Beginner's guide to creating popular websites - FAQ for newbie webmasters

Creating a popular website is easy if you keep it simple. Here are the basics that you need to get started.

A website is a collection of files stored on a computer that runs special web server software. The filenames must all end in .htm or .html. Whatever file is named index.htm or index.html is the "home page". All you need to do is create the files. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will provide the computer that runs the special web server software. If you can type then you can create a website. The steps are simple.

1. Choose an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to host your website. Usually whoever you get Internet access from will also host websites for a small additional charge. A small local ISP will be more helpful than a giant ISP like AOL.

2. Register a domain name for your website such as Your ISP will help you with this step and recommend a domain registrar. When people browse to your website your ISP will translate the domain name to the actual place where the ISP put your website. If you are a business then people will expect your name to end in .com. (Most of the good .com names are gone but you can register a country name instead. I recommend the Tonga domain registrar. The websites for Tonga end in .to instead of .com. My website is and this page is available at even though it is actually hosted at my local ISP. If you want a .to name then go to and register one.)

3a. If you are selling something then your website's content needs to answer these six questions: Who are you? Put your company name in both the title and the body of each webpage so that search engines can find it easily. What are you selling? List every single one of the products, brands, and services that you sell. Why should prospective customers buy it from you rather than from somebody else? Great selection, personal service, or good reputation ("In business since 1953") are excellent reasons. People will believe the claim "Best selection of Kasazhistan carpets" but they won't believe "Best price" since somebody else on the Internet will always beat your price. Where can they buy it? List your street address, mailing address, telephone number, email address, etc. If you have a physical store then also provide directions and a map. How can they buy it? Tell them to send orders to one of your addresses, fill out a web form, come into the store, or whatever you choose. When can they buy it? List the hours that your store is open, or that email and telephone are answered. Be sure to include the time zone (such as Eastern Standard Time) when posting hours on the Internet. If any offers are good for a limited time than be sure to list starting and ending dates.

3b. If you just have a personal website then the content part is easier. Just put up stuff that you are interested in. If that happens to be something currently popular, like reviews of digital cameras, then great. But no matter what you put up, if you are interested in it then many other people will be too.

4. More relevant content will attract more visitors. If you are selling carpet then put up a document that explains the different types of carpet and the advantages of each. You don't have to write content yourself. People post Frequently Answered Questions (FAQ) documents in many Usenet newsgroups. Use the Google Groups search engine to find the FAQ documents that deal with your subject and then ask the authors' permission to post the 2 or 3 best ones on your website. Most authors will be flattered and will readily give you permission. They are unlikely to ask for payment. My top visitor-attracting page happened exactly that way, although I didn't dream that it would attract 20% of all visitors to my website.

5. Make sure that you put prominent links from all web pages back to your home page. Most visitors will start at whatever page the search engine brings them to.

6. Create the pages of your website one of these three ways. 1. Learn HTML from the excellent O'Reilly book "HTML The Definitive Guide" plus the tutorials at HTML Help By The Web Design Group and do it yourself. This is the easiest way to create a simple website that will load extremely quickly. You can simply type the HTML using the built-in Microsoft Windows text editing tool Notepad and save the file with a .htm extension. (That is how this website was created. I could have made my website fancier but I deliberately chose to keep it starkly simple.) Note that you can find a website that you like, right-click the mouse on a page, and view the source of that page. Try that now on this page to see just how simple HTML can be. 2. Use a website creation tool such as Microsoft Front Page. This makes it easier to create flashy websites, but the results will load more slowly and may not look right on all browsers. 3. Hire an expert to create the website for you. This third way is necessary if you are using advanced features such as shopping carts and databases. Your ISP should be able to do this for you or else recommend an expert. (Make sure that your hired expert uses as much plain HTML as possible. Dynamically created web pages are invisible to search engines.)

7. Add a visitor counter to each page that tells you how many people visited the page and what they were looking for. The free counter at works well. Your ISP or hired expert may suggest other good ones.

8. Upload the web page files to the directory where your ISP stores the content for your website. Your ISP will help you with this step. Usually you will use a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program to do this. The command line Microsoft Windows FTP program will work, but the WS_FTP program from is much easier to operate and is inexpensive. Warning: Reliable people report that Ipswitch is now spamming the email addresses of everyone who downloads WS_FTP. Use a throwaway email address from Yahoo or use a different program.

9. Check each page to make sure the HTML is correct. Bad HTML may look OK on your web browser but terrible on another web browser. Use the free W3C HTML validator to check each page. Correct the errors that you find. (Hope you bought an HTML book. Your website creation tool probably made some errors that you will need to manually correct.) Note that if your website counter uses Javascript then that Javascript will fail HTML validation because it is Javascript not HTML. (Duh!) Ignore such errors.

10. Tell people about your website. Paid advertising via newspaper ads or radio is great but expensive. Your closest friends will probably link to your website for free from their websites and that will eventually bring your website to the attention of the search engines. Link back to any website that links to your website. See the Marketing On The Internet Without Spamming page for more tips on how to promote your website. Don't use junk email spam or else you will ruin your business! Too many people ruin their reputations that way.

11. Keep on going! Check the visitor counter to find out what content and referral sources are drawing in visitors. Add more content. Keep marketing your website. If you can't afford paid advertisements then it may take months for your website to become popular. Don't give up. There is a snowball effect. The number of visitors to your site will suddenly explode after weeks or months of slowly increasing activity. Don't move, delete, or rename web pages unless you have to. Zombie pages frustrate visitors who find them via search engines. If you must move pages then be sure to leave a link from the old location to the new location.

12. Learn from other people's mistakes. Start by reading my Lessons learned the hard way

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