Have you ever wondered what goes into a website, how it works, and what all the terms mean? Here are several terms and meanings to help you understand all of the pieces that make up a website.
What are the three components of a website?
- The domain name
- The Content Management System (CMS)
- The Hosting Server
These components can be purchased separately or all together depending on the platform you select. We highly recommend business owners control the domain name since this is part of your intellectual property.
Acquired from a registrar
Typically, a domain name has some relevance to the site. “FredsChocolateCandies.com” – usually helps in search engine results. There are others that are more for branding, such as “Lowes.com”, which tells you NOTHING about what they do. Branding helps people know who you are.
You do not own the domain name. You only lease it for a pre-determined amount of time – a minimum of a year but it can be leased for up to 10 years at a time. The domain name must be
hosted on a web server.
GoDaddy, NameCheap, NameSilo, etc – there are tons of them
The purpose of a registrar is to just “lease” your domain name and tell the internet where to find your nameservers. You never actually own it. When someone looks up your domain (taps it into a browser window or finds it in a search result), it goes to the registrar for the domain name and asks, “Where do I find the nameservers for this domain?” A user is then directed to the nameservers.
aka DNS server – Domain Name System which is part of hosting
The actual “Where IS this domain” request is handled by a name server. Nameservers translate the name into an actual IP address. “JohnsSite.com? Oh, that’s over at 220.127.116.118.” And then your browser heads over to the IP address 18.104.22.1688. There are almost always several websites on any given IP address. The IP address is associated with a web server.
A primary part of hosting
This is usually a computer running Linux with an Apache or LiteSpeed (“server”) that is set up to do nothing more than “serve” web pages when a browser says “Give me JohnsSite.com”. It does dips and twirls in the background and conjures up a webpage filled with HTML code to feed to your browser. The content can be pulled from that CMS (WordPress is our favorite), straight old-fashioned HTML, or some other sources. In any case, it ends up sending your browser some HTML code that it displays, ideally, as an interesting web page.
Content Management System (CMS)
In the bad old days, cranking out handwritten HTML code became very tedious. In many, cases there were the same elements over and over and over again – like the header, the footers, the sidebars, etc. In the bad old days, you created a new blank text file and copied those pieces from page to page. Tedious, especially when you wanted to change something on 100 pages.
Enter the CMS. “Hey why don’t we stash these things in a database and just call ‘HEADER’ when we want to insert the header, ‘FOOTER’ when we want to insert the footer, etc… then we can change this data in just one place and have it go to all 100 pages?”
This is a bit of a simplification, but it gives you an idea of why CMSs are here. Several of these platforms emerged over the years. The most popular of these is WordPress. There are many others though.
Built to give you a basic CMS to organize and display your web pages. Content is stashed in a database to be called out by your theme, pages, posts, and plugins as needed to create the page that your browser expects to see. WordPress is a free CMS that can be downloaded from WordPress.org. You only get the CMS though as WordPress does not host any websites.
Each WordPress site comes with a default theme that is updated and released every year. The included theme is VERY basic and not the most aesthetically pleasing, but it IS free and can serve as the basis for some cool looks. The theme does take some experience if you want anything more than basic. Themes are interchangeable with a bit of modifying.
Once your content is in the CMS, you can switch themes out. After changing them, WordPress usually requires at least some work to get the site to look the way you want, but
at least you don’t have to re-enter all of your data.
Themes are produced by hundreds if not thousands of developers and companies to meet all sorts of needs. Some are free, some have a cost associated with using that theme. Do you want a hair salon theme? Got it. Want a baseball theme? Got it. Want a theme perfect for your new e-boutique? Got it. One for your med spa? Got it. You get the idea.
How about if you want something pretty unique that you can create yourself – and gives you tons of options and ways to do it your own way? Got it. We use popular website themes such as Divi and Elementor. Both come with a number of “layouts” that are basically styles applied to the theme. This is where you can get a basic “feel” to the site and leaves you with minimal modifications to do.
There are thousands of developers who produce plugins. Many are free to use. Others that give advanced functionality cost money – either one-time or annual license subscriptions. You can always add plugins to give you the special functionality needed. From doing “lightbox popups”, zip code lookups, or event calendars, there is almost always a plugin for anything you could want. Sometimes it is a chore to find a quality plugin that is kept up-to-date by the plugin developer. This is how one extends the basic functionality of a “stock” WordPress installation.
WordPress was really built to be an extensible platform. You can turn it into a website, a blog, a help desk, an inventory system, a forum, an online store, a class scheduling system, etc. And all because of the plugins, themes, and general extensibility.
Conclusion to Basic Components of a Website
That is a rundown of all these somewhat confusing terms that we website developers and internet people bandy about with reckless disregard while others look on completely mystified. It really isn’t that complicated – once someone puts it in order.
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A long time computer enthusiast – going back to the early 80’s learning COBOL while still in high school. He happily spends his days in front of three computer screens looking at website analytics and figuring out how to get sites to rank even higher.