Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 1:
Your Mission: A Dirt Cheap, Fabulously Successful Web Site...So you're thinking about taking the leap into cyberspace, not just as a visitor, but as proprietor of a site of your own. Congratulations! Perhaps you've even taken a few tentative first steps but want to do more-much more-yet you aren't sure just how to go about it or what it's going to cost you. Or maybe you're already an accomplished cybernaut, but the features, functions, and visibility you want to add to your piece of online real estate don't fit within your limited budget. I'm hereto help.
- Then again, perhaps you're just frugal. Some people might even be so rude as to call you cheap, but those are the folks who don't understand. They've never experienced the thrills you take for granted: the joy of the free ride, the rush of uncovering the hidden bargain, the challenge of making something from nothing while other people dig deeply into their wallets to accomplish the same things. I, on the other hand, understand.
You don't need a master's degree in computer science or advanced technical training to build a solid Web presence. You don't need hundreds of dollars worth of software or dozens of guidebooks. The only things you need are
- 1. A computer
2. The desire
3. Some time to work on it
Notice that I didn't include "Internet connection" in the requirements list. That's because I'm going to tell you how to get one for free a little later in the book. The omission of a Web hosting service (a place to put your pages) wasn't an oversight either. I'll point you to some freebie alternatives for that as well.
Before moving ahead, let's clarify one more thing: what is the difference between the Internet and the Web (also called the World Wide Web or WWW)? Although many people use these terms interchangeably, they aren't really the same. The Internet was around first, for one thing. The Internet is like an electronic roadway system connecting diverse destinations. It's a global network that connects millions of computers and millions of users, allowing them to exchange information. The information pathway consists of millions of miles of copper wire, fiber-optic cable, and satellites connected to hubs around the world. No one owns the Internet, or controls it. E Each Internet computer, or host, is independent. Whoever owns the host decides which Internet services it will provide and which it will use, as well as if, when, and for how long it will be part of the Internet.
The World Wide Web is a subset of the Internet. If the Internet was a roadway system, the World Wide Web would be its collection of scenic overlooks. It's a system of Internet servers that support specially formatted documents, basically bringing a graphical interface to the Internet. WWW servers and the software (aka browsers) that are used to access them make it possible not only to jump from place to place by clicking on highlighted text, but also to view pictures, listen to sound, and even watch videos stored on the opposite side of the planet. This is the part of the Internet that allows us to create nifty and useful Web sites. Before the advent of the World Wide Web, the Internet was not nearly as pretty to look at.
Since we're going to be on such familiar terms with it very soon, we'll drop that long, formal World Wide Web stuff and from here on just refer to it as the Web. You'll know what we're talking about.
Steps to a Successful Web Site
- The process of building and publishing a successful Web site is similar to initiating a journey through a black hole to another universe. Well, some people would like you to believe that, but really it's much simpler (and a whole lot less dangerous). It goes like this:
- 1. Decide what it is you want to accomplish with your site (publicize, sell, share).
2. Determine what your Web site will need to include to meet that goal.
3. Create an initial design, possibly on paper, possibly on your computer.
4. Put that design into HTML (I'll explain what this is later).
5. Publish those pages to the Web so everyone can see them.
As we go along, you are going to be surprised by just how much is feasible: there are many free tools and resources that will allow you to add apparently advanced features to your site with minimal effort. For example, you can add self-updating news headlines of specific interest to your visitors to any page of your site. And did I mention this service is free? Need a discussion forum? No problem. Heck, if you want to, you can even set up an entire online store without spending a dime.
As you read through this book, you'll get a better idea of what's possible and what tools are available to transform your vision to reality. You'll also be better able to choose a design that's within your (rapidly expanding) technical abilities, attractive to the people you want to draw to your Web site, and manageable to maintain over time.
When a word processor user highlights a word and assigns it the characteristic "bold," the word processing program embeds invisible codes into the document that cause the word to appear in the designated format. The reader viewing the document never sees those special codes because even though they are present, they are not displayed. HTML works the same way. To make text appear in bold in an HTML document, the document author simply does this:
When the document is displayed in a Web site visitor's browser, the formatting information is hidden, just like it is in a word processing document. The visitor only sees this:
This is important!
Easy, huh? Of course bolding is only one of many features the HTML document author can use. Using the same basic structure, you'll be able to cause particular words (or pictures) to appear larger or smaller; display a different document or jump to a different place in the same document; play a sound; align right, left, or center; use a different color or font; and so on. It gets a little more complicated when you start formatting your page into columns and sections, but the process is largely the same. Some day you might want to buy a book that describes absolutely everything you can do with HTML, but the crash course in Chapter 7 will be enough for most people's needs.
There are lots of handy-dandy tools to help you with the HTML part (step 4). You can actually write HTML with any plain text editor, but there are also quite a few programs (free and for purchase) that mimic a word processor, but are specifically geared to produce HTML (for example, you can select some text, click a "bold" button, and the formatting is inserted automatically for you). These are covered in detail in Chapter 5.
Step 5, publish your pages, consists of transmitting your documents and any associated images or other files to the Web server that will host them. Techies call this step living (pronounced "lye-ving"). This is most often accomplished through a software technology called FTP(File Transfer Protocol). The nitty-gritty of how it works doesn't matter to us; we only care that we tell an FTP program what files to transfer and where to transfer them to. Although there are other methods of living your pages, this is the most common. I will discuss using FTP in further detail in Chapter 9.
You can see from these steps that you're going to need a couple of pieces of software to produce your Web site: an HTML editor and an FTP program. Some programs combine both of these functions into one application. There's another type of software you're probably going to want as well, although it isn't absolutely necessary: a graphics program. Graphics programs allow you to create and manipulate the images that will appear on your Web site. This includes banners, buttons, logos, photos, and other artwork. You can actually do quite a bit of image creation and manipulation using tools freely available online, and I'll tell you how when we get to the point where you need to do so. Although such freebies offer limited functions, ver few people know how to (or need to) take advantage of the full powers of a commercial graphics software package, so the free stuff will probably serve you just fine.
The Other Half: PromotionAt this point, you should have a decent idea of what you're in for as you set out to build your Web site, but getting the site up and running is only half of the story. You can build a fabulous Web site with eye-popping graphics, addictive content, and the most impressive products, but if no one ever visits it, what's the point? The vast majority of us build Web sites because we want people to come to them, whether it's to read our opinions, buy our products, support our cause, share our expertise in a particular hobby, or hire us to work for them. Okay, there are other reasons to create a Web page or two-for keeping your personal bookmarks online, for example-but those hardly qualify as successful sites. A successful site has visitors, preferably lots of them.
In Webmaster parlance, another word for visitors is traffic. The bad news is, despite what you may have heard about the Web being an instant gold mine for anyone who slaps up a couple of dashed-off Web pages, it isn't. Traffic won't come to your Web site if people don't know it exists, and they won't know it exists unless you make a concerted effort to tell them about it. So the second half of building a successful Web site is promotion, or building traffic.
To start with, your site may effectively be invisible, but there are lots of things you can do, without spending a dime, to bring it to the attention of the Web-surfing masses. For starters, you've got to get your site included in the search portals that Web surfers use on a regular basis. You probably already know about the bigger, all-encompassing search portals, such as Yahoo!, Excite, Alta Vista, and the like, but did you know there are lots of smaller search portals that can also funnel surfers in your direction? There are even search portals that hone in on a particular industry sector, or vertical market. These are call vortals.
You obviously must get your site included in as many of these portals and vortals as possible, but getting listed is only half the trick; you have to get your site to come up on the results page when portal users enter search terms relevant to your site, and come up as close to the beginning of the returned results as possible.
There are lots of tips, tricks, and techniques to increase your Web site's presence and positioning in search portals. You could pay someone to apply them for you; there are quite a few companies that specialize strictly in search engine placement and positioning. But that's really not necessary and certainly isn't free. By the time you finish reading Chapter 10, you'll know as much as many of those who bill themselves as search engine experts. Plus, no one knows your site and your audience as well as you do, or has as great a desire to see it succeed, so this is a task that you should seriously consider undertaking yourself. Besides, there are lots of free tools that will make the job easier, tools I'll point you to and explain how to use in Chapter 10....