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HTML Explained: Part 1

Want to save money while promoting your web-based business? Of course you do. Here's some advice on the matter, from a freelance copywriter who knows: it pays to learn the basics of HTML.

If you're like me (stubborn), you've probably been dodging HTML for many years. All that code mushed together... it's distressing to look at! But here's the thing: HTML is your friend. He might be ugly, but he's a good guy to have on your side.

Once you get a basic understanding of how HTML works, the gibberish starts to make sense. And that's when you'll realize how easy it is to create web pages for your own business without having to 1. pay a designer thousands of dollars, or 2. purchase one of those expensive web design programs.

Let's start with a general explanation. HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. It's the basis for every single design element you see on a web page: layout, copy, image placement, links, music, animation, etc. People who design their sites using fancy web page creators with buttons and copy/paste features are merely controlling the HTML code via the program's graphic overlay. Underneath it all, the code's still there in its pure form. You can see it if you go to a webpage and then click View>Source from the top menu.

Easy Web Page Creation

You can create a professional-looking web page using HTML and the bare minimum of tools: a text program (such as Notepad) to write and save files in, a Web browser to view the files, and a photo-editing program such as Photoshop.

Ever visit a webpage and then click View>Source so you can stare at the "guts" and try to make sense of it? The text program that opens that page is the same one you'll use to create your own web page from scratch. Keep in mind, a text program is NOT the same as a word-processing program, such as Microsoft Word. If you use Word, you may accidentally save your file as a .DOC, and in doing so, create all kinds of coding problems that make your page look crazy. NEVER create web pages in Word!

Here are three salient points about writing HTML code.

1. Your text editing program does not recognize paragraph returns when you type them with the Enter key. You will separate your text manually, using HTML tags such as < P > and < BR >.

2. HTML code does not differentiate between capitals and lowercase. Your tags can be typed either way and they'll still work no matter what.

3. HTML doesn't recognize Smart Quotes- those curly quote marks that Word and other word processing programs like to convert your straight quotes (or inch marks) into when you least expect it. HTML also doesn't recognize "curly" apostrophes (as opposed to straight ones, or footmarks). If you use these in your web documents, the computer will interpret them as code and fill your web page with gibberish. So DON'T USE SMART QUOTES OR CURVED APOSTROPHES!

Creating a Text Document: the Basis for Your Web Page

Start a new file in your text program such as Notepad, then save it with the .html extension. For example, you might name your file, "myfirstwebpage.html". Later, after you've entered your code into the text program, view the page as it will appear on the web by using a web browser such as Explorer or Netscape. Click File>Open, and then enter the name of your file. Viola! There's the web page that YOU created! The great thing about this feature is that you can keep on saving your text file and refreshing the browser page to track your progress.

Keep in mind that the pages you create and save as .html files won't be available for viewing on the internet until you publish them. This is done by purchasing a web hosting package through one of the major web hosting companies; for example, GoDaddy.com. You're required to "rent a space" for each web domain you own. But that's a topic for another article entirely.

Now that you know how easy it is to create your own web page, it's time to uncover the "secret" to HTML! HTML is logic-based; and for those of us who love a good logic puzzle, this is truly a beautiful thing. If you're ready for some HTML web design revelations, read HTML Explained: Part 2!

Copyright 2005 Dina Giolitto. All rights reserved.

Dina Giolitto is a New-Jersey based Copywriting Consultant with ten years of industry experience. Her current focus is web content and web marketing for a multitude of products and services although the bulk of her experience lies in retail for big-name companies like Toys"R"Us. Visit http://www.wordfeeder.com for rates and samples.

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