Frequently asked questions

How do I set up a website?

There are three main factors involved in getting a typical website up and running:

  • domain registration
  • website hosting (web space)
  • website design

Domain registration may not be necessary if you are not especially concerned with the branding of your site and have hosting available to you either through your internet service provider or by some other means. Generally speaking, however, a business website will benefit significantly from having its own domain, so that it can be promoted as www.mybusiness.com or similar rather than homepages.myisp.net/mybusiness or similar. It is usually most straightforward to register a domain through your chosen website hosting company - who may indeed even offer a free domain - although in most cases it is quite possible to have domain registration and website hosting separately.

From experience, for a website of any complexity, it's worth sorting out hosting before design. Although it is possible to develop a website on your own computer then upload it into web space, this can be a minefield with anything other than the most straightforward pages. Hosting comes in many shapes and sizes, from complimentary web space with your monthly broadband subscription to dedicated servers costing hundreds of pounds a month. Largely, you get what you pay for, and free/cheap does not necessarily mean good - though when starting out there is rarely justification for spending too much.

Website design is quite a broad term, relating to both the visual aspects of your website (logos, layout and so on) and the behind-the-scenes workings. Ultimately you have three choices: do it yourself, get someone else to do it or help you do it, or get a tool to help you do it. Increasingly the trend is towards the latter, using what are known as "content management systems". They remove the need for detailed knowledge of HTML (the "code" that web browsers need to display pages) but give you free rein to edit and update your site as you choose.

Goznet Systems can potentially work with you through this whole process, by helping you choose and register an appropriate domain name and set up web hosting suitable for your needs, then getting your web site up and running using a flexible and extensible content management system.

Why are web standards important?

In short, web standards are important because they help ensure site reliability and browser independence. Many people creating web pages assume that because those pages look all right in Internet Explorer in Windows, that's "job done". However, badly-formed HTML that Internet Explorer manages to cope with might cause problems on other browsers, and an increasing number of web users are now using alternative browsers such as Firefox, Opera, Google Chrome and Apple's Safari.

Standards-compliant HTML can't be guaranteed to display identically in all browsers, though in practice it certainly helps, and it does help ensure that any problems are minimised and the maximum number of people can view your site broadly as intended.

Websites produced by Goznet Systems are generally designed to validate as XHTML 1.0 or HTML5, the most widely recognised standards for modern and feature-rich HTML.

What's accessibility?

Accessibility in the context of websites means the ease with which visitors with disabilities can browse said sites. This may seem a niche interest, but legislation is being phased in requiring business websites in particular to be designed with such users in mind. That's to say, it's not out of the question that you could be prosecuted if your site isn't accessible.

The main thrust of website accessibility tends to be towards the visually impaired, ensuring that those who cannot easily read screen text are able to take alternative measures. In practice this means things like allowing the text size to be controlled, using clear colour combinations, ensuring all graphics have a textual counterpart, and not using excessively complex layouts or relying too heavily upon Javascript-based interaction.

The best thing about accessibility is that a highly-accessible site tends to be a highly usable site for visitors both able-bodied and with disabilities - so everyone's a winner! It means things are kept simple and consistent, and doesn't have to detract from stylishness.

With a strong background in distance-learning multimedia, an area where the new legislation has been in force the longest, Goznet Systems are well placed to help ensure your website meets its obligations.

What is responsive layout?

Responsive layout is a popular method of applying principles to website design such that appearance is optimised across different devices, that is to say, ensuring that everything is legible on small screens without looking toy-town on larger desktop screens. Notice on this website, for example, how the text reflows as you resize the window, and the appearance of the banner and menu adjust according to how much space there is to use.

Smartphones and tablets represent an ever-increasing proportion of typical website usage, so it is important that all new website designs give consideration to how they appear on such devices. Google and other search engines now also favour websites it assesses as mobile-friendly when displaying search results on smartphones and tablets. Whilst it is best to design websites to be mobile-friendly from the outset, it is possible to upgrade existing websites to provide a better experience for smartphones and tablets. Goznet Systems has experience in doing both, and will strongly advise any new developments to be responsive.

What's wrong with Flash?

In and of itself, nothing - but it's often misused.

There is a growing trend towards websites created largely or completely using Flash. This appears to be an only partially-successful graphic design response to the variety of different browsers out there, whereas standards compliant HTML with CSS would generally be the better solution. Flash-heavy websites tend to cause problems with bookmarking, accessibility and search engine indexing, and many users find gratuitous animation so annoying that they disable Flash in their browsers, often rendering such sites unviewable. Flash websites often load large music or video files without asking, which can make viewing such sites on slower or pay-as-you-go connections a tedious and/or expensive experience.

At Goznet Systems we do use Flash on some customer websites, but aim to do so in a measured fashion, using it to enhance existing page HTML rather than replace it.

I've lost control of my website, can you help?

A considerable number of enquiries we receive are from people who have lost control of their website. Perhaps the site was created by a former employee or business partner, or as a well-meant but in hindsight rather inflexible one-off gift. One way or another, they do not have the necessary access to the site to keep it up to date with news, current contact details and so on.

It is tempting simply to create a new website, on a new web address, but that means your organisation then has two websites with conflicting information - very confusing for your visitors. For security reasons, it's not easy to get control of a website if you don't have the cooperation of whoever's got the passwords for the domain and/or hosting. However, if the domain is registered in your name or that of your organisation (who.is is a useful site for checking domain ownership) you at least have the law on your side, and if you can claim back control of the domain, you can either re-register the domain or set it to refer to your own web space and so get your site back under your control. The obsolete web space is now no longer associated with your domain, but especially if you might still be billed for it, it probably ought to be cancelled at some point.

Goznet Systems can assist with recovering your website, including bulk extraction of text, images and other media from the obsolete site as well as helping set up a new website if required. Some of the technology and terminology of domain administration in particular is pretty complicated, and we can help make sense of that and work through the steps involved in getting your site back up and running.

How do I get to #1 on Google?

There are many companies (often advertising via spam email) who will claim to be able to get you to the top of the heap in Google, but their promises do not really add up. At best, they may be able to get you into the top results for users searching for "herbaceous sponges" or something equally obscure and irrelevant to your website, but logically speaking there is no way that thousands of websites can all be in the top ten for practical searches. At worst, by giving these companies access to your hosting account, you could unwittingly make your site vulnerable to being used for less than savoury purposes.

However, there are plenty of things you can do to help your site get a good ranking, and they all come down to good quality content - things like having meaningful titles and headings on your pages, not relying on images or Javascript to convey information better served by normal text, and so on. Using "tricks" to push up the search engine rankings is a fraught business; Google have been known to completely remove sites from their listings for using deceptive or antisocial practices, and in any case their ranking rules are a closely guarded secret and liable to change at any time. Spending out money on "search engine optimisation" that does not focus on quality content is foolish, and runs the risk of actively damaging your reputation. Indeed in late 2009, Google announced that by default all searchers will receive personalised results based on their past searching history; this powerful new feature will almost certainly render non-content-based optimisation worthless.

Many search engines will rank a site based on the other sites that link to it, which some "search engine optimisers" try to exploit by creating hundreds of fake web pages linking to the site they have been paid to promote. However good ranking rules also consider the quality of such in-bound links, which may in fact turn out to be counter-productive as well as antisocial, since the fake sites have no particular standing. Again it comes down to good content; if your site is a valuable asset on the web, you'll get those in-bound links, and they will most likely be from real sites with good content too.

Finally, some particularly rogue companies offer optimisation services but are only after your login details so they can plant legally questionable advertising or malicious software on your site. Be extremely cautious of anyone who says they need your username and password in order to review your site for optimisation - and if you choose to go ahead, take a full back-up first and watch them like a hawk! Be equally cautious of any software you may download claiming to help optimise your site; it may be doing more than meets the eye.

At Goznet Systems we won't make rash promises or install viruses, but instead are able to guide you in your content creation to help your site contribute constructively to the world wide web.

Google's own guidance: Creating a Google-friendly site: Best practices

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