Websites are not hard to build and maintain

"Websites are not hard to build" I hear you say "What??". Well it is true. At one time this was not the case. You needed years of training to understand and use programming languages and code.  But as with many things, this field of expertise has changed radically. Originally a single person needed to be able to build a site from nothing - to a fully functional and polished finished product. They not only created the framework that powered the site, but its appearance, its color and theme, its integration with external features and so on.

Now this task has been broken down into many separate specialized fields.

  • We have the coders that create the framework or platform.
  • We have the designers that create the aesthetic appearance.
  • We have SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) experts that tweek everything to make it findable on the web.
  • The image optimization specialists.
  • The graphics specialists and so many more.

The progression can be similar to what happened in the medical field from early days till now.

  • In the beginning we had witch doctors, some worked with superstition, some gradually learned natural healing.
  • Later a few people became interested in anatomy from which they learned basic medical knowledge.
  • As we moved forward we had doctors to help people across the full range of ailments.
  • Then some moved to specialize in
  • surgery,
  • some as pharmacologists
  • some as anaesthetists
  • and so on.
    As our knowledge grew there was too much for any single person to  know. We now have specialist in every field of the human body.
  • So it is with websites.

Websites became layered. That is to say, each area of specialty became a module that built on top of the previous to enhance it. This effectively made a website an assembly of modules of function. Each could be accessed separately and changed separately. Yes they did have to follow certain parameters and protocols to talk to each other without conflict. Conventions were created for this purpose. Also many tools have been developed to automate a lot of the work and replace the heavy - often repetitive - previously done manually by coders.Websites are not hard to build and maintain. 1

Nowadays you can start with a CMS or Content Management System like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal to build a website. The CMS is like the Framework of code and basic functions that make up a website. The three i mention here are all known as Open Source software. They are free to download, use, change and share. No cost involved. They make up a large percentage of all websites on the internet today.

WordPress is the most popular because of its ease of use and flexibility to make any type of website you desire.

WordPress is very powerful out of the box.  But just like a new house, it needs paint on the walls, curtains on the windows, you have to connect the power and water, fit out the rooms with furnishings, put up a postbox at the end of the driveway to accept mail, etc. We are all capable of doing those things given a little time. Some things cost money, some just cost us out time. If it is our first house there is a learning curve associated with that. We can spend some time and learn the ropes. We all have some degree of time and some degree of money large or small. We decide which to use for any given task. If our time is at a premium we pay someone to do it.

With WordpresS the workfLow is:-

  • Rent a space for it to live on a Hosting company server (block of land)
  • Buy a Domain Name something to call it all your own. (Sign above the door)
  • Install the free WordPress open source package on your hosting space. (Your new house)
  • Customize it to reflect your unique appearance (Paint the walls, hang the curtains)
  • Install some plugins to add functionality like security, backups, mail service (Letterbox at the end of the driveway)
  • Write some content pages and posts (ongoing), add some images for interest. (furnishing the rooms)

So my analogy sounds quite easy, "But we are talking about computer code not bricks and mortar"

True, but it's not so scary. We have all the tools we need. Many of them free. Most of them have a user interface that separates us from needing to write or manipulate code. All of them you can pay someone to install and setup if you just want to skip ahead quickly. Same as with the house.

Basic costs for a website

So a hosting company will cost $5 a month upwards. There are many good deals out there on reputable hosts for shared hosting. Shared hosting is plenty adequate to start with. It may be all you need long term. Depending on you vision for your site and how it grows long term. Many can be as little as $3-5 per month for the first year and then revert to normal pricing. Always check what the regular pricing is that it will revert to.

At the time of writing BlueHost (a reliable popular wordpress host) was offering $3.85 per month, reverting to $7.95 per month after the first year. Some companies offer similar discount rates at startup but revert to $14.95 per month thereafter. So be vigilant. I'm not saying they are not offering good service. I'm just saying look at what your budget will be comfortable with long term. And don't forget you can always change hosts if things don't work out with the one you first chose.

You need to get a Domain Name. This will be like your address and unique to you. Domain names are like car registration. You have to pay it annually. You get the number plate to hang on your car, but only own them as long as you pay the registration. Domain names should be bought from a registered domain name seller like NameCheap. They have promotions from time to time for some categories of names. But I suggest you get a 'TLD' (Top-Level-Domain) name which would be one ending in .com. Regula cost annually $12-15.

Next we Install the free WordPress open source package on your hosting space. (Your new house) No cost. The package rolls out with its own installer, we fill in some start-up details - including our new Domain Name - our contact email, our name as the admin for the site access - and then press go. We have a website live on the web.

In the scenario above we created a website live on the web. It has a monetary cost annually of $12-15 for a Domain name and $46.20 (12 x 3.85) Hosting annually. Obviousely the hosting is calculated on the first year promotion price which would then revert to $95.40 on subsequent years using BlueHost as the example. So lets say total annual cost $60 for the first year then $120 for subsequent years.

How do I manage and work on my site

Our site has a front end which the public see, and a back end where we manage everything and create content. Picture it like watching TV. As a member of the public, you would turn on the TV and watch the programs as they display, "don't like the program?" change the channel. That is the Front End. We don't see what goes on behind the scenes, We don't see the TV studio where the staff work serving up the programs and get them to air. Many of these people are using electronic and computerized equipment to perform their duties. They are trained to use the equipment to perform their duties, but many are not technicians, they dont know what makes the machine tick, just which buttons to push. They use the equipment and it performs the "heavy lifting". That is the Back end or Admin.

WordPress is the same. The public front end is available for all to see. If they don't like the channel, they click on a different page on your site or navigate to a new website.

The Back end or Admin of your site is like the TV Studio. It's where it is all managed and created. Again, all the equipment is accessed here to get your show to air. It has the interface where you push the buttons, and it sends the right messages to make everything happen. No code writing. You can install Plugins to add new functionality or themes to change appearance, all without knowing any code. It is a secure part of your site only you can access.

Customize or Decorate our new Site

So we have the keys to our new house. We now need to customise and decorate it.

Now for most of us we have been visualizing all along how we might like it to look.
(don't worry if you don't know, you can try everything and change at will till you find the right look)

  • We know if we want a big welcoming picture at the top.
  • Our site name in big words, or not.
  • A menu with various headings leading to other pages.
  • Our Blog with recent posts.
  • Contact information to reach us.
  • An about page telling our story.
  • A gallery of photos.
  • Links to our social media pages so people can give us likes and shares.

We must start by choosing a theme. A Theme is like a "Skin" that maps the layout and appearance of a site. It governs the shape, size and location of all the elements that will makeup the visual appearance of your site. WordPress ships with a default Theme. Each year (most years) they include a new theme. This year it is called "Twenty-Nineteen" and it is what you will see first time you go to your site.

All themes are very bare until you start to customize and add content. Once we choose a theme that has the appearance we like, we then customize it. Customization starts in the "Customizer".

WordPress has a theme directory built in. You can choose from thousands of free (4030) and paid themes. Once you have chosen the one you like, you download and install it from the interface. Most will also appear quite bare once installed as they wont have any content yet. A few come with sample content as a starting point which you then change to your own content. Dont worry, it all changes very quickly once you start customizing it.Themes

Remember, Content is all the things you write and add to your site. This includes images , pages, posts, videos etc. Content is kept separate in your wordpress website installation. If you add Plugins, change Themes or make wholesale changes - your content is remains safe. You can upload and activate a new Theme template and all you content remains unchanged. The way it appears may change to match the new Theme - but it is never lost. This is great - it allows you to try different themes while looking to find the one that rocks your world. You are never starting from scratch like the first time user. Just changing the look.

Most Themes address the items we listed above. They allow for you to create each of those areas of your site. Whether you set up your site on your own or pay someone to get it up and running for you - you will be the one creating and managing the content. Dont worry -If you can write an email then you can write content. And the rest will come just as easily.

If you have any questions or need someone to set up your site, send me a email or leave a comment below.

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