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Guest ChoralTech: DIY Websites--Buy This, Get a Website

 
Does your choir need a website? Yes! Yes, it does! This is the second in ChoralTech Guest Blogger Seth Garrepy's series on DIY Web Design. Check out his first article while you're at it, and come back next week for the thrilling conclusion.
 
“Buy this, Get a Website”
 
It’s almost too good to be true.  Can you really pay money and lay your claim to the digital frontier?  Yes, you can!  In today’s article, we explore the what’s and how’s of staking your claim in the vast frontier of the Internet and how it is similar to the westward expansion of the 19th century.
 
Go West, Young Man?
 
What do you need to have a functioning website?  You need two fundamental elements: a web host and a registrar… but not like the one at your school or college!  Let’s start by looking at what a web host is.
 
Similarities exist between the homesteaders of the mid-19th century and the web pioneers of the 21st century.  For example, homesteaders applied to the government for a plot of land, sometimes paid a fee, and then the US Government gave them the right to live on the land.  Similarly, you must also apply to someone so that you can “claim” your spot.  The agency that will give you the right to your new “land” is someone known as a Web Host.  You pay them, monthly or yearly, for the right to occupy space on the Internet. 
 
When a homestead was assigned to a family, they received a document that contained the location of their plot, which was often defined by section, township, and range.  Imagine saying that you’re going to visit Mr. Thomas Davis at Section 26 in Township 10 of Range 28… people might look at you oddly!  But if you said you were going to visit Mr. Davis’s house in Montgomery, Alabama then you might be more apt to find the right house.  Nothing is wrong with the first method of identifying Mr. Davis’s land, except most people will have trouble remembering it.  The Internet is comparably made up of long strings of numbers that identify websites, but you wouldn’t want to remember 74.125.131.103 just to get to Google!  Hence, the second organization you need to visit with is called a Registrar, and they will give your website its recognizable domain name, like www.acda.org.  They convert the web address you type into the long string of numbers transparently so you do not have to remember.
 
The good news is that many major web companies, like GoDaddy, actually serve both functions as both web host and registrar.  As a result, it is simple to purchase what you need and begin the process of building your new website in minutes flat.
 
“Do I need a 2nd mortgage for this project?”
 
Cost is the burning question probably on your mind right now.  To put things in perspective, I did a quick survey of a few big web hosts and found that for as little as $3.85/mo. you can have a website and a domain name.  Surprising, isn’t it?  Keep in mind, though, my general rule of thumb in technology: you always get what you pay for.  Don’t go for the absolute cheapest option because they likely cut corners in other areas, like customer service.  (Trust me: when you have a problem, there’s nothing like a competent, helpful human on the other end of the phone to make you feel better and make things work!)  Consequently, stick with name recognition if you are unsure about a company.
 
Pro Note
I recommend that you research a web host’s customer service record by doing a quick Google search before you commit.  It can reveal either heaps of praise or truckloads of disgruntled former clients, and this info is good to know in advance of paying them!
 
Since this is a crash course, I won’t get too far into the technical details.  However, I do want to give you a few general things to look for in a host:
 
  • Customer Service: Look for a clearly-listed telephone number on their website.  It should quickly connect you to a human on the other side.  Try calling it to find out.
  • Space/Transfer: Most websites will do well with 5GB (“Gigabytes”) or more of space and 50GB of transfer per month.  Space is analogous to a filing cabinet: the bigger it is, the more files you can stuff into it before it gets full.  Transfer, on the other hand, is analogous to an ice cream cart: the bigger your ice cream cart, the more kids you can serve ice cream to before you run out of product.  All your webpages take up space, and serving that content (“ice cream”) to people is known as transfer. 
 
Pro Note
As a warning, your website may be suspended if you exceed your transfer limit, so err on the side of caution and buy more than you think you need.
 
  • Email Addresses: A certain number of free email accounts that share your domain name (ex. director@mychoir.org) are usually included with your “package.”  If you will use this option, make sure you will have enough email addresses available for everyone in your organization.
  • Databases: You may not immediately realize why this is important, but you will need them.  Just make sure you have at least 3 MySQL (pronounced: “my sequel”) databases.  We will need at least one of these later.  The other 2 can be used for other purposes at a later date.  These databases are stored by the web host and will hold information about how your website will run.
 
With these simple guidelines in mind, make a decision about which web host you want to choose.
 
Let’s talk about how you’re going to get your content out to your audience.  You have some options at this point, but costs vary dramatically depending on what you choose.  You can hire a professional (the most expensive option) or you can work with any number of Content Management Systems (CMS) and design your own.  Since you’re looking at this article, I am going to assume that you want to know how you can do it yourself.
 
Let me introduce you to the CMS I recommend, called WordPress (WP).  You may have heard of WP for its blogging abilities, but it is a versatile and easy-to-use CMS.  Personally, I have worked with three different CMS’s (Drupal, Joomla, and WP) and have found WP to be the most friendly to use.  All three of these CMS’s are free, by the way.  In fact, my website (www.sethgarrepy.com) is put together entirely with it. 
 
If you choose WP, there is a way to get it working in minutes flat.  In fact, some web hosts have “WordPress Hosting Plans”.  The beauty of these plans is that the web host will provide a one-button installer in your control panel that will do all the heavy lifting for you.  Just click the button and WP is installed in seconds.  These plans usually provide generous amounts of space and transfer, as well as a free domain name sometimes.  If I had to estimate, the total time from paying the web host to having a functioning website is somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes—for website that just works!
 
Congratulations!  You now have a website, but now what?  Next week’s article will give you some resources to help you get content on to WordPress, as well as how to change the look and feel of your website.  Until then, please reply below if you have any questions or comments about today’s article and I will be glad to respond to them.
 
WordPress Hosting Plans
 
 
on February 15, 2013 7:35am
I'm fortunate -- my school district provides Schoolwires for us and encourages every teacher to have a web page (and keep it up!).  For my personal hobby, though, I use GoDaddy. I highly recommend it. I think between a year's hosting plan and a two year domain name, it runs me $65-85 a year (less when I don't have to renew the domain name.)  If you use GoDaddy, download the "Help" file because it will help you through the initial things like how to upload, how to delete part of your site, how to update a file, etc.
 
 
Donna Ransdell
on February 15, 2013 11:13am
My chamber choir has had a webstie since 2007/2008 (can't remember when we first set it up).  It's evolved since the very basic version into a version more modern.  I am lucky in that my middle son is a physicist and computer guy--and he's my consultant.  He's worked it out so I can edit---I blog on my site--and post things without any help (except for the occassional "HELP!  I'll bake cookies for you" call).  I use GoDaddy and Word Press as well. Look forward to further installments here so we can make our website more "shiny."
 
It may interest you to know I've posted our repertoire since our first concert, and rep for every concert since is included in the Past Concert Rep page of the website. I am having my spring concert cycle auditions until mid-March and several auditioners (new members now) have told me they decided to audition because of the repertoire....I'm so happy I decided to post it!
 
Marie
 
on February 17, 2013 7:07pm
Donna: I'm glad to hear that your school encourages you to use web technology!  Regarding GoDaddy, the reason I push them so much is my personal experience with them has been largely positive.  They tend to document their products well and give good human support when you need it.  Their prices aren't half bad to boot! 
 
Marie: That's really neat how your past rep has brought in musicians to audition for your choir.  In a very real sense, you have harnessed an angle of marketing with your website, without it seeming to be too obvious about it.  It's also good to hear from someone else who's using WP successfully for their choir.  I think your comment about your site evolving over time is a testament to the ability of WP to meet the wide-ranging needs of web designers successfully.  Thanks for the feedback!