How To: Develop and run a website
Develop and run a website
By: Richard Darby,
Webmaster of the Lea & Ouse Valleys Safety Association
The first thing to be done is to decide what you want your website to do:
- Is it just a way of communicating with your members, or do you want to provide them with resources or information?
- Perhaps you might want to attract new members by promoting the group.
Assuming you know what you want out of your website how do you set about getting it?
Planning is the most important part and should precede all thoughts of putting it into practice, however attractive this might seem.
Probably the most important thing needed to develop and run a website is a person who is enthusiastic enough to keep the website up to date and a computer with appropriate software and Internet access.
The other essential is some webspace where the website will be hosted.
Physically, this is some disk space on a computer called a web server which is permanently connected to the Internet. This can be "free" webspace which a number of ISPs provide when you sign up for Internet access, or preferably for an official group website it is better to have your own Top Level Domain and webspace provided by a web hosting company, there are many of them out there.
What are the advantages of having your own Top Level Domain (TLD) hosted by a web-hosting company?
The website is clearly identified as the official website of the group rather than having an obscure web address as a sub-domain of an ISP. It is possible for you to have your own e-mail boxes and address (depends on hosting company).
You can use extra features provided on the server which may not be available on free webspace accounts, such as processing forms, running databases, webmail access to e-mail, e-mail spam filtering, password protected areas and daily backups.
The name will be the web address of your website so it is important to choose a short memorable name which can be typed quickly and easily without people making mistakes.
Consider the address www.localhealthandsafetygroup.co.uk or www.lhsg.co.uk, which would you rather type?
If you use initials, can you come up with a pronounceable acronym, it will make it more memorable and less liable to error. Top level domains come in a variety of flavours, international domains like .com, .net, .org, are more expensive and usually renewable annually. Local domains like co.uk, org.uk and me.uk are generally cheaper. For local domains, registration with Nominet is renewable on two yearly basis through your web hosting company. The most appropriate TLD for Safety Groups is org.uk (org = organisation).
The easiest way is to go to the website of your chosen web hosting company and use a tool on their site to check if your chosen domain name is available. There are millions of TLDs in existence already so you may be unlucky with your first idea and have to choose another name or some slight variation.
Once you have a valid domain name you can usually order it on-line through the web hosting company who will charge you for the registration and for the hosting package. Once ordered it takes about 24 hours for the domain to be set up.
The hosting company will send you information which will enable you to manage the website. This will include the Uniform Resource Locator, or URL which is the web address which will contain a holding page until you upload your website.
The website will be transferred from your computer to the webserver by a process called File Transfer Protocol (FTP). The hosting company will give you the FTP host address, username and password.
You will need an FTP client programme to transfer the files to the server, some companies provide a suitable programme. Many hosting companies provide their clients with a control panel accessible through a web browser which is used to manage your account, this will also need a username and password.
If your account includes e-mail you will be provided with a POP server address, username, and password, to access your mailbox. To send mail, an SMTP server address, username and password (often the same) will be provided and possibly the URL, username and password for webmail if it is part of the package.
When this process is completed you will have an empty website with your own domain name and the information to access and control it.
As a cheaper alternative, it is possible to use "free" webspace with your own domain name.
There are web hosting companies who provide transparent hosting where they host the domain name and use transparent forwarding to make it appear as if the free webspace is integral with the domain name. The hosting company will set up the domain name and charge you for the registration and hosting the name in a similar way to the full hosting option, but without the extras available from a proper hosting package.
As in all modes of communication it is important that you have a clear idea of what you want your website to do and what information it should contain, planning is most important.
Have a look at other similar websites to see what seems to work well and what does not work so well.
There is a definite style of writing for webpages, they should contain about 50% less than the hardcopy equivalent, be clear and concise and easy to scan with a journalistic style.
There are a number of books and websites promoting good website design which cover the use of colour, graphics and navigation.
We must also bear in mind the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act, that websites must be accessible to disabled users who may have limited vision using web reading software, or may have difficulties discriminating colour contrasts. It must be the object of all website designers for their websites to be accessible to as many people as possible.
Therefore it is important to design sites that can be used properly with any browser not just with Microsoft Internet Explorer. While IE is the most commonly used web browser there are other frequently used browsers for windows e.g. Firefox, Netscape and Opera. In addition to these there are people using other operating systems with their own browsers such as Apple Mac, Linux, RISC OS and palm top computers.
Therefore writing code which can be rendered well on any browser will make your website available to the greatest number of people.
You can check the accessibility and conformity of your web pages on the W3C website at: www.w3.org/QA/tools/
This article is not a tutorial on how to write Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) or its derivatives.
There are many books and websites explaining how this is done. There are also a number of web authoring programs available and a number of standard office applications are capable of producing HTML documents for use on the web.
However, there are browser compatibility issues for pages produced by Microsoft Front Page, which can produce broken links to other pages or to image files. This can be corrected by loading the pages into a simple editor like Notepad and changing all the backslashes (\) in the links, to slashes (/). This invalid code originates in the "browser wars" of the 1990s, Internet Explorer substitutes slashes for the backslashes but the page code remains invalid and will cause errors in other browsers.
Most web pages are a combination of text and graphics.
Unlike word processing documents which contain text and graphics in a single file, web pages contain basic text in a single file and all graphics are loaded as separate files. Consequently, where there are many graphics used on a page it will take longer to load, because each graphic file has to be fetched separately.
Particular care must be taken with the use of photographs. Web pages are of comparatively low resolution. It is generally advised that pages are designed for display on a 800x600 pixel screen, so the maximum width of a photograph for display on a webpage is around 800 pixels.
Many modern digital cameras are capable of producing very large files and images thousands of pixels wide.
The final displayed size of a picture can be defined in the <img> tag and the browser will endeavour to scale the image to the new size, but this is generally a bad idea because the quality of the image is generally poorer and the image file is very big which takes longer to load.
If the image is re-sized in a graphics package to the desired size in pixels, the re-sized image file is invariably much smaller and will load more quickly making the website appear more slick and responsive, particularly on a dialup connection.
It should be noted that pictures re-sized in a word processor package do not re-size the graphics file, just zoom the size of the display.
To be a useful tool for both existing group members and to attract new members to the group, the group website should contain useful and relevant information and be as up-to-date as possible.
This is most likely to be achieved if the website can be maintained by an enthusiastic person recruited from the membership.
There are companies who will create and maintain websites, however, it is likely that they will charge for updating the website with information which must be supplied by the group. So it is quicker if you maintain the site yourselves if possible.
This is best done by having your website on your local hard disk where it can be tested to see if it works as expected. When it is working well, modified files can be copied to the web server using the FTP client programme.
There are FTP programmes which will allow you to edit the files on the web server directly. However this does not give you the confidence of having your own backup of the complete website so I would advocate copying the changed files from the local hard-drive to the web server.
It is important that you backup your local copy of the website on another independent storage medium at regular intervals as a safety precaution.
The way most people find information on the Internet is by typing a query into a search engine.
How do search engines know about the contents of your website?
You can submit your website to the search engine so it will visit and index your site into its database. Even if you don't submit your site all search engines have programs known as agents, crawlers or spiders, which follow up the contents of domain name servers, to find websites so the contents of your site will eventually become part of search engine databases.
Few search engines take much notice of 'meta data' contained in your page header, they now rate each site on popularity and its linking strategy.
The actual webpage text is used for indexing, so ensure that there is textual information on the homepage describing the important things about the website, this is what search engines will look for.
Search engines also rate the ways pages are linked, particularly to other websites.
The most important factor in ranking websites is the number of websites which have links to your site, getting your website listed on other highly rated websites e.g. Local Authority directories, or sites with similar purposes like the RoSPA website, will improve your ranking in the search engine and improve the chances of appearing on the first couple of pages of a search.
However, the websites which you link to, can also have an effect on your ranking. Link only to sites with content relevant to your site or highly regarded sites like web directories will improve your ranking, whereas irrelevant sites will have a detrimental effect.
The way in which search engines index your site can be controlled by the inclusion of a robots.txt file in the top level folder of your website.
It is often helpful for visitors to find information on your website if you include a search facility.
Fortunately you don't have to construct this yourself, there are a number of websites which provide this service for you. Most will charge to provide a fully tailored search facility, but some will provide a basic search facility for free.
Once you have registered your website with them they will provide the appropriate HTML code to include on the page to link to their search engine. Once the site has been submitted to their web crawler to generate the index, you have your own search facility.
You should re-index the site after each update.
There are many companies who specialise in providing web hosting and domain registration and can be found by searching the web.
Two UK companies known to be reliable are:
- PurleyHosting.com www.purleyhosting.com
This is the trading name of Spellings Computer Services Ltd, formed in 1995. Purley Hosting is currently offering free hosting for registered charities and non-profit making organisations.
- Orpheus Internet www.orpheusinternet.co.uk
A more recent company, has a good track record for personal attention and has spam filtering on e-mails as standard.
Both companies can register domains and provide both webspace and e-mail facilities.
A useful web based list for resources can be found at the BUBL information service link catalogue page for web page design at: www.bubl.ac.uk/link/linkbrowse.cfm?menuid=463
Useful information on making websites user friendly can be found on Jakob Neilson's website at www.useit.com
Advice on making your site accessible with the greatest number of browsers can be found at: www.anybrowser.com
Delorie Software provide a number of free services to the web community to assist web authors who wish to make their information available to the largest audience including the disabled.
These tools provide alternate ways of viewing your pages, so that you can ensure that your content is received properly by all viewers, see: www.delorie.com/web
Full Web Building Tutorials which are all free, are available from the W3Schools.
You will find all the Web-building tutorials you need, from basic HTML and XHTML to advanced XML, SQL, Database, Multimedia and WAP at: www.w3schools.com
Once written the code can be validated against W3C standards at: validator.w3.org
Useful and free image manipulation software can be obtained from: www.irfanview.net
A web search will find many providers of search engines which can be used on your own websites ranging from Google to less well known companies.
One which is used on our group website is FreeFind available from: www.freefind.com
A full explanation of the use of robots.txt files can be found at:
Richard Darby, webmaster of the Lea and Ouse Valleys Safety Association;