The 7 basic building blocks of any website
When it comes to websites, many of our current clients have admitted that the first time they asked someone for a website quote, they ended up feeling so confused and that they were about to be ripped off that they decided not to get involved in internet marketing at all. This is a sad state of affairs and in the long run it can cause a firm that really needs a website to lose money.
We've found that by providing some background info about what a website entails and what its basic blocks are, we help our clients to have a better understanding of what they are getting and how it all works.
This is a chat I had with Michael Cowen, Strategic Director at Brandsocial, about the building blocks that you need to follow through on to get your website up and running.
We spoke about starting a website, what to consider, what to put on it, what it must look like, how to get visitors and more. The conversation is based on the article below this video.
The basic building blocks of any website are the following:
- A domain name
- The "look and feel" of the website (also called the design of the site)
- The development of the site
- The content to appear on the site
- The layout of the content
- The navigation / menu structure of the site (how to move between different pages, articles etc)
A number of other aspects can also be added to a website to add to what it can do and to achieve special purposes (e.g. image gallery, forms, e-commerce, etc), but the above list contains the basics for any site.
Let's look at each aspect in more detail.
1. A domain name
A domain name is the name, "address" and "phone number" of your website on the internet. E.g. www.elite-ideas.net is the domain name of one of our websites.
When you type www.elite-ideas.net into your browser (like Internet Explorer or FireFox), it will ask the nearest internet "directory" (called the Domain Name Server or DNS) for the "phone number" (called the Internet Protocol or IP address) of our website. This IP address is a number - in our case 126.96.36.199 This number tells your browser our website's "internet address" i.e. where our website is on the internet (which server it is hosted on) and how to call it. Your browser now calls our number and our site answers by opening up on your screen.
This may sound a little complicated at first but all you really need to know is that your domain name is the name of your website.
To get a domain name for your website you have to buy one. This domain name then has to be renewed each year for you to keep it.
Anyone can buy any domain name they want to - even if they don't have a firm with that name. This may mean that when you want to buy the domain name for your company, for example www.leftitlate.com, you may find that it is owned by someone else. Although it is possible to then buy the domain name from the owner, it is usually very expensive as the person who bought it first realises it now has more value to you than the price you would have paid for it if you had bought it first.
Domain names ending in .com are the most popular and the easiest to remember. But, if it happens that the domain name you want ending in .com has already been taken, you can choose a domain name ending in .net , co.uk (this extension usually shows the website is an United Kingdom one), .co.za (this extension usually shows the website is a South African one) or a number of other extentions.
Look at the advice in How to choose a domain name for your website before buying yours.
2. The "look and feel" or design of the site
This part of a website involves the creation and design of what your site looks like - the picture of your site. Here aspects such as the colours, fonts and graphics to be used on the website as well as the overall layout of various elements on the site are decided on.
The design of a website is often called its "front end." Bear in mind that this stage of building a website basically involves drawing the "picture" of your website. To make that "picture" into a website that works on the internet requires the next, important step.
3. The development of the site
Developing a website involves taking the chosen design and then turning that into code or programming that computers and the internet can understand and then display to other people. This part of a website is also called its "backend."
This is one of the most complex and important phases of building a website. The skill of your developer will determine the quality and functionality of your website. The development of the backend of your website lets your website be seen on the internet and determines how well it functions.
Good website development requires a fair knowledge of a variety of programming languages and the ability to integrate the different functions possible into one effective website.
A website developer who also understands internet marketing and business in general is a special treasure as he will know how to develop your website so that it functions effectively to meet your marketing goals. He will also know how to build your website so that it is most user-friendly for your visitors.
In South Africa, bandwidth (the speed at which you access the internet) is slow, restricted and expensive. People browsing the internet want to get to the information they are looking for quickly and easily. Certain website designs, especially those with lots of bells and whistles (lots of animation, video-like intros, sounds etc), depend on the use of specific programmes, such as Flash.
Unfortunately, websites built using such programs take quite a long time to display, especially if the visitor is using a slower, restricted connection (as are most South African users). Sites built in Flash often take such a long time to load that the visitor simply clicks off to another site in frustration - and never gets to see all the bangs and flashes on your site, never mind read the info you wanted to give him.
A good website developer will think about all these points and build a site that works for as many people as possible.
To build a website is one thing, to build one that works properly is quite another!
4. The content to appear on the site
This refers to all the info you want on your website. Here you have a number of choices:
- You can write it yourself and the website developer will simply place it on your site.
- You can write it and then have it edited and / or translated by a professional (the language of your site will depend on your target audience).
- You can have it written by a professional copywriter.
The information you place on your site is very important - after all, this is where you tell your client what you have to offer her. Many times, people focus so much on what their website looks like that they forget its actual purpose:
- to increase contact with the client,
- provide valuable, relevant info
- to create and build relationships and
- to make more sales.
Take the time to ensure that the information you have on your website is as clear and detailed as can be. This is what forms the idea of your firm that your customer is going to take away with her.
Tip: When working on a budget, it may be difficult to know which aspects deserve more attention and which can be cut a bit. When it comes to your website, rather opt for a clean, simple yet professional design (template designs are great) and invest more in the actual info you present. If you are comfortable writing yourself, (and who knows your business better than you do?) you can do without a copywriter and maybe even an editor (although spelling and grammar must always be correct!).
5. The layout of the content
Once know what you want to say on your website and have gathered all your info together, it needs to be laid out in the website in such a way that it is easy-to-find and appealing. Just plonking a few pages of info into a site without considering the layout and formatting of that info can make even the best website design look sad.
Remember, the design of your website is a picture of all the elements that are not text. Adding your text and laying it out in different formats will have an influence on the final impact and appearance of your website. Consider for example, how different a page looks when the info is in one column compared to when that same info is presented in two columns. That is due to the difference in layout of the text on that page and does not have much to do with the website's design.
Content layout is especially important when creating your home page. This landing page is the doorway to your website and business. The info presented here must be placed in such a way that it answers the question that brought your visitor to the site, is appealing and interesting to look at and easy to find.
6. The navigation / menu structure of the site
Have you ever surfed a site and wanted to return to a previous page only to find that it's "gone" and there is no obvious way to get back to it? It's not listed in the menu and the page you're on has no link to it.
Oh, well, maybe the next site will give me what I'm looking for... click...
A bad navigation structure on your website results in frustrated and lost visitors - who will never return again because finding info on your website is just too hard.
A good menu structure is vital because it lets people go through your sitequickly andeasily, allowing them to focus on what you've got to tell them instead of on how to make your site work.
A good menu structure needs to be carefully planned from the start so that your menus can expand naturally and logically as your website expands. A lack of planning for the "information flow" on your website could mean that your site works well enough to begin with but ends up being confusing and illogical later on. A little planning and understanding of detail here goes a long way.
This is the final step to getting your website on the internet. To make it possible for your website to be seen by anyone anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night, it must be hosted on a computer that is connected to the internet 24 hours a day. This simply means that your site is “stored” on a server that is always connected to the internet and that whenever anyone requests it, they are directed to that server.
Take a look at How to choose the best website hosting for your business to find out what to look for when choosing hosting.
Building a professional and effective website requires a variety of specialised skills.