Years ago, a client asked me why it takes so long to build an average company website. “Isn’t a web page just like a Word Doc?  Why is it such a process to build and maintain these things?”

HTML bibleThe short answer is that it ‘just is’. I didn’t create the web technology, I’m just playing in the sandbox!  All the rules, best practices…they change constantly (just when you master a way of doing things it seems).

Oh, and FaceBook hasn’t helped the recent perception that web building is quick and easy! People, through no fault of their own, now feel like building a web site is as quick as slapping up a page on FaceBook or Twitter.

You know, just create an account, then start adding stuff like birthdays and favorite pictures. The difference is, these social media giants have huge rooms full of developers writing code that you’ll never have to see in order for your web pages to come to life.  You just work with the finished product of course.

A Simple HTML Page Example

Let’s say for instance, that you want to build your very own web page that people could see at your website address. Let’s say for simplicity sake that you just wanted the page to say ‘HELLO’ in nice big white letters on a black background.  It can’t be much more simple than this extremely creative layout, but just humor me for now because if you’ve never done this, it might help you to appreciate what web folks have to do to bring even the simplest page to life.

  • An HTML file is really just a simple file with an extension of ‘.html’ rather than ‘.txt’.  So, a new HTML page is nothing more than a blank white canvas, much the same as a new text file.
  • You know how, if you want to change the background color on a Word Doc, you just push a button?  Well, with an HTML page you have to use HTML ‘code’ to tell the page to display a black background.  So for instance, we would type ‘instructions’ for the page to turn black like <body bgcolor=”#000000″> or <body style=”background-color:#000000;”>.  There are lots of ways to do this, but you get the idea hopefully.  This is the ‘private’ side of the HTML page that you would see when viewing it with something other than an HTML browser.  When you do open an HTML page with your browser, what you see is a black background (surprise).
  • Hello On BlackNow, we’ll want to type the word HELLO in the center of the page about 100 pixels (unit of measurement on a web page) from the top.  That looks something like this for instance:<div style=”color:#fff; text-align:center; margin-top:100px; font-family:Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-transform:uppercase;”>hello</div>
  • See the word ‘hello’ in the middle of that long line of HTML?  Well, take a look at what all that mess actually produces here.  A black ‘page’ with the word ‘HELLO’ in all caps somewhere toward the middle-top of the page.  Exciting?  It can be when pages get very complicated with lots of moving parts, colors, graphics, videos, text….you get the idea.

My point is, the rules are changing all the time so even though HTML software has helped with speeding the process up of creating web pages, it’s still a very time consuming process!

Imagine that you need to have different layouts for different pages with multiple visual elements, all linking together with tons of other pages on a site.  Maybe this page needs to accept a credit card (you don’t want to see the HTML code required for that right now, trust me) or save information into a database. Building web sites can be both an exciting but sometimes ‘daunting’ task depending on the requirements, but it’s what I’ve been doing since 1997 and there is a comfort level with tackling most any site these days.

These days, many clients ask that we give them the ability to update their own pages once we complete a project.  That’s fine, but take one more look at the very, VERY simple page in our sample.  How would you recommend that a non tech person running a business ‘easily’ update even this page once it goes live? There are ways of course, but I just wanted to share the most basic concept of HTML and how it works at a microscopic level.  This simple sample shows why so many small businesses today include a solid relationship with a ‘web person’ in the portfolio alongside the accountant and the attorney.

If you do decide to learn the ropes of the ever changing web technologies AND run your business it can certainly be done, but don’t say you weren’t warned if you read this post!