Every organisation can benefit from a dedicated website to show its services, and a custom email address to pick up messages. It’s easier than you think to get started, and this chapter covers the basics.
How does a website work?
At its simplest, a website is a collection of documents (usually referred to as pages) formatted in a specific way to make them readable by an application called a browser (Microsoft Edge, Opera and Google Chrome are examples of browsers).
Most of the time these pages of information are held on a specific sort of computer designed to allow other people’s browsers to read them while connected to the internet. This is known as a web server.
Each of the web pages have a specific address so that they can be found. This address is often known as the ‘web address’ or ‘Universal Resource Locator’ (URL).
This URL is what you type into your browser to see the page.
Does my organisation need a website?
Many organisations rely on social media sites (for example, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) to serve as their presence on the internet. It’s a good way to get started online, as you can be up and running in a couple of minutes.
Websites, however, are more flexible and allow more information to be shared than through social pages alone.
Usually, the main components of a website are a few pages of information describing your services, your contact information and other information that doesn’t change very often.
Websites don’t replace social media, they’re complementary to it.
How do you set up a website?
The usual way to start is by paying for a unique web address which your organisation has sole use of. This is called a domain (or domain name). Ours is techresort.org, the BBC lives at bbc.co.uk, and so on.
Domains are purchased through specific organisations who usually offer additional services such as hosting the website, providing email services and additional features such as online shops and other specialised functionality.
Searching the term ‘web hosting’ or ‘domain registration’ is an easy way to see what services are available, and the likely costs.
Many web hosts provide templates and step by step help in building your first website. These are a good way to get things up and running quickly. Beware free sites which help build a first simple website, but then fill it full of adverts, or charge more than normal to have your own personal domain name.
How much does hosting cost?
The total annual cost for a basic package which would hold your website and provide a number of email addresses is likely to be about £5 per month + VAT.
A dedicated domain name generally costs around £10 – £40 a year.
Do I need to pay someone to create my website?
Your webhost will often provide you with simple tools to build your own website. If you have special requirements, a professional web developer would probably be a good investment.
Be really clear about what you want from your website and consider trying templates or a pre-formatted structure such as WordPress, Squarespace or Wix at least to experiment with the information you want to show.
Do I need special software to write web pages?
Most of the structure of a simple website is created using two languages – Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).
These aren’t, strictly, coding languages. They’re special text files with annotations (Mark Up) that tell a web browser how to interpret the file. It’s quite easy to get started with these mark up languages, even if you’ve never done it before.
A simple text editor such as Notepad++ is a free way to get writing your own web pages and you can store and read them locally whilst you’re learning.
There are lots of books and websites available to help start out. If you write your web pages on your own computer you’ll have to upload them to your web host. For that you’ll need a small piece of software that will securely upload the files using a protocol called FTP (or SFTP). Filezilla is a free utility that will do this.
What else can I get with my hosting?
Some hosting companies offer extra software for free that could be useful to you. Some provide a way to allow you to share files securely with other members of your organisation.
Other applications like WordPress sites, shop sites and Wiki-type sites can often be installed on your web hosting package with no prior knowledge and a few clicks from your mouse. It’s worth shopping around a few hosting providers as one may offer exactly what you need.
Do I really need a custom email address?
You’ve probably already got a free email address from BT, Hotmail or Google. That’s OK to get started with.
If you’ve already bought hosting, then you can get an email address with the same web domain. Consider these two email addresses:
The second looks a lot more professional, and is pretty easy to set up. It also allows you to keep personal and work emails separate.
With your own domain you can usually have several email addresses for different people, and different purposes, such as:
We bought techresort.org and use it for our website. Because we own it, we can also set up custom email addresses. Our main address is firstname.lastname@example.org for general enquiries, and we’ve others for specific jobs.
When you buy hosting, check that custom email addresses are built in. Most providers offer this as standard.
How do I get emails from my new address to appear on my computer?
You can use software called a mail client to securely log into your email account, collect the mail and present it to you.
You may have heard of Microsoft Outlook or Mail applications. These can be easily configured to collect emails from many different sources to being them to the same application. There are also free mail clients (such as Mozilla Thunderbird) for PCs and Macs.
Most smart phones and tablets also have a Mail application that can access your email.
If you use a protocol called “IMAP”, then you can easily see all your emails from many different devices without deleting them from the mail server.
The alternative protocol called “POP” will allow you to download your emails locally which means you may not have to have a live internet connection to read old emails. But if you usually access email on many devices there’s a risk that different emails will end up on different devices – and that might not be very helpful.
It’s worth remembering that all email server systems – whether free, like Gmail and Hotmail or paid for via a hosting service – will probably put limits on the volume of emails they store.
This means you should have a method in place to gather and archive emails that you may need in the future.
Is email from a web hosting provider more secure than a free email provider?
Generally, email is not a secure form of communication but it’s convenient, pretty reliable and quick.
If, however, your organisation has to deal with sensitive information it would be better to use other means of communication. Either secure email or shared documents where access to those documents are strictly controlled and access is via a username and password.
If you need to send things like usernames and passwords to members of your organisation, it’s best not to put them in the same email. Using two separate methods of communication would be a little more secure.