Let’s learn the basics about getting a your website on the web….
So with many of us still staying home most of the time and thinking of new ideas or finally continuing old ones, a lot of people have recently contacted me wanting to have a website or web-based service of some sort created for them, especially with social distancing measures increasing the need for them (even if less people can actually afford to be on the web right now). Hence with a little extra research from the TZP team and my own experience being a web developer, say hello to our comprehensive guide on creating and running a website (or having one made for you).
Now let’s go right off the bat here and announce that there’s a reason this article isn’t titled “How to get into web development”, and that’s because it’s not really meant to get into the technical details of developing a website(If you guys want a web developer focused article or content, do let me know in the comments or on our socials). Simply put, this is the layman’s guide to the world of running all kinds of websites, be it company advertising sites or online stores, and we’ll go through everything from how websites work (and why they cost money) to the easiest way to get one set up without breaking the bank too much. So, without further ado, let’s begin.
How do websites even work?
Well despite some differences in types of websites from simple static sites to social networks, all websites essentially are stored on servers somewhere that have all their information, information that you get each time you load up their page. This is because the internet itself is essentially the giant connected network of our devices and those servers , hence every website in the world is essentially sorted and accessed this way.
Are these servers why making and running a website costs money?
Well basically yes. But there’s a whole costing structure to this. You see all websites require 2 things in order to be online, and that’s a domain name and hosting space. Think of it as if the internet is one giant apartment building, and the domain name, which is the URL your website has (e.g. tzperspective.com) , is essentially like your website’s apartment address. This is why people of course have to know it in order to find your website. Domain names are essentially leased (even though the proper word is bought) on a yearly basis at minimum, with noone really able to buy one forever. They have a whole costing structure too with .com usually being the most expensive and prestigious at around USD$ 10-13 per year and .co.zw costing around ZWL $60 for comparison. Depending on where you look you can find some perks or discounts for certain plans too, be it 2-year ones or up usually.
Then of course there’s the hosting space. Now if the domain name is your apartment address, the space is essentially the apartment itself. Websites are a collection of files, from the pages to the graphics and pictures you see on them to all the data they have, and that has to all be stored somewhere. Hence the hosting space is essentially like space you have on your phone or computer to store the files and you can pay for it on a monthly basis at minimum. Just like in actual apartments, more space means more money hence you have website plans ranging from as low as 500mb to 20+GB on average.
What you should understand here is that both hosting space and the domain name are essentially rented or leased, with none really ever being able to be permanently bought. If you approach a web developer they might tell you that your site will run for a year unless you pay more later, and essentially they mean they’ve bought a domain and hosting space that lasts for that long. Swindlers (who unfortunately do exist here in Zim) tend to offer really low prices too, but you may find they make a barely usable site that has only one month of hosting space paid for, so that’s another thing to watch out for. And always consider that every developer factors in their hosting and domain costs when doing a job for your, you can even ask what company they’re hosting with and check the prices of your plan so you know how much you’re paying them extra.
How much space do I need?
Well really, that depends on the kind of website you want to make. You see while we call them all websites (at least in layman’s terms), not all websites are the same. A simple company website with perhaps the ability to leave enquiry emails is a lot less demanding and complex than say, CBZ’s online banking portal or YouTube. The former is a real-time banking system run online while the latter is a huge video content sharing and streaming site which social media functionality. Obviously both these tend to demand more space and other resources than a simple company site, which could actually need around 4-5GB on average. So again, it all depends. But if say, you want to set up an online store, just try and factor in the images for the products, likely in different sizes for different screen sizes, along with all the data for them and the database their data, along with user and maybe seller data, and you start to get the idea that a 5GB is definitely not going to be enough.
What about this cloud hosting thing I hear?
Cloud hosting is what you go for when typical hosting plans don’t offer enough space and/or technical complexity. Essentially, it’s where your big social networks, banking apps and really big online stores are hosted, as it offers features like dynamic memory and bandwidth management, which means theoretically none of those services should crash as they have an army of servers to adhere to what their websites(web services to be more accurate) need.
So I can’t make a website for free?
Not really. You see while you can make blogs like clint.wordpress.com or similar projects and run them for free, there’s no real way to make a fully functioning website for free that could last more than a few months at most. Some hosting and domain providers may be offering some version of a discount or free trial, but those tend to bite you later as such providers tend to cost a pretty penny, and in fact perhaps it’s time we talked about where it’s cheapest to host a site.
Where/with whom should I host my website?
Now of course if you’ve gone to a web development firm or house in Zim, chances are they have their own hosting or preferred hosting provider and this is all part of your fee. However if you hired an independent or freelance web developer who is flexible to some hosting provider changes, we would recommend you check a few hosting providers from South Africa. Why? Well as long as you’re measuring this in USD, South African hosting providers tend to strike the right balance between price and reliability/performance. What we mean by reliability and performance is essentially the speed your loads at and how it holds up under pressure such as a lot of visitors suddenly come down on it. Hosting overseas offers this as well but well, we all know what counts as cheap in the US or Europe doesn’t always count as cheap here, as a 25 dollar plan there isn’t so bad but isn’t cheap back here. And why not Zim hosting providers? Well, to be honest past experiences have personally warded me off most of them, though that doesn’t mean they’re all bad. In fact Webdev has a great reputation here for a reason, even if it’s pretty crazy expensive with a 4GB hosting plan going for around $USD 8 (ZWL 880.00)per month. Other hosting providers like FreshSpot and WebZim offer much better prices shown below, with Fresh Spot offering a similar 4GB plan to Webdev for ZWL $600.00 instead. While I can’t currently speak on the service of these two, I would at least say they seem reasonable especially if you don’t have access to funds or a method to pay for things online such as a VISA/MasterCard.
And as for those South African hosting sites? Well Hostking.co.za offers 6GB for R50 per month, Cybersmart.co.za offers 6GB for R35 and domains.co.za offers 5GB for R89 per month. The prices might not be that great if you factor in other costs perhaps, but again, in the long run this has proven worthwhile in my own experience.
Any other costs I should expect?
Well again, this depends on the website. But starting off, an SSL certificate is a really big must these days, especially as online security grows to be more important even in our own borders. These can run you for as low as $USD 5 if you look in the right spots. As for if you want any online payment integration for whatever is being sold or traded on your site, Paynow is essentially the first go-to place for local players. They do have their own fees of in the form of commissions every time someone transacts. Other costs may arise too , from templates you want to base your side on and so on. It’s a whole industry really and it depends on what you want to do that determines what you’ll pay.
What about running/Updating my website?
A lot of people tend to want websites they can interact with or update after the site is running, especially if the site has some blog-like or newspaper/magazine functionality. This essentially means from the start your site should be set up for you to have an easy to use control portal that requires no code. Some developers do build this, but the popular trend has been to have these sites run on a content manager like WordPress, Joomla or even Squarespace(though the latter is expensive and paid for per month). Content managers essentially take most of the technical expertise out of the website management, making it easy for you or anyone on your staff to manage the site in a simple interface similar to writing a word document or even a social media post. Squarespace even allows easy setting up and management of online stores too, something which requires significantly more tweaking in WordPress, but it is still possible.
So can I run this all on my own and not need a developer?
Well, I’ll risk losing a little money here and the anger of fellow web devs when I say that if you are already a very technical person who’s good with computers that you could probably learn how to use WordPress or Joomla and set up a simple website that’s not too interactive. But, when things get more advanced you likely will require some help, and there’s not really any two ways about that. Hence finding the right developer or dev house should be the first decision you make and working with them to cut costs as best as possible for the overall development of your site.
So there we go people, there’s the basic gist on starting and running a website. There’s obviously a lot more to cover but as we said this is a simple run-down of how everything works and how it goes down. Now hopefully you guys all have a better idea on how to get started about getting those web projects going, and if you need more help please leave a comment or talk to us on our socials. Cheers!