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Creating a Website

There is now more choice than ever when it comes to building an affordable web presence. Before the commercial success of the internet many businesses could simply not afford to market their products and service on an international or even national scale. Now for just a few pounds per month you can reach every developed nation in the world and tell them about your products and services. In fact with the proliferation of social media some business find they don't need a website at all and can reach their audience entirely through the rich set of social media services available today.

What can a website do for our business?

At a basic level a website can simply be your online business card, it can display your contact details, a brief summary of the products or services you offer along with a number of examples. Alternatively you could create a fully enabled Ecommerce solution to take payments online, process orders, track stock levels, calculate delivery times, respond to queries, communicate with suppliers and track your key financials. The extent to which you embrace these technologies is very much dependent on your budget, resources and the nature of your business.

The ever increasing complexity and intuitiveness of web technology has meant that businesses can dramatically streamline their operations, making their processes more efficient and less demanding on human resources. This means that the people within the business can be more creative in devising new services and seeking out their customers without been burdened by repetitive uninspiring jobs.

On the other hand what a website cannot do is guarantee instant business success. There is so much content on the web now that you simply cannot afford to have a substandard website, people just don't have the time to wade through cluttered dysfunctional websites, if you can't get your prospects attention in a few seconds then you've lost an opportunity.

What does a website consist off?

To create a website for your business you will need the following:
  • A domain name. This is the address that your users will type in to their address bar to navigate to your website e.g. You can register a domain for as little as £6.00 per year.
  • A host. The host is a computer much like the one you are using now but without a screen, keyboard and mouse, it is often referred to as a server. The computer will store your website along with a number of others (shared hosting) and its sole purpose is to serve web pages when it receives a request from individuals surfing the web. Most companies hire a hosting company to provide this functionality. Or you can now use one of the large public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azue
  • Web authoring software. This is a software package that runs on your computer and can be used to generate web content and programmable systems. The software you run will depend on the programming language you decide to adopt.
  • Data Store. You need somewhere to store all the data related to your business, there are a multitude of ways you can do this from a relational database and No SQL tables to simple files and directories. Your website can quickly start consuming storage capacity, but fortunately there are some great tools to outsource the complexity of storing large volumes of data

Most new businesses have a tight budget when it comes to marketing their brand. Fortunately you do not need to spend a fortune when deploying a new website. There are companies on the internet who can offer a simple cost effective way to create and host a website, so how is this done?

Well basically these companies will charge you a small fee to register a domain for you and then they will provide you with access to a program that runs on their website and allows you to generate the web pages for your website. The online software is designed to be very easy to use and offers a WYSIWYG interface (What You See Is What You Get... pronounced Wizzy-Wig). The company will then charge you an ongoing monthly fee to host your website (usually between £10 - £30 depending on features).

Let's consider some of the Pros and Cons to this type of service.

  • Small setup fees
  • Easy to use
  • A quick way to get online
  • Limited design and functionality
  • Slower speed due to shared hosting
  • Hiring a web consultancy

This is typically the more expensive approach but will often deliver the most functionality and professionalism to the end result. A web consultancy will design and build your website to your specification, you choose the colour scheme branding and features and then leave the rest to one of their web developers. Often you will still need to find a suitable hosting company and register your chosen domain name in order to publish the website.

If you are taking this approach it is important to familiarise yourself with exactly what you are getting for your money, have a clear specification and try to consult with your developer at regular intervals.

  • Professional service
  • Built to your specification
  • No need to buy your own web authoring software or learn how to create web pages.
  • A more expensive approach.
  • Can be difficult to communicate your requirements particularly if you have little or no experience.
  • Can be costly to keep the site up to date and implement changes.
  • Doing it yourself

If you have the time and commitment then building your own website can be the best way to get exactly what you want from your online business without spending a fortune. Doing it yourself will teach you valuable skills that you can use to update and expand your web presence in the future. There is currently a wide selection of software and programming languages available for developing and deploying a website.

Choosing a Host

There are an abundance of hosting companies out there who can offer a home for your website, many of these companies are advertising their services within a similar price range so how do you know which one to go with? It can be a difficult decision to make but here are a few things to consider:

Shared or Dedicated?
The biggest factor that is likely to affect the cost of your hosting package is whether you opt for shared or dedicated hosting. Shared hosting is often significantly cheaper than dedicated hosting and will mean that your website will be located on the same server as around 10 - 20 other sites. A dedicated hosting package will consist of a server that will only be used to manage your website. If you are very confident managing your own website and infrastructure you can even rent rack space and slot in your own servers. This option is referred to as Co-Location, or COLO for short.

Although the technology and features available on each type of server is generally the same a dedicated/COLO host will offer improved performance, greater support and minimum service level guarantees.

In the last few years a whole range of cloud based services have appeared from big players in the market like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. We would certainly recommend that you look at what these platforms can offer, there are many world-class web services such as Netflix and Dropbox that are built on top of the infrastructure provided through these platforms.

Windows or Linux?
Each server has an operating system just like any other PC. The type of operating system installed on the server will determine what type of programming languages and third party components can be utilised on the server. Both variants support html and Javascript as these are client-side languages, however when it comes to server-side languages, this is where the similarity ends. Just to clarify server-side languages allow a webpage to access features that are specific to the server and allow for advanced data manipulation before the resulting page is delivered to the web browser. ASP and ASP.NET are languages that are native to Windows and will only run on a Windows operating system. PHP, Ruby and Python however are alternative languages designed to run on the Linux operating system. The operating system that you choose for your server will be dependent on which language you choose to learn (if any? remember you only need to use a server-side language if you are looking to create more dynamic websites, for simple graphics and text based sites either operating system will be fine). For a more detailed explanation of the key differences between Windows and Linux be sure to look here the following guide.

Other Hosting features to consider

Before you go off and make your decision, here are a few other things you might like to consider:

Database access. If you are looking to store and manipulate information on your website then you will need a database. Databases are used frequently to store all kinds of information relating to customers, stock availability, transactions, queries or any type of data that will be captured and reused within your business. A basic database is Access (Part of the Microsoft Office family). You may have used Access on your desktop but it can also be used within a web environment. Access however has severe limitations when handling larger volumes of information that is queried on a regular basis. For serious web applications you may want to consider using Microsoft SQL Server, MYSQL, Oracle or even a NOSQL solution like Mongo, each of which utilise a more reliable and robust architecture for higher volume transactions.

Storage space. This is the amount of space reserved on the hard drive of your server for holding your website. Even the cheapest web hosting services offer acres of space so this may not initially be a huge concern. Also as web pages are intended to be viewed over a low bandwidth network a small footprint is often inherent to the design of the individual pages (a 100 page site could effectively take up only 3 - 4 megabytes). For durable storage we would recommend you look at Amazon S3 or Microsoft Blob Storage, these solutions are highly scalable so you won't be constantly running out of space on your web server.

POP3 Email. When you register your domain name with your hosting company they will usually provide you with a number of inboxes to store your emails. Often these inboxes are allocated to the individuals with your business e.g. [email protected] You can also use 3rd party services like SendGrid (for transactional emails) and MailChimp (for bulk mailing lists).

Website Statistics. When people start visiting your website the server will automatically record the IP address of the user, which pages they viewed, the time they requested each page and where they came from. This information is stored in large text files called server logs. The server logs are not very easy to read however most hosting companies provide a free online tool to read the raw data from your server logs and display it in to nicely formatted tables and charts. These days rather than trawling the server logs it's easier just to add a snippet of code to each page and use a service like Google Analytics that will provide a rich set of data on your visitors, search keywords and browsing behavior.

Secure Socket Layer (SSL). SSL uses 128/256bit encryption to beef up the security on certain critical areas of your website where sensitive information is being exchanged (e.g. credit card details). If you've ever noticed the little padlock that appears in your browser when you are supplying credit card information this is SSL at work. Pages that use SSL start with https:// rather than http://.

Load Balancing. Load balancing is a method use to distribute traffic across multiple servers under periods of high demand. This is a technique typically employed by highly trafficked sites to minimise lag during busy periods.

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