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What is a website domain? Understanding website terminology
Are you just beginning your journey into web development? Whether you're a new developer or soon-to-be website owner, you should understand the fundamentals of website terminology. In this article, we'll cover what you need to know about domain names, as well as a few other essential web terms.
What is a domain?
Your website's domain is the name of your website. You can see every website's domain name in its URL (the link to the webpage you are viewing). A basic website URL looks like "www.examplewebsite.com/blog_post". In this example, the domain name is "examplewebsite.com". Some domains have different extensions, like .gov, .org, or .net, but they all serve the same purpose, and that's giving your website an easy-to-remember identity.
As you probably know, no two websites can share the same domain name; there aren't two "google.com"s. For this reason, you have to register and host your domain name, which requires servers, qualifications, and paperwork. Since most people don't have any of these things, you're going to rely on a domain registrar (like godaddy.com) to maintain your domain name for you. A domain registrar typically costs $10 to $25 per year.
Domain name vs. DNS vs. IP address
We've just presented a pretty high-level view of domains, but there's a bit more going on beneath the surface, like IP addresses. IP addresses are a sequence of numbers assigned to everything accessing the internet, whether it be a laptop, smartphone, or website.
For devices (like laptops), IP addresses change based on their location and network. Websites, however, have a more permanent IP address, kind of like a phone number. When you type a website into your browser, like "google.com", that domain name is converted to an IP address so that your computer can interpret it.
IP addresses are the computer's version of a domain name. A domain name, on the other hand, is similar to the name you put in your contacts next to a phone number. When you tap "Mom" in your phone's contacts, your phone isn't dialing "Mom" but the phone number attached to it. This is similar to how IP addresses and domain names relate to one another.
The DNS (domain name system) is the system that translates domain names to IP addresses, and vice versa, so that you and your computer can understand one another. It's more or less the internet's phone book.
Website terminology every website owner should know
Now that we've covered domain names, DNS, and IP addresses, we're going to dive deeper into more website terminology. These terms are some of the most commonly used words in website design, which makes them essential knowledge for every website owner.
1. Hypertext markup language (HTML)
HTML is the language that 89.5% of websites are written in. It comes in a few different shapes and sizes, which are periodically updated by the WHATWG organization. This group doesn't own or charge anyone for HTML; instead, they maintain HTML standards and collaborate on its development.
Technically, HTML is a programming language, though there is some debate on this, as HTML doesn't really do any computing. Instead, it merely describes the way webpages look, are structured, and link to one another. For this reason, most programmers consider HTML separate from other programming languages.
If you don't know any HTML, don't worry! It's not so important to be able to read and write HTML because many services can do it for you. It does help to be familiar with the basic structure of HTML, though, so you can read it in a pinch if needed. This tutorial will walk you through the basics in just 12 minutes.
2. Cascading style sheets (CSS)
If you've written any HTML in school or on your own, you probably noticed it's not easy on the eyes. It's easy to create a horrendous website in HTML, and even when you apply all of the best design practices, plain HTML is usually bland at best.
That's where CSS comes in. CSS is a buddy-language for HTML that adds flair. You can think of HTML as being the structure of your website, while CSS brings the decorative aspects.
CSS has a bit more of a learning curve to it than HTML, though unless you're a web developer, you won't need to conquer it. Still, if you'd like to learn the fundamentals of CSS, there are a plethora of free online resources to help.
3. Content management system (CMS)
A content management system, or CMS, is software that allows you to build, maintain, modify, and oversee a website without needing to know any (or at least not very much) HTML or CSS. WordPress is the most popular CMS tool by a wide margin, so the odds are pretty good that if you've owned or worked with a website before, you're familiar with CMS.
A CMS is essentially an app that converts simple, visual elements into HTML and CSS for you. On your end, you can post blogs, update webpages by typing in basic documents, drag and drop images, and so forth. What you don't see is that the CMS software is taking all of these commands and converting them into HTML for you.
Unless you're an experienced web developer or you have access to a web development team, you should stick to some form of CMS. This will give you the most amount of control over your website with the least amount of knowledge.
4. Search engine optimization (SEO)
SEO is possibly the most-referenced term when talking about website terminology, and for good reason. It's the most essential non-essential part of your website, meaning you don't have to use it, but if you don't, your website will be next to useless.
In more concrete terms, SEO is a set of practices designed to make your website and its content more searchable. Have you ever wondered how Google decides which links to show you when you search for something on Google? It often seems like Google knows what you want to know, no matter how sloppy your search terms are.
This is because search engines like Google use sophisticated algorithms to scour the web and provide you with the most accurate results in less than a second. SEO is a set of strategies you can use to make your websites appear in those results. Implementing strategic SEO will improve your website ranking dramatically, increasing the traffic to your site.
5. Landing pages
A landing page is a style of webpage used for marketing purposes. It's called a landing page because it's usually linked to from an outside source. For example, if you're paying another company to write about your website, you would ask them to link to your landing page. Landing pages typically follow a similar structure, which centers around a call to action.
A call to action, or CTA, is something you want people visiting your landing page to do, like make a purchase, subscribe to a service, sign up for your newsletter, etc. Everything about your landing page should work toward this goal. You'll want easily accessible buttons, little to no navigation links to other areas of your website, and lots of information supporting your CTA.
6. Headers and footers
Next we have headers and footers. If you've ever worked with documents extensively, you've probably heard these terms used before. They refer to the top and bottom of each page and contain distinct content.
In website terminology, headers and footers have very similar meanings. Headers refer to the top of a webpage and footers refer to the bottom. It's how they're used in web design that makes them different from headers and footers in documentation.
Specifically, headers are where websites keep their most important navigation components. This includes links to your homepage, About Us page, Contacts page, and so on. Footers usually contain other important links that aren't quite important enough to go at the top of the page. This includes links to more information about the website, customer support resources, and different language settings.
7. Front end vs. back end
These two terms are used a lot in website development and maintenance, and they're important in knowing how to communicate with website developers.
The front end of a website is the side that most users see. When you visit Amazon, Apple, Google, or YouTube, the front end is the side of the website that you are interacting with. It's the output of a website's back end.
Conversely, the back end of a website is the side you'll most often see as a website owner/developer. This is the side where you can make changes to your website, add or remove pages, edit your website content, etc. Web development starts at the back end and finishes at the front end.
8. Growth-driven design
Growth-driven design is a less common term used in web development, but it's still important. It's a design strategy that looks at your website as an ever-evolving product rather than something that needs to be completed all at once and then replaced every few years.
Before growth-driven design became more popular, most websites were built to completion over several months. Then, two or three years later, once the website had become outdated, a new website was constructed from the ground up to replace the existing website.
The problem with this is that it's stressful, time-consuming, and inefficient. Growth-driven design seeks to build a solid foundation for your website that never needs to be redesigned. This foundation is flexible enough to be added to and modified continuously in small ways so that a major overhaul never needs to take place. It's much more cost-effective and saves you from ever hosting an outdated website.
9. Sitemap and navigation
Lastly, we have sitemap and navigation. These both refer to the structure and organization of your website. Most websites include several different pages (a homepage, contact page, blog posts, landing pages, etc.). Navigation refers to the way users move from one page to the next.
Your sitemap is a visualization of your website's navigation. It's where you draw the links from page to page on paper and build up a map of your website. This is incredibly helpful for removing redundant pages, adding in missing pages, and making sure that your users can reach every page.
Ready to put your website terminology to the test?
If you're looking to build a new website now that you've learned more terms, then consider choosing B12 as your partner. B12 uses AI technology to provide you with the most efficient, cost-effective way to bring your vision to life. And best of all, you can create a free website draft first!
For more resources on building a website, check out the rest of B12's Resource Center.
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