One of the things I get asked most often is how to explain what it is that makes up a website. For people unfamiliar with websites, the terminology can seem confusing at first and I’ve found it helpful to use analogies. At WordCamp Seattle 2014, I used a slide in my presentation that compared a website to a house and it seemed to resonate with the audience so I’m posting it along with a deeper explanation here.
What Is A Website?
If you think of a website as a house, it covers a lot of things. A house is not just one thing but is a whole made up of a lot of smaller components. There are a lot of styles of houses, a lot of purposes for houses and the same can be said for websites. Think of a cabin in the woods. It is a simple-looking structure meant to blend in with the surroundings and evoke a sense of the outdoors. Compare that to a modern high-rise that is sleek and stylish, meant to impress and to house a lot of people in a fast-moving city. Each house has a different structure and feel, meant to fit with its purpose just as each website should have a structure and feel that fit with its purpose.
What Is A Domain?
The domain is the address that the website is at, similar to a street address. Usually a website has a single domain (address) but sometimes it can have more than one. That can be like having a mailing address versus a physical address. Both are valid ways to find the location but they look different. A domain must be hosted somewhere to be able to be seen. The hosting is the service that makes it available online and lets traffic get to it.
What Is HTML?
HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language and it is the framework of the house. All of the beams and supports that go into giving the house shape and strength are the HTML code that shapes the website. HTML tells a browser (like Google Chrome, Firefox or IE) what is a title, what is a picture, what is text, what is a link, etc. It frames the website and using it well makes for a strong website that those browsers can read and understand. A blueprint that shows the frame of a house with missing walls is not too useful and neither is a website that is missing important pieces of HTML. The beauty of working with websites in WordPress is that WordPress can take care of a lot of that HTML work for you, letting you edit your text and headlines, add pictures and other media, like you would in a word processing program while it adds the HTML coding for you.
What Is Content?
The content of the website is like the furniture. You have the address (domain) and frame of the house (HTML) but without anything inside of it, your house is not too useful. A website without content is not too useful either. Your content should reflect the purpose of your website. In our cabin versus high-rise example, you probably wouldn’t put edgy, modern, flashy furniture into the cabin and conversely you wouldn’t put a log bed into the high-rise. The purpose wouldn’t match. When thinking about your content (a series of blog posts in and of itself) you need to keep in mind what your purpose is, what your visitors will be on your site looking for and what you want them to do as a result of coming to your site. Make your furniture fit with your structure so that it makes sense to those who visit you!
What Is CSS
CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets and is how you can control the look and feel of your website, like the interior design of a house. While you may have a great frame and furniture, leaving it all stacked in one corner of the house in a jumbled mess or all stacked in one straight line down the hall wouldn’t be very useful or visually appealing. CSS allows you to work with colors, arrangement, sizing and other style aspects. You can arrange the content where you want it, make it look like you want, and make your website look more cohesive and present you in the way you want. The same furniture in the same house can look completely different if you re-arrange it or change the paint on the walls and the throw pillows you use for accents. The same is true for websites. The same content can be made to seem completely different when you style it differently. Think of what a red and black website makes you think of. Now think of a blue and white website. They usually have very different emotions and ideas connected to them. Have fun with it but remember that the same rules of interior design that apply to your house apply to your website. Don’t make it garish or crazy unless that is what you really, really want. As a note: some WordPress themes have areas for you to set custom CSS without needing to know code, some have areas for you to add code and some require the use of a plugin (like “My Custom CSS” which I’ve used a lot).
What Are Plugins?
Plugins are the things that you setup to run behind the scenes in WordPress. Plugins are like the utilities in your house. They can be used for all sorts of things to add functionality to your website. While your utilities give you access to water, gas, electricity, telephone, internet, sewer, garbage service, etc., plugins give you access to eCommerce, SEO, calendars, registration, creating grids, making your photo layout be what you want, etc. Each plugin is made up of at least a short amount of code that is meant to help you do something with your website. Sometimes they work well and sometimes they don’t. Just like you need to check in on your utilities from time to time to make sure you are receiving the right service for the right price, you should check up on your plugins to make sure they are up to date and still useful. Old plugins that need updates or unused plugins sitting in your website in WordPress can create a security risk.