Six months ago when I started this blog, I found myself wandering the hallways of the internet trying to figure out how the heck to get from Point A (sitting in front of a blank screen on my laptop) to Point B (a fully functional, aesthetically pleasing website). Not a single part of the process was intuitive, so I was constantly searching for explanations of what I was supposed to be doing.
A big part of the problem was the language barrier. Even the most basic “how to build a website” tutorials threw around terms like “domain” and “widget” like I already knew what they meant.
Now that I’ve [mostly] figured it out, I’d like to share with you some of the terms I’ve learned. Hopefully this little dictionary will make your website building experience more enjoyable than mine was! I’ve organized the terms in the order that you will have to deal with them.
OBTAINING A WEBSITE
When you type “how to build a website” into a search engine, you’ll be instructed to find a host and purchase a domain name. To make sense of this, think about your website as a house you want to build. Of course, you must have land to build the house on. That land is called your domain. Land can be expensive and difficult to care for, so instead of owning the land outright, you probably just want to lease the space from somebody else. The person you’re leasing it from is called the host. Finally, it makes sense to name your property so it doesn’t get confused with other peoples’ property. The name of your property, known as the domain name, is the same as your land’s address.
Domain name: The name of your website. Also, it’s what you type into the address bar on your internet browser to get to your website. My domain name is www.uneventenor.com.
- Domain names can end with .com, .net, .org, or other endings. Most bloggers will want a .com or a .net.
- Domain names cost a small amount of money, like $11/year or so.
- You will register your domain name just before you purchase a website host. They’re almost the same step.
Host: The entity that owns the “space” you’re building your website on. There are numerous companies that provide this service. My host is HostGator. I paid them a lump sum for three years of space for my website.
- The cost of the host is separate from the cost of the domain name! Hosting is more expensive than a domain name, in the area of $50-$100 per year.
- If you don’t pay your bills, you’ll lose your spot on the server, and your website will disappear.
- You don’t have much to do with your host once it’s up and going, but you will have an administrative page for things like changing your website’s default email address.
Server: The metaphorical “land” that the host is giving you is really space on a server. The server is a big network of computery stuff necessary to host a website. The average blogger doesn’t own a server, which is why we use a host.
Now that your have a place to build, you get to design your website. This is the fun part, but there’s still some jargon to wade through. First you need a website platform. A platform is like the contractor you hire to actually build your house, because, let’s be honest, if you tried to build a house from scratch it probably wouldn’t look very good, and it might collapse and kill you in your sleep. The contractor takes your fanciful instructions about the structure of the house (“I want my house to be shaped like a pyramid, with three rooms on the main floor and two upstairs, and a little one-room attic, and I want the levels connected with a spiral staircase and a fireman’s pole”) and turns them into reality. That structural reality is called a theme.
Platform: A platform is an external website that’s totally separate from your domain, but is constantly working behind the scenes with your domain to allow you to make something that actually looks good.
- The most common platform is WordPress, but there are many others out there.
- The platform is usually free, but you will have to sign up and provide your domain name to use it.
- You’ll edit your website by logging into your platform.
Theme: The different ways your website can look. The theme is just a skeleton, and can be further altered and personalized (see below).
- Most platforms come with hundreds of different themes.
- You can change your theme anytime you want, even after you’ve built all your content, but changing themes might reorganize your content, or change functionality, etc.
- Different themes will have slightly different terms for their content, like one theme may call your home page a “home page”, and another theme might call it a “landing page”.
CUSTOMIZING YOUR WEBSITE
Now that you have a theme, you get to personalize it to your heart’s content. Continuing with the house metaphor, this is where you get to paint the walls, bring in furniture, and plant a garden. You even get to add and remove rooms (pages), bring in appliances (widgets) and build things like a porch or a swingset (plug-ins).
Page: The “rooms” of your website. Many simple websites only have a single main page where all the content it posted. My website has many different pages to keep things organized and easy to find.
- Unlike rooms in a house, you can add and remove pages at any time
- Pages can have different styles, like a page that shows photos in a gallery, and a page that shows all your blogs posts, and a page that’s just a contact form.
Blog: The word blog is a contraction of the phrase “web log”. It’s where the articles, posts, entries, etc. written by the author all live. If a website is solely comprised of a blog, then the website is a blog. In the case of www.uneventenor.com, the website has many pages, and the blog is just one of them.
Widget: Widgets are the neat little tools and text boxes and images and more that you can put on a page to tailor it to your needs. Examples include tickers (keep track of the miles you’ve run, or count down the days til you leave), social media buttons, and slideshows of photos or recent posts.
- Widgets usually live in the sidebars, headers and footers of a page. Mine are over there —->
- Each theme comes with its own suite of widgets, but thousands are available to download through your platform.
- Downloaded widgets will appear in the “widgets” section of your theme. For my theme, I can find, organize and edit my widgets under the “appearances” tab.
Plug-in: A plug-in is similar to a widget in that it is a tool that brings functionality to a site. But while widgets are simple little things that usually show up in sidebars, etc., plug-ins allow you to build larger, more complicated content, and then insert them into your pages.
- Download plug-ins the same way you download widgets.
- Who knows where in your theme you’ll find the plug-in you just downloaded! It may show up under “appearance”, or perhaps under “tools”, or even as its own new tab. I’m constantly searching for my new plug-ins.
- Plug-ins usually have a lot of settings to fiddle around with, and they usually have help pages to get you going.
- Converting a plug-in into actual page content usually involves copying/pasting a string of code called shortcode into the page. For example, my map is a plug-in called Nomad Map. I created and edited my map in the Nomad Map tab of my theme, and Nomad Map provided me with a corresponding bit of code. To insert the map on my “Map” page, I copied and pasted that shortcode into the page editor, and when I click “view page” I see the map itself instead of the shortcode.
I think that’s enough jargon to get you going! I really hope this page helps you out. Remember, I am *not* a web guru, and this is all relatively new territory for me, so if you see any mistakes above, please let me know (politely). And if you can think of other terms I should add to this page, let me know in the comments below!