What’s What on a Website

Written by Jenny Claxton

What is hosting and how is it different from a domain? Our shop analogy can help demystify how to build a website.

A common discussion I have with clients is going through what they need to make a website. Maybe they already bought a web address for their business, so why do they need hosting? It’s really easy to find this stuff confusing if you aren’t dealing with tech every day, so over the years, I’ve come up with some real-world analogies to help each element of a website make sense.

When you make a website, you need several components:

  • Hosting (the place your files live – you need to rent space on a computer server that is always connected to the internet, that never has power cuts etc)
  • A domain name (the easy-to-remember address people type in)
  • The content (text and images)
  • The design (colours and fonts and general vibe)

You can imagine all of these as a building.

The hosting is the land your building sits on. 

You need a space that is big enough to hold all the stuff you want to build, and to cope with the traffic you want to attract. If you were building a giant supermarket, you would want a big expensive piece of land in a busy part of town. You would also want good links to your building, so lots of people could visit, such as good roads and public transport connections.

You would build large aisles and ensure that you had a big wide front door to help lots of customers get in and move about easily. You would hire lots of staff to make sure everyone got served quickly.

If you were making a little shop selling a very niche product, you would look for a small and inexpensive plot in a local high street. As only a small number of people need your product, you just need a regular door, normal size aisles and 1 staff member, as it’s likely you’ll only have 1 or 2 people in the shop at time.

Keep this in mind when buying hosting. You don’t need to pay for huge storage and bandwidth if you are only anticipating a small number of visitors. Conversely, if you want to build a major brand, host lots of large files and attract millions of visitors, you will need to pay more for space and bandwidth to ensure your site runs smoothly.

The domain name is your address and postcode. 

Any place on Earth can be found with GPS coordinates. But they are hard to remember and not very user-friendly; a human can’t find 55.9870N, 12.778E by themselves. By registering your new building with the Post Office, you get an address and postcode, which is much easier for humans to use. It’s similar to phone numbers; an 11 digit number is much easier to remember and share than a complex set of telephone exchange protocols.

A person overlooks a misty, rainy valley in a forest, wearing a hooded raincoat. They are holding a map in their hands and seem to be trying to work out where to go.

‘A domain name is easier to remember than an IP address, in the same way a postcode is easier than GPS coordinates.’

Your hosting server has an IP address which is just numbers, so buying a domain and then setting it to redirect to this IP makes accessing your site much easier for visitors. Just like a phone number, you rent a domain rather than own it. If you cancel your phone contract, someone else might get your number, so make sure your domain fees are paid up on time!

The content is the furniture inside your building.

When you visit certain rooms in a building, you expect to see certain furniture. You need display units in a shop and desks in an office. It also helps us understand what we are meant to be doing in that area of the building; we behave differently in a room with comfy chairs and a coffee machine that we would in a room with toilets and sinks. The text and images on your site serve the same purpose, and should fit certain ‘schemas’ of what we expect and need to see.

A shop display shows us the product in a way that makes us want to buy it, so your product page should have images and details about the product that will do the same job. Users expect to see certain content on certain pages, so having the right images and text for each page makes it easy for the user to navigate your site. Just as it is weird to put a coffee machine in a bathroom, it’s odd to put your contact details on the About Us page instead of the Contact page, or put your price list in a blog post rather than next to your products or services.

While it’s fun to be creative and mix things up, it’s also confusing and disorientating for users. This can be fine if that’s part of your offer; if your site is about an immersive art installation it’s perhaps even desirable for it to be strange and complex to navigate. However, if you just want people to book an appointment with you or buy your products, making your site simple and predictable stops users getting frustrated and giving up.

The design is the wallpaper, paint, and style of your building. 

The way a building is decorated also helps us understand what type of person is meant to be there, and what they are meant to be doing. A supermarket has bold colours and bright lighting, to help customers find what they need quickly and easily. The style is simple and accessible to most people. A high-end clothing boutique will have gentler lighting and more relaxing colours, as they want you to linger and browse, and the atmosphere might feel more exclusive, maybe even intimidating to some. A high-tech brand will use contemporary design and modern furniture, while a brand built on traditional craftsmanship will have period fixtures and vintage colour schemes in their shops.

An infographic - in one corner is a typical supermarket aisle, in the other corner a minimalist fashion boutique. The text by the supermarket says "shopping here feels different to here" with another arrow pointing to the clothing shop. The viewer can see how the design of these two shops evokes different feelings and behaviour in the customers.

Think about your audience and how you want to present yourself to them when setting up a design brief for your website. Bright clashing colours and irregular fonts look great for an alternative quirky brand but might not work for a company looking to attract a more mainstream audience. It’s also really important to separate your brand from yourself; many bad websites get that way because someone wants their favourite image on the homepage, even if it doesn’t actually work in that space. This is where hiring a designer or agency can really help, as they’ll be able to get all your key items on to the site while keeping it accessible, user-friendly and on-brand.

You wouldn’t build your bricks and mortar business without help…

Making a good website is not easy work, and it can seem like an endlessly complex task at times. Hopefully, this analogy with a real-world building has helped straighten things out in your mind and now you have a clear idea of how your website should work.

At Red Spark Digital, we specialise in making brilliant, user-friendly websites that are easy to manage. We can help you get set up online, and teach you to update and maintain your website day-to-day so your customers always know your latest news and offers.

Email us today or book in for a free consultation call to find our more about how we can help you succeed online.

by Jenny Claxton

Jenny specialises in user experience and web design. Her sites balance the user needs against the business goals to make sure everyone gets what they want. Jenny believes that the internet should be accessible to everyone, and that running your website should be an easy part of your general admin. As a result, she has developed the Red Spark Digital training packages to help website owners feel confident and empowered to make basic changes and updates, as well as knowing when the time is right to call in extra help. When not being extremely online, she makes art and writes questions for TV game shows.

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