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What Is A Web Site?

By SilkLink WebDesign
20th May, 2010

 

We hear people talking about their web sites and web trials and tribulations. We may have been advised that it is essential nowadays to have a website or a web presence in support of our business. But, to ask a stupid question, what is a web site? What does it do? How does it do it? How will it help a business?
 
The story all starts with the Internet. The Internet was slowly developed from the 1960s as a means to communicate between military and space agency establishments in the USA. Communication was achieved by following a set of electronic rules – a protocol - and so was born the Transport Control Protocol – TCP - the means of transporting an electronic ‘packet’ of data from one place to another. And the Internet Protocol – IP – the means of identifying and addressing one place from another. Each access point to the network was provided a unique network address – the IP Address – in much the same way as our home addresses. An example of an IP Address: 168.192.1.12. This enabled communications to and from two network access points because they could specifically address each other over fairly large networks with many access points.
 
The use of the Internet and the protocols, TCP/IP, became more wide-spread. During the 1980s, for example, the Joint Academic NETwork – JANET- was developed to enable the campus networks of British colleges and universities to communicate with one other to exchange academic information. The same can be said of similar institutions in the States. This then formed the foundation that the Internet was to become an extremely large global network of networks that exists for the exchange of communications and information.
 
Circa 1990, the English engineer, Tim Berners Lee, along with other colleagues, founded the principles of what is now known as the World Wide Web – WWW, W3 or simply, ‘the web’. Building on the Internet being a huge network of access points, which comprised of personal computers and computer servers, Berners Lee created the concept of connecting documents over that network. What do we mean?
 
You may have found this document by clicking a link – a hyperlink to give its correct term – which links from the document where the link is located to this document. This document is written in a code known as Hyper-text Mark-up Language – HTML. You are viewing this document with a ‘browser’ that is able to render HTML code into a format that humans can read. The HTML document is known as a web page and is hosted upon a web server. A web server is dedicated to dishing out web pages when they are requested. The same server is used to host the web site, which is a collection of web pages that sits within the same domain. What is a domain?
 
In a simple view, each server has an IP address. In practice servers may have more than one IP Address and/or may host more than one website. Websites are allocated a domain name – like mydomain.co.uk. Web pages are grouped within the same domain. So how does the web find the server that hosts a website that we know as mydomain.co.uk?
 
We now know that the web is a complex network of web servers that each has a unique IP Address and they host websites. Each website has its own identity in the form of a domain name. When we instruct our browser to go to a website, our browser actually makes a request call with the HyperText Transfer Protocol – HTTP- that connects to a special kind of network server known as a Domain Name System Server – DNS Server. This server learns and knows the relationship of the domain name we want to go to and the IP Address of the web server that it is hosted upon. The DNS Server passes back this information to our browser, which then makes another request, this time to the web host and the website we are seeking. This all happens in a very short timescale. The DNS information is held temporarily by our browser just in case we want to visit other web pages on the same site, so to avoid unnecessary delays in communication with the DNS Server.
 
So, if we know the domain name of a website, the electronic networks can find it. Many of us know or have used comparethemarket.com or perhaps facebook.com. What if we want to find a website to provide us certain information or that sells something we need? This is when we might turn to a Search Engine site like Google, Yahoo! or Bing. With a Search Engine we can enter a phrase like ‘gift shops in Saltash’ and the Search Engine will return a list of gift shops, some of which we hope will be in Saltash. Hopefully we will find Driftwood Gifts & Art (www.driftwood-gifts.co.uk), just to plug one of my past developments!
 
What about new sites? How does a Search Engine know about the many thousands of new sites that are created each week?
 
In short, Search Engines rely on links from existing website pages to discover new web pages. Once a page is found, the Search Engine might retrieve the many words it finds and store them in its huge database. To optimise the time it takes to convert our word or phrase search into a list of web pages that contain our words, Search Engines use a database trick known as indexing. Put simply, indexing is like the index of a book. Rather than sifting through every page to find those pages that might have what we are looking for, it is more effective and efficient to look in the book’s index. 
 
So a search engine returns a list of web pages that contain some or all of the words we used in our search. What order, if any, do web pages get listed?
 
Now there’s a question! When a Search Engine returns a list of potentially thousands of web pages that meet our search criteria, the list is ordered. But not necessarily in the way that we might think is best. Google, the most used Search Engine, has its own PageRank system which determines a page’s position in the list, dependant upon its popularity on the web. Popularity is measured by the number of links from other pages that point to it and, of course, the relevance of the words in our search phrase to the actual words on the page. It is hugely complex and, apparently, cannot be tricked.
 
For this reason, on Google, if a search is conducted today, the same search tomorrow is likely to produce a different list order – simply because of the increased or decreased popularity of some web pages retuned in the list.
 
Although we can’t fool PageRank for Google, or indeed the processes used by other Search Engines to determine a list order, it is desirable for many businesses that their web pages appear at or near the top of the list when we search for things that they provide. Would you wade through page after page of web page links, or would you typically browse through the first page? The latter is what most people do, perhaps after refining their search words. It is therefore important for businesses to be on that first page and near the top of it. This is where we step into the world of Search Engine Optimisation – SEO.
 
SEO is all about ensuring that web page content is optimised to match the likely searches that people will conduct. If we search for ‘rug shop’, we expect to find a list of pages from shops that sell rugs, right? Well, not always. Many shops that sell rugs will be missed off of the list or so low down the list they may as well be missed. The reason is that their web pages have not put any emphasis on the key words ‘rug’ or ‘shop’ or the phrase ‘rug shop’. They might instead have produced reams of text about being a ‘carpet warehouse’.
 
Search Engines are clever and have been programmed to link words like carpet and rug because they often see these words together on literally thousands of web pages. However, there is nothing like matching the exact phrases.
 
So, SEO is also all about knowing your potential customers and knowing what they are likely to put into a search phrase. It is then about making sure that those exact phrases appear in their web pages, the page titles and headings. Also in the meta text – text that describes a document which is hidden from human eyes but visible to Search Engines.
 
So there we have it. We now know what a web site is and how it sits on the World Wide Web and uses the Internet as a means of communicating information. There are any number of web pages that cover aspects of what we have discussed. Just take a search with your friendly Search Engine!
 
Written by
 
SilkLink Web Design

 

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