Home  Why  Business  Woodworking  About us  Contact us
 

Using the web

The Internet is a world wide web... oh ... www ... guess that is redundant. As a world-wide form of information and advertising, it may be the obvious solution for someone who makes a small or easily shipped product and wants to sell nationally or internationally. But can it work for a custom furniture maker who's market is primarily local? The answer is an overwhelming YES! I have all the work I want. As a furniture maker, most of my customers are local, and practically all of the customers came from the web site, or a referral from another customer who originally found me on the web.

Web Hosting Provider

Oops! In an earlier version of this web page, I referred to the Web Hosting provider as the "Internet Service Provider" or ISP. Sorry. The Internet Service Provider is the company that connects you or your customer to the internet, not the company that hosts your web site. (Although there is no reason that one company couldn't be both a hosting service and an ISP, the specialized web hosting companies provide extraordinary service and value.) At your home or office, you may select your ISP - perhaps through a DSL from your phone company or a cable modem from your TV company. In a hotel or Internet cafe, they select the ISP - you have no choice. But you have a separate decision about your web hosting provider

There are two parts to a web site. First is a computer and communications always available to respond whenever someone wants to see something from your web site, and second is the information that is on the site. You could use your own computer to respond to customers, but it is far easier and cheaper to use a web hosting company. After trying several, I have been very pleased with IX. For $3.95 per month you get a domain registration (such as www.solowoodworker.com), a computer system that supports your web site, with ample communications connected to the web, plenty of storage space for the contents of your web site, and multiple email accounts. Please click here for more information about IX web hosting, and to give us credit for referring you if you later choose to sign up for their services.

Your domain

The domain is the name that must be unique in the world... in this site, it is SoloWoodworker.com . The www in the "address" says it is the web part of the domain, rather than the mail or other service. When you "register" the domain, you reserve the unique name. About the same time you provide an "IP Address" of the computer that will respond when someone goes to your domain. That IP address, 50.118.15.183 for this site, is like a telephone number - it is what a computer ultimately needs to know to get to your site. There are directories, like phone books, all over the world (called "Domain Name Servers" or DNS) to translate from the name to the current address. Everybody who uses the web specifies which DNS - which "phone book" they will use. Instead of saying http://www.solowoodworker.com/why/webtech.html to get to this page, you could have said http://50.118.15.183/why/webtech.html . The "webtech.html" is the file on the server (initially on my computer but ultimately copied to the web host's server) with the contents of this page, and the "why" is the subdirectory with that file.

Some services only give you a sub-domain. For example, MyBusiness.EasyWeb.com . The domain is EasyWeb.com. The sub-domain is MyBusiness.EasyWeb.com . What's wrong with that? You users have a more complex address to type into the web browser to get to your site or to send you email. The URL (address) advertises EasyWeb as much or more than MyBusiness. If someone else - OtherBusines.EasyWeb.com - does something bad (like sending too much email, so gets listed as a spammer), everyone at EasyWeb.com will be blacklisted - all or part of your service can be blocked, often for days at a time. Sometimes only some ISPs will block your service, so it is very hard to discover if you have a problem. Getting your own domain is not hard or expensive - web and mail service and a domain registration should cost less than $50 per year.

Structure of web pages

On most web sites, when you click a link to go to another page, the address, displayed by the browser near the top of the window, changes to point to a different file for each different page. In that case you - or your customer - can save the address and return directly to that page, an efficient technique that both customers and search engines like. (A programmer can write a program that automatically generates each page as requested, but extreme care is required to make all the information on your site accessible by search engines.)

A slick HTML technique called "frames" initially makes building your web pages easier, but frames practically block the search engines and makes it difficult for your customers to return to a page they want - don't use frames. The rest of this discussion assumes you will use the common technique of each web page being an independent file.

Each "page" on a web site is a different text file on the server that is transferred to your customer's computer for use. The "browser" on your customer's computer uses the data in that text file to display your web page on their computer. What is in that text file? The native language is called HTML or HyperText Markup Language, and it is sent to the browser using HyperText Transfer Protocol (which is why you see the http:// in the address, which may be entered automatically when the browser sees the www). The HTML commands provide information about the page (to help the search engines, and to suggest the formatting of the information on the page (e.g. headings, tables, and paragraphs), and links to other pages.

Most browsers will let you view the HTML - in Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, right click on a web page, and select "View (page) Source" and another window will open with the actual HTML language that generated that page in your browser. Although the HTML is undoubtedly intimidating at first glance, it really is quite logical. When you build a web page, you are generating that HTML code, either by typing it in directly (yah, sure) or with the assistance of some computer program. (I have used Coffee Cup HTML editor for years. They now have a free version that apparently provides all the features I use even though I paid for the "full version" years ago.)

You can generate all the HTML, for all the pages of your web site, one file per page, and arrange them on your computer (any type of computer), and check out how your planned site looks and works. When you are satisfied, you transfer the pages (still one file per web page), and the associated pictures, to the server (at your web hosting provider) using a "File Transfer Protocol" (FTP) (included within the Coffee Cup editor). If you want to update a page on the server, you edit and test the copy on your computer and just use FTP to transfer the file representing the changed page to the web server.

Structure of your site

More important than the host and the tools used to build the pages is the overall architecture of your web site. My first web site tried to attract people to the overall site - product on one page, wood on another, purchase details and area served still elsewhere. It was ignored by the search engines, and had practically no traffic. The search engines are looking for informative pages, not sites. When the site was redesigned with independent pages for each topic - for each type of furniture - the search engines listed it, and the traffic rapidly rose. In a typical month, that site gets 8,000 to 11,000 visitors, who look at 20-35,000 pages and 80,000 files (pictures and text). My first web customer had searched for cherry coffee table in central Texas. All those keywords were on the same page, so the page ranked high in the search - the fact that coffee tables could be made of cherry, and that Austin was in central Texas were all together on the same page. In fact, you need to provide the information, no programmer or web designer does that. If you haven't found it already, the previous page in this series goes into structure in detail.

Programmers can build web sites that will automatically generate pages as requested by the visitor, and if properly built, all the available pages will also be found by the search engines. However, if you simply generate each page independently, and link between the pages, you don't need a programmer to build a good web site. Once you have written informative pages to put on the web, there is little left to do to make a web site - you can do it yourself.

If you use simple HTML for your web pages, then it doesn't matter what kind of server is used by your hosting provider ... most use Linux for the "bargain" services. If you use some earlier Microsoft tools, the generated page may require special facilities on the server, such as the now obsolete "Front Page Extensions" or may actually have to run on a Windows rather than Linux server (increasing your server cost).

Microsoft web pages (those generated by Microsoft tools you may already have) are notoriously inefficient - as a test I used Microsoft Office to build a web page similar to one in use. The page coded directly in HTML took less than 2,000 bytes, the same page generated by Microsoft WORD took over 20,000 bytes. Therefore the Microsoft version of the page would take over 10 times as long each time a customer loaded it.

Pictures

Many people still have old computers, and many people still use dial-up web connections (don't sneer - they are your potential customers, and in some remote areas high speed internet service is not available). Therefore avoid using fancy tools as you build your web site. Fancy animated graphics perform poorly on many computers. Music is easy to add, but drives people away (they may be searching at work, or working late at night at home). Pictures should be shrunk before being stored on the internet - most will be shown on a computer monitor at 75 to 100 pixels per inch, so my preference is that most web pictures are about 300 x 400 pixels (snapshot size, 120,000 pixels, not multiple megapixels). With JPEG compression, those pictures will average less than 20,000 bytes, and will load relatively quickly on even a slow computer. You can put your large multi-megapixel picture on the server and tell it to only display 300 x 400 pixels, but the browser must take the time to download the big picture, and reduce the size as it is displayed... a much slower approach than reducing the size of the picture before it is even put on your server.

Independent pages

To be attractive make sure each page is a single subject, as specific as possible, complete in itself... something a user would like to print out and read. Links to a page are considered recognition of the value of that page, and improve your position in the search results. Links to other pages on your site, or other sites, are fine, but be sure each page is complete in itself. However, reciprocal links (you link to me and I will link to you) are ignored or detrimental as the search engine rank your page. And some people offer special sites that just link to their customers. Google ain't dumb, and those sites count against you!

More web tricks are available on the next page.

If parts of this page aren't clear, please drop me a note with your questions and I will try to answer you as well as improve this page for the future.