Building your own website
We’re delighted to host your site here, but recognise that some day you may want more on your site than we can host. You might want more of your own images, a discussion forum, or a section about your locality, etc.
Setting up your own website needn’t be too painful. After all, you’ve already built up a site structure and content here on chweb.org, and that really is more than half the work done!
To take your site further, though, and therefore away from us, you will need either so set your website up somewhere else, or have someone set one up for you. If you would like to look into having someone do it for you there are Christian resourced available to you; just click on links at the bottom this page. If you want to do it yourself, you will need:
- A web host (someone to store your website and make it available on the internet)
- A website editor
- An FTP client
- Graphics or graphic software
- Someone with time to devote!
- Help along the way…
Each of these is described more below.
A web host
To build a website you first create it on your own computer and then copy (“upload”) all the files up to the internet. The place you put it on the internet is your web host. People can’t access your computer, but by having your files on a web host everyone will be able to see them.
If you do an internet search (e.g. on Google) for “web host” you will see that there are lots of types ranging from free right up to thousands of dollars (pounds, euros, etc). There are basically
- Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may well offer some form of “free” web hosting for you, where your web address would be something like www.YourID.YourISP.com. This is pretty common for ISPs, and is often a very good option for beginners. Take a look at your ISP’s home page and look to see if web hosting is included in the charge you currently pay.
- Some web hosts offer a free service and create their revenue by insisting that you connect to your site using their telephone numbers. These can be rich in functionality and tend to be free of advertisements.
- The other type of free hosting is where you agree to allow the host to pop up advertisements to visitors to your site. Although free, you might not want advertisements for online casinos and showbiz gossip popping up when visitors come to your church website! The most popular example is Geocities.
- Then we come to low-cost web hosts. You should shop around before settling on any one, but you should be able to get a good host for around $100 per year or $10-15 per month.
- For businesses requiring lots more (e.g. secure payment systems, sophisticated database management functions, and lots of monthly bandwidth to support their large number of visitors), prices vary but can increase to hundreds of dollars per year.
- Beyond even that, many companies build their own web servers, effectively hosting their own site.
But what do you look for in a host?
For the lower-end range of functionality (adequate for most church websites), we recommend that you look for the following. Note that many free web hosts will not offer all of these:
- “cgi” or “cgi-bin”. This means that you will be able to upload programs to your website to perform tasks such as counters or sending the content of a form to you as an email. You might see “Perl” or “C++” mentioned in this context – these are the computer languages used to write the programs in, and you can find lots of free programs (usually called “scripts”) at Hot Scripts. You have to download the scripts to your computer and then install on your site using the instructions given with the script.
- “PHP”. This is another computer language in which the web host runs a program (or script) before delivering web pages to you. This is a very powerful language, and is used extensively in the automation of chweb.org. For the non-expert, PHP is still worth having as it makes files easier to manaage as well as giving your site potential for lots of rich content using free scripts on the net.
- Domain registration. If you want your own domain (such as www.yourchurch.org) you will probably want it to point directly to your site (and not forwarded).
A website editor
Websites are written in HTML (which stands for Hyper-Text Markup Language, but you don’t need to remember that!).
You have a choice: Learn HTML or get a WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) website editor. Learning HTML will take slightly longer to get your first site going, but you’ll probably understand it better when you need to change it. WYSIWYG editors are great for the novice, but often create HTML which is hard to edit later when things aren’t quite working out right.
For a free HTML editor, try 1st Page 2000 or … . For a free WYSIWYG editor, try Microsoft’s Front Page Express, Microsoft Word 2000 or above, or Netscape’s …
For more sophistication (and therefore cost), take a look at DreamWeaver or HotMetal.
An FTP Client
FTP stands for “File Transfer Protocol”, and is the way you get files from your computer to your web host. Some editors (like DreamWeaver) have FTP functionality built in them, and you may well want to give that a try.
Other popular FTP software is SmartFTP (which is excellent and free), and the highly-rated CuteFTP.
Images and/or Image Manipulating Software
Images are a crucial part of any website. For a church website, we always like to see images of people and if possible a picture of the church building (assuming it’s not ugly!). You may well want to have other images around your site to break up the text and look appealing to the reader.
If you use a search engine to look for “free Christian images” you will find an abundance of material for you to use. We would suggest, however, that your images are chosen carefully to fit in with your overall scheme and with each other.
For images of your church building you will need either to take a photo with a digital camera or scan in a normal photo. You must then use photo software to reduce the size of the image to fit on a web page. We recommend that you keep your image size to less than 20Kbytes (your software will help you do this).
There are lots of photo imaging software packages available. You might have some with a scanner or digital camera, or you can download Serif’s Photo Plus. One of the most widespread and best respected pieces of software for editing graphics and photos is Paint Shop Pro, and although this isn’t free we can certainly recommend it if you want to do quite a bit of graphics work.
Whatever you do, do not under-estimate the amount of time you will need to build a good-looking website. Sure, you can put together a moderate text-based site in no time but website visitors are impatient and fickle so you should take care – you’re building a window for the world to look into your church, so make it good.
Assuming you’ve got the tools, you will need to lay out your work as follows:
- Sort out your objectives. Is this mainly for members? Mainly evangelistic? A mix? That must govern the layout of your home page more than any other factor.
- Design the structure. How many pages will your site have? How will the link together? Will you have a menu on every page? What will your pages be about? You should already have much of this from your time on chweb.org, but it doesn’t help to map it out again on paper.
- Decide on your layout. What colour scheme will you use? Do you want lots of graphics or mostly text?
- Prepare your graphics. Get all the images you want to use ready and at the right size.
- Ask your church leadership whether the site you are about to build is the one they want, and make any changes necessary.
- Get editing! It’s usually easiest to do one page at a time.
- Once you’re finished, get your church leadership and some web-savvy Christian friends to review the site. Accept any comments and criticisms with good grace!
- Then, and only then, begin to publish the existence of your site.
- Remember that no site is ever “finished”. You will need to keep it up to date, and will certainly want to continue improving it over time.
If you get stuck, don’t know how to do something, want a review or any kind of help at all, we recommend CWM, Christian Web Masters. Just register yourself and put your question to the forum – you will get a helpful reply from a Christian webmaster.
How to learn…
You may find that your web building software has templates. If so, build a site using these templates and then take a look at the raw HTML to see how things are built up.
If you don’t have that kind of editor, try viewing the source code of any web-page (like this!). In Internet Explorer, that means just clicking with the right-hand button and selecting “View Source”. You will soon learn some of the more basic elements and begin to recognise the structure.
For further help, just look up “HTML tutorial” in any search engine and choose – there are lots out there!