals with donation enquiries, you can’t have them set-up separate email accounts on different computers. The organisations email all comes down the same chute (a single email account) and will in some way need to be distributed internally.

The distinction here is that ‘Email Addresses’ are not the same as ‘Email Accounts’, (See: POP3 Email Accounts below).

POP3 Email Accounts

Unlike plain old email addresses, email ‘accounts’ differ in that they are self-contained and separate from each other. Email accounts, and the email addresses you associate with it, can be set-up on different computers, in different offices. They are also password protected, so only those that have permission, can retrieve messages coming to that account.

POP3 itself is a protocol for sending messages via the Internet (not the Web), which are then read by ’email client’ software. Outlook, by Microsoft, is the most well known email client, and there are many others. This is only mentioned to distinguish a POP3 email account from a Web Based email account (See below).

All hosting packages give you at least one POP3 account. Depending on your organisation’s structure, you might want to consider a hosting package that offers more than a single account. Many now do, as part of a standard package.

Web Based/WebMail Accounts

WebMail accounts should be seen as a kind of extension to your POP3 accounts. Basically what this allows you to do is read messages from a POP3 account on the Web. Like a ‘Hotmail’ or ‘Gmail’ account, you can log-in/sign-in to your account and read your messages from any computer, not just your own.

This option can be pretty handy if you don’t have immediate access to your own computer – you can find a Internet Cafe and quickly review your ‘urgent’ email messages from there.

CGI/SSI

The CGI bin is a facility that allows you to run ‘Serve-Side’ scripts on your website. An example of a ‘Serve-Side’ script is the Guestbook facility you often see on websites, that allows people to post comments on a site.

Some hosts offer a set of pre-written scripts that can be adapted to your needs. Alternatively you can write your own.

The scripting languages used can vary, so you need to be aware of what scripting languages your host allows. Common languages include Perl and Javascript.

Because scripting can be used maliciously, there are some limitations in what your host can allow under CGI. Check first with your web developer and host before going ahead and creating complex ‘Serve-Side’ scripts.

SSL

Secure Socket Layer is a facility that allows you to have web pages where visitor’s can safely enter sensitive information on-line. An obvious example would be credit card details.

Control Panel

This is just the name given to a set of web pages that are used to configure your website settings. This is where you’d set-up your email addresses for example.

The control panel is accessed via the web in the normal way. Usually you’ll go to your hosts own website and log-in (username & password) from there. If available, you will also be able to access your website visitor statistics from here.

Full FTP Access

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is what is used to transfer your web pages from your computer to your hosts computer. Full FTP access means that transfers can be made at any time with no limit. These days you should expect this as standard.

Virus & Spam Filters

This means your host will filter your email messages for viruses and spam before you receive them. This can be helpful, but make sure you don’t neglect your own security systems.

PHP, .Net, JSP, MySQL, etc

These all refer to database/middleware technologies. Having these included as part of your hosting package means that you can reliably use these technologies on your website. For an introduction to what these technologies can do for you, go to: Web Technologies

FrontPage Extensions

FrontPage is a web authoring application made by Microsoft. Professional web designers/developers tend to avoid FrontPage because it automatically uses propriety scripting/mark-up. Very few people use FrontPage these days.

So there are the basic technical necessities for having a website, but there are still many things that need to be considered in preparing your website. The next section is designed to help you make the right preparation and avoid the many common pitfalls. So next to: Website Planning

 

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How To Get your own website

Let us build the website for you

the fundamentals:

  • Website Preparation & Planning
  • Navigation & Information Structures
  • Domain Names
  • Hosting
  • Web Technologies
  • Content Management Systems
  • Website Maintenance
  • Search Engines
  • Usability & Accessibility

But Why Get a Website?

A good question, and one many people rightly ask. So, before we even begin looking at the practical aspects of getting a website up and running, we should start by looking at what benefits are gained in having one.

There are many reasons why a website can be beneficial to your organisation, and of course these benefits will vary depending on what your organisation does. There’s not enough space here to cover every scenerio, so let’s use the charity and non-profit sector to illustrate some general points.

For a charity, a ‘good’ website can be very beneficial in a number of ways, including:

  • Raising general awareness of their organisation
  • Giving wider access to their publication’s, research, and campaign’s
  • Increased opportunities for fundraising
  • Increased opportunities for increasing readership/membership
  • Cost effective means to present supporting multimedia – film, audio, etc.
  • Real-time, instant-response editing/updating capability
  • Instant interaction with members/audience – polls, feedback, member contribution, etc

The Web is the most comprehensive, cost effective communication tool there has ever been. But you should notice our emphasis on the importance of having a ‘good’ website. The beauty of the Web is that it allows everyone to have a voice, but this means there are millions of voices all competing to be heard.

So if your website is to be:

  • effective
  • useful
  • successful

It will need to be:

  • easily found
  • easy and interesting to use
  • well structured
  • visually appealing
  • well aware of what it is trying to communicate and to whom

Well that’s what the rest of this website is designed to hopefully help your with… so get reading!

Save Time, Save Money

The site was created primarily to help charities and non-profit organisations, but others too may find the information helpful.

The principle aim here is to give you a solid grounding in what it takes to get your website up and running; by having an understanding of the requirements, and the processes involved.

Spending a little time now, gaining even a basic understanding of website production processes, will save you a great deal of time and money in the long term. When the time comes to call in the professional web specialists, the knowledge you’ll have gained will help you communicate your ideas more efficiently and effectively.

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More Info On This Topic

Let us build the website for you

 

Promoting Your Website

Letting People Know

Okay, so now you’ve just uploaded your website to the World Wide Web and it is ready to be viewed. The problem is.. nobody knows it’s there! You’d better start promoting it then?

There are many ways to promote your website, some cost money, and some are free. For a start, from now on you always include your web address (Domain Name) in all your correspondence. Create a default email template that automatically inserts your web address into every email you write. Redo your letterheads to include your web address. Redo business cards, etc, etc.

There are obviously all the traditional methods for promoting your website; newspapers, specialist magazines, even to good old ‘card’ in your local newsagent. But here we’re going to concentrate on Web based promotion, and more specifically – Search Engines.

Search Engines

90% of people looking for a particular type of website will start by using a Search Engine.

Here’s an typical scenario: A nurse is looking to volunteer their services with a organisation that provides medical assistance to communities that lack the resources to provide basic healthcare themselves.

They’ll likely begin by going to a Search Engine homepage and typing in the search phrase “volunteers, healthcare” or “medical assistant, volunteering”. The Search Engine will go off, search its database and, along with other criteria, return a long list of websites that ‘relate’ to that search phrase.

If you’re an organisation that provides what the nurse is looking for, then you really need to be on that list, and preferably near the top.

So how do you get on that list, how do you make your website ‘search engine friendly’? Here’s a quick crash course.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

The key to ‘search engine friendly’ or ‘Search Engine Optimised’ sites, is the need to consider what ‘search phrases’ (sometimes called ‘key phrases’) a web user might use (via a Search Engine) to find a site similar to yours.

Choose four or five phrases, then use these same phrases as the central ‘identifiers’ as to what your website is about. This may seem a bit vague, but after reading how Search Engines work, it should become clearer.

Search Engines try to ascertain what your website is about and generally look at six things in order to do that:

1. Site Content (Text) – All the text (HTML) on your website including links, ‘Alt’ attributes for images, etc. A Search Engine sort of reads your texts and tries to find common words or ‘phrases’ It will also try to ascertain what words appear to be important, such as those that appear in headers (large text, headlines), or in links, etc.

Words within images can not be read and have no value in SEO. Image ‘Alt’ attributes can however be used to describe images.

2. HTML ‘Title’ Tag – This is the tag that creates the text you see in the ‘title-bar’ of a Web Browser. For this page you should see the text “Get a Website – Promoting Your Website, SEO, Search Engines”. The words in your ‘Title’ tag carry some weight with Google and are returned as the search header (see image below).

3. HTML ‘Description’ Meta-Tag – This tag is used to describe the nature/purpose of your website. Ideally, just a short paragraph. This paragraph will not appear on your webpage, but may appear in Search Engine returned synopsis’ (see image below).

googleseo

4. HTML ‘Keywords’ Meta-Tag – This tag is used to describe the nature/purpose of your website using either short phrases or single words. These words will not appear on your webpage. This meta-tag is less important these days because people have, in the past, used it to ‘spam’ Search Engines.

5. Link Popularity (Inward Links) – This refers to the number of other websites that link directly to your website (inward links). With some exceptions (see Link Quality and Beware), the more links you have pointing to your site the higher up the search lists you’ll be. These ‘inward links’ will themselves be ‘ranked’, so having ‘quality’ inward links is important. Search Engines see inward links as a sort of ‘vote’ for your site, after all, if someone bothers to link to your site, they must feel you’ve got something of value that is worth looking at?

6. Link Quality, ‘Relevancy’ – the quality of an inward link is defined first by the contextual relevancy of the website that links to yours. For example; your website is about ‘the music of Beethoven’. A ‘quality’ link would be one that comes from a site about ‘the history of Western Classical Music’ or a site about ‘J.S.Bach’. The second ‘quality’ criteria is the actual ‘ranking’ of that website that points to yours. That’s self-explanatory really.

Beware – Some people suspect that inward links that don’t meet the above ‘relevancy’ criteria may actually count against you. This is the Search Engine reaction against people creating ‘link farms’.

Looking again at the idea of ‘search phrases’ or ‘key phrases’, you should now see how the six SE methods outlined above can (and should) relate to the phrases you choose. Just try to remain consistent, target the same limited phrases to all six of the above SE points.

Last couple of quick points in relation to inward links. If you have any influence with those who link to your website, ask them if they could specifically create a link that includes some of your keywords. Remember, some inexperienced web editors still put ‘Click Here‘ for their links, which means nothing to a Search Engine. However, a link that reads – ‘Here’s a Great Beethoven resource website’ – and links to a website about Beethoven, is going to be of far more value to you and to the Search Engine.

Also, you may recieve email from people offering to ‘exchange’ links with you. You need to be cautious in this situation, do your research before accepting, and remember the above point about ‘link farms’. Only accept quality links.

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Web Terminology

 A

Accessibility – A process in which a website is developed to allow the widest possible access to the content therein, regardless of the website visitor’s ability/disability. Accessibility guides include WAI WCAG and Section 508.
ADSL – Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. Broadband Internet connection who’s download and upload speeds differ.
Ajax – Asynchronous JavaScript And XML. The name given to a a group of existing technologies that can be used to exchange web based data. The result can be; a webpage that behaves more like a ‘desktop’ application.
Apache – Web Server Software. This is the standard server application that is installed by most hosting providers. Put bluntly, it is the software management system that dealt with your ‘request’ to view this page.
ASCII – American Standard Code for Information Interchange.
ASP – Active Server Pages. Propriety database technology distributed by Microsoft. Not open source.

 B

Backbone – A high-speed line or series of connections that forms a major pathway within a network.
Bandwidth – How much data that can be sent through a network connection (usually Internet). A 56k Dial-Up Modem can send about 57,000 bits in one second. Modern DSL connections are capable of transfers of 100Mbits (100,000,000 bps)
Blog – Short for web-log. An web-based journal.
Browser – Special software designed to read web pages. Often referred to as a Web Browser. Popular browsers include Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox, Netscape’s Navigator and Opera. Most browsers are offered for free.

 C

CGI – Common Gateway Interface. A facility on your host’s server for running Server-Side scripts, etc.
Client – A piece of software designed to contact and obtain data from a Web Server. An Email Client or Browser Client are examples.
Client-Side – Any requirement or procedure that relies upon and executes on the users computer. This basically means the hardware/software set-up being used by a visitor to a website. See: Server-Side.
Cold Fusion – Server-Side technology used for databases and web applications. Adobe Software Technology.
Cookie – A small file sent by a Web Server (usually through a website) to a Web Browser which is saved on the users computer. This file can then be referenced when the user revisits the same Web Sever (website).
CSS – Cascading Style Sheets. A standard for formatting the appearance of webpages, etc. In relation to ‘Web Standards’ and ‘Semantics’, it is used to separate ‘meaning’ from ‘presentation’. Used alongside HTML, XML, XHTML, etc.

 D

DHTML – Dynamic HyperText Markup Language. The unofficial name given to webpages that combine HTML, JavaScript, and CSS technologies.
DNS – Domain Name System. The system that translates Internet domain names into IP numbers.
Domain Name – The unique name that identifies an Internet based website. Example: www.yourdomain.com
Download – Transfer of data from another ‘remote’ computer (usually via the Internet or an intranet). See: Upload.

 E

Ethernet – Common method of linking computers in a LAN (Local Area Network).

 F

Firewall – Hardware and software systems designed to create a security barrier between networks. These can be configured to allow decisions to be made on what can and can not be accessed. Used to detect and block illegal access attempts.
Flash – Web based Multi-Media technology from Adobe. Widely used. Requires Browser Plug-In. File extension (SWF) ShockWave Flash.
FTP – File Transfer Protocol. Common method for transferring files between computers via the Internet.

 G

GIF – Graphic Interchange Format. Image file format used extensively on the Web. Ideal for using with large areas of flat colour. Displays a maximum of 256 colours, file sizes are reduced by discarding colours. See: JPEG, PNG.

 H

Homepage – The default entry page to a website. If a user only inputs a Domain Name in a Browser, the Browser will begin downloading the Homepage. The most common way to indicate which page is to be your Homepage, is to name it; index.htm.
Host – A computer that stores and serves web pages over the Web. Most people rent webspace for their website from specialist ‘Hosting’ providers.
HTML – Hyper Text Mark-Up Language. Standard Mark-Up coding language for creating web pages. See: HTTP
HTTP – Hyper Text Transfer Protocol. Standard protocol for addressing Hyper Text web pages on the web. See: HTML

 I

Internet – A world wide grid of inter-linked (networked) computers.
Intranet – A closed network of inter-linked computers. Often using the same technologies as the Internet. Used by organisations for sharing internal information.
IP Address or Number – Internet Protocol. Every computer that accesses the Internet must have a unique identifying number. IP numbers can be assigned temporarily only whilst a computer is ‘on-line’. Each active Domain Name will have a IP number assigned to it.
ISP – Internet Service Provider. Companies that provide a means for their users to access the Internet.

 J

Java – Sophisticated programming language developed by Sun Microsystems. Used often on the Web because, unlike other languages (C++), it is not system or platform dependent. (i.e. Windows, Linux, Mac, Unix).
JavaScript – Scripting language often used on webpages. Not to be confused with Java.
JavaScript Libraries or Frameworks – Used as a way to simplify JavaScript, allowing common procedures to be easily implemented. Commonly used libraries include jQuery, MooTools, YUI, etc.
JPEG – Joint Photographic Experts Group. Image file format used extensively on the Web. JPEG uses lossy compression (quality degrades) to reduce image file sizes allowing them to download quickly on a webpage. Best suited to images that contain colour variation and gradients, like photographs. Not suitable for flat areas of colour. See: GIF, PNG.
JSP – Java Server Pages. Server-Side technology used for databases and web applications.

 K

Kilobyte – 1,000 bytes. 1,024 to be precise. Computers use Base 16.
Keywords – Meta Tag used in HTML. Used to identify/describe the purpose of a webpage. Search Engines use this information when indexing. Sometimes used as a general term to describe words you wish to target as part of SEO.

 L

LAN – Local Area Network. Usually a small group of inter- connected computers.
Linux – Computer operating system. An open source system developed to run on desktop PC’s, servers, etc.
Local – In relation to websites this refers to the version of a website that resides on a ‘local’ computer within the company, office, web design studio, etc. See: Remote.

 M

Megabyte – 1,000 Kilobytes. 1,024 to be precise. Computers use Base 16.
Meta Tags – Tags used in HTML that are not displayed in the resulting webpage. Used to identify/describe the purpose of a webpage. Search Engines can use this information when indexing.
Mirror – To maintain an exact copy. Some websites offer an alternative ‘mirror’ site, that is used if the original fails. Also refers to ‘local’ and ‘remote’ versions of the same website.
MySQL – Open-Source sever-side database technology, often used in conjunction with PHP.

 N

Network – Two or more computers connected together that can share information, data, software, etc.
Newsletter – A subscription service offered by some websites, usually received at regular intervals via email.

 O

Open Source – Any kind of computer software, program, application, script, etc, who’s source code can be legally viewed and modified. Software that is often developed by a community. Open Source software is usually free to use.

 P

PDF – Portable Document Format. Popular document format designed to give complete control over layout and formatting. Files read by ‘Acrobat’ reader. Can be viewed in a web Browser via the Acrobat Plug-In. Adobe format.
PHP – Popular Open-Source ‘middleware’ scripting/programming language used to build ‘web applications’. Often used as the ‘application’ layer between sever-side database technologies and the client-side Web Browser.
Plug-In – Software designed to add to, and work with, another piece of software. Plug-In’s are often required by Web Browsers to enable them to read certain file types.Flash Plug-In allows you to view and interact with SWF flies.Quicktime Plug-In allows you to view and interact with MOV flies.
PNG – Portable Network Graphics. Image file format designed for, and used extensively on the Web. A fairly recent introduction, designed to resolve the weaknesses inherent in previous web formats. See: GIF, JPEG.
POP3 (Email) – Post Office Protocol. Common standard protocol for non-web based email communication.

 Q

Quicktime – Streaming and compression technology used mainly for web video.

 R

Remote – In relation to websites this refers to the version of a website that physically resides on a ‘remote’ server computer. This is often your ‘Host’ computer and is accessible via FTP. See: Local.

 S

Search Engine – A web based database used to find websites. Work on the basis of a websites relevance to a search phrase.
SEO – Search Engine Optimisation. A technique for making a website Search Engine ‘friendly’.
Server – Generally, a computer that stores and provides access to websites. Webpages are said to be ‘served’ to a client application, i.e. a Web Browser.
Server-Side – Any requirement or procedure that relies upon and executes on a server computer. Many database technologies are Server-Side.
SMTP – Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. Common protocol used to send email from server to server via the Internet.
Social Networking – Phenomena in the use of Web based applications or sites, where the primary role is to facilitate communication between users. FaceBook and YouTube are examples.
Spam – An email message (usually unwanted) randomly sent to many unknown recipients. Considered very bad etiquette. Has become illegal to practice in some counties.
SQL – Structured Query Language. A language for sending queries to databases.
SSL – Secure Socket Layer. Protocol to enable encrypted communications across the Internet
Streaming – A technology that allows time-based media to be viewed whilst downloading. The beginning of a video sequence can be viewed whilst the middle and end are still downloading. Techs’ include Flash, Quicktime, RealMedia, etc.

 T

Trojan – A computer program, usually malicious, that disguises itself as something else.

 U

Unix – Operating System often used on Server computers.
Upload – Transfer of data to another ‘remote’ computer. See: Download.
URL – Uniform Resource Locator. At its simplest, URL can be seen to be synonymous with a ‘web address’.

 V

Virus – Any program, script, applet, etc, designed to replicate itself. Usually used to describe code that is capable of executing destructive actions – file deletion, etc.

 W

Web 2.0 – A vague term, but can be loosely defined as a ‘second phase’ development in how the web is being used by people, and how new design and development technologies have been implemented. ‘Social Networking’ and ‘Blogging’ are examples in usage. ‘Usability’, JavaScript and ‘Ajax’ widgets, are examples in design and Web development.
World Wide Web (www) – An international protocol (http:) used as a common means to communicate via the Internet.
Worm – Type of Virus.

 X

XML – eXtensible Markup Language. A widely used system for defining data formats.

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Web Technologies

Introduction

This page is here to outline the different kinds of technologies available to you on the web, what they do, and how you might best make use of them.

HTML/XHTML

Over the years Web Technologies have continued to develop so that now, virtually any type of audio-visual media can be ‘carried’ via the Internet.

Most of these technologies however, have effectively been ‘bolted-on’ to the original web page construction language; Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML). You’ll notice most web addresses begin with ‘http://’ which means ‘Hyper Text Transfer Protocol’, and end with .HTM or .HTML. (In case you’re wondering, the ‘HTM’ extension is for backward-compatibility with older ‘Windows’ DOS computers, which had a limit of only 3 letters).

It should be noted that even addresses that end with other extensions (PHP, etc) are still essentially ‘serving’ HTML pages, only via a database.

HTML is still what is used for 80% of today’s websites, and in isolation can be used to produce static web pages. This allows for text and images to be arranged on a page, with ‘hyperlinks’ linking to other pages within the website. Hyperlinks also allow you to link to other websites elsewhere on the web. Though it may not sound like very much, a skilled designer can do a lot with these basic building blocks, and in many cases a static HTML website will be all that you need to create a professional looking brochure style web presence.

HTML is what your web ‘Browser’ is designed to interpret, regardless of whom makes the Browser or what computer the Browser is being used on. Unlike other web technologies, HTML is the standard and guarantees your website can be seen by anyone accessing the web.

XHTML is just a ‘stricter’ version of HTML that adheres to SGML ‘well-formedness’, making it compatible with XML and other Mark-Up languages. The use of the XHTML stricter syntax is recommended for all new websites.

Beyond HTML – An Overview

So HTML will be enough for many, but there are many other technologies that can be ’embedded’ into HTML and used to enhance your website in a whole variety of ways.

It should be noted that all web technologies, apart from HTML, have some limitations in terms of their scope and compatibility. What is meant by this is that these technologies will only work under a certain set of circumstances. For example, Javascript scripting can be disabled by the user on his or her Browser. Very few people do this but they do have that option. Another example; Flash ‘Movies’ are used on many websites these days, but Flash requires a small piece of software to be ‘plugged-in’ to a browser before Flash Movies can be viewed. Again, nearly everyone has and uses this plug-in, but a few may not.

Another important consideration relates to your hosting costs, and what are termed ‘Server-Side’ technologies. A basic hosting package is designed to ‘serve’ basic HTML pages. If you wish your host to ‘enable’ certain other ‘Server-Side’ technologies, such as .Net, JSP, CF, PHP, etc, then you may have to pay for these as extras to your basic hosting package.

(Note: Flash and JavaScript are ‘Client-Side’ technologies, and are not affected by your hosting package.)

For more on ‘Server-Side’ and ‘Client-Side, go to: Web Terminology

Having said all this, most of the web technologies mentioned so far, and those to be listed below, are widespread and in common use. Most modern, major Browsers can deal quite happily with them all. You should however, do a little research to find the technology that most closely matches your needs.

The list below gives only a basic outline of some of the web technologies available. For a more detailed view go to: Resources for links to specialist websites covering each technology. Or search via the web.

Javascript, Ajax

JavaScript – is a basic scripting language (programming), specifically created to work with web pages. Although capable of creating quite complex programming procedures, JavaScript tends to be used to make small but important enhancements to a website. These enhancements are most often centred around usability; the idea of developing a website that is more intuitive and user-friendly.

JavaScript works well with CSS, enabling tricks and enhancements that would be impossible to achieve with HTML alone (See CSS Below).

Ajax – isn’t a web technology in itself. Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is the name given to a a group of existing technologies that can be used to exchange web based data in a particular way. The main advantage of using Ajax techniques is that data can be updated without the need for the Web Browser to request a whole new webpage. Only part of a page is updated giving it functionality more akin to ‘desktop’ applications.

CSS

CSS – stands for Cascading Style Sheets. CSS is a standard extension to HTML (Version 4) designed primarily to help designers, by allowing greater flexibility in web page layouts and formatting.

Another important feature is in the ability CSS allows, by separating form from content and meaning. In relation to the ‘Semantic Web’, CSS can help as a method for ‘serving’ the same data in different formats to different media – a computer screen or a hand-held device for example.

When combined with JavaScript, CSS gives you further options. For example, the ability to hide text or images that are only revealed when a visitor requests to see them. You could use this in a diagram perhaps, where the diagram includes ‘hot spots’ that reveal an explanation of the parts when a user places their cursor over them.

 

Flash, Video & Audio Streaming, etc

Flash is the ‘de facto’ multi-media technology for the web. It is capable of ‘streaming’ almost any media including animation, illustration, audio, music, images, video, etc. The plug-in required to view Flash ‘Documents’ is already on 95% of peoples web enabled systems, so compatibility is not really an issue. However, for important information you should still provide an alternative.

Flash is ideal for interactive projects. In this respect it has huge potential for educational (e-learning) work, computer games, video and audio jukeboxes, etc.

A Flash project can range from a simple short animation to a full blown web ‘application’ that links and interacts with other web technologies. Design and development times will therefore vary tremendously, as will the costs involved.

Flash is a true, extremely flexible, multi-media tool, but there are other more specialised technologies. Quicktime and RealVideo, for example, are technologies especially designed to stream video across the web. There are others also for music, e-learning, etc.

Database, Middleware Powered Websites

The last major area covered here relates to websites that are built around database technologies. Just like ‘desktop’ database applications, this technology enables websites to collect information, store information and recall information.

Web based systems are usually two-tiered (ignoring the Web Server layer). First is the actual database which holds and structures all your data. Common web based databases include; MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Oracle. Second, is the ‘middleware’ or ‘application layer’ technology used to build the interface that allows interaction and control between the website administrator, the database and website visitors. Middleware technologies include; PHP (Hyper Processor PHP), .Net, Java Server Pages (JSP) and Cold Fusion (CFML).

Most of these database and middleware technologies are interchangeable, for example PHP will work both with MySQL or PostgreSQL. You should however double check your hosting options for any incompatibility issues that may exist.

Websites built on these kinds of ‘technology stacks’ are becoming more and more common, having more and more applications. Terms like ‘Web 2.0’, ‘Web Applications’ and ‘Social Networking Websites’ all relate to the utilisation of these technologies to create more sophisticated websites and better web based services. Facebook®, YouTube®, Amazon and Twitter are just some of the better known examples. But even small, fairly simple websites can benefit massively from these developments, especially as implementation has become far easier and costs have fallen (See CMS below).

Content Management System (CMS)

A Content Management System is a special category of a Database/Middleware application, designed primarily to allow a ‘standard’ website to be easily updated and maintained.

The application model is similar to a desktop application in that it offers a simple interface for making edits and updates to a website. A website’s editor for example, is able to ‘login’ to their CMS application via the Web, make editorial changes and have them instantly update on the public website. Having a CMS included as part of their website’s development, has become a standard requirement for many people, as it makes it easier for maintenance tasks to be done in-house and gives them greater overall control.

Other advantages of a CMS, is that they make it easier to include interactive functionality on your website. This interactivity could include feedback forms and surveys, event calendars, blogs and forums, member’s protected content, etc.

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Before even considering the practical aspects of creating a website, there are some important fundamental questions you need to ask yourself first. For example, what do we want to achieve through this website, and who exactly is this website for? Who’s our target audience, and how do we best communicate with that audience? What information needs to be included, and how should that information be structured, etc, etc?

The fact is, the more planning & preparation you do, the easier it is to make informed decisions on technological or design issues; like deciding the best way for the ‘visitor’ to navigate your website or choosing the right hosting package.

Another advantage of thorough planning comes when you bring in the professionals; you can save a great deal of time (and money) by having everything ready and in place for them.

Main Aims:

First, you need to consider the central aims of your website and what approach is needed to best translate those aims.

A few examples of the kind of things you might want to answer. Not a definitive list!

  • What are we hoping to achieve?
  • Who’s our target audience?
  • What catergory, if any, does our site fall into: ecommerce, informational, educational, social networking, etc.
  • How visually exciting does it need to be to be effective?
  • What tone do we want our content to convey, could it be serious or witty, complex or simple?
  • Are we trying to raise money or sell something?
  • What conventions should the website follow, if any?
  • Does it need to be a interactive, two-way application?
  • What overall ‘image’ of our organisation do we want to communicate?
  • What media is best suited to carry the information, e.g. does it require sound or moving images?
  • etc …

Site Content & Information Structure

Having established the basic aims of your website, you need now to consider how the content (text, images, etc) should be organised and structured. These considerations will of course at some point need to take account of the type of web technologies you might want to make use of – See Web Technologies. But to start with it is a good idea to try and find websites with similar aims to yours, to see how they’ve designed and organised their content. What have they done well and what have they done that could be improved upon?

Probably the most important aspect of website ‘structural design’ is how you breakdown the content into logical sections (Main Areas, Pages, Headers, Sub-Headers, Lists, etc). As a general rule, things should be kept short and sweet. You need to create a strong hierarchy for the site and breakdown content into small units.

It is a good idea to create a graphical schema/flowchart/sitemap for the site. This can help you visualise a logical hierarchy, and to see how easily information will be accessed. It will also help others to understand how your website is structured.

Generic Sitemap, Site Schema:

schema

Navigation And ‘Usability’

The modern website can now include a whole spectrum of functionality and application usages. Think of web applications like Facebook, Google Maps, Flickr, and YouTube. As the complexity of a website increases, so does the importance of its ‘usability’. Usability, as the name suggests, is the attention paid to how easy or not, a website is to use.

The usability of a website may sound simple and obvious, but it needs to be kept under constant consideration as part of your planning. You never want the situation where your visitor’s are thinking “okay, so what do I do now?”

A major aspect of usability for a website is the need for people to be able to find what they want, and quickly. Logical, practical and sensible Navigation is essential if your site is to succeed.

Present clear, consistent, well-ordered Navigation (main menus, primary links to pages), and include Sub-Navigation if necessary. Include Search facilities too if you have a large site that include forums, blogs etc.

Conventional Primary and Sub-Navigation Layout:

layout

Within individual pages, separate content further using lots of headers, sub headers, lists, short paragraphs, etc. Try to make the hierarchy explicit using colour schemes, icons, font sizes, spacing, etc. Try to avoid overly long scrolling pages (like this one).

Finally, include lots of context based links (links within text) to other pages on your site, cross referencing is something the web is particularly good at.

Writing For The Web

It needs to be remembered that the web is different from other communication media. So it is not recommended for example, that you just transfer existing print media unedited, directly to the web. Website pages or ‘areas’ need to be self-contained to a large extent, as users may not ‘read’ the site in a linear way, like they might a print brochure.

Generally people don’t read text based web content the same way they do print, they tend to be more impatient! A common approach is to have a ‘overview’ and ‘details’ structure to a site, giving people a choice in how deep they want to delve. You can use a ‘Main’ and ‘Sub’ Navigation structure to achieve this. Remember also to consider the use of other presentation media – Illustration, Images, Animation, Audio, or even Video.

As mentioned above (Site Content & Structure), an important part of writing for the web is breaking down texts into smaller, more easily digestible parts.

It is no accident that the software you use to view websites is called a ‘Browser’. Many use the web in a similar way to reading a magazine, as opposed to reading a complex in-depth document. Your writing needs to reflect this, so in many cases a website should be seen as a means of introducing the ideas you are trying to communicate to people.

If you already have texts in print form and you want to transfer them to the web, consider rewriting them using a ‘web style’. If there are long, dense, passages of text that need to be included on your website, give the user the option of also downloading a printable version of these documents (PDF, DOC, RTF).

Writing For Search Engines

There is another important consideration when writing for the web, one that relates most importantly to your site’s ‘homepage’. The ‘homepage’ is the entry point for your website, the page that automatically appears when people first arrive at your website. This page is important because it can be used to help people that are trying, through the use of ‘Search Engines’, to find your website.

Search Engines use the content of your ‘homepage’ to determine what your website is about. It then uses this information and matches it to ‘ search phrases’. So in writing your homepage you need to consider what search phrases might be used by someone trying to find a website similar to yours. You then need to make sure these same phrases are included in the text of your website’s homepage. This is covered in greater detail in: Promoting A Website.

This idea of matching ‘search phrases’ or ‘key phrases’ can be applied to all the pages on your website, but your homepage is definitely the place to begin.

For more on Search Engines See: Promoting A Website

Design/Technological Considerations

The overall look of your website is extremely important. Even before reading a single line of text, visitors will form a opinion about your organisation based on how they interpret the visual aspects of your website’s design – colours, shapes, density, hardness, softness, animated, static, type-faces, relative sizing, etc, etc.

Notice the order of this ‘Planning’ page; and where the idea of ‘Design’ is first mentioned? Many people make the mistake of thinking about visual design as the first step of the ‘website development’ process. Don’t! You can’t think about design until you know what it is you’re designing. Content considerations and site structure always come first.

The basic building block for creating most web pages is HTML (Hyper Text Mark-Up Language). This allows for a basic rendering of static text and images. Everything else you see on the web is using technologies that have been ‘bolted on’ to this foundation.

You should not make any assumptions about the cost of designing and developing a website. Make sure you consult with your designer/developer as to what can be achieved and at what price. Some things that are easy and cheap to do in other media, may not be for the web.

See: Web Technologies

Site Maintenance & Updates

When formulating the structure and design for your website, you need to consider who and how it is going to be maintained. Depending on the nature of the website, changes and updates may need to be made on a daily basis. Will these updates, etc, be made in-house? What level of expertise is required to do this?

A website should have a structure that reflects the level of expertise of those who’ll be responsible for maintaining it.

When you pass your plans on to a web development specialist, make sure they are aware of your proposed site maintenance strategy, so that this can be taken into consideration as part of the development.

Consider also ‘future proofing’ your website. This means your site having a built-in ability to expand. You don’t want to have to rebuild the site again from the ground up, every time you have a new idea you want to add to it.

If you have neither the time or confidence to do a great deal of planning yourself, your web designer can do the whole thing for you. This will obviously make your website more costly to develop. Ultimately, the more help you give your web designer the easier it will be for them to develop the website you want.

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