What is a Website?

What is a Website?

Most everyone has a general understanding of what a website is.  What you’re looking at right now, for example, is a website.  You open your browser, put in a web address, and a page pops up.

But if someone were to ask you specifically what the parts of a website are, or details on how a website works, then many of you might find it challenging to come up with a coherent answer.  “It has something to do with programming and links“, you might say.

This is similar to how most of us have a general understanding of what a house is, but if you asked us to build one we wouldn’t have any idea where to start.  Most of us would hire someone with the skills to build the house for us, and you do the same thing with a website.  But even outsourcing the work of building your house (or website) means you should at least have a general idea of what goes into the process so you understand your options.

What are the parts of a website?

So in this article, we’re going to look at the different parts of a website and help you understand how all those pieces come together.  Don’t worry, we won’t get too technical here.  This is the big picture overview so that, when someone asks you “what is a website” you’ll be able to reply with more than a blank stare.

To understand how a website is put together, we’re going continue using the analogy of a house.

The Web Server = Your Land

Website Hosting - Akamai Websites
The right web hosting will keep your website stable

When building a house you need a plot of land.  And the plot of land for your website is the web server.  

A web server is basically a computer connected to the internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, where all of your website files are kept.  You wouldn’t want to maintain this computer yourself due to the complexity of setting up a web server, so most folks purchase space on a web server provided by a web hosting provider

These are companies that have a storehouse of super fast computers where you can keep your website files.  There are lots of different configurations of these web servers, just like there are lots of different configurations for plots of land.  But for now, there is no need to concern yourself with the specifics of web server configuration. That is a topic for another day.

Your Domain Name = The Street Address

Website Domain Name - Akamai Websites
Your domain name is the address for your online home

The first thing that most people think of with a website is the web address, also called a domain name, or a URL (which stands for Universal Record Locator).  A domain name works the same as the mailing address for a house.  It lets everyone know where the house is located.  

Unlike a street address, though, when you put in a domain name into your browser window, your computer sends out a request to the internet to find the web hosting computer where the website is located.  Then the machine sends the website files to your computer browser where it translates them into what you see.

To get your own domain name, you sign up with a domain registrar.  Most web hosting companies also provide this service, but I’ve always recommended keeping your domain registration separate from your web hosting.  Invariably one of the services might go down and having the ability to switch your web hosting provider without also having to move your domain name makes the process much easier.

You can think of it like having a PO Box address to get your mail.  If your house suddenly burns down, you can still get your mail, and you can get a new house without any interruption in service.

Website Files = The Building Blocks

Website Building Blocks - Akamai Websites
What materials will you use to build your website?

All of those files are the building blocks of a website.  They are the house itself.  The bricks, dry-wall, wood, cement and other fundamental units of a house are equivalent to the website.  

And just like a house, there are a lot of different materials from which you can build a website.  HTML, CSS, images, JavaScript, PHP, MySQL … all of these confusing terms are essentially the various elements from which your website can be built.

But of course, a house with only walls is pretty boring, and not very functional.  So you need to add a bit of functionality, such as a kitchen, bathroom, plumbing, heat, air conditioning, and other things.  All of these are related to the various pages and features of your website.  

Whether you have a forum, allow comments from visitors, have an FAQ or a contact form or an image gallery, or a blog — these are all the “utilities” of your website.

Web Design = Interior Design

Website Design Elements - Akamai Websites
Design your website for optimal comfort and functionality

Which brings us to the final part of a website: the design.  You can think of the design of a website like the interior design of a house.  

You might have all the rooms and utilities figured out, but you still want to make sure you have paint on the walls, nice appliances installed, beautiful furniture and other things that make your house a home.  On a website, these are equivalent to the color scheme, fonts or typography, images you use, and other visual or interactive elements that make your website look beautiful.

What does this mean for you?

Each of these parts of a website has many options.  Domain registration services alone number in the hundreds if not thousands.  And the costs of each part of a website vary as well, from the cost of your annual domain name registration, to your web hosting costs and much more.

Of course, you don’t have to understand all of this to build a website, since you can hire a web designer to do it for you. The job of a web designer is to help you understand your options with each part of the website so you can make the best decision for the type of website you want to build.  Just like the best home builders will figure out how many bedrooms and bathrooms your family needs, good web designers will work with you to understand the needs of your website.

Of course, how they do that depends on their background and expertise.  But I’ll talk more about that in the next post.

Until then, if you’d like to understand your website options, then reach out to us and let us know.  Leave a comment or question in the comments below and we’ll help out however we can.

Interested in what services we use and recommend?  Be sure to check out our resources page for the full details.

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