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January 7, 2011

10 Basic Concepts for the Newbie Webmaster

This article is for new Webmasters, who are not techies with long experience. Its objective is to save you time in understanding things the techies know so viscerally that they don’t even know you need to know these things. If you are technically sophisticated you should save time and stop reading here. If you have just decided that you want to host your own web site, but you don’t have strong technical skills, keep reading.

There are many things you can do online without needing this information. For example, you can create a blog for free., Blogger, and many others provide these services. These may serve your purposes very well. Their disadvantage is that some of them do not allow you to advertise, and they provide only minimal control of the look and feel of your site. If you are not interested in making money from your web site, this may be fine. They certainly represent a good place to start to develop Webmaster skills, but your site will tend to look like tens of thousands of other sites.

If you want to build a professional looking web presence, or you want to advertise, or you want to provide special functionality on your blog, here is what you need to know. This article is not an endorsement for any specific product. I mention several products in this article, but only for context.

1. Skills. You will need to know some basic HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language). But you can pick this up as you go along. Within every control panel of a site there is a toggle switch, which allows you to view the item you plan to show to the public in either WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) or HTML format. Don’t worry about this too much, because when you don’t know an HTML command, you can always find it quickly with a search engine. An example is keeping your paragraphs together, rather than having unexpected line spacing. WordPress® takes every carriage return as a new paragraph, so if you want to put something on the next line without paragraph spacing, you must put the “br” command right where you want the carriage return in your existing paragraph on the HTML (hidden) side of your item.

Typing skills are a big plus. If you don’t have these, find a free typing program online. You can learn in a week. It helps to understand what FTP (file transfer protocol) is. Sometimes you do need to do things at the directory level on your hosted server. I use a program called FileZilla2 for this, but there are many other choices.

2. Hosting Service (Your Universe). Someone will have to operate the computers on which your web site appears. It is possible to do this in your home or business, but no one still reading this does anymore. There are many excellent services, and some of them provide basic functionality for under $10 per month. If you become a roaring success, you will have to pay more, but you won’t mind. Typically, you can put all the material you want on their system for no additional charge, but you will pay for the bandwidth you use. You will have to be pretty popular before you overcome the basic price.

3. Domain. You will need to create a Domain, which is the address your site uses. This will be you web address, and amounts to your URL (uniform resource locator). Your Host can do get this for you. You cannot have a findable web site without a domain. Each domain contains only one type of software, but you can create free sub-domains that operate like domains. Each one of these creates a separate database to contain the information of your site. Fortunately, the database is something that is normally provided by your hosting service.

4. One-Click Install. Good Hosts provide One-Click Install for the various web site options. You can create one type of web software into each domain or sub-domain. I have about 30 sites, and I am using both WordPress – (for blogging) and Joomla -(for basic web site functionality). You can also get programs that are purpose built for photo galleries, calendars, project planning, “wiki” style sites, or whatever you like. The ones I use are “open source,” meaning they are “free” and simply installed with no financial outlay to your hosting service. The advantage of these systems is that they have been battle tested very broadly, so most of the kinks are worked out of them. Why do programmers around the world contribute their time and money to developing these free environments? Read on.

5. The Control Panel. Every professional site, and some of the free ones, has a control panel where you can operate and adjust the appearance of your site to the general public. If you think of the Wizard of Oz, this is what the wizard does behind the green curtain. You must learn how to get to your control panel as a first priority, and this differs by the program you are using. By the time you get to this point you will already have found the control panel for your web host. I use Dream Host, which has excellent live chat functionality for support. I often get the help I need there when I don’t understand something.

6. Your Galaxy. Think of the software you just installed on your host as the galaxy within which your site operates. It is the macro-environment within which your site operates. Most of these systems have basic functionality already, so you can just begin to build your site, but you would do well to understand a few more things about your site before you do that.

7. Forums. Techies rarely provide true documentation (instructions) these days. Get over it! This is partially because they are so focused on building the next new thing, and partially because the environment is changing so fast that it is impossible to create a static set of instructions. Most decent software providers do have a Forum, where you can go for help. You register on their site for free, and then you are permitted to ask questions, or find questions previously answered through word search. If the software you are planning to use has no Forum, be very worried. Keep track of your user IDs and passwords!

8. Plug-ins, Widgets, Components and Modules.
The reason techies around the world contribute to the “open source” environments is that they build smaller pieces of software that function with your galaxy, and they hope to charge you for that functionality. Each category has many choices (i.e. a calendar or clock for your site), and many of them are rated. There are free ones and commercial ones. If you see an unrated free one, chances are some aspiring software genius has created something, and he is hoping you will help him test it. The rated free ones often work perfectly well, and many good ratings can give you confidence in your selection. The commercial ones normally are endorsed in the sense that people have paid good money to use them.

9. Templates. The template is a “plug-in” which controls the look and feel of your site. Before you go too far in building your site, you should examine the choices of template in your galaxy, and install it. You may be able to do this later, but you take the chance of running into functionality problems.

10. Search Engines and Site Maps. It is no longer the case that you can just put your site up, and expect the search engines to find it. They are overwhelmed. You are therefore advised to go to each of the major search engines, register in their Webmaster program, and follow their instructions to have your site found. Search engines require “Site Maps” today, so their system can examine your site for content. This is an entirely different topic beyond the scope of this article.

Skip Conover is an International Executive, Author, and Artist. His art is in collections in more than 20 countries. His first New York opening was in 2005. He turned his long time interest in Jungian Archetype into the Archetype in Action™ Organization, and he developed its web site at