When I sat down to create my first webpage I was a little intimidated. I have been surfing the Internet for years and knew that it held some impressive sites along with some lame ones. I didn't want my website to fall into the latter category, but I had no experience building one.

I did it anyway. Following some instructions from a beginner's book on HTML, I produced a homely webpage within a few minutes. The sight of it was exhilarating. (Now I understand why all those lame websites exist. It's hard not to love what you create yourself, however humble.) Using a messy combination of several webpage building tools, I chugged through and finished my site. Since that time I've learned that there are dozens (well, thousands) of tools available to build websites. I'll share the ins and outs of the most common ones here along with ideas that will help you get the most out of your webpage-building experience.

The webpages you see on the Internet are produced by code that tells the computer how to display information. You can either write this code yourself in HTML (the language an Internet browser understands) or use an HTML editor. Some HTML editors are as simple to use as word processors, others are powerful tools designed for professionals. But whatever methods you use to write your webpage, you ought to spend some time getting to know HTML so that you and your browser both speak the same language. (Your browser is the tool your computer uses to view this page.)

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. It's called a markup language because it is made up of "marked up" text, like this:

<title>How Do I Build a Website?</title>

The <start> and </end> marks on either side of "How Do I Build a Website" tell your computer browser what to do with this sentence. This example labels the title of the page you are looking at now. HTML markups can instruct your browser to display a picture, format text or follow links; "hyper" in Hypertext means that the text does something, such as open a new document. To open this page, you clicked on the Hypertext title of this article.

To view the HTML code that told your browser to display this page, move your mouse to the top of the browser window and open the "View" menu. In the last section, you'll see "Source" as an option. Select this and your browser will open a window that shows all of the HTML code for this page.

You can learn a lot from poking around in HTML source code. While it isn't ethical to copy a website and call it your own, no one will object if you go in and have a good look at the HTML source code to see how features you admire are written. Get an HTML book and play with the different code options. Just a note often applications that go beyond HTML come into play on interactive websites. Audio, video and other special features are written in languages other than HTML, such as JavaScript. But the basic webpage always starts with HTML.

It's possible to write an entire webpage using HTML, but tedious. After you have a basic grasp of how HTML looks and operates, try using a few HTML editors.

User-friendly HTML editors operate like word processors. These are identified by the acronym WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). These programs allow you to format text the same way you do in a word processed document you can drag and drop pictures and graphics; you can select and format objects or text just as you would in a word processor.

Often your web hosting service will provide you with an HTML editor. If not, you can find them on the Internet many are open source (available free of charge). One of the more common WYSIWYG editors is Microsoft's HTML editor, FrontPage (bundled with some of their office software). But realize that if you choose to build your website using FrontPage you will need to select a web host that offers FrontPage extensions so that your site will be viewable.

When I created my website, I used FrontPage and Dreamweaver. I switched to DreamWeaver completely though, after I noticed that the FrontPage editor inserted loads of unnecessary code into my website I couldn't find my way around in the HTML code anymore. This is a common complaint against FrontPage. But if you don't mind the messy code, Front Page is easy to use much like formatting a flyer in Microsoft Word.

Professional web programmers lean toward more complex HTML editors, though, because these programs offer more versatility and write tighter, neater HTML code neat code is important because often you will need to go rooting around in the HTML code to change little (and big) details. Though these are expensive (over $100 US) they are worth the investment for those who make a living writing HTML code.

The HTML editor you spend most of your time with is a personal choice, but the best way to find out which editors you prefer is to try a bunch of them. Many WYSIWYG editors for purchase offer free 30-day trials.

The goals you have for your website should play a role in your decision concerning what tools to use. Hiring a professional, for example, is a wise choice if you are new to creating webpages and want a strong ecommerce site. A website designer can build you the look you want with the necessary sales features in a fraction of the time that the task would take a beginner. But don't use the decision to hire a professional as an excuse to discontinue learning HTML. You will save money in the long run if you are confident enough to go into your website to make small changes and updates yourself.

Don't be surprised if you eventually find yourself outgrowing the "training wheels" convenience that many HTML editors give as you; as you continue to build and change your webpages on your own, you'll gain confidence, speed, and know-how. Who knows? Someday you may find yourself writing an entire website in HTML.

For now, you may be interested in the following review sites:

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