What are Websites, web apps, and native apps 🌐?
A website is like a digital store or showroom; it’s a place your customers or audience can go to see what you do. Most of the time, we find websites by searching in a search engine like Google. Websites come in many forms, but most often, they’re simply a collection of pages with links between them. They typically have some parts that stay the same across all the pages, such as a header and footer, and sometimes a sidebar.
Web apps are similar to websites because you get to them through a browser like Chrome, but they have a different purpose. While websites are usually for organisations to communicate with their customers / audience, a web app instead is like a digital tool that provides a particular function. Examples of web apps include Gmail for email, Facebook for communicating with friends and family, and YouTube for watching videos.
A native app is a piece of software you can install on your phone, tablet, or computer, and you find them in your device’s app store. Like web apps, they perform a particular function, but they often work more smoothly and have access to more features of the device they’re installed on, such as the camera, GPS, bluetooth, etc.
If you’ve ever heard someone talk about making a website, you’ve probably heard of one or two of these, because they’re the three ingredients every website is made of.
HTML is the language we use to construct pages. For example, we type <h1> for the most important heading on the page, and we use <p> to indicate where a paragraph starts and </p> to indicate where it ends. We also use HTML to include things like images.
CSS is the language we use to make the pages look a particular way, because it gives us control over things like colours, layout, sizing and spacing, fonts, etc.
What are domain names 🇿🇦?
To use Google, you can type www.google.com into your browser, and after a second of loading, the site will appear. The “google.com” part is a domain name, and every single website has one. The “www.” part is called a “subdomain”, and it’s usually optional, meaning that for most websites, it doesn’t matter if you type that part in or not.
Domain names are unique, meaning that only one person in the world can own each one. And fortunately they’re really easy to purchase from a web hosting company. In South Africa, a “.co.za” or “.org.za” domain costs around R100 per year.
What are website hosting and servers ?
Since a website is basically a piece of software, it needs to live on a computer somewhere, and that computer needs to be permanently connected to the internet. We call those computers “servers”, and they are basically just simple computers that are stored in racks in big warehouses. When you want to visit a website, the server wakes up, prepares the website, and delivers the webpage you asked for straight to your browser.
When someone finishes building a website, they need to send it to a server to make it live on the internet, but most web developers don’t own their own servers. Instead, we purchase “hosting” from a web hosting company for a monthly fee, and can then use the server they provide for the website.
What is the frontend and backend?
The software that makes up a website can do it’s processing in two places; in your browser, which we call the frontend, and on the server, which we call the backend.
For instance, imagine that you request a webpage that lists shoes for sale. After a second, your browser shows you the basic webpage with the header, the sidebar, the footer, etc. but without any shoes. A few seconds later, the shoes start to show up in the webpage.
The reason it might happen this way is because the software on the backend that’s powering the website prepares a basic webpage which it sends to you, but it wants to keep it simple so that the initial webpage loads quickly for you.
What are wireframes, mockups, and prototypes 🔧?
These are design terms that mean different things to different designers, so we’re going to describe them in the way that we think makes the most sense.
A wireframe is a simple illustration of how a website will be structured, just like how a blueprint shows how a building will be laid out. Their purpose is to help the decision makers decide which pages the site should have, what should go on each page, and how the visitors will journey through the site to ultimately take an action like filling in a form. To ensure that they don’t distract anyone looking at them from their purpose, wireframes are usually just composed of lines, boxes, and nonsense filler text.
Mockups are typically pictures of what the finished website will look like; or certain key parts of it. Their purpose is to help you decide if the website is going to have the right “look and feel”, meaning that it’s going to set the right tone and expectations for the visitors. Be careful not to simply assess the website mockup based on how pretty it looks; the appearance should really just complement the content in helping to achieve the website’s goals.
A prototype is something that is built to test if a website or app will work correctly for the visitors. It might look really rough like a wireframe, or it could look really polished like a mockup, but regardless of its appearance, it will have some interactive features that you can try out. For example, it might contain a form that you can fill in as you pretend to be a customer, but when you click “submit”, nothing will happen because it’s not built to have the final functionality.
What is branding, corporate identity, or style 🎨?
A brand is a marketing term that describes the way a business looks and is experienced by its customers. Your brand will usually include your logo, your organisation colours, the fonts you use, the types of images you use, and other visual elements like that. It will also include non visual things like the way you speak to customers - how friendly or formal you are, and so on.
When all of these brand elements are written down in one document, that’s usually called a corporate identity (CI) document, or more casually, a style guide.
What are copy and content 💬?
Copy is simply jargon for “text”, which is the words that we use on a website.
When we speak of website content, we’re talking about the text, along with all pictures and videos, and other structured information like products, team members, events, blog posts, etc.
Some content may be needed before the website development begins, some may be added while it is being built, and some may be added only after it’s complete.
What are content management system, or CMSs ⚙️?
A content management system (or CMS) is a particular type of software that can be used to build a website. In particular, when a website is built using a CMS, this means you’ll be able to log in and add, change, or remove content yourself. It will often also let you change other structural elements like menus, search tools, etc, but this depends on the particular CMS used, and what level of access your web developer gives you.
Popular traditional CMSs include WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, however many developers these days are choosing to build websites that store content in new ways that don’t rely on these sorts of software.
What is Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO 🔍?
When someone wants to find a particular product or service, the first place they’ll go is to a search engine like Google, and type in what they’re looking for. Google will then show them 10 webpages - search results - that it thinks will be most relevant to them. SEO is the practice of getting your site into those top results when people search for the things your business does.
There are essentially two factors that determine how high your site “ranks” in these results; the first is how relevant your website is to what people are searching for. For instance, if someone searches for “carpets in Johannesburg”, if you sell rugs in Cape Town, you are somewhat relevant, but other businesses will be more relevant to that particular person.
The second factor is how important and valuable Google thinks your site is generally. When most people think of this part of SEO, they think of the technical things you can do on your site (in the HTML code) that Google prefers. However a far more important factor these days is how many websites link to your website, and how important those websites are.
And how do we get other websites to link to our website? By making our website as valuable as we possibly can for visitors. This means regularly publishing new articles or other content on the topics that your customers are searching for.
What are pay-per-click ads, or PPC ?
While there is technically no cost to working on the SEO of your website, it does take a really long time to start showing results; usually several months. But if you search using Google, you’ll see the first few results are actually ads. Those ads are called pay-per-click ads, or PPC ads.
They’re called that because Google only charges those advertisers when people click on the ads, not when they just see them. So using PPC ads is a quick way to get your website showing up on the front page of Google Search results. These ads cost just a small amount per click - often between R5 and R20 depending on your industry - and they can be live within a few hours of starting, however they take a lot of time and expertise to set up and manage properly, so ultimately this type of advertising can be really costly.
What does social media have to do with websites 👍?
Social media is the collection of websites, apps, and web apps that allow us to keep in contact with our friends, family, and colleagues, and includes platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Most of us with a website ask at some point, “Can I connect our website to our social media accounts?” The short answer is yes, we could add buttons that are links from your website to those pages, or we could add “share this” buttons on your blog posts and products, or we could put a “stream” of your posts and pictures from those platforms directly into one of your site’s webpages. But at that point, we need to ask ourselves that that achieves; why we’re doing it.
A useful way to use your social media platforms is to share the new content on your site. For instance, if you create a new blog post about your latest products, you should tell your customers or followers about it on your social media profiles.
What are analytics and metrics 📊?
Analytics is software that we use to see how well our website is performing. More specifically, it tracks the visitors to our website (anonymously), taking note of what they click on, how long they stay on each page, where they come from, etc. Each piece of information that can be measured is called a metric. The most commonly used analytics software is Google Analytics, and it’s powerful and free.
Seeing analytics information about your site can be very overwhelming at first, so it’s important to first ask questions that you’d like to know, such as “which pages are our most popular?”, “what things are visitors clicking on most from the Home page?”, etc.
What are cookies 🍪?
Cookies are tasty. But cookies on the internet are actually interesting little tools. They’re little packages of information (just plain text) that a website can store in your browser. When you’re logged into a website, for example, there’s probably a cookie that the website put into your browser to prove that you’re logged in. So if you clear your cookies, you’ll be logged out.
The reason cookies have become infamous recently is because they’re often used by tracking software - like Google Analytics, and similar tools by Facebook - to gather information about which pages people visit, what their preferences are, etc., which many people consider to be an invasion of their privacy.