How does a website work?

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How does a website work

If you’ve never built a website before, you first question is probably, “How does a website work?”

Whenever I’m contacted by new potential website owners, I like to share diagrams and outlines to explain the process and what goes into building a site. Some people come to me who already have either a sketch, or a list of things they’d like, or a few website links of websites they like – and this is a great start. Others come to me and just “want a website” but don’t really mind what it looks like.

One of my recent clients was very surprised to discover that I was able to create a feature-rich website with 11 pages — all from one page of information he’d provided, plus a couple of photos. I love a challenge, and love seeing the look of surprise and excitement when these new website owners see their site for the first time 🙂

So here is a list of information which might help you, if you’re wondering how all this works – whether it’s difficult, easy or a bunch of hocus pocus or mumbo-jumbo 🙂  Let me know what you think, and especially if you still have questions.

If there’s anything here you don’t understand, please do contact me (form at the bottom of the page, or Contact link in the Menu above) and I’ll do my best to help you.

Things to consider:

  • how does a website work with domains – and do I own it outright?
  • how does a website work with hosting, and what IS hosting?
  • how does a website work with software, images, photos, etc?
  • how does a website work best with a Theme or design?

Want to know the absolute basics of how a website works?

OK – ready to jump in feet first? Let’s look at the image above, read the four main things required to create a website online, and then read below for more details:

  • a domain name – this is like owning your own street “address” and paying a yearly fee for it
  • a hosting space – this is like paying monthly “rental” for a physical space, shop or an office
  • a website – this is like the interior of the shop or office space
  • a website design or Theme – this is like the front plate glass window, painting and design of your overall “look and feel” of the store or shop (for your website).

Need a store / shop?

If you are building a Store online, you might also need:

  • website store software
  • a Paypal account for online transaction processing (collecting money from shoppers)
  • if you do not have a Paypal account, your web designer might set this up for you – please ask them to quote a price so you know all your expenses up front.

Depending on any additional requirements for functionality you might want for your website, you might also add:

  • additional software modules or Plugins (bits of software) to add forms, business directory, calendar, booking schedule, analytics, and much much more
  • by providing a detailed list of what you want, your web designer will be able to provide a detailed Quotation (the MORE detailed you are, the more CONCISE the quotation will be)
  • if you are on a budget, you will be able to pick and choose the technology and functionality you can afford.

Make a list of what you like about OTHER websites

“Teena, can’t you just create 5 to 10 mock-ups of a website for me??”

True story. A potential website client approached me about 6 months ago, but didn’t have any information to give me for their proposed website — they said, “Before I pay you any money, just mock up (or create) 5-10 website “looks” for me, include a few information pages with each one (about me page, products etc), and then let’s get together and look at them.”

Whoa! This request could potentially be several days worth of work, with no guarantee the potential client will sign on the dotted line.

In case you’re not aware, this is not how website design works, so let me help clarify. This is like saying to the Dentist, “I like white shiny teeth. Before I decide to use your services, just spend a ton of time and create a few sets of teeth for me to look at soon. If I like any of them, I might choose them. If not, I’ll ask you to spend more of your time and come up with ideas for me.”

This is also like going to a grocery store and saying, “I’ve got 10 items in my basket, but I won’t pay you today. I’d like to check these out first and see what I think. Once I know what I think, I’ll be able to decide what to do next.” Would YOU like to try this out, and let me know what happens? I’ve got a fair idea what that conversation might be like.

Can you see how this potential client’s expectations are quite high, and how they expect work done for free in advance of hiring the web designer (or the dentist)?

The ideal situation is if the client does their research and lets the web designer know about a couple of website links to look at — together they can view several other site designs the client already likes, then they can quickly work out which bits the client likes most from each website. It’s also customary to pay a Deposit in advance (anywhere from 30-60% up front, depending on the web designer’s requirements.

TIP! When you approach a web designer, ask THEM how their process works with a new website client — rather than tell them what you expect. Once you know what their process is, you’ll be able to work together for the best solution for your site.

If the client really doesn’t know what they want, some web designers will create a simple site for the client (after they pay their deposit), and offer one or two rounds of changes included in the final price. The scenario works quite well for many people.

Before you visit a web designer or arrange a Skype or phone meeting, it’s a good idea to have a bit of an idea about what you want. You can work out every little thing you’d like on the website, make a list of each piece of technology so that your web designer can give you a Quotation on:

  • buying the domain if required
  • setting up the domain so that it is connected with the website’s Hosting Account
  • setting up the Hosting Account
  • installing the website software
  • purchasing (if required) a Theme or installing a free Theme.

“How does a website work with Lead Generation?” – Gathering email names legally on the site

If you’d like to collect web visitors’ names and email names, you’ll need:

  • an online account with a Mailing List & Autoresponder Company like Aweber
  • someone to help you set up the “look and feel”/design of your Newsletter
  • an irresistible offer to give in exchange for an email name, which could be a content-filled PDF, video series or other type of information which has a high perceived value for your website visitor
  • if you don’t already have an account like this, your web designer might set this up for you – please ask them to quote a price so you know all your expenses up front.

“How does a website work with photos and images?”

If you have images (or photos) for your website:

  • you will need to provide digital images and photos in a special format like .jpg or .gif or .png, in order for your website designer to be able to use them
  • if you do not have digital images, your web designer will have to convert them to a digital format before they can put them on the website – ask to make sure if there is a cost involved; some web designers will convert one or two images per page for free, but might charge an hourly rate for more than that
  • if you need a Photo Gallery, let the web designer know to install if this is additional software
  • if you do not have ANY images or photos, your web designer should be able to source them for you, but do not put any images or photos on your website unless you have written authority that they are copyright-free and royalty-free, otherwise you could be fined anywhere from hundreds to many thousands of dollars in copyright-infringement fees by the owners of the images or photos
  • never use images you “copy” or steal from Google searchs (or any other search engine) as you do not own these photos and have no legal right to use them (unless you have researched the copyright status and royalty status in advance, and paid whatever is required).

Audio and video files on the website

If you want to add videos or audio files (or podcasts) to your website, talk to your web designer so they can provide you with the information you need and a quotation if required:

  • if you need to source these, your web designer should be able to help.

Need extra functionality on the site?

Additional things to be aware of:

if you ask your website designer to add functionality to your site:

  • consider that it’s possible they’ve either never had to find software like this before or never used software like this before
  • consider that it may take them some time to research and locate, then test multiple types of software before they find exactly what you’re looking for
  • they may need to show you different options before you can make your choice
  • all of this takes time, and time is money, so be prepared to pay for this entire process as your web designer has had to spend the time on your behalf.

Getting the site launched online and visible to the world

After the website is created:

  • once you accept the website design and the site’s been installed and launched, you will be required to make the final payment
  • once the final payment is made, your web designer or developer generally provides you with :
    • the Login and Password for the website’s Admin area – also known as the Dashboard
    • the Login and Password for a web statistics or analytics account has been set up
    • the Login and Password for your Hosting Account
    • the Login and Password for your Domain Name (if you did not already have this) so that you can update your address and other detailes whenever you need to
    • the Login and Password for your Paypal account if required
    • the Login and Password for anything else for which you’ve asked for installation or implementation.

“How does the monthly fee work for websites?”

“My hosting was so cheap I can’t believe it!” Famous last words

True story. I was recently helping a client with SEO and online marketing strategies, and over a period of 5 business days the website was “down” (offline”) for 30-60 minutes at a time each day. When I asked where the site was hosted, I found out they’d got a “real bargain!” … but with so many “down” periods, this was hurting their business.

Be aware that if you pay the absolute cheapest hosting fees, you may not get the absolute best service – yes there are some fantastic website hosting companies who don’t charge a lot of money, but please do your research first before going with the cheapest price. Look online for negative comments about the hosting company and “up time”.

Every time the site was “down”, visitors couldn’t find this chap’s website, which can result in lost business and lost opportunities. Make sure you have a well-known reliable hosting company, do your research to make sure they have an excellent record and very few (if any) bad reviews about them online.

Depending on your web designer and how they structure their web design business:

  • you will need to pay this either monthly, quarterly or yearly
  • you may need to pay a monthly amount which also covers Support or one-on-one training or updates (this is a good way to make sure all your small updates, changes and training can happen each month as you gain more confidence with your website, and while you’ve still got your “training wheels” on
  • this is also a good practice for those who are extremely busy and don’t have the time to make their own website edits – they can contact the web designer to do these for them on a monthly basis
  • this is exactly what happens with my clients – their Monthly Hosting Fee also covers 30 minutes of my time each month – we can meet in person, over the phone, via Skype or email and I can update their site, make changes, research new products for them, or a whole host of other tasks. Oh – I might also train them on how to do something they want to learn on the computer, or I might make a video tutorial for them – we work out what they need, and then I help them. It’s a win-win for us both as we keep in touch on a monthly basis and they get things done on their website which really need doing.

Things which you definitely should NOT have on your website:

  • anything which flashes, rolls or scrolls — or looks like ticker-tape — which is going to be annoying for everyone who visit your site
  • music which starts playing automatically – argggggh
  • videos which start playing automatically – very annoying.

Just to let you know, this isn’t a complete or exhaustive list of absolutely everything – each website requires different functionality and options, some of which you might not even think of until it’s been developed and launched online. This is mostly a list of what’s been needed on websites I’ve developed for new clients, so they’re fresh in my mind 🙂

Your Say

I hope that wasn’t way too much information! Did you find this helpful, or a bit overwhelming? I hope I’ve been able to make it a bit easier to answer the question, “How does a website work?” and as always, I’d love your comments and feedback if you’d like to share any stories of your own.

Ciao for now,

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Teena Hughes



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