If your organization has a web presence of some kind, which it probably does, there’s a good chance you’re not completely happy with something about it. Maybe it’s too expensive. Maybe it’s too hard to update.
Maybe it’s just plain ugly.
If your organization doesn’t have a web presence, there’s a good chance that makes you uncomfortable. It might also make people who consider supporting you uncomfortable.
The good news is that the last few years have given us an explosion of options for creating a web presence.
The bad news is that explosions are uncomfortable. It’s hard to know what the options are and why you might choose them.
This three-part article will help.
Glad you asked. This is a web page:
A web page is actually one or more files that describe in cryptic text how the page should look. When you tell your browser to visit a page here’s what happens:
Though sometimes it turns into something that manages to be less appealing than a cryptic text document:
This leads us to…
Whether you’re creating or maintaining a website, there are fundamentally two things you need to know.
The rest of this three-part article will explore those questions. The answer will depend on which of three options you use:
It is absolutely possible to plunk your web pages right on your desktop computer, or on another computer your organization owns, open that computer up to the Internet, and let people visit your website right there on your own computer.
And if you do that, here’s what will likely happen sooner or later:
Because by hosting your own website you are (whether you mean to or not) taking responsibility for that computer’s security.
Your computer will be available to any nut-job on the Internet who finds it and decide to try hacking into it.
At that point you’d better hope you were expert enough to set up security correctly, diligent enough to keep your computer and its web server software updated with all the latest security patches, and watchful enough to notice when someone breaks in. If you screw that up, there’s a risk that people will hack into not only your web server, but every other computer connected to your web server.
Self-hosting isn’t always wrong. But it requires either a skilled IT department or a high tolerance for risk.
So I’m not even going to answer Question 2 (how to create the pages) for self-hosting. Though if you insist on that route, you’ll create pages the same way as you would for the next option…
Rather than taking responsibility for maintaining and securing your own web server, with this option you pay someone to handle the headaches.
Whether that “someone” is your internet service provider or a separate web host, this the most common option for professional websites.
There are literally thousands of companies that want to host your site. Some are big, some are small. Some are local, some are international. But most important: some are good, some are bad.
How to choose?
First choice: see if someone you know is happy with their web host. That kind of advice is worth a lot.
Failing that, I can make a few recommendations based on my own experience and a good bit of research. (None of these groups give me anything for mentioning them.)
Finally, there are also many (many, many) sites out there that promise to tell you which hosts are good. Some provide their own editorials, some gather opinions from hosts’ customers, some do both.
The problem is, most of them aren’t at all transparent about their methods, and most accept advertising money from the web hosts they review. All seem terribly susceptible to manipulation by unscrupulous web hosts, who can pretend to be end users and then vote for themselves or against competitors.
I’ve tried to extract useful information by doing meta-analysis across half a dozen such sites and filtering for data quality—for example, looking for statistical clues of possible manipulation. But that’s tedious work and takes hours.
So it can’t hurt to visit web host review sites, but view their reports with a jaundiced eye.
Here are some review sites that I’ve found more useful than the others (maybe, caveat emptor, grain of salt, mumble-mumble, etc.):
Sites with User Reviews
Part Two of this article will discuss tools and options for creating web pages if you’re using a web hosting company or (insert the sound of nails on a blackboard) hosting your site on your own server.
Part Three will look at some more recent additions to the web hosting fold: alternatives that will let you create a reasonable website with little or no technical knowledge, and sometimes for free.
See you then.