You’re finally ready to get your website done and you’re scoping out some developers whose work you love. The only challenge is you’re not sure whether you need a blog or a website or if there is a difference. Do you need a domain or hosting or both? Do the two come together?

Ugh! So much to figure out.

Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Here are some terms, in alphabetical order, that you need to be familiar with before you get your author website developed.

Admin Access

When you get your website developed, the developer has admin access. This means she can log in and do anything on the website; add content, delete content, change how the site looks, add new functionality, disable the whole site, etc.

The developer is often the only person who has admin access. This is both good and bad.

It’s good in that;

  • the fewer people who have admin access, the less likely it is that someone messes something up.
  • it reduces the likelihood of an admin password falling into the wrong hands.

It’s bad in that;

  • If the developer is not accessible for whatever reason, you can’t access your site.
Password managers help keep your passwords secure as you avoid writing them down in notebooks or sending them by email.

So, as the owner of the site you want to have admin access as well, BUT, and this is important, not for your normal day-to-day use of the website. You want to have admin access in case you one day need to share it with someone else or log in to do some major work on the site yourself.

If you normally log in to add updates, for instance, you only need publishing access, which in WordPress, as an example, you can get through the ‘Editor’ level of access.

So have the developer set this up for you.

You don’t need to log in as an admin just to add a blog post. It’s like taking your kid to school in an 18-wheeler. It’s overkill. It works, yes, but whatever access details you use the most are more accessible to potential hackers. It’s much better to have them access an account which doesn’t enable them to do serious harm to your site.

The right way to do it is to have two accounts for yourself; the first is the one you use when you log in to the site to do your general content updates and the second is the one you give to whoever needs to do major work on the site, like changing the way it looks, adding a new plugin, etc.

Use a password manager like LastPass and store and share passwords. Don’t send them in emails or text messages.

Backend

The backend of a website or an application is the part of the site that you access to administer it. It is not normally visible to users.

You will normally have a different URL to access the backend. For instance if you run a WordPress site, your main website maybe at www.myauthorsite.com. The backend or admin access will be at www.myauthorsite.com/wp-admin or www.myauthorsite.com/login.

Blog

This term has come to mean many things, but the original term was ‘web log’ which referred to writing a journal or a log of activities on a website. Web log was soon shortened to blog. As they became popular, specific website applications were designed for them. These include sites like blogger.com which made it easy for thousands of people to become ‘bloggers’ and website applications like WordPress.

So, technically, a blog is a website or part of a website that is formatted like an online journal, log, or diary. It makes it possible to easily add a series of articles about a particular subject (or random subjects if you like) to a website.

This means that a blog can make up the whole website or can be just a part of it.

‘Blog’ is also now commonly used to mean an entry into a blog website. For instance, “I wrote a blog about my trip to Egypt.”

So just like a car is a vehicle, but a vehicle is not necessarily a car, a blog is a website but a website is not necessarily a blog.

Your author website can have a blog if you wish, but this is not mandatory. Non-Fiction authors do much better with blogs as they can simply blog about their area of expertise. A lot of fiction writers struggle to find their blogging mojo.

Visitors to a site expect blogs to be updated frequently and many authors cannot do this for one reason or another, so I recommend leaving a blog out unless you are happy with this state of affairs or can update it regularly. Once a month at the very least if you want to appear on top of things.

A workaround is to name the blog section of your website ‘news.’ If there’s news there’s news. If there’s none, people are more likely to understand.

If you’re planning a website and want to have a blog but are not yet ready for it, you can ask to have a blog section set up but for it to be disabled/hidden until you need it.

Content management systems make it easy to manage your own author website.
Content management systems make it easy to manage your own author website.

CMS | Content Management System

When I started developing websites in 1998, if you wanted to create a single web page you opened a file, much like you do a Word document, and started typing code. This was a single web page. If your website had 10 pages, you had to do this 10 times. You created as many files as you needed for your website and then created the links to join them together to make an actual website.

Tedious, right?

If you didn’t like how the pages looked, you had to edit each page, one by one. Even more tedious, especially as your website grew over time.

You also had the big problem of not being able to present or work with your content in versatile ways. Once it was pasted onto a page that was it, you couldn’t show a list of pages, for instance, with similar content, or run a search for a specific term.

If you wanted to edit a page you needed to download it (or use a mirror page on your computer), do the edit and then upload it again.

It required a specific skill set and was slow. Hiring someone to do this was also expensive, beyond the reach of many writers.

Then templates came along and made life easier. You could create one template and then create pages from it. If you wanted to change the way the site looked, you simply edited the template. Progress!

But you still had the content for your site tied to individual pages. It was hard to find things and to reorganize things.

Then someone thought, how about we build a container for this content; a web application that is built specifically for handling content. The content will be separate from the actual application so that you can manage the two separately, making the final product more versatile and user-friendly. 

When a user wants to type a post, they don’t need to play around with code or to wonder how it’s stored and saved, all they need to do is type their post, paste it into a certain field, and press a button and everything else is taken care of; the post is saved, the post is indexed for easy searching, the post appears in archives on the website, etc.

And that is what a CMS is; a web application that manages content. Hehe. I know it took a long time getting to this simple explanation, but the context makes it so much easier to understand.

WordPress is an example of a CMS. Other examples are Joomla, Drupal, and CMSimple (I haven’t used CMSimple for many years, but I used to love this CMS. It’s very simple and lightweight and uses text files for data storage and so it doesn’t need a database. Sorry. Geeking out. I got carried away there. Ignore that last bit).

Domain Name

A computer needs to know the address of another computer in order to send a message to it.

The actual addresses of computers are numbers called IP addresses. But IP addresses are hard to remember. Imagine if we gave out GPS co-ordinates when our friends asked for our home address. It would be so hard to remember that. That’s the same sort of thing with IP addresses. No one wants to be going around saying to you can find my website at 222.222.34.333. So uncool.

That’s why domain names were invented. They give us an easy way to find the information and online services we are looking for. A domain name is the core part of the website address that you type into a browser to visit a website or to send an email to someone.

Let me break it down.

The domain name for this website is valleyofwriters.com. Under that domain name, we can have lots of different addresses that we can send you to. Just like a single street address can have lots of apartment addresses under it.

For a website, these are known as URLs (Uniform Resource Locators). For instance, the URL for this page is https://www.valleyofwriters.com/web-development-terms-for-authors/. As you can see, it contains the domain, valleyofwriters.com as a part of it. If I gave you just the last bit of the URL; /web-development-terms-for-authors, you would not find it easily. It’s like meeting someone and asking for their address and they say apartment 4b. 4b where?

For this particular website, and for many others the core domain name valleyofwriters.com coincides with the URL for the home page of the website, https://valleyofwriters.com. This is a default setting for websites in general but it doesn’t have to be this way. We could just as easily have set up our website so that our home page was valleyofwriters.com/startoverhere/website/home.

Domain names are also used for email. For instance [email protected] makes it very clear that this email address is associated with the website www.valleyofwriters.com.

Imagine if we read out GPS coordinates to give people addresses to our homes…

DNS

For the computers on the Internet to know where to find anything, there has to be a system that tells them where the actual information for each domain is kept. Now there are millions of servers on the Internet so when you type www.valleyofwriters.com or send an email to [email protected], your computer needs to be able to know where to send that information so you end up at the right website and so your email knows how to find the right inbox.

That system is the Domain Name System or DNS. It has been referred to as the ‘phonebook of the Internet’ which is a great way of looking at it. Just as each phone number is assigned to a specific person or organization and you use a phone book to know which number to call to reach them, servers on the Internet use DNS to know which IP address to send packets of data to.

DNS Records

A phone book record gives information about a person’s name, surname, address, phone number, etc. A DNS record is an entry that gives DNS information about a particular domain. This includes information about where the website is hosted, which server handles the email for that domain, etc. In other words, other computers refer to the DNS record when they want to know how to deal with traffic related to that domain.

Each domain, therefore, has a DNS record associated with it. Each DNS record is stored on a specific server, known as a name server.

How is this practical for you as an author? If you want to move your website from one hosting company to another, you, or your web developer, go into the DNS record and edits it so that it has the IP address or the name servers of the new hosting service.

Feedback Form

This is a form, usually appearing on your ‘Contact Me’ author page or in the footer of your website that lets visitors to your site send you a message to your email.

Feedback forms are popular because they:

  1. Hide your email address from visitors. People don’t need to know your address to send you a message.
  2. They make it easy for site visitors to quickly send you a message while they are on your site.

This ease of use makes feedback forms prone to spam attacks. It’s easy for someone to write a script that sends you hundreds, or thousands, of junk messages. In order to protect against this, most forms have a test or puzzle to make sure that the message is being sent by a real person. This is referred to as CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart – Ya, I know, this is why it’s sometimes better to just stick with the acronym.)

Footer

The bottom part of a web page that usually contains copyright information, maybe a link to the top of the page, sometimes a small menu, and other links to new or popular content is known as the footer. While these are common elements in footers, you can have anything you want there really.

Frontend

This is the part of a website or application that users and visitors interact with.

Hack

To hack, as you know, is to find a clever or different way of doing something. People who hack websites find ‘clever’ ways of getting into your site without your permission. As an author, your work is public-facing, so hacks can have immediate detrimental consequences.

Why do hackers hack websites? There are a number of reasons, including:

  1. One of the most valuable assets on the Internet is traffic. If your website has a lot of traffic and I hack into it and put links to my products on your pages, I can sell a lot of stuff without paying anything for the traffic.
  2. Some people find it fun to deface prominent websites.
  3. Ransoms. Hackers sometimes ask for payment to get a website back to its original format.
  4. A place to hide. Some hackers sell illegal products and if they did this on their own websites, they could be traced and face legal consequences. But if they can gain access to your hosting account and add their web pages there, they can run their illicit operation using your resources and your domain. It makes them harder to trace. If they do it well, they can run an operation like this on your site for weeks or months without you even knowing it.

This means, therefore, that hacking does not always result in your site going down or being defaced. Many times you can’t even see that you have been hacked.

How do you protect your author site from hackers?

Here’s the thing about hackers; the best ones manage to gain access to high-security servers run by governments or massive corporations. These are entities that spend millions of dollars on online security and yet they still get hacked. The lesson is that it’s hard to prevent hacking, what you can do is mitigate the risks of being hacked and make sure you are able to recover your data should you get hacked.

This means making sure that:

  1. You never send passwords to your developer by email. Use a password manager.
  2. You install a security plugin like Wordfence, Jetpack Protect, or iThemes Security on your author website.
  3. You can also check with your web hosting service if they have software that checks for malicious files on their servers. This will send you an email alert if something suspicious is found on your website.
  4. You change your login URL using a plugin like WPS Hide Login so that it’s not easily accessed.
  5. You use a backup plugin like BackWPup, WPvivid Backup and Migration, Updraft Plus, or JetPack to make sure you have daily or weekly backups, depending on how often you update your site.
Avoid nasty surprises...
Avoid nasty surprises. Reduce the likelihood of your site getting hacked by installing a security plugin.

A word about backups. Make sure you don’t overwrite all your previous backups.

Say you have a backup sequence that automatically runs every Monday at midnight and overwrites the one before that. If your site gets hacked on Sunday, and the backup runs on Monday, you are basically backing up a hacked version of the website. Bad news.

So it’s a good idea to have another backup sequence that say runs one Monday a month and doesn’t overwrite the previous file. That way if your site gets hacked and you discover it months after it happened, you can roll back until you find the last clean, uninfected backup you did. You can obviously increase the frequency. of this second frequency if you update your site more frequently.

HTTP

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. A protocol is a language or a communications standard. If I give you a thumbs up across the room, you know exactly what I mean. That’s an agreed-upon communications standard.

On the Internet, there are many different communication standards for different things. Actually, you could create your own standard and use it with your friends and family. HTTP is a standard that enables the World Wide Web to work. It’s what makes URLs and links work.

HTTPS

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is a newer protocol that offers an additional layer of security, using encryption. It makes Internet traffic more secure. It means for instance that passwords entered into your site, are encrypted and therefore more protected from potential hackers.

In recent years, most websites have started using HTTPS. Search engines, like Google, now even give preference to websites that use HTTPS. When a site is not using HTTPS, you will now see a ‘not secure’ notice in the browser address bar.

How do you make sure your website uses HTTPS? Install an SSL certificate on your webs server. This makes HTTPS available for your site, but you still need to activate it.  This is so much easier these days than it used to be. Ask your web developer or read the documentation provided by your hosting company to see how to do this. And, good news, many hosting companies, e.g. Bluehost and Siteground, now offer SSL certificates for free.

Hosting

Your website files need to sit somewhere on the Internet where they are accessible to anyone who wants to visit your site. The computer that you put your files on has to be connected to the Internet 24.7, has to be secure, and has to have the resources to serve up your pages to thousands of people at the same time if you had that many visitors. Computers that do this are known as web servers. Companies that run web servers will charge you a certain amount to have your website files sit on their servers and to serve those files out to people who request them. This service is known as web hosting.

Mailing List

A collection of email addresses that you can send bulk messages to. In the early days of online mailing lists, people would add the email addresses of random people to their lists. This was obviously untenable as you ended up receiving lots of junk from people whose services or products you had no interest in.

Now you have to have someone’s permission to add them to a mailing list. It’s actually illegal to just add someone without them opting in to your list.

Mailing lists are a great way for authors to keep in touch with their readers and fans.

Many authors set up mailing lists so that they can keep in touch with their readers and fans. If you think about how the book industry works, as an author, you usually have no idea who is buying your books. Amazon doesn’t share that data with you. Bookshops don’t share that data with you. So, you have no way of reaching out to the specific people who have bought your book.

Mailing lists make this possible.

To set up a mailing list, you create an account with a mailing list service (Popular ones include MailChimp, Constant Contact, or ActiveCampaign). Then you install a plugin on your website that gives visitors to the site a form where they can type in their email address to be added to your list.

To send a message to everyone on your list, you log in to the mailing list service and create your message and send it there.

Good mailing list services will give you statistics about open rates and other tools to help you understand what the people on your list engage with the most.

Name Servers

A DNS Name Server is a server that stores DNS records. There are thousands of servers like this across the web.

Newsletter

Once you have a mailing list set up, you can do a number of things with it. One is to email everyone whenever you have an update or news. Another is to send a regular email with updates about your books and other useful/fun/inspiring information. This regular mailing is known as a newsletter. A single email sent out to all your mailing list or to a subset of the list is known as a mailshot.

Plugin

A piece of software or a small application that you install to your website to add new functionality is known as a plugin.

I have mentioned several types of plugins in this article; security plugins and mailing list plugins, for instance. You can get plugins to add maps to your site, add an online shop, enable downloads (of sample book chapters for instance), and to extend your author website in scores of other ways.

There are thousands of plugins available for WordPress. Other content management systems will have their own plugins too but may call them something different. For instance, with Joomla, they are known as ‘components.’

Privacy Policy

If you collect any sort of personal visitor data, e.g. email addresses for a mailing list, your website needs to have a privacy policy. This will state exactly what you do and do not do with the data you collect. You can download templates and sample privacy policies from various websites online. Here’s an example, showing the privacy policies of various well-known websites and giving you a downloadable template.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

One of the ways people will find your author website is via search engines. When someone types in a search, say for historical romance from Southern Africa, how does a search engine like Google know which results to serve up first out of the maybe thousands it finds?

Search engines use a number of criteria to make this determination. These include, how often a site is updated, how many other sites link to that site, how much content the site actually has, how well written that content is, how many links to other sites appear in the articles on that site, how many pictures have been used, how many times certain words appear, etc.

Search Engine Optimization involves going through a website and making sure that it is structured to be as search engine friendly as possible, considering the criteria mentioned above, and many others.

Search engine optimization helps your website to show up higher in search results.

It also includes other work, not necessarily on your website, which influences the perceived importance of your site. This may include optimizing your social media accounts, and work to improve the quality of links that link to your website.

SEO, therefore, includes thinking about how all your content is structured and available to search engines. Posting content consistently is an activity that may not be a direct SEO activity, but that any SEO consultant will advise you do. Blogs, when regularly maintained, are therefore great additions to a website because they facilitate this regular stream of content.

Terms of Use

Terms of Use, also known as Terms of Service or Terms and Conditions, are an agreement that a user of a website must agree to and abide by in order to use a website or service (Most Terms of Use will state that just be using the site, the user agrees to the Terms of Use). This is a legal document.  It outlines the rules of engagement with your service and helps you avoid potential legal issues. Here are some examples and a template you can download.

Theme/Template

The set of files that determines the visual appearance of a website is known as a theme (or a template). Themes make it easy to change the way your site looks without having to enter all the content again.

There are thousands of free themes for WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc and there are also paid themes, also known as premium themes.

If you want to revamp how your author website looks, you probably just need to have a developer install a new theme.

Once you install a new theme, there is usually some work to be done to fine-tune it so that it looks and works exactly the way you want it to. This can range from a few minutes of work to a few days or weeks.

Themes that are not well coded, just like poorly coded plugins, can introduce security vulnerabilities to your website. Make sure to read a theme’s reviews before you use it.

URL

What you’re actually doing, when you’re giving someone your address is giving them a way to find your home without ever needing to know the GPS coordinates. That’s the same thing we’re doing when we  give someone a

WordPress

WordPress is the most popular content management system in the world. About 10 years ago, it was seen more like a CMS for bloggers, but today it is used by major corporations, governments, and leading authors. According to Kinsta.com, it powers over 34% of all websites on the Internet and has a 60.8% share of the CMS market.

Widget

On WordPress, a widget is a block that displays content from a specific plugin. For instance, if you want to show a list of your latest blog posts, you would use a widget to do this. On this site, you can see that we use widgets in the footer to display our newsletter signup form, latest blog posts, and latest Instagram posts. A lot of content-related plugins come with at least one widget.

 


Are there any other terms you would like explained? Let me know in the comments below and I will do my best to help.


PICTURES: Anete Lusina, Keira Burton, Arina Krasnikova, Alexander Suhorucov, Andrea Piacquadio, Monstera, and Cottonbro  from Pexels

Fungai Tichawangana
Author: Fungai Tichawangana

Fungai is a journalist, writer and web developer who is passionate about tech and promoting the arts. In 2015 he was awarded a Nieman Journalism Fellowship and Berkman Klein Fellowship for Journalism Innovation.

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