|Many of our friends -- both those in ministry work and commercial organisations -- ask us the question, "How do we set up a website?" This page seeks to answer some of these questions, especially for simpler sites.
Deciding What You Want
The first and most important thing you need to decide is the most important:
- What do you want to accomplish in a website?
- What are your goals for the site?
- How will the website help your organisation?
- What kind of materials do you have presently that you can put up on the site?
- What is your intended audience?
Answering these questions is critical for a successful website.
What You Need to Get Started
Whether you are planning on doing a website by yourself or having someone else do it, there are several elements that need to be involved. We're going to stick with simple, "static" websites, although many of these apply to sites with dynamic content as well. What you need to plan for is the following:
- Domain name, the ".com", ".org", or whatever that names the site. You can either obtain this from the web hosting service (see next point) or independently; our favourite is register.com.
- Web hosting service. A web site is nothing more than a collection of files that people download to their computers through a web browser and view. In order for people to see or hear these files, they need to be where they can be accessed. A web hosting service does just that. Many ISP's such as Earthlink or WingNet offer web hosting. Other organisations, such as 1 and 1 (the hosting service for this site) specialise in web hosting. They usually offer several plans; if you're just starting out, a basic plan with about 1 GB of space is usually adequate.
- Web authoring software. For static sites, this basically sets up a "master" of the site on your computer and then you use FTP (file transfer protocol) to update what's on your web hosting service. The three leading programs for this are:
- Adobe GoLive (what was used with this site)
- Microsoft FrontPage (simple to use, but produces very heavy, long-downloadng pages)
- Macromedia Dreamweaver
Note: if you're interested in working with non-Roman characters (Arabic, Cyrillic, etc.), your ability to use these depends on the computer's operating system.
Also, we offer many Java applets to help spice up your site. This includes one for secure ecommerce. Click here for more details.
- Graphics software. Any decent website has good quality graphics. If you have the budget for it, the best graphics software is of course Adobe Photoshop. If your budget is tight, The Gimp is excellent, especially for web graphics.
- Video and Audio editing software. If you want to put either of these online, you'll need the same kind of software you use to rip CD's, process your digital movies, etc.. You need to use compressed file formats such as mp3, mpeg and QuickTime to make sure you don't run out of space before you run out of multimedia content. For audio, Audacity is free for recording and editing audio files.
Once you've gotten past getting graphic and html files up on the web, the next step is active content. What is active content? This term covers content that changes as the browser interacts with the web server. For example, if you click on the "contact us" page and submit the form, the server takes it and sends it to our email address. No matter whether you use the open source solution (php, what is used on this site,) Micro$oft's (asp,) or someone else's, what you're talking about is programming. Even if you use a "canned" routine, some knowledge of programming is required. This is where someone who does this all the time can be helpful to you. We list a few of our favourite scripts here.
Some examples of active content are as follows:
- Email lists. These are especially good for sites that sell products and services, but be careful not to become a "spammer." Our policy is to email only those who ask us to, and not to divulge our list. You can click on the "subscribe" link at the bottom of the page to see what our subscription form (which is very simple) looks like. Some web hosting services (such as 1 and 1) offer a newsletter list as part of their web hosting service; for large lists, a service such as this is essential.
- Blogs, news and RSS: This is a rapidly developing part of the web, as CBS found out the hard way in the fall of 2004. There are hosts that have a "canned" blog script, but you can also add a blog/news service to your page too. This site is an example of this, as are some others, as you can see from the list below. RSS (really simple syndication) is a good way of getting news out without the growing problems email poses with spam blocking.
- Web store. Everybody's favourite, including the web master's: it is the most time consuming and thus money making type of web develoment there is. There are many "canned" stores out there, but most are expensive; if you have the revenue potential, they will pay for themselves. But there are also free web stores as well. One essential ingredient with a web store is a secure certificate, so that the browser and web server will talk to each other in an encrypted manner.
- Calendar of events. Especially useful for non-profit organisations and clubs.
One term you'll hear is the need in some application for a "database." Online databases are what drive active content. They are also what drive hackers to break into sites and steal information. You'll hear of Access, MySQL, and other database types. These are necessary when a) your traffic is big and/or b) you need security, like in a web store.
The Key to Success
Once you get all of this, you need to put it all together and upload it. But will people see it?
There are all kinds of tricks people use to get people to their site, but the real key to success is content. If you have things people want to see and hear, and if it's properly organised, you will get visits to your site. It may take a little bit of time (usually about 3-6 months) for search engines to really list your site properly, but their spiders are always out on the prowl and, if your site has content, they will come. One way to speed things up--especially with Google--is to add their site search feature to a site; you can see an example of that at the bottom of the page. Also helpful is being linked from other sites which are related to yours. This would include trade or ministry associations and other sites similar to yours.