What is a Website?

We explore what websites are made of, and why they exist.

We all know what websites are, right? We use them every day. But what really counts as a website, and what doesn’t? And what are they made of? In this article, we explore the answers to those questions from a couple of different perspectives.

From a visitor’s perspective

When you open Chrome on your computer, and use Google to find something by typing into it’s search box, you’re on the internet searching for a website. Chrome is an app called a web browser, but Google.com is a website. Let’s say you’re looking for a vet for your dog, and when you search for one, Google provides you with a couple of results, so you click on one. You’re visiting a particular webpage of a vet’s website. It might take you to the Home page of the vet’s site, or some other webpage, because that’s all a website is; a collection of webpages.

When you’re on a webpage of a website, you can read text, look at pictures, and generally click on things that interest you. If you click on a button or some special text that takes you to another page, you’re clicking on a link. Back in the early days of websites, they were called hyperlinks, and they were blue with an underline. But these days links can look like anything, as long as they’re words that stand out.

When you’re visiting a website, as you navigate from page to page, your browser (which could be Chrome, Edge, Safari, or Firefox) saves the pages into your history, which lets you go back to pages you’ve visited in the past, and lets you use the back button at the top. If you find a page you like, you can “bookmark” it in your browser for later.

From a marketing perspective

Websites exist because people and organisations want to communicate with you on the internet (which is where websites live). Businesses know that people search for things they want on the internet, and if they don’t have a website, the people will go to their competitor’s websites and the business will lose out. So everyone competes by creating a website for their businesses.

Businesses also know that we like to do much more with our computers and phones than just visit websites; we like to use a maps app to find places near us, we use social media like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to connect with other people, and we receive and send email when we’re working. So these businesses create content (basically ads) that they show us on all of these places on the internet. While social media is becoming the most popular way of using the internet, it’s quite diverse, which means that these organisations have to have a profile on each one and create content on each one. But they only need to have one website, and people will find it if it’s good. So websites are really the most important part of any business’ marketing strategy.

From a content perspective

On the pages of websites, we can find all sorts of fun and interesting things to look at besides just text and images. Webpages can have videos for you to watch and enjoy, they can have galleries of photos, and they can have “accordions” (a design element that expands in place to expose some hidden information) for things like frequently asked questions, where you can open one at a time to read what’s inside. They can have lists of useful things on the webpages like different recipes to cook, or events that you can attend.

Generally, websites have some parts that are the same on all pages, like a header at the top, and a footer at the bottom. Some sites might have a sidebar with additional information on a webpage, and this might show up in some sections of the site but not others.

Webpages can also have all sorts of different layouts. While most webpages are tall and narrow and start at the top, meaning you scroll down to see more, some webpages have a more unique layout like a page with no scrolling, but where you click on things to see more. And each webpage is usually made up of many sections (with different backgrounds) that each have a different purpose and show us different information. Some sections may have a title at the top and some text below, or 3 or 4 blocks of text, the blocks can each have a picture, or the section can have one big picture on the left or right, with text beside it. The possibilities are endless.

From a technical perspective

Normally, we know that we’re going from one webpage to another because we’ve clicked on something, and the browser is showing us that something is “loading”. What’s happening is that your browser has “requested” the webpage, and it’s waiting for the HTML, which is the language that webpages are built with.

But it’s becoming less and less clear when we’re moving from page to page these days, because website’s are getting smarter about changing just certain parts of a webpage instead of swapping the whole webpage entirely. If the header and footer are the same on every page, it makes sense for the website to just swap the “body” of the page between these when you click on a link. And sometimes when this happens, our browsers don’t even show us that anything is “loading”; after a second or two when nothing seems to be happening, poof, new content appears in that part of the webpage.

This new kind of loading happens on websites that are built using a lot of JavaScript, which is the primary coding language of websites. The software that web developers use for this is called a “JavaScript framework”, and it runs in your browser. But having a lot of JavaScript on a website takes a lot of processing power to run, which is why websites can be really slow on older phones that aren’t powerful enough.

To learn more about the technical concepts involved in getting a website, read our article Technical words you should know before getting a website, in simple English.

We hope you’ve found this interesting and informative! If you have, or even if you haven’t, or if you just have more questions, please let us know.

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