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Turn on the television and listen to the news, and you will hear with startling regularity predictions that if you have a business but don't have a website, you are sure to fail. Even little old ladies making olive oil in pretty Italian villages have websites, so isn't it time you had one?

The web isn't just about making money, of course. As regular readers of Computeractive will know, you can use a website for just about anything. You might decide to tell visitors everything you know about your favourite film star, or the place you live. Or perhaps you want to create a newsletter for members of the family to read wherever they are in the world. Self-employed people could use a website to advertise their services - or maybe even to sell things via an online shop.

There's little doubt that a web page can be a useful and fun thing to create, but how do you go about it? Can you really sit down in front of the computer and come up with a website to rival the best, in just a few hours?

Well, it's not quite that simple, but it's nowhere near as complicated as you might think. Read on, and we'll explain everything you ever needed to know about making a website, whether it's for the fun, family or financial part of your life.

The basics
Before going any further, what makes a website? The simplest type of site is just text and pictures. And if you've browsed a few you'll see that the names of the pages themselves usually end in .html or .htm. HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, and it's a system of labelling the different parts of a web page to say 'This is a top-level heading', 'This is part of a list' or 'Include this picture here, and put it at the right side of the page'.

You can see what HTML looks like by using your browser - for Internet Explorer lust choose View Source from the View menu, and Page Source from the View menu in Netscape Navigator when you're looking at a web page.
But don't be put off by how complicated it is. HTML may be the heart of the web, but you can build a great website without learning any of it at all. Modern web design programs - we've listed a few on page 84 - will take care of all the hard work for you, so you can just create pages as if you were using a word processor or DTP program.

As well as the HTML pages themselves - each one is stored in a separate file - and the pictures you want to use on them, there's one other important part of a website: the web server.

In web jargon, the server computer is where your pages are hosted. All the files that make up your website are put on the server, and the URL, or web address, is made up from the name of the server, the location of your files on the server and the name of the file.

So, if you want to get your pages out there on the world wide web for everyone else to see, you need to design the pages and find somewhere to host them. When everything's ready, you just transfer the pages from the computer where you wrote them to the web server, and you're done.

(Top) Planning, planning,planning:make a diagram to design your site (Above) Programs like Fusion allow you to see how your pages are linkedPlan ahead

So that's the basics on how to start building a website, but as you might expect, there's a lot more to it than that, especially if you want to make sure your website is one that people will want to come back to time after time - something that's particularly important if you want to use it as part of your business.

You need to plan your website before you start creating pages. Of course, you could sit down with a web design program and just type in what comes to mind, but the results might not be logical, and the final site might be hard to move around in.

Think about what you want to do - if you're telling people about yourself, what are the sensible ways to split things up into different pages? Should it be a work and personal life split? Or perhaps divided into areas like politics, recreation and home life?

Similarly, if you want to use the site for business, what's the most important thing? Should there be a catalogue, or just a way for people to contact you? Will they want to know the history of your business? Or should they be able to buy things online?
You need to know the answers to all these things before you start to create your site. And some of them will also affect your choice of where you can have your pages hosted - you might not, for example, be allowed to do anything commercial on the free web space that comes with your ISP. Or you may decide you the ability for people to download recordings of need facilities for processing credit cards online, or your own rock band.

Not everyone uses Internet Explorer (top) and Netscape to surf the webDesign matters
While the information on your website is the most important part of it - think how many times have you been dazzled by great graphics but can't find a company's phone number-making sure your site looks good is still important if you want people to come back.

The design of the site can also have a big impact on things like how quickly it will appear in people's browsers, too. Putting hundreds of pictures everywhere might look good, but it can slow things down a lot.

There are other considerations, too. Remember that not everyone will be looking at your site with the same computer as you. They might be using a Macintosh, or a different web browser, or an older version of the mainstream browsers, such as Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. And some people might be using a 'screen reader' to read the page out loud to them, if they are visually impaired. You need to remember, and adjust your website, for all of this if you want your site to be truly accessible.

For example, when you put a picture on your web page, you can also give it a description, often called an 'ALT tag', which is displayed if the picture isn't shown, or read by software for the partially sighted. So don't be lazy; if you've used a picture, give it a description, especially if it's a button like 'Click here for sales'.

You might be tempted to use lots of different fonts on your page too - but remember that if you choose something fancy, not everyone will have it on their computer, so they'll lose the effect.

There are some tricks worth bearing in mind that can help make sure things work smoothly, though.

If you want lots of buttons on your web page, it's easier to use the same one each time. That way the browser will only downloaded it once. But if each button is different, they'll all have to be downloaded. Similarly, using the same picture, like a logo, on each page, is more efficient than using a different one.

When you want pictures to be a particular size, you can tell the browser to make them that size - but it's better to make a picture smaller beforehand, so that there's less for people to download. And when you scan pictures, you don't need a resolution of more than 72 dpi. Any more is wasted when the picture is displayed on screen, so it just slows down the loading of your web page.

And, most important of all, though you might be tempted to add lots of fancy features - especially since the latest web authoring programs make it so easy to do - make sure that anyone can get all the important information easily, without having to wade through long pages of text, or downloading the latest plug-ins for their web browser.

A home of your own

lf you want your site to be found more easily, you should request domain nameWhere your web pages are hosted can be almost as important as what's on them. For a small personal site, you might not think there's much to worry about, but even then you'll need to think carefully, or you could run into problems.

What sort of problems? Well, one of the biggest is bandwidth - the amount of information that can be downloaded. Many ISPs limit the bandwidth available to people with free web space. Say you put a webcam on your site and each picture takes up 50 Kb, updating twice a minute. That means anyone looking at the page will download too 100Kb a minute, or 60Mb every hour. So if your limit is 10Mb a day, it'll take less than two hours of people watching your webcam to reach it. You can run into the same problem if, for example, you have a downloadable catalogue for your business on the site, or sound files for a band you play in. Even lust a site with lots of pictures could cause problems, especially if there are lots of visitors.

And what's in a name? If you want to use your website for business - or even lust have a snappy web address for personal use - it's worth looking at registering a domain name (see Computeractive issue 41) so that people don't have to remember a complicated URL for your pages.Check prices carefully:with Freeserve,you can point a domain name at your free webspace,but it costs a lot of money

There are other considerations you'll need to bear in mind when you look for a home for your site. If you want more than just a set of pages that people can read, you'll need to be able to run scripts. These could collect addresses for a visitor's book, or requests for a brochure, or even look up information in your database to tell people whether or not a particular product is in stock.

Your own server

If you want to run your own server - and doing so means you'll be able to run anything you like on it - what exactly will you need?
As a general - purpose web server; you can use a wide range of computers - though if you're going to rely on a computer to send web pages over the net 24-hours -a day it won't make sense to skimp. Choose a brand-name computer and if you can afford it, choose one that's specifically designed to be used as a server.
For many people, the best choice is likely to be a PC running Windows NT Server, which looks similar to Windows 98 but is more robust, and includes web server software.
However, in terms of value for money, nothing beats an operating system called Linux. It's nominally free - if you want to spend time downloading it all - but for about £60 you can buy a CD in most software shops, which will include all the software you need for a web server. The bad news is that it requires a lot of technical knowledge to get everything set up. If you're prepared to learn, you'll be rewarded with a system that needs far less horsepower to provide good performance than anything running Windows NT.
You can run a Linux web server using a Pentium 133Mhz processor, for example, with 64Mb of memory. For Windows NT, you'll need a much faster PC.
Macintosh users aren't left out of the game either. A version of the Mac software called Mac OS X Server provides web server facilities, and is much easier to configure than many others systems. It's worth remembering that both Windows and Mac Os can run web servers but since they lack the security and and performance features of other options, they're best considered only for testing a site, or perhaps web pages in a small office, where reliability and performance aren't as important.

The type of scripts you can run depends on the server you re using to host your pages- and they can be tricky to write, too. Fortunately, there are some programs like  FileMaker Pro, which are designed to make it easy to link your information to the internet, so if having data online is important, you should look at these too.

For anyone who wants to make money online, security is a big issue. Before you consider taking credit card details, you'll need to arrange what's called a 'secure server', which is one where information is encrypted before being sent over the net from the user's PC. Some of the big web hosting companies will offer this feature to you - and some might even be able to help you design an online shopping facility too. To provide secure pages you'll need a certificate, which is an electronic proof of identity, that will be sent to people looking at your pages 50 they can decide if they trust you. You can find out about and apply for certificates from places like BTTrustWise at or Verisign at

Where to put your website

When it comes to getting your website online, there are lots of places where it can be hosted, ranging that cost thousands of pounds each year But how do you choose between the different options and is cheapest always best? We've looked at the different options for you to help work out which is the right solution for you.

Free web space from your ISP
Most internet providers give you free webspace and some will let you have as much as you like. But there are catches. Firstly, you'll probably have the name of your web address, and secondly there may be limits on the number of visitors you can have each day or week. You won't be able to run fancy scripts of your own.

  • Computeractive says: use a site like this for personal pages or a small home company if you 're on a tight budget.

Free web space on the net

There are dozens of places, like Geocities or Tripod where you can get a free home on the web, and even if you change lSP, your website will still be there for anyone to see. But, as with the free space from ISPs, these sites often restrict the scripts you can run to a small number,and the web address of your site will let everyone know that you're using free space. Some of the services also have pop-up adverts each time someone looks at your pages, which can be irritating.

  • Computeractive says: use a service like this if you want a web address for life, and don't mind the adverts. They're best for personal pages only.

Commercial web space
Most internet providers will sell you space on their servers ,which gives you fast service more flexibility - you'II often be able to run all the scripts you want.Check what the price includes,though; it should include a domain name, and as much space as you need. Expect to pay around £50 per month,with larger sites costing more. You may also have to pay more if you expect lots of visitors to your website,or want features like secure shopping.

  • Computeractive says: for a business site, this is often the best bet, especially if you don't want to worry about the technical side of things. But shop around for a good deal, as prices and facilities vary a lot.

Hosting your own website
If you have a computer that can handle it (see the box - Your own server) you can arrange with ISPs that cater to businesses to install a permanent internet connection - known as a leased line - linking you 24 hours a day. The advantage of this solution is that you can do whatever you like on the server, since you have complete control. But expect to pay at least £300 per month for the slowest link, which is ISDN speed, and much more for a faster one.

  • Computeractive Says: if you want complete control over a site for your business,this is a good option - but it'll cost a lot if you want a fast link to your server.

This is a cross between the last two options, where you have your own server, but instead of paying for a leased line, it's installed at the ISPs office, so it has a much faster link to the rest of the net than you could normally pay for. Prices, however, are similar to a leased line, and there will often be a limit on the amount of bandwidth you can use.

  • Computeractive Says: if a fast link to your server is important, and you want complete control, this is the best option. But remember to find out how much you'll pay for bandwidth.

Let's go outside
All of this might sound like a lot to consider. That's why many people - especially if they're creating a business website - will contact a web design company to do the work for them. You'll find plenty of people who say they can do it - but remember that it's not just a matter of creating a few pages. Before you spend lots of money with a company, make sure you see what they've done before, and that they understand all the different parts of making a website. You'll often find that your ISP, or the company that you choose to host your site, can recommend a good web designer. But whether you decide to do the work yourself or pay someone else to do it, the key to making a successful website is planning, planning, planning.

There's more to planning than just what you're putting on the site, though. It's worth planning even further ahead. How are you going to update the site, and how often? It's worth making sure things are arranged so you can add new pages or whole new sections to the site without having to rearrange everything else.

Plan, too' how you're going to promote your site. You can visit places like Submit-It.Com to enter it into a range of search engines, or put the URL on your business cards. You might like to join 'web rings' of similar sites, where the people in the ring exchange links with each other, or write to people whose websites you like, and ask if they'll put a link to yours on theirs.

Web authoring software

There are lots of packages available that you can use to create your website, but here are some of the best.

Adobe Go Live 4.0

Pros: Powerful and flexible with support for most modern web features
Can take time to learn
Available for:
PC & Mac

Adobe PageMill 3.0

Pros: As easy to use as a wordprocessor
Lacks support for some of the web
Available for:
PC & Mac

Filemaker Home Page 3.0

Pros: Straightforward,but with support for lots of modern web features
Database features are geared to Filemaker Pro users
Available for:
PC & Mac

Microsoft Frontpage 2000

Pros: Simple to use and full of time-saving features
Some features only work with Microsoft Frontpage web server
Available for:
PC & Mac

Softquad HoTMetal 5.0

Pros: A full featured package that supports just about all the latest web technologies
Can  be hard to get to grips with
Available for:
PC & Mac

Six of the Best

Top tips for your website

  • Plan the site before you start creating any pages- don't just add pages as you go along.
  • Make your site easy to view as possible - don't use images that are too big, or lots of fancy plug-ins, unless you really have to.
  • Make sure visitors can find the most important information easily, without too many clicks - like how to contact you.
  • Pretty graphics and Java applets can help a site - but concentrate on the information - that's what people will be looking for.
  • Try to update your site as often as you can - even if it's just changing a picture on the front page. Sites that say 'Last updated June 1998' put people off.
  • Before you decide on hosting your website in a particular place, check the terms to make sure you can run the sort of site you want,and there won't be problems,such as bandwidth limits,if you unexpectedly get lots of visitors.

What to do next

If you want to design a site yourself, the next step is simple; take a look at the web design programs we've listed above, and decide which one suits your needs - most of them offer dowuloadable trial versions.

Before you start building your site properly, spend time learning the basics of using a web design program, so you can have a feel for how it works and what you can do.

There may seem to be a lot of things to think about, and a lot of different techniques to get to grips with, like scanning pictures and designing pages, but if you've ever used a DTP program, or tried to lay out information neatly; in a word processor, you'll be surprised how easy it can be to create your own website.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out a pen and paper, and start planning. The web is waiting for you.

Nigel Whitfield

See Also "The Web Q&A" and "Making Webpages" and "Webpage Editor".

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