I have recently done a lot of business with web hosts, web authoring, and just a lot of web, web, web stuff. I have changed my webhosting service for Bearclover.net and some of my other domains, and have learned a lot along the way. And I guess I needed to share all this information that I have gleaned. Hence, this little "article." Everything else seems to end up on this site, after all!
If you are just getting started with web authoring, I'd suggest checking out my even longer and more rambling "Newbie's Guide to Web Authoring" page (part of my "JR's Yosemite" site—opens into new window). I offer my opinions about the nuts and bolts of web authoring there. And, just so you know, I don't present myself any advanced expert or great authority on web authoring. But I do enjoy it so.
New! I have been working on a new web site, webcreation4newbies,com, which is all about web authoring, being a webmaster, getting a domain name, choosing web host, getting your own web site online, making web graphics, earning money from your site, listing well in search engines, and a lot of other things. Check it out!
Most of the time, you'll know exactly what you want your web site to be about. It's going to be about your love for Elvis, or it'll show off all your quilting tips, or your poetry. And that's great. You have found a fascinating niche to cover! Because of this, you will get like-minded visitors, who will appreciate your efforts.
Content will always win over great web design. No matter how masterful someone's web design is, if they have little to share, visitors won't stay. Good web design is important, but it's only window dressing for the important thing - content.
"Site Checks" are important. You need to preview your site in the "major" web browsers (Internet Explorer, Opera, Netscape, etc.). Don't expect your site to look exactly the same in all browsers, but do look for horrible differences. Usually the site will look similar enough in both browsers, but occasionally, you'll be in for a shocking surprise. Which is a good thing - it means you've caught an error in time, and now you can fix it!
Don't buy into this "Best viewed in I.E." or "Best viewed in Netscape" nonsense. People don't care which browser you designed your site for—or which resolution you designed it for. They just want to see your content. If your visitors are important to you, you need to bend a little to their needs—because they won't bend to yours. Nor should they.
Of course you can't make everyone happy. There are so many various configurations, that you can't cover them all. So my philosophy is - I.E. and Netscape, Mac and Windows. Oh yeah—don't forget Mac. I use a Mac a lot of the time, and I find that between 3% - 7% of my sites' visitors are Mac users. (It depends on the content of each website, so it seems.) Do you think it's worth it to alienate up to 7% or your site's visitors? Because I don't think that's so small a number that it should be ignored.
The easiest way to get a Mac site check (if you don't own a Mac) is to sign up for one of the web authoring newsgroups, or go to Were-Here's forum and ask for a Mac site check. They will be happy to give you some feedback on your site. Actually, getting feedback is a good idea, no matter what.
Ah, web hosts. Nothing gives you more of a warm fuzzy feeling than shopping for a new web host. Well, not exactly, but it can be kind of fun - in a frustrating, mind-numbing kind of way.
Actually, I love web hosts. They are great. But there are so many of them! And their prices vary so much! So, here are a few pearls of wisdom, and a few flea-bitten opinions I have about web hosts.
The price? Usually, you shouldn't pay more than $20 a month. I am finding that it's not very hard to find a decent host for $10 a month. For instance, one of my favorites is ReadySetConnect.com. I really like them. Right now, their plan offers about 1 GB (1250 MB) of space for between $14 - 10 a month (if you pay up to a year in advance), with plenty of bandwidth. All which I consider to be a fair enough deal. They have extra goodies like an easy-to-configure message board, chat, plenty of cgi goodies and bells and whistles that are over my head. I like them.
Another great host (and for many years the host for this site) is ReadyHosting. You have to pay a year in advance ($100 - averages out to a little over $9 a month) but for that, you get 500 megs, "unmetered" bandwidth, and lots of other goodies (like ColdFusion!). And, a 30-day money back guarantee. So, if you hate them, you can bail out before you are stuck for the year.
I liked Readyhosting just fine. They even have an 800 number for tech support. This can be a great safety net for those times you find yourself in a real bind, and need help from a real, live person. And Readyhosting gets great ratings from CNet. Pretty good, all around.
I wish I could have stayed with Readyhosting, but I decided that I needed a Linux host. I've switched over to Blicksemhosting.com and am very happy. They are reliable, with good customer support, and their prices are fantastic.
I guess my point in mentioning all these web hosts is to let you know that you don't have to settle for the first host you find. And you don't have to pay a whole lot. The days of paying $20 for 10 - 20 megs of space are very definitely over, in my opinion. But watch out—if a host gives away too much, lowballs their prices too much, makes too many grand offers, they may not survive for too long. It still is true sometimes: you get what you pay for.
Web authoring programs - which to use? Well, right now I am with Dreamweaver. I have fallen in love with it—it works great on both my Mac and my PC, it writes decent code, and it has these great "extensions" that are fabulous. I could not recommend it more. But—I used to use a few incarnations of FrontPage for quite a while, and I got a lot of work done with it. I really enjoyed using it. However, it's not cross-platform (at least not the latest versions of it) so phooey! I do a lot of work on a Mac, and I want to use software that has both a Mac and a PC version. Consider me picky, I guess.
And then of course, there are so many other software programs to choose from. HomeSite, BBEdit, NetObjects Fusion, GoLive, EditPad, and on and on. I have actually tried all of these. I love HomeSite, and have a soft spot in my heart for EditPad. I am falling in love with BBEdit as well (I use it a lot on my Mac) but I never could get into NetObjects. The jury's still out for me with GoLive. But a lot of people swear by it, so what can I say?
One thing I will say, though—a lot of the purists think you need to learn the raw HTML code. And I can't say I disagree, even though I am not terribly proficient in HTML myself. But I am doing more coding these days and it is true what they say—a WYSIWYG editor can't do everything. Sometimes you need to go in and make adjustments yourself.
Another thing I'll say - in the circles I encounter (online, that is) FrontPage is not looked upon with a favorable eye, and Dreamweaver is "where it's at." Is this fair? Probably not completely. I've seen some perfectly acceptable pages authored with FrontPage. However, FrontPage is notorious for creating "clunky code." I remember wanting to tear my hair out in frustration at times, when it would "re-write" my code. So, the stigma is there in regards to FrontPage. Just so you know.
"Domain name" - you know, like "www.myname.com.""Bearclover.net" is this site's domain name. Gotta love those domain names.
The thing is, they are cheap, and easy to get. No big deal, anymore. Go to Godaddy.com or Network Solutions and find a domain name that hasn't been taken. (This may take a bit of effort. A lot of the most popular names are already taken.) When you find a name you like, sign up with one of these services. Usually the cost is no more than $70 for two years, $35 for one year. (Bearclover.net costs me less than $10 a year, because I chose the less expensive GoDaddy.) Even though a lot of your web hosts will sign you up for a domain, (and possibly give you a good deal on the price) my advice is to not take them up on it. You may really regret it later.
I may be overreacting a bit on this, but when your new web host makes the domain-buying transaction for you, they are more "in charge" of it than you are. Not that they own the domain, of course—you will. But it can be very difficult later on to alter information about your domain name's account. Like, for instance, if you want to switch web hosts in the future, and leave your current host (the one that signed you up for a domain). This can be difficult if the current host doesn't want to cooperate. They need to contact your domain registrar (the company that you registered your domain with) and tell them that you want to make some changes, so that your domain will "point" to your new web host. Your current web host has to contact the registrar on your behalf, you can't. That's because you didn't actually do the signing up of the domain name, they did. It's complicated, and a bit hard to explain. But trust me, it's not a good feeling. You are totally at the mercy of the host—they may take their sweet time changing your domain account information for you. Eventually, the web host will (or should) tell you the username and password to your account with the registrar, so you can make your own adjustments to your domain. But they can take their sweet time getting you this information as well.
In contrast to the nightmare I have described above, consider the differences: When you sign up (on your own) and register your domain name with a company like GoDaddy.com, (or Network Solutions, etc.), you are always in control. They give you an account number, and a password. You can log onto your account every week if you like, and change information about your domain name. Totally up to you. Much better.
Enjoy your web authoring experience! That's the most important thing. Try not to get ripped off. Take your time choosing a web host, and don't be afraid to make a change if you don't like your current host. Enjoy whatever software you choose to use to create your web site, and remember - it's the content that is the bottom line.
© JR Dunster, 2001 - 2006
Last updated: May 1, 2005