Technically speaking, there are basically three types of websites: static HTML, database-driven and Flash-based.
1. Static HTML, refers to a web page that has been coded in an HTML editor such as Go Live, Dreamweaver, BB Edit or a host of other applications. (Sidenote: MS Word may claim to create webpages, but should never be used for HTML content as it is full of custom codes that only with Microsoft products.)
2. A Flash-based website requires an authoring program from Adobe that is very expensive and has a huge learning curve and while it often garners a lot of attention for its, well, flashy nature, it should not be the first choice for a new site.
3. Database-driven. A database is essentially a giant text file with lots of information and code that is retrieved on the fly when someone visits a site. The most common code base or programming languages are PHP and ASP but there are a bunch of others not worth detailing right now.
Essentially how these sites work is that there is a code-base that retrieves data from the database and feeds it through a pre-designed template. Database sites are actually a very broad category so it needs to be broken down a little bit. There are three sub-types of database site that I’ll cover here today:
1. custom database projects
2. template sites
3. open source platforms
Custom Database Projects
Pretty much all major sites on the web (Hub Pages, Facebook, mass media and big corporate sites) fall under this category. They service a lot of users, have extensive content and are maintained by full-time teams.
Cheap Template Services
The second sub-category of database-driven sites are those generated by templates, usually provided by major web hosting companies. You can purchase this kind of service for a few bucks a month, choose from dozens, if not hundreds, of pre-designed templates and paste in your own content. If you’re lucky, you might be able to add video, have a contact form and change your logo, but usually, that’s it.
In addition to lack of design control, there are usually limited features and inflexibility with controlling keywords which is essential for getting found in Google. In a nutshell, these kinds of cheap template sites are only for those that really have no money to invest in their website project and need to put something up instantly.
Open Source Platforms
These are the most common and the most robust, for their ease of use and availability. They are also known as Content Management Systems (CMS) for their extensive ability to manage content. Open source means that anyone can use the code and its usually developed by volunteers from all over the globe, tirelessly contributing their time to develop the platform. While there are dozens of systems available, I’m going to focus on the three most popular – Joomla, Drupal and WordPress.
Joomla is fairly flexible when it comes to working with templates and there are hundreds of fantastic plugins that can perform a variety of functions, from newsletters, to galleries, to shopping carts, social networking, news… the list goes on and on. Joomla is my platform of choice for either really content heavy sites or for e-commerce.
The second major open source platform, only the most technically minded individuals can work with a Drupal site. It’s a great platform if you have a programmer on staff or if you really need something that can be torn apart and put together again, but it is NOT for the faint of heart. Steer clear unless you want a lot of late nights and have plenty of hair to lose.
Steadily becoming the platform of choice, WordPress used to be considered mainly as a blogging tool, but no more. With its template flexibility, growing list of plug-ins and easy to use administration, its my first choice for a CMS-site. With a few key plug-ins you can have excellent SEO (search engine optimization), nice functionality for visitors and simple tools for editing content.
What’s even better is that most hosting companies offer one-click installations and since WordPress is designed for the common person, it’s fairly easy to find and install plugins and themes. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out professional web design consulting (for template customization, search engine marketing and plugin customization) but it DOES mean that if you have a tight budget and time on your hands, you can learn to use WordPress fairly quickly and get your site running in no time.
I’d still recommend hiring someone to accomplish some of those advanced functions I mentioned, but you can still fish on your own if you have to.