If you’re a small business owner or a creative person or just someone who loves to cruise blogs- you’ve probably thought about setting up your own blog or website. You’re likely to have even gone further than that and set one up already.
But here’s the thing: the web can be a really confusing place if you don’t know some basic terms to get you started. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I was in college and just discovered blog world, I had no clue whatsoever about how the internet worked. In retrospect, that’s kinda crazy. What were they teaching me school? (I’m sort of kidding- but I do wish that I had learned more about the internet and computers in general in school.)
When I get client inquiries, sometimes it’s hard to know if we’re on the same page with what terms we use to describe the web. I thought it would be helpful for all parties if I laid out some basic terms that will help you if you’re thinking about setting up a website, already have one and are ready to take it to the next level, or if you just want to know a little bit more about how your internet space is set up.
Domain. Let’s start at the beginning. Your domain name is the address that you type into your browser. For example, my domain name is katelynbrookeblog.com. You’ll notice that this is slightly different from my URL, which is http://katelynbrooke.com/. See the difference? Here’s a tip: don’t buy your domain name from GoDaddy. Just don’t do it. I’ve heard good things about Name Cheap, but to be honest I like to just buy my domain names through my hosting company (see below). I just think it’s easier that way.
CMS (Content Management System). I refer to this a lot of times as your blog’s platform, but CMS is really the better term. This is what you will use to compose and publish your blog posts. Some of the most popular for blogs are WordPress and Blogger. Typepad, Squarespace, and even Tumblr are some other examples. You might have also heard of Joombla or Drupal- those are more frequently used for corporate websites. (This infographic shows you examples of different company websites and what CMS they use.)
Web hosting. Your website is made up of a series files. Those files have to be hosted somewhere on a server in order for it to be accessible on the internet. That’s where hosting companies come in. You pay a hosting company for space on their server so that your website can exist. If it’s a good hosting company they’ll provide a little bit of support in case you come across any issues- this website stuff can be complicated! I use RFE Hosting, and I totally recommend them!
Theme. It’s hard to define a theme, because they all vary so much for each other. I want to say that themes are like the paper clothes for your paper doll, but more advanced themes (like the Genesis Framework, which is what I use) are so much more than that. Themes can add functionality to your site, and different themes require varying levels of coding skill to control.
Sometimes people purchase themes with a premade design to give their site a makeover without having to hire a designer, which is a great option if you have a lower budget. However, if you plan on hiring a designer in the near future, hold off on purchasing a theme because chances are they’ll want to design your site the way that they want to, and the money that you spent on your theme will essentially be lost.
See also child theme. A child theme is a theme that you install on top of another theme. Genesis uses child themes. When I design a site, I’m actually not touching Genesis- I use a child theme to style the site while still using the basic framework. This makes it so that updates can be made to the overall framework without affecting the design of a site. You can read more about child themes on the Studiopress site.
Wireframe. I don’t really use wireframes much except for my own personal use, but a wireframe is a rough sketch or diagram about how a website will flow. It’s not about the styling, it’s about the spatial positioning of elements on a page.
Mock-Up. This is when you lay out how the website will look as closely as you can to what it will actually look like, in Photoshop or Illustrator. Basically, it’s the design of the website without having to code it. I only use mock-ups sometimes- it really depends on how clear of an idea the client has about the layout of their site. Sometimes I skip the mock-up and go straight for the test site!
Responsive design. This term gets thrown around a lot, and it’s easy to assume that this means that you can view your website on a mobile device. This isn’t true- you can view your web design on mobile devices without it being responsive (in fact, there are some circumstances where I think it makes sense to not be responsive.) A responsive web design is one that changes based on the size of the screen that it is being viewed on- it is not specific to any particular device. You can test to see if a website is responsive by dragging the edge of your browser inward and seeing if it changes (mine does- try it out!) Edit: mine used to, but is no longer responsive as of January 2014.
Responsive design is complicated because it means that the designer has to anticipate all browser sizes, and detect any issues that may arise. Some designs are more responsive than others- you’ll notice that my blog has to get to a certain width before it will start to change. It all depends on the needs of your website and who will be viewing it. If you want to learn more, check out this article.
Did I miss something? Ask away in the comments! Also- when I was writing this post I Googled a lot of these and Wikipedia always had a great answer. I forget to look stuff up sometimes- there’s always so much information out there!
Shout-out to Clinton and Laura for contributing their ideas!
Also, I’m making an announcement tomorrow, and my email subscribers will get some behind the scenes info- make sure you’re signed up!
This post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase web hosting or a theme through my links I get a small commission. Please rest assured that I only recommend products like this that I use and love myself.
Very useful! I don’t use wordpress anymore but when I did it was like a foreign language ;) Geez, there’s a lot to learn!
This is a great resource! I always forget that everyone doesn’t know all the technology terms that I do.
Lisa // Elembee says
Thanks for putting these together — it definitely helps when the client is on the same page with terminology!
All this talk about everyone needing responsive design lately makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Now everyone is asking for it, and they don’t even know what it is. If your site has a pretty simple layout, I honestly don’t think you really need to put time and effort into making it responsive — mobile devices these days do a pretty good job of displaying sites as you’d see on your computer, just scaled down. It actually frustrates me when I can’t access a full site on my iPad, only an “optimized for iPad” version instead. I do want to learn more about responsive design, but I don’t think it’s everything people are making it out to be. (Sorry for what turned out to be a long rant!)
I totally agree- I don’t think responsive design really makes sense for a lot of sites. If it’s not improving on the functionality of the site, then I don’t think it’s worth it. It definitely seems like a phrase that everyone likes to throw around like it’s the greatest thing ever, but it need to be used with a lot of thought and intention behind it to be done well.
Rebecca Alexis says
This is such a straight forward explanation of so many of the terms us wimpy (like me) bloggers out there run into. Thanks so much for the info! Also I agree don’t use GoDaddy, but from my stand point it is because of all their raunchy adverts. Very over the top. ugh. xo
Yay! I’m glad it helped. I’ve used GoDaddy before, but I won’t again- their commercials are gross and their whole site got taken down sometime in the last year, which caused a lot of issues. I just think it’s better to go elsewhere :)
Rebecca Alexis says
not sure if you will see this…but I am on blogger with a blogspot behind it. So I don’t have my own domain name…do you think it is important to purchase it? Even with being so “new”. I like blogger because I am slowly getting used to how to configure things myself & if I had a choice, I would jump to square space before wordpress (in part because square space is all one package), but I don’t think my site is really ready for it…but at the same time -do I really get more “street cred” if I purchase a domain name? I can use eNom istead of godaddy(yuck). Or should I just bide my time and wait & see if my blog actually goes somewhere then head to square space (or word press). Just curious with the thoughts I have in my head. so love all these blogging tips & series you are doing! don’t worry if you never answer. :-) xo
I don’t think that it makes that much of a difference. Once you’ve gotten to a certain point you’ll probably notice when blogs of a similar size mostly have their own domain names, and maybe then it’s important, but I think you can still grow and get your name out there without owning your own domain name. Have you seen this post about Blogger?
Rebecca Alexis says
WOW. thanks so much Kate! that is a great post and then I spent time (again) wandering though your links etc. I think that there are a lot of things I would love about WordPress.org (plugins!) as I over think and have too many ideas sometimes. When I think of moving over to WP I think two things 1. I would have to be making enough money to actually hire you! or 2. I would have to take a class on the code for WP. :-) thanks again for all your feedback & blog love. I so so so appreciate it. Keep up all your fabulous work.
This is an absolute gem, I’m going to send SO MANY people to this post!
It really only applies to WordPress, but if I could add to the list, I’d add widgets and plugins. I’ve encountered quite a bit of confusion about those; often people think they’re interchangeable terms.
Now that you mention it, I thought about those at one point and totally forgot! Maybe I’ll have to edit it and add them in there… thanks Marie! :)
This post is such a big help. I’ve had my blog since like 2009 and didn’t even know most of these terms (or what they meant), sadly!
Just stumbled upon this via Lisa//Elembee…completely on point and I’ve just added your blog to my bookmarks!