If you're serious about making money online you'll need to have one or more websites. On this page we'll outline all the basic elements of a site and include links to more in-depth information and tutorials. Understanding these elements and having a strategic development plan before you begin building your site is essential for minimizing work and maximizing value.
While you can pay other people to make your sites, understanding basic HTML and CSS code will allow you to save money and time, promote your site through SEO (since some of that does require code changes and additions), and fix problems should they arise. If you don't understand how to construct a basic website you'll have to rely on someone else every step of the way.
Making a website is not difficult, and can be learned more or less in a few days. Although everything you need to learn can easily be found on the internet, it's handy to have a book on basic HTML and CSS code for you to easily reference. Below we'll explain what's required to make a site, and you'll find more details by clicking the links in each section. All of the tools you need to make your site can be found in our section on Free Tools.
HungryPiranha.org is the domain for this site. Although you can make a website without a domain name, you'll need to purchase one before you make your site live on the internet. Unregistered (available) domains are very inexpensive. Domains with a .com/.net/.org extension can be purchased at registrars like GoDaddy for less than $10/year. You can also purchase an already registered domain for a higher price either through sites like BuyDomains.com or at one of many auction sites on the web. For more information on domains see our section on Choosing a Domain.
Your website needs to exist somewhere in order for people to see it when they type in your domain name. You'll need to "host" it on a server, and in order to do that you'll have to get a hosting account. You can think of it like going to dinner. There's a host who serves your food, in the same way as your website host serves your website to people who type your domain name into an internet browser. See our section on Choosing a Host for more information.
Once you have your domain name and your hosting account, you'll need to connect the two so that when people type your domain name into an internet browser your website will actually show up. When you sign up with a host you'll be able to add a domain to your account. Once you enter your domain name your host will give you a list of nameservers, usually two or three. You'll then go to the account where you bought your domain, click on the domain in your account, and then click on the nameservers option to customize them so that they "point" to your host. (See our hosting page for an easy to follow tutorial.)
Then, when a person types your domain name in their browser your registrar will direct them to your hosting account where the content of your website is located, serving your site to your visitor. But of course you need to have a website to put on your hosting account...
Every website you see on the internet is made up of "code". The internet browser you're using now renders that code into what you're seeing on your screen. So in order for a person to make a website, he or she needs to write the code for the browser to read. (There are web design programs that allow you to make a website without being able to write code, but you'll be better off first understanding how they work.)
A static site is one in which the code on the page that's uploaded to the server is exactly what the browser sees. A dynamic site on the other hand is one in which the server makes substitutions to the code on the fly, sending the browser a page of code that is generated from different sources. Sites can be fully static, fully dynamic, or a combination of the two.
Content management systems (commonly referred to as a CMS) allow a website owner to enter small bits, such as the "post content" of a blog post or a product image and description on an e-commerce site, into a user control panel, which then dynamically inserts that content onto a template, or standard design elements of a page. So let's say you have a website like this one, where you have a header and logo image, a sidebar, a center content area, and a footer. The only thing that's different on each page is the center content area. If this site was utilizing a CMS, the center content could have been entered in a user control panel, stored by the CMS, and then dynamically inserted as the page was requested by you. The page would not exist anywhere in its current form. Instead, pieces would exist that would be dynamically assembled only when requested.
A CMS is very useful when a website will have large amounts of content that change frequently, where you don't want to have to modify page code, or add and remove pages on a regular basis. This is extremely convenient on e-commerce sites with thousands of products for example. A CMS like Wordpress also makes it very easy for someone not familiar with website code to add content to a site and easily choose between a number of pre-designed themes.
However, the code that makes a CMS work is vastly more complex than the code behind a static site. While a CMS like Wordpress is easy for a beginner to us "as is", it's much more difficult to make custom adjustments. Many widely available content management systems are also vulnerable to attacks by hackers, as the ability to interact with them often leaves openings that can be exploited.
Choosing how you want your site to be structured (static, dynamic, a combination of the two, controlled by a CMS or not) should be based on the requirements of the site and your preferences. You'll learn more about site structures and how to build and work on them in our sections on Static Sites (where we'll include dynamic components), Choosing a CMS, and Wordpress.
The internal workings of your website won't necessarily dictate the external design, or the way your site looks in a visitor's browser. Your site design will consist of the layout of various components, page or link architecture, and of course visual design elements. The most important components of web design are usability and conversion optimization. If your site isn't easy for visitors to navigate, they'll leave right away, and if it's not optimized for conversions you won't make any money. To learn more, see our section on Web Design.
But before starting to visually design your site you should come up with a strategic plan. Make a spreadsheet where you list all the pages you want to have on your site, along with the categories they'll fall under. Your spreadsheet should include the page titles, descriptions, and keywords you plan on targeting with it. It should also include a section on link building (for your SEO efforts), and ideas for expanding the site should it do better than you think. By having a plan drawn up before you start making your site, the process will be smoother, faster, and easier for you to add to in the future.
Analytics will allow you to monitor your site's traffic patterns, see what keywords your site is ranking for, where visitors are coming from and what pages they're exiting on, etc. You can use analytics to get new ideas for keywords to target, and you'll clearly see if you have ranking problems based on decreases in traffic for particular phrases. If you notice lots of visitors leaving your site on a particular page, that could be a sign that you need to make the page better or give visitors another place to go on your site. See our section on Analytics for more information.
Remember, once you have your website live on the web you've only just begun. If no one knows about your site you won't get any visitors. See our sections on Website Promotion, SEO, and PPC to learn how to promote your site and increase traffic. Once you have a substantial number of daily visitors you'll be able to make money with your website. See our monetization section to learn how.