Building a website/web Optimization
December 13, 2008 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn how to build and modify websites. I eventually want to look into selling things or writing books for some of the websites i build. Also would like to learn how web optimization works on a website, and learn how to optimize and link websites. I am computer savvy, but don't know any programing language. Any idea how I would get started?
posted by sharp2403 to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I learned HTML on the Maricopa Community College HTML tutorial, and it is a good intro to HTML.

Understanding the basics of HTML will get you started, and then you can expand into scripting languages. HTML is not a programming language, obviously, but a way of marking up text to display it in a certain way.
posted by jayder at 2:23 PM on December 13, 2008

I agree with jayder: HTML is the place to start. But you may want to consider learning CSS concurrently, as they go hand-in-hand.
posted by aheckler at 2:36 PM on December 13, 2008

First thing first is HTML. CSS is always a big plus. Javascript is almost a must-have for building website, though you can scoot by with little know-how on it. I'm not sure what you mean by "web optimization", but I'll take a guess that you mean search engine optimization (SEO) and maybe usability.

For books, a good starting point is Sitepoint - they have tons of book geared towards beginners and experts, as well as articles on the latest web trends. I think THE book to start with is this one. If you hate writing everything from scratch, look into CMSes. They might be good for your goals (selling/writing).
posted by curagea at 3:18 PM on December 13, 2008

It's important to know the basics of HTML, even if you never end up hand coding a whole site.

I would say to learn how HTML works, then learning how CSS works and about using CSS for site layout. Once you have a solid understanding of those, you an add basic knowledge of javascript and of PHP, RSS and XML, and you are well on your way to being "literate" about websites. That's when you can start confidently using CMSes, because you understand the basics behind what they do.

Useful sites:
HTML Primer
CSS Zen Garden
posted by gemmy at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are a couple approaches that come to mind, and you'll probably end up alternating between them. One is to learn the nuts and bolts of what makes a site tick. That means reading reference books cover to cover, getting a handle on terminology, and so forth. The second approach is more goal-oriented. No matter how much you learn on paper, there will be the inevitable question, "Well, how do I do this?" The answer will come in scouring the web for tutorials, asking savvy friends, and reverse-engineering other sites.

The most fundamental thing is going to be HTML. It's the markup language that controls the flow of content on virtually every page you'll see (where paragraph breaks occur, how different blocks of text are separated, etc.). Once upon a time, people also used it to tune the layout of a page, but that task has been moved to CSS (which controls colors, fonts, etc.). Any tutorial or book talking about HTML 3.2 or anything below HTML 4.0 is obsolete and should be avoided.

When something literally moves on a web page, and it's not Flash or an image, that's probably going to be something to do with JavaScript or another client-side scripting language. When you get to that point, you can either learn proper JavaScript, or take advantage of one of the many frameworks available (e.g. JQuery, Scriptacious, etc.).

If you want to move to full on custom blogs or web storefronts, you're going to want to look into server-side scripting languages (e.g. PHP, ColdFusion, etc.) and database commands (e.g. mySQL).

To recap: Right now, learn HTML 4.0 Transitional, and CSS 2 to get started.
posted by evil holiday magic at 4:21 PM on December 13, 2008

Not sure if it is relevant to your needs, Yahoo Pipes is a cool thing.
posted by hortense at 5:15 PM on December 13, 2008

If I may be permitted a self link, my site addresses your need directly. It is kinda 1999ish and showing its age, but the concepts and techniques are still just as useful today. There are sections on planning, HTML basics and advanced topics, layout and design, and integrating digital photography.
posted by netbros at 8:14 PM on December 13, 2008

The exercises in Dreamweaver 8 by Short and Green make a good workthrough that helps understand how the parts fit together. There's a lot of HTML and CSS to fill in, but that book was a good start for me.
posted by anadem at 8:50 PM on December 13, 2008

Although it obviously helps, you dont actually need to know HTML/CSS to build web sites.
You can get fully-developed scripts to install pretty much any kind of web site you want without actually coding any HTML.
These open source fully-featured web site scripts normally have an architecture where you can modify/enhance the site with

addons/modules/plugins - add extra functionality

themes/styles - choose the layout/look and feel

Some examples :-


Chat forums

Digg Clone

Content Management

Social site

For your basic web site you probably dont need much more than Wordpress.
There is a massive amount of addons and themes for Wordpress.
You can set up a very professional looking site without ever looking at raw HTML code.
And it doesnt have to look like a blog.

To illustrate my point here is a list of Wordpress plugins to add extra features.

And same for themes to set the look and feel..
posted by MetaPenguin at 8:55 PM on December 13, 2008

Go to W3Schools and start with the HTML/XHTML stuff and then work your way through CSS. In other words, start with learning how to mark up the basics of a web page and then learn how to apply some styles to the content.

Following that, have a look through the first five sections of the Browser Scripting section. There's also basic stuff on PHP. If you want to play around with PHP, putting XAMPP onto a USB stick gives you a working test server with very little effort.

None of it's high level, but it's a sound introduction to learning to hand code and that's the best way to get a thorough understanding of how everything works and why, even if you spend the rest of your life cranking stuff out with Dreamweaver. Most of the examples are in an interface so that you can mess around with them and try little things out.

It's a good solid introduction to it all, and worth whatever time you spend going through it. I appreciate that this may look boring compared to other options, but it will be worth it in the long run.

There's a ton of resources out there after you've got the basics down, but by then you'll be in a better position to work out which ones of them are valuable.

posted by mandal at 6:36 AM on December 14, 2008

Do all of the above. Good luck.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:55 AM on December 14, 2008

I want to learn how to build and modify websites. I eventually want to look into selling things or writing books for some of the websites i build.

On first reading, I took this to mean that you wanted to sell products based on web development, but now I see rather you could mean to sell something unrelated.

Depending on your goal, it's true you don't need a fluency in any language to get started, or even well into, selling things online. You could set up a storefront on eBay, Yahoo!, etc., or work with a system like Zen Cart. Bear in mind that the less you know how to do in the code (which could involve HTML and CSS, or even PHP and custom template markup) the more generic the thing will look. This may suit your purpose though; it's certainly not an impediment to getting started.

With nothing more than a basic knowledge of HTML and a free PayPal account, you could start testing the waters on selling things right away, with very little capital invested.
posted by evil holiday magic at 3:09 PM on December 14, 2008

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