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Although we use them every day, many of us don’t know how websites work.

In this guide, we’ll cover the following:

What Is a Website?

What Websites Are Used For

What You Need To Start a Website

How Do Websites Work?

Why You Need a Website

Final Thoughts  —  How Do Websites Work?

What Is a Website?

A website is a collection of webpages located under a single domain name.

These webpages contain and display information about the business or organization and are usually made up of elements such as photos, videos and text.

Users need a device with a web browser — laptops, smartphones or tablets — and an Internet connection to access a website.

Once users have those, they can type the website’s address on the address bar of the device’s web browser to access the website.

What Websites Are Used For

Before we learn how websites work, let’s explore what websites are used for. Websites are built for different purposes or goals.

Some reasons for putting up a website include:

  • Providing information: Multiple websites exist to provide information. For example, government and business websites inform visitors of updates in their respective offices or companies, while news websites update users on the latest happenings around the world.
  • Entertaining: Websites such as YouTube and Netflix allow you to watch movies and shows, listen to music or play games.
  • Interacting with other users: Social networking sites and forums allow users to connect, communicate and share ideas.
  • Buying and selling items: E-commerce websites like Amazon and eBay allow users to sell and purchase items online.
  • Showcasing work: Personal and portfolio websites are sites created to demonstrate a person’s ability by collecting and showing past projects they’ve worked on for future clients.

What You Need To Start a Website

Now let’s look at what we might need to start a website. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of how websites work.

To start a website, you will need the following:

1. A Website Building Platform

Websites are made of a set of code or programming languages. The most common languages used to build websites are:

  • Hypertext markup language (HTML) helps browsers display webpage elements such as text, links and media.
  • Cascading style sheets (CSS) define webpage styles such as colors, layouts and fonts.
  • Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) is the programming language used to create dynamic and interactive websites. PHP is responsible for retrieving content from databases and displaying them on your website. With PHP, you can create login pages, forms and galleries.
  • JavaScript allows you to implement complex features to your website. Anytime your website does more than display static information, JavaScript is probably involved.

Nowadays, you don’t have to build websites straight from code. Content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla allow you to build a website easily.

These platforms use code but do not require users to have developer-level coding skills to use them.

WordPress, which powers over 40% of the internet, is the most popular option. It provides a user-friendly interface that empowers everyone to build websites with minimal tech knowledge.

2. Web Hosting

Websites are made up of different files needed to display your content online. How would you get these files from your computer to the internet — and where would you store them?

The answer — web servers and web hosting.

After choosing a platform to build your website, you’ll need a web host, which serves and stores your website files on an online space called the webserver.

Your host transfers all the files needed to fulfill that request whenever someone visits your website. Web hosts also help you with backups, uptime and security maintenance.

Free website building platforms such as WordPress often require you to sign up for web hosting separately.

An advantage of using these free CMS is complete control over your website, which is good until you realize that you’re also responsible for the not-so-fun parts like website security and maintenance.

If you want a platform that takes care of everything from web hosting to security, you can opt for website builders like Bluehost’s Website Builder.

Website Builder page

3. A Domain Name

Lastly, you’ll need a domain name to make your website work.

A domain name is the website name users enter on the browser (i.e., Chrome, Firefox or Safari) when they visit your website.

Computers, servers, and other devices connected over the internet are each assigned a unique string of numbers called the internet protocol (IP) address.

Every time you access a website, your computer communicates to the website’s server through IP addresses. But because the IP address consists of multiple numbers, users would struggle to memorize which string of numbers belongs to a website.

Thus, the domain name system (DNS) was born.

The DNS is composed of multiple nameservers that look up the domain. You can think of the DNS as a large address book where computers can look up domain names and match them to their corresponding IP address.

You can sign up for a domain name via domain name registrars or get one for free when you sign up for a web hosting plan.

Now that you know what you need to start a website, let’s see how these elements work together as we explore how websites work.

Let’s go back to the scenario where your website visitor types your domain name into their web browser.

How Do Websites Work?

Once a visitor types your domain name into their browser’s address bar, their computer sends a request to connect to the webserver keeping your files. Before reaching the web server, the request passes through the DNS, which looks up the server’s IP address.

The DNS ensures that the browser connects to the correct server.

Once everything checks out, the server processes the files your website needs to display its content.

The web browser ‘reads’ those files (HTML, CSS, images and others) and displays them on the visitor’s screen.

And that’s how websites work.

These processes happen in a few seconds — ideally, two to five seconds is the preferred page load speed.

Why You Need a Website

If you don’t have a website yet, this is your sign to get one.

There are currently over 4.66 billion internet users, which means more than half of the world’s population relies on the internet to communicate, research, do business and a whole lot more.

Whether you’re a freelancer or a small business, here are a few reasons why you’ll benefit from a website:

  1. You’ll attract more customers and clients. 90% of customers start the buying process with a search. If you want to attract more customers, one of the best ways is by making yourself visible on Google.

You can employ search engine optimization (SEO) methods to help your website rank organically.

  1. You’ll be competitive. The lockdowns imposed during the height of the 2020 pandemic required many businesses to shut down their brick and mortar stores, allowing many business owners to realize the importance of an online presence.

According to the United Nations Trade and Development experts (UNCTAD), e-commerce is rising. It has always been in the future of retail; the pandemic only sped up its adoption.

  1. You’ll appear more credible. Customers will often check reviews and recommendations before doing business with a new company, with 50% of customers checking the company website.

Besides that, signing up for a website allows you to create a branded email address using your company domain, letting you appear more professional.

Final Thoughts — How Do Websites Work?

Although it may seem complicated, the way websites work is straightforward.

Moreover, given how important it is to have a website in today’s market, many brands have simplified the website creation process to make having an online presence more accessible.

With tools like Bluehost’s Website Builder, you don’t need in-depth knowledge of how websites work or web development to build your dream website. Access reliable hosting, support and accessibility in one package today.

Tiffani is the Content and Social Marketing Manager for the Bluehost brand. She has a passion for creating engaging content, SEO and social media!