Home Sweet Home: Think of Your Website Like a House to Help Your Business
April 6th, 2017 by
It’s the American dream: work hard, build your business up, start a family, and buy a house with a white picket fence. Most of us are cruising for the same kind of idyllic dream for our business as well, even if we have a harder time figuring out how to get there. But what if I told you that one of the biggest factors contributing to business growth was, basically, a house? One you don’t need a mortgage to buy.
Ok, so it’s not really a house: it’s your website.
But a website is a lot like a house. Its construction and design both build on top of each other and work to create a structure that is your business’s online home where people come to visit you. If you need a general contractor to make sure your house isn’t going to cave in, you can request a site analysis from us. But if you’re unsure if that’s necessary, or you’re just really obsessed with House Hunters and need to see where this is going, read on.
Building From the Ground Up
Your realtor wants you to see a new house on the market. First things first: you have to drive to it. The road you’re on is like the internet. You can get pretty much anywhere, and each road feeds off into more roads, creating the path you take (or the black hole you find yourself in when you’re “taking a five-minute break”). To avoid following random roads and hoping you get where you want instead of the Arctic, you need to know what your destination is. For a house, that’s the address. For a website, that’s the domain, also called the web address. See, I’m not making this all up; they’re completely related. The domain name in the example URL www.exampleswag.com is “exampleswag.”
So you know how you’re getting there, and you know the address, but what are you going to? Houses don’t float in the sky, and it would be very difficult for municipalities to enforce building regulations if they did.
Just as a house sits on a physical lot, so too does a website have a physical home—the hosting and server. The server is a physical machine that sits somewhere out in the world, storing all the files that comprise your website onto its hard drive. Your hosting administrator owns and maintains the servers. When you pay someone like GoDaddy or HostGator to host your site, you’re asking them to host your website’s files on their servers, essentially renting land from them to build your house on. Sketchy real estate practice, but totally normal and secure for websites.
Front End and Back End
So you roll up to the house with your realtor for the walk-through. What exactly are you looking at as you’re exploring the property? On a website, there are essentially two different halves: the front end and the back end. The front end is everything a visitor to your site can see and interact with, similar to the walls, furniture, and doorknobs in your house. The back end involves the more structural aspects of the site: the wiring, plumbing, and framing of your house. When you’re buying a house, you want it to look nice on the front end and to have all the features you need (clawfoot bathtub, anyone?), but you also need it to function well on the back end. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the granite countertops are if the roof leaks every time it rains. This is why it’s so important to ensure your website has good bones. You can request a site analysis from us to find out where yours stands.
The Foundational Platform
Your website is built on a platform just like your house is built on a foundation. Popular platforms include WordPress and SquareSpace, but there are others. These two, in particular, are so popular because they are CMSs (content management systems) with really user-friendly interfaces. Once you get your CMS “key,” meaning the CMS platform has been installed on your site, you get easy access to all the contents of the house and can move furniture around and paint walls to your heart’s content.
You could, of course, build your house without a foundation, or build your website from scratch one line of code at a time instead of using a CMS. It’s a pretty big job, and it really only works best for websites with few, static pages. Best to leave the roughing it to the survivalists and Mainer moose hunters.
Bricks and Mortar: What Is Your Site Actually Made Of?
The first known use of lime mortar was in 4th century BC Greece and Egypt. The first publically available description of HTML was in 1991. Times are a-changing, but structural integrity never goes out of style. HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, but essentially it’s just the basic coding language used to create a website. Its primary use is to create each page of the site. It’s the framework that holds all of your stylish branding and outstanding content. Speaking of style…
External Stylesheets Are the New Black
HTML can be used to add some style to your website, but it’s a bit limited to tinted plaster and popcorn ceiling—think of the oldest website you can remember visiting because it was probably all HTML. The reason it looks so basic is that HTML is also what makes the bones of the house, so it ends up being a bit like trying to use the insulation of your house to create the wall color when that’s just not the insulation’s job.
CSS (cascading style sheet), however, exists outside of the construction of the functional aspects of the site. All the CSS code is accessed separately from the HTML, so the style is rendered on top of each page as it loads. If HTML is the framework, CSS is the paint, wallpaper, and fancy flooring of your house. You can go crazy with customization and design whatever you can envision (I’m thinking mauve, personally).
CSS can be housed above the fold content, the chunk of code that fits within the frame you see when the page first loads, but it’s better when it’s kept on an external stylesheet. An external stylesheet is a separate file from the page file and is accessed from the server individually to render a given page. When your site keeps the styling on an external stylesheet, search engines can clearly distinguish between style and substance as they go through the page code, leading to faster and more accurate crawls.
Bringing In Personal Style
The house has been bought and built, it’s all spruced up with trendy finishings, and now it’s time to fill it with furniture. Website copy is your site’s furniture. Having stellar copy is important for two reasons: it gives function and form. Each room in your house is divided into different functions by the furniture. Having content on each page of your site that is focused on the topic of the page tells visitors what information they should be expecting from that page and makes it easier to navigate to the information they want. When a guest comes to your house looking for a bathroom, for example, they’ll know which room is the bathroom because they will see bathroom furniture, and they will skip over the room with a bed because they know beds don’t live in bathrooms.
In addition to having informational and focused content, you need to have strong content. If your copy is full of typos, lacks value, or has a tone that is off-putting to your readers, they’re going to leave, no matter how well the rest of your site functions. Would a guest notice your stunning parquet floors if they’re covered in dirty rugs and chairs that probably aren’t safe to sit on?
Putting All the Pieces Together
In the end, each piece of your website ends up working with the others to create the site, and if one isn’t receiving top marks, the whole site isn’t meeting its potential. After all, it only takes one dealbreaker to turn a dream house into a fixer-upper. But you can make your dream house work for you and your business. Take a good hard look at how your website looks now (or use the audit you’ve cleverly gotten from us as a guide), and decide what work needs to be done. If you’re not the DIY home improvement type, don’t worry—Search Influence has master carpenters on staff, so reach out to us for help!