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Creating a Website: The Missing Manual, 3rd Edition by Matthew MacDonald

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Introduction

These days, it’s all but impossible to find someone who hasn’t heard of the Internet. Companies create websites before they make business plans. Political activists skip the debates and trash-talk their opponents online. Even formerly technophobic grandmothers spend hours emailing old friends (and selling the odd family heirloom on eBay). The Internet has even changed our language: Google and friend are now verbs, for example, and tweet has nothing to do with birds.

As you no doubt know, you can establish a web presence in many ways. You can chat with friends through a Facebook page, share pictures with like-minded photographers on Flickr, put your home videos on YouTube, or write short diary-style blurbs on a blog hosted by a service like Blogger. But if you’re ambitious enough to have picked up this book, you’re after the gold standard of the Web: a bona fide website to call your own.

So what can you accomplish with a website that you can’t do with email, social networking, and other web-based services? In a word: anything.

Is your personal website just a permanent place to stash your résumé or the hub of an e-commerce warehouse that sells personalized underpants? (Hey, it’s made more than one millionaire.) The point is that a website of your own gives you the power to decide exactly what it is—and the control to change everything on a whim. If you’re already using other web-based services, like YouTube and Facebook, you can make them a part of your website, as you’ll learn in this book. For example, why not put the YouTube videos of your cat playing pool right inside your website, next to your personalized cat merchandise?

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility—meaning that if you decide to build your own site, it’s up to you to make sure it doesn’t look as hokey as a 1960s yearbook portrait. That’s where this book comes in. With this book by your side, you’ll learn how to:

  • Create web pages. HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is the language of the Web. Over the last decade, a modernized version HTML, called XHTML (Extensible HyperText Markup Language), gradually eclipsed HTML, and now is joined by another new version known as HTML5. In this book, you’ll sort through these standards and learn how to write the most up-to-date, reliable web pages.

  • Make pages look beautiful using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). CSS picks up where HTML leaves off, adding formatting muscle that can transform the drabbest of sites into a family of coordinated pages that look like they were professionally designed. Best of all, once you understand the right way to use CSS, you’ll be able to apply a new look to your entire site by tweaking just a single file.

  • Put your website online. The world’s greatest website isn’t much good if no one sees it. That’s why you’ll learn how to choose the best web hosting company, pick a domain name (like www.HotToTrotHorses.com), and get your masterpiece online. Don’t panic—plenty of cheap web hosting companies are ready to show off your site for pennies a day.

  • Attract visitors. You’ll learn how to make sure people can find your site using popular search engines and how to build an online community that encourages repeat visits.

  • Get rich (or at least earn some spare change). The Web is a linchpin of retail commerce, but even ordinary people can make money hawking their favorite merchandise (through Amazon), selling their own products (using a payment service like PayPal), or displaying ads (with Google). You’ll learn how to get in on the action.

  • Pile on the frills. Every website worth its salt has a few cool tricks. You’ll learn how to dazzle visitors with cool buttons, slick menus, and other flashy elements, courtesy of JavaScript. You’ll even learn how to (shudder) serenade visitors with background music.

What You Need to Get Started

This book assumes that you don’t have anything more than a reasonably up-to-date computer and raw ambition. Although there are dozens of high-powered web editing programs that can help you build a website, you don’t need one to use this book. In fact, if you use a web editor before you understand how websites work, you’re liable to create more problems than you solve. That’s because, as helpful as these programs are, they shield you from learning the principles of good site design—principles that can mean the difference between an attractive, easy-to-maintain web creation and a disorganized design nightmare.

Once you master the basics, you’re welcome to use a fancy web-page editor like Microsoft Expression Web or Adobe Dreamweaver. In this book, you’ll get an overview of how these two leading programs work, and you’ll discover a few great free alternatives (in Chapter 4).

Note

Under no circumstances do you need to know anything about complex web programming technologies like Java or ASP.NET. You also don’t need to know anything about databases or XML. These topics are fascinating, but insanely difficult to implement without some solid programming experience. In this book, you’ll learn how to create the best possible website without becoming a programmer. (You will, however, learn just enough about JavaScript to use many of the free samples you can find online.)

About This Book

No one owns the Web. As a result, no one is responsible for teaching you how to use it or how to build an online home for yourself. That’s where Creating a Website: The Missing Manual comes in. If the Web did have an instruction manual—one that painstakingly details the basic ingredients, time-saving tricks, and impressive embellishments every site needs—this book would be it.

Macintosh and Windows

One of the best things about the World Wide Web is that it truly is worldwide: Wherever you live, from Aruba to Zambia, the Web eagerly awaits your company. The same goes for the computer you use to develop your site. From an early-model Windows PC to the latest and greatest Mac, you can implement the tactics, tools, and tricks described in this book with pretty much whatever kind of computer you have. (Of course, a few programs favor one operating system over another, but you’ll hear about these differences whenever they come up.) The good news is that this book is usable and suitable for owners of computers of all stripes.

About the Outline

This book is divided into five parts, each with several chapters:

  • Part One: Welcome to the Web. In this part of the book, you’ll start planning your website (Chapter 1). You’ll learn the basics behind HTML, the language of the Web (Chapter 2); and you’ll put your pages online with a reputable hosting company (Chapter 3). Finally, you’ll look at how you can simplify your life by using web-page editing software (Chapter 4).

  • Part Two: Building Better Web Pages. This section shows you how to add essentials to your pages. First, you’ll learn your way around the CSS standard, which lets you specify fancy colors, fonts, and borders (Chapter 6). Next, you’ll add pictures to your pages (Chapter 7) and create an entire website made of linked pages (Chapter 8). Finally, you’ll master some slick layouts (Chapter 9) and learn how to standardize them throughout your site (Chapter 10).

  • Part Three: Connecting with Your Audience. The third part of the book explains how to get your site noticed by search engines like Google (Chapter 11), and how to reel in web traffic (Chapter 12). You’ll also take a look at blogs (short for web logs) and the free software that helps you create them (Chapter 13). Finally, you’ll learn how to get on the path to web riches by displaying ads or selling your own products (Chapter 14).

  • Part Four: Website Frills. Now that you can create a professional, working website, why not deck it out with fancy features like glowing buttons and pop-out menus? You won’t learn the brain-bending details of how to become a hardcore JavaScript programmer, but you’ll learn enough to use free JavaScript mini-programs in your own pages to perform basic tasks (Chapters Chapter 15 and Chapter 16). You’ll also dabble with movie clips and add an MP3 music player right inside an ordinary web page (Chapter 17).

  • Part Five: Appendixes. At the end of this book, you’ll find two appendixes. The first gives you a quick reference for HTML. It explains the essential HTML elements and points you to the appropriate chapter of this book for more detailed discussions. The second appendix lists a pile of useful links that can help you learn more, get free stuff, and sign up for useful services. Don’t worry—you don’t need to type these web links into your browser by hand. It’s all waiting for you on the Missing CD page for this book at www.missingmanuals.com/cds/caw3.

About→These→Arrows

Throughout this book, you’ll find sentences like this one: “To remove Word formatting controls, choose Edit→Clear→Clear Formatting.” That’s shorthand for a much longer instruction that directs you to open three menus in sequence, like this: “Open the Edit menu by clicking Edit in the menu bar. In the Edit menu, click Clear to open a second menu. In that menu, click Clear Formatting to complete the process.” Figure 1 shows a closer look.

In this book, arrow notations help simplify folder and menu instructions. For example, “Choose Edit→Clear→Clear Formatting” is a more compact way of saying “From the Edit menu, choose Clear; from the submenu that appears, choose Clear Formatting,” as shown here.
Figure 1. In this book, arrow notations help simplify folder and menu instructions. For example, “Choose Edit→Clear→Clear Formatting” is a more compact way of saying “From the Edit menu, choose Clear; from the submenu that appears, choose Clear Formatting,” as shown here.

About the Online Resources

As the owner of a Missing Manual, you’ve got more than just a book to read. Online, you’ll find example files as well as tips, articles, and maybe even a video or two. You can also communicate with the Missing Manual team and tell us what you love (or hate) about the book. Head over to www.missingmanuals.com, or go directly to one of the following sections.

The Missing CD

This book doesn’t have a CD pasted inside the back cover, but you’re not missing out on anything. Go to www.missingmanuals.com/cds/caw3 to download examples of web page designs mentioned in this book and additional information. So that you don’t wear down your fingers typing long web addresses, the Missing CD page offers a list of clickable links to the websites mentioned here.

Tip

If you’re looking for a specific example, here’s a quick way to find it: Look at the corresponding figure in this book. The file name is usually visible at the end of the text in the web browser’s address box. For example, if you see the URL c:\Creating a Website\Chapter 2\popsicles.htm (Figure 2-2, page 21), you’ll know that the corresponding example file is popsicles.htm.

Registration

If you register this book at oreilly.com, you’ll be eligible for special offers—like discounts on future editions of Creating a Website: The Missing Manual. Registering takes only a few clicks. Type http://tinyurl.com/registerbook into your browser to hop directly to the Registration page.

Feedback

Got questions? Need more information? Fancy yourself a book reviewer? On our Feedback page, you can get expert answers to questions that come to you while reading, share your thoughts on this Missing Manual, and find groups for folks who share your interest in creating their own sites. To have your say, go to www.missingmanuals.com/feedback.

Errata

To keep this book as up to date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies, we’ll make any confirmed corrections you suggest. We also note such changes on the book’s website, so you can mark important corrections into your own copy of the book, if you like. Go to http://tinyurl.com/4ulhb8lto report an error and view existing corrections.

Newsletter

Our free email newsletter keeps you up to date on what’s happening in Missing Manual land. You can meet the authors and editors, see bonus video and book excerpts, and more. Go to http://tinyurl.com/MMnewsletter to sign up.

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