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What exactly is a website?

Websites are without doubt the most important element of the internet. The term is often used inconsistently, so to make it clear once and for all, this article answers the question: what is a website?

The central page of a website is called a home page. This is usually the first page you see when you call a website up and can also be called a ‘start page’ or ‘index page’. From here onwards, the user delves into the site’s subpages.

Do you need your own website?

A digital web presence enables content such as texts, images, and videos to be displayed on the internet. There are many reasons why business people need a representative website: to inform potential customers about products and services, to represent the company, to enable contact with different departments, or to distribute goods online. For private users, a website gives them the chance to actively take part in public affairs. There are also personal sites that contain informative material or are used for entertainment. An overview of the most popular sites can be found below.

By placing a link to your own website next to your social network profile, you increase the chances of catching the attention of potential employers, interested parties, or like-minded people.

A website’s large reach is certainly one of the reasons for the growing number of internet sites in recent years:

Click here to download the infographic about the facts and figures of certain websites.

Creating a website

Many companies include a link to their website on their business cards or in their e-mail signature. When this address is typed into a browser’s search field (known as the uniform resource locator, URL), the start page of the website appears. Depending on the size of the website, site visitors have the opportunity to access the website’s subpages. Hyperlinks, or simply ‘links’ are used to connect single HTML documents of a website. Links to important subpages (e.g. departments, product categories, or representative information pages) are usually combined in the navigation and can be found in the header of the website. They are displayed on every subpage of the website and not just on the home page. The navigation helps the user orientate themselves and see an overview of the website’s structure. Links to more subpages can also be placed in the text and image elements in the website’s content. The footer at the bottom of a page often contains links to further information like the site owner and the legal framework.

Dynamic vs. static websites

If the aim is for your site to take on the role of a digital business card, then a static website will usually suffice. HTML documents with the desired information are created and are stored under their own URL on the web server. When a user enters the web address, they are presented with a static HTML document that looks exactly like those stored on the server. But what happens when a website needs to regularly add new content? With a static website, the changes need to be manually carried out in the HTML code of each individual subpage of the web project. With dynamic websites, this manual step is avoided since the web server freshly generates the websites each time they are called up. Instead of continuously issuing the static HTML pages unmodified, the server adjusts the page content automatically according to the last update. The dynamic website is based on a strict division of the content and layout. Both aspects are assembled when the site is entered into the browser. Dynamic websites therefore require more high-performance servers than static websites, as well as a database such as MySQL, with which the server can manage the elements of the website. Generally, dynamic websites rely on pre-defined layouts and design templates, which are filled with relevant content. Due to their flexibility, dynamic websites are the more popular choice.

Static and dynamic web projects by comparison

Static website Advantages: static websites are cheap to operate. HTML documents are created once and are delivered unmodified from then on. If a static website is used to provide timeless information, it is clearly more low-maintenance than a dynamic website. They are also a lot faster since the websites are loaded by the server without any changes. Static websites are usually cheaper to host because the server doesn’t have any further demands to carry out apart from the storage option.
  Disadvantages: outdated information has to be manually replaced on the HTML pages of a static website, which takes a lot of effort. This requires relevant programming knowledge. An FTP program for transferring HTML documents on the web server is also required.
Dynamic website Advantages:dynamic websites benefit from their flexibility. Due to the strict separation of web content and layout, content changes can be made by users without any former programming knowledge. A text editor is usually available. Dynamic websites also have the advantage of being able to react to user input.
  Disadvantages:creating a dynamic website generally needs a management system (CMS or web shop system). As well as basic HTML knowledge, setting up the system also requires a further programming language, such as Perl or PHP. The server on which the system is hosted must have a database. Depending on the size of the project, dynamic websites demand a lot more server resources than static website projects.

The path to your own website

Depending on the type and size of the intended website, there are three possibilities for creating a personal website. It used to be common practice to write a website’s complete source code yourself with the help of an HTML editor, but now there are many website construction kits and content management systems that provide more comfortable solutions. If you don’t have the relevant programming experience, you can choose from a variety of highly-specialized providers, which create and manage your website professionally for a reasonable fee.

Website construction kits: the starting block for your web presence

You don’t have to be a programming expert to create your own internet site. With the help of a website construction kit you can have your own website up and running in just a few clicks by choosing one of the many ready-made templates and designs. These blocks can be adjusted systematically within the preset options in a ‘what you see is what you get’ editor (WYSIWYG). All changes you make can be seen using the preview function on the screen. Once the layout is ready, the individual web pages can be filled with content such as text, images, or videos. If the website construction kit is used in combination with a web hosting service, the finished website can immediately be put online. Creating a website using a kit offers numerous advantages: they can be designed without programming knowledge. Adjustments can be carried out easily via the editor. A disadvantage, however, is the limited flexibility of the construction kit system since it’s only limited to default design settings and only for static websites. 

Tip

Thanks to their intuitive aspect, website builders are a great tool to get started with building your own site, especially for beginners with no programming experience.

Content management systems: web design for the more advanced

If you feel ready to delve a little deeper into creating a website, and you’re not afraid of programming languages such as HTML or PHP, you can use a content management system (CMS) to ensure flexibility. When installed on a webserver, a CMS manages website content separately from the design template in a database and generates a dynamic website with every user access. Content management systems are popular for personal as well as business use since the highly efficient CMS is available as open source software and is therefore generally free. Market leaders include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and Typo3 for which there are many templates and plugins available online which allow you to customize your website.

Content like texts, images and videos can be updated using an editor, which is similar to a website construction kit. This type of CMS is named ‘front end’. Editorial tasks can be carried out with a CMS, even by those who aren’t the most computer proficient. Secure website operation includes more than just installing software, and therefore a CMS should always be supervised by an administrator. This task involves carrying out software updates and looking after the management system’s performance. The administrator works in the back end and therefore it’s essential to have basic knowledge of the CMS’s relevant programming language.

Self-programmed HTML sites: the professional solution

If you want a complete customization of your website, you have to program the source code of the HTML document or the personal CMS templates yourself from scratch. This option is really only available to private users if they have the necessary knowledge or are willing to acquire it. Many companies outsource the programming of individual websites instead of hiring specialists.

A very simple static website can be created if you have basic knowledge of HTML and CSS (cascading style sheets). Beginners can rely on editors that work on the WYSIWYG principle. This way, you can see at any point the effect that the source code has on the structure, layout, and design element of the website. Since professional websites should correspond to certain security standards as well as optical and functional aspects, it’s recommended to get help from a programmer, web designer, or a relevant agency when it comes to a business website.

What’s important for your own website?

Placing content online is easier than ever, but before a website goes online you should check every individual subpage for legal certainty to avoid legal confrontation, which could prove costly.

  • Online copyright: Copyright laws also exist online. If you include texts, images, videos or music files on your website without first seeking permission, you make yourself liable to prosecution. You can only use copyright-protected material with the rights holder’s consent. Software also falls under the copyright category and using a template could cause problems if the programmer hasn’t explicitly made it available for free use.
Tip

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