Website technologies explained and terminology decoded.

Ever since I’ve started putting websites together I’ve had the same basic questions posed to me from clients, here is an overview of the basics put in plain English.

Hosting: The very first thing you need to put a site live on the internet is hosting.  In Ireland there are a good number of reputable hosting companies but blacknight and hosting365 are probably the most popular of these.  Hosting is basically disk space on a server that is shared by many customers (though you can purchase a dedicated server if necessary). A reasonably decent hosting package can be purchased for around 50 euro, which will include several gigabytes of data transfer a month, several gigabytes of disk space. Most hosting packages include PHP, MySql and Email, which I will explain below.

Domain Name: Hosting is not much good if you do not have a domain name that directs users to your site.  Generally Irish businesses should purchase a .ie domain if their target market is Irish, however .com versions of domains are generally the most sought after.  Irish domain names are more expensive than others because there is a body called the IEDR (IE domain registrar), which administers domain names on an application process.  For most .ie domains the domain must be approved before a hosting company can put it live.  Once a domain is purchased it must then be configured to point at your hosting.  This is generally done by changing the name servers that the domain points to.

HTML + CSS: HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are internet software languages that describe how a web page looks.  HTML deals with individual elements on a web page such as headings, paragraphs, images etc. whereas CSS specifically detail how these elements look. For example, a heading’s font size, colour, typeface etc. can be set via CSS.

HTTP: This is the means by which pages are requested over the web and delivered to browsers.  HTTP stands for Hypertext Transport Protocol and whenever you type in http://www.whatever… and click go you are starting a HTTP request, which finishes when the entire page is downloaded and displayed by your browser.

PHP: PHP is a common programming language used to process web requests. Every time you type a HTTP web address (URL) into a browser and sometimes when you click a button on a web site, a web request is made to a web server.  Sometimes this web request does more than just return a web page. Sometimes the request activates a program on the server to perform some activity. For example, we’ve all signed up to newsletters on websites. When you click a button to sign up, the web server will activate a program on the server to process the email address and sign them up to a newsletter database, it may then send out an email to the user to confirm that they have been subscribed.  All this can be done via a programming language called PHP. There are many software languages that can be used besides PHP such as C# and ASP.Net, Java and JSP etc.

MySQL: This is a common database technology available on ALL decent server hosting packages. Often databases full of content and users are stored on the server.  PHP and MySql often work together as PHP performs the processing functionality and MySQL provides the storage facility.

CMS: A CMS or Content Management System is a web based software application that you can log into to edit the content on your website, be it simply the text on the site, images or other media files. WordPress and Joomla are two very popular open source CMSs

Blogs: A blog is short for a web log.  Many people out there have decided to write and talk about whatever subject tickles their fancy on the web via blog services such as blogger and wordpress. Blogs are simply content management systems that focus on managing posts by time and date.  So effectively blogs are online diaries, where the diary entries are web pages managed by the blogging software.

RSS: RSS is a technology used to transfer snippets of a page to subscribed users so that they might come back to a website. RSS is often used with blogs to let people and other websites know that an update has been made. RSS is also used with pod-casts.

Podcasts: Pod-casts are snippets of audio, video that are sent out to subscribers via RSS.  Users subscribed receive a short note on the content and can then download the content via link supplied.

SEO: Search Engine Optimisation is the process by which a websites Search Engine Results Page performance is monitored and improved over time. This is generally a two step process of ensuring the content on a site is readable by the search engine and that the content best matches what potential customers are searching for, followed by a link strategy whereby inward links to the site are actively sought out. Google utilises a ranking system which gives a site a measure of importance between 0 and 10 which is called Page Rank. In general if two sites match a search query exactly, then page rank will decide which page comes back first on the search results page.

SEM: Search Engine Marketing is a combination of SEO and Internet Advertising. To back up an SEO strategy a company may also purchase ads from companies such as Google. With Google users can set up Adwords campaigns, which allow the customer to bid on key words and phrases that they think people might used to find their products or services. Once a Adwords campaign is set up and running, ads will appear on the google search pages and on other websites that have chosen to show ads via the AdSense programme.  Ads are paid for whenever a potential customer clicks on an ad and is brought to the web page.

So that’s the major bread and butter technologies tackled, please let me know via comments if I have omitted something major.

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