How to Understand and Improve Your Website
Have you ever looked at your website and thought ‘I wish I could read and understand the code that makes you work?’ Perhaps you long to have greater control over how it looks, or to be able to fix problems without the need (and cost) of hiring a web developer.
If this sounds like you, there are plenty of affordable resources around the web (and free ones!) — you just need to know where to look.
In this post, you’ll discover some informative and educational websites to learn more about web development, but before we go any further, let’s talk about the basics.
What Does a Web Developer Do?
In a nutshell, web developers create websites (duh). More specifically, they focus on coding, designing, adapting, and maintaining websites, using a variety of web programming languages and tools.
Web development is all about problem-solving, searching through the code for errors, and making sure everything is running as expected. Technology and tools are continually evolving, so it is also about continuous learning, to keep on top of the latest advances.
Nowadays, there are plenty of ways to build your first website without the need to know how to code. However, if you do understand the code, you can start customizing your site and understanding how it works behind the scenes.
Front-End vs. Back-End Development: What Does It All Mean?
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) govern the front-end of the web (the bit we can see), and an understanding of them is vital if you want to start adapting your site to any great lengths. Before we look at them in more depth, let’s find out the difference between front-end and back-end web development.
Imagine that you own a grocery store.
In your store, there will be staff looking after customers, including designing a logical layout for customers to walk around, decorating the tropical fruit section to look festive, writing signs that are easy to read, and making the overall shopping experience a smooth process.
Behind the scenes, in the backroom, more staff will be sorting vegetables into boxes, monitoring stock levels, communicating with traders, and making sure everything is well organized before it goes onto the shop floor.
Now think of your website, as that grocery store.
Front-end developers work on everything that your visitor sees and interacts with on your site. That’s everything from the overall design, layout, buttons, images, a navigation system, and internal linking. To do this, front-end developers use HTML and CSS code.
Back-end developers work on the technology needed to enable front-end development to work. That’s writing the code, testing for errors, and maintaining the website. Data for your website is stored in a database, and the back-end developer will write the code that’s needed to process this data. To do this, back-end developers use languages such as Python, PHP, and Ruby to build, and tools like MySQL and Oracle for data management.
Here’s another example. Say you want a button that allows your visitors to add a product to their shopping cart. A front-end developer will make that button orange, and make the font bold and white to stand out. What happens when they click that button? A back-end developer takes that input and does what is needed to provide an output. They make sure that when it’s clicked, the relevant product is added to the cart and stock levels are updated accordingly.
You may prefer front-end work if you’re creative, and if you’re analytical, you might prefer the back-end. Both front-end and back-end web development roles suit people who are tech-savvy, well-organized, and logical.
If you’re not tech-savvy but would still like to have some control over the front-end, rather than paying someone to do it for you, a website builder might be perfect for your needs.
What is a Website Builder?
Website builders (like Namecheap’s Website Builder tool or Easy WP) allow even the most tech-adverse user to produce an attractive site, without having to know any code at all. Creating a website has never been easier.
Depending on what website builder you choose, there may be an opportunity to flex your coding skills and build it to your exact needs, whether that’s to change the distance between paragraphs, or position a video exactly where you want it on a page.
Now that you’ve found out the basics of what goes into making a website, it’s time to learn more about the coding languages you need to know to start improving your own website.
- HTML is the language used to establish the structure of web pages. Using HTML, you can adjust headings, text, lists, create internal and external links, design forms, and include assets like videos, images, and more.
- CSS is the language for presentation, such as the choice of font, background colors, and layout. The style sheets are used to maintain consistency across a website.
All three can help you turn your ideas into online realities.
Free Learning Resources
Now that you know a bit of the background behind web development, it’s time to show you some of the places you can go to learn more. There are some excellent (and free) websites around to help you learn some new skills.
This incredible site contains an enormous amount of free content to help you learn HTML and CSS. It’s clear and easy to use, giving examples, explanations and best of all — you get to practice what you learn with their ‘Try it Yourself’ editor. Check out their HTML introduction and then try it yourself!
Nonprofit Khan Academy provides free access to computer programming basics, including HTML, CSS, and SQL. You can also learn about how the Internet works and a bit more about computer science as a whole.
If you want to learn more about databases, DataCamp lets you see the first chapter of all courses for free and gives you coding challenges. It uses a mixture of videos and exercises for languages such as Python and SQL.
If you own a WordPress site and would like to edit the code, this guide is an incredible page to bookmark. It’s got everything you need to know, from how to edit the source code of your WordPress Theme, to suggesting plugins that you can use to have more control over the way your site looks.
A great video for beginners, you can learn the basics for HTML, including tags and elements. Once you’ve completed the video, check out CSS Crash Course For Absolute Beginners to learn about design and layout options for your website.
Paid Learning Resources
If you’re serious about learning web development but unwilling to enroll for a three-year university course, there are plenty of shorter courses that you can pay to undertake from the comfort of your own home.
Includes many courses from industry experts to help you learn web development, whether you want to become a PHP master or learn how to become a WordPress developer.
Some free lessons available, but if you find you have a knack for web development and want to make a career of it, you can get access to members-only content. You can learn how to write working code in minutes and get feedback as soon as you submit it, as well as receive certificates of completion.
Previously known as Lynda, LinkedIn Learning has over 700 video courses on web development to help you create, and analyze what you’ve built. Right now, you can get a month free, but if you want to continue using the resources, there is a monthly fee.
Mobile App Learning Resources
If you’ve got a spare moment on your commute, before bed, or even when you’re watching a boring television show, why not download a few apps to help you learn to code? There are lots of free trials around to help you see what fits your needs.
Set up like a game, Mimo helps you learn by giving you short exercises to fit into your day. Try a 7-day trial or subscribe to Mimo Pro to learn without any adverts.
Get access to thousands of programming topics from concepts to skills and learn about the latest trends. Write and test your code, as well as go head-to-head with fellow students.
Go Forth and Learn
Web development is a great skill to have, as a way to touch up your personal or business website, or even (if you discover that you enjoy it) — as a career. Learning a few of the many coding languages out there can result in a website that’s uniquely you, and that stands out from the competition.
I hope this blog post has helped you realize that anyone can start learning (even you!), and often for free!