How Websites Work From the Ground Up

Sometimes people need to understand the backend of how something works before they are willing to give it a try. The Internet is confusing to many, especially older, less technical people and people who simply have no formal training or classes on how it works.

This brief crash-course will help the beginner understand how a website is displayed online and what steps are needed to get a personal or business website up and running.

Anyone who has ever built a website knows that the first thing needed is content. What is the message and purpose of the site? Like an instruction book, a website is a message to the public of what the owner has to say or sell. So the first thing a designer needs is the words. A description of the business or short paragraphs explaining what the website is for.

Next, a collection of photos that paints a portrait of the owner or business which sends another message to the viewers. Videos and audio files help in addition to contact information and instructions for the viewer to follow through on whatever the owner wants to offer, such as a product for sell, a call to action, or an article that tells a story.

Most web servers contain hundreds, even thousands of websites...

Once that information is collected, the designer opens his or her design program on their computer and embeds it in code to create a page, (like a newsletter) that present the owner's website. If there is more than one page, the designer may place the pages in folders that connect to a navigation menu on the front page.

Once all the pages and folders are created, the designer needs to upload them onto another computer that is connected to the Internet, called a web server. Most web servers contain hundreds, even thousands of websites, pages and folders and serve them up to the Internet for viewing.

There are many companies that own these web servers and these companies are called hosting providers. Hosting providers' do just that; they provide (or present) websites for people and businesses to the public. The hosting companies have anywhere from 1-1000 computers that hold the websites so yes, there are small and large hosting companies' eager to host your website.

The owner can choose the hosting provider if they do their research but the designers usually recommends the hosting providers to the owner. Once the hosting provider is chosen, the website is uploaded to the provider and from there the provider opens up certain ports to let Internet traffic in to see the website.

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The owner will usually pay for the designer to format their words and photos into a website. This cost can easily exceed $1000 depending on the amount of work the designer has to do and how much the owner has to offer online. If the website is smaller, the owner can pay no more than $300 for the average 5 page website.

Hosting is a cheap, low-cost service that can start as low as $1.99 per month. All hosting providers charge by the month (or annually), depending on the budget of the owner. But hosting is a job that requires regular monitoring of the web server and the owner's webpage so a monthly cost is normal. Much like your electric bill, because it takes power and man hours to operate web servers.

As technology advanced, hosting providers decided to skip the middle man (the designer) and offer owners the option of designing their own website using user-friendly website builders. These website builders are programs the user can use directly from the hosting provider's web server. If the owner has a little knowledge of copy and paste, formatting Powerpoint projects, or Adobe Photoshop, they can usually find ease using one of these site builders.

However, site builders still require hosting; so hosting is a cost owners cannot avoid unless they own their own web server or know someone who does and is willing to host them for free. There are some free hosting providers out there that even offer site builders, but the owner will share their website with uncontrolled advertising, the domain name of the hosting company, and have no option to fully customize their website.

Domain Names

This is where the owner would need their own domain name. If you would rather not share your website's name with the hosting provider, such as, then purchasing your own domain name is the best route;

Domain names are relatively cheap also, they range from $1.99-$15.99 per year (depending on the domain level) and needs to be renewed at the same price every year. Dot coms (.com, .net, and .orgs) are the cheapest but others such as .tv, .gov, can get expensive and require certain credentials.

Both the designer and the hosting provider are going to ask if you have a domain name. Designers do not need a domain name from you however. They simply design the site and can send you the folder with the completed project. However, hosting providers need the domain name in order to take it live on the Internet.


  • Decide on a domain name
  • Write your content and gather your photos
  • Decide if you want to use a site builder (yourself) or use a designer
  • Research hosting providers that fit your budget
  • Calculate the entire cost and choose the best route.

...automated services that get you up and running in less than 5 minutes...

Once again, the cost can add up to $300 for a simple design, up to $15 (per year) for a domain name; $5-15 a month for hosting; a total $350 on the cheapest end to get started. Or if you choose to try it yourself, the cost could be as low as $25 start up, at $5 per month, depending on the hosting provider.

How to get started

Word of mouth is good for finding a designer; someone a friend used that will not overcharge. Web designers come at a dime a dozen these days. As stated before though, depending on the size of your project determines the cost of the design.

Usually, hosting companies offer automated services that get you up and running in less than 5 minutes, with a domain name, a site builder program, and automatic connection to the Internet for as little as $25 up front. But that requires you to build your own site.

There are also managed services out there where you start the site builder process and then hire someone to complete the website for you. These services can get expensive ranging from $50 per hour to $500 a year. A reasonable manage service provider will charge an average of $100-120 per year, including hosting cost.


Hopefully this crash course has given you a better understanding of how a website works and the steps in the process of getting it online. Research is the key to finding the right option for you or your business. The upside about having a website and owning a domain name is that it is yours forever.

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