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Website Development: In-Depth Guide For Beginners

As an SEO pro, it’s important to cultivate at least a basic understanding of website development.

Why? Because the associated knowledge and skills can form the foundation for greater success with your website and brand.

In this guide, I’ll go over what it is and the different types of web development, as well as take a closer look at HTML – before exploring how web development and SEO can work together.

What Is Website Development?

Web development is the process of creating and maintaining websites using technologies like HTML, PHP, and JavaScript, as well as with content management systems (CMS).

Not to be confused with web design, web development is concerned with the technical aspects of a website. Web design is concerned with the look and feel of the website.

It’s helpful to know how web code works.

But modern CMS like WordPress and Wix have put web development within reach of people who don’t have a coding background.

Nevertheless, it’s still useful to at least have knowledge of the fundamentals of web technologies because it will help a developer troubleshoot problems or create custom solutions.

Web development is important because it has a direct impact on earnings through the creation of high-performance online experiences.

The Difference Between Web Development And Web Design

Web design is generally considered to be focused on what a site looks like and how users interact with the site.

Web development describes the technical work of creating a website.

While there can be a crossover between the two disciplines, in that a web designer might have development skills and vice-versa, the two are separate disciplines.

The Two Categories Of Web Development

There are multiple kinds of web development. But they all fall into two categories:

  • Front-End Development.
  • Back-End Development.

Front-End Web Development

Front-end web development corresponds to the work done to create everything a site visitor experiences through their browser.

A web browser, in technical terms, is referred to as a client, which is the device that runs the website code.

Consequently, front-end development is also referred to as client-side development.

(Note: A client is generally anything that requests a web page from the server, like a screen reader, a bot, etc.)

Knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is fundamental to front-end web development.

Back-End Web Development

Back-end web development refers to the website code that runs on the server, including scripting languages and web frameworks.

Back-end dev is also referred to as server-side development because it encompasses what runs on the server in the background.

An example is PHP, which enables a web server to fetch the individual webpage elements from a database.

Programming and scripting languages like PHP, JavaScript, and Python are typically a part of back-end development.

HTML Is The Coding Language Of Websites

The most basic building block of websites is HTML. It is a way to communicate to a machine what a webpage should look like.

HTML is a coding language with relatively simple rules.

If you’ve ever played a board game like Monopoly, chess, or checkers, you’re already familiar with how games are played with rules and pieces.

HTML is pretty much just like a game. The pieces are the various HTML elements and their attributes – the rules are how they are used.

The rules allow a person to create a webpage that a browser can render for a site visitor.

The Meaning Of HTML

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language.

Understanding the basics of HTML is important to web development and almost anyone working with a website.


HyperText is just a fancy word for links.

In the 1990s, the word HyperText was important because it described a way to create a self-organizing worldwide information network.

HyperText links connected webpages within a website and also connected websites to other websites, creating a vast network of information connected together like a spider’s web.

The metaphor of a spiderweb was created by the inventor of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee. That’s why webpages, websites, and search engine spiders are so named.

Markup Language

Markup language is a structured way to communicate information about how a webpage is formatted and what the individual parts are that together form the entire webpage.

So, putting it all together, HyperText Markup Language – HTML – is a link-based system for creating webpages and websites that are connected to other webpages and websites.

The Components Of An HTML Webpage

HTML consists of building blocks called elements.

Elements can be modified with attributes.

Some elements are major sections of a webpage.

Think of these major sections together as being like the playing board itself, inside of which all the action happens.

The Major Sections Of A Webpage


Tells the browser that this is an HTML page.

This element encompasses the entire webpage.


This section is where metadata goes.

Metadata is information that is not visible on the webpage and is intended for browsers and search engines.

An example of metadata is the meta description element, which provides a description of the webpage that is used by search engines in their search results.

This section also contains links to resources needed to build the visible part of the site, among other things.


The <BODY> is the visible part of a webpage. It always proceeds after the <HEAD> section.

The major elements have both beginning and ending “tags” that show where an element begins and ends.

A beginning tag looks like this:


An ending tag looks like this:


Here is a macro-level outline of a webpage:


Within the <BODY> element are all the other elements that define the visible part of the webpage, like paragraphs, images, and links.

Attributes change the element in some way, sometimes to give more information.

For example, an image element <IMG> can have an “alt” attribute that provides alternative text, which communicates the contents of the image to visitors using assistive technology like screen readers.

A paragraph element can have a “class” attribute that adds formatting to the words in the paragraph, like a special font size to use.

Deep Dive: Difference Between An Element And A Tag

The words “element” and “tag” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s actually a difference.

The code snippet of the HTML element itself is referred to as a tag because there is usually a start tag and an ending tag. For example, the TITLE element, which communicates information about what a webpage is about, looks like this:

<TITLE> Words that describe what a webpage is about.</TITLE>

The HTML for a title is called the TITLE element.

But the code snippets themselves, <TITLE> and </TITLE>, are referred to as tags – in this case, the starting and ending tags.

Tags name the element and where that element begins and ends (for the elements that require a start and an ending tag).

Elements are often called tags. But, technically, HTML elements are referred to as elements, not tags.

Only the code snippet itself is called a tag.

Clear as mud?

Further Reading On Tags & Elements

A historical reference to HTML Tags at discusses tags within the context of beginning and ending tags themselves, and is not about the elements.

Mozilla developer pages offer a definition of what a tag is:

“In HTML, a tag is used for creating an element.”

A historical page at the W3C about elements does not refer to elements as tags. It only uses the word tag in the context of starting and ending tag.

The Mozilla developer page explains why Elements are not tags:

“Elements and tags are not the same things.

Tags begin or end an element in source code, whereas elements are part of the DOM, the document model for displaying the page in the browser.”

Misusing the word tag when referencing the HTML element seems minor. But it’s a good practice in web development to be precise by using the correct jargon so that everyone understands what’s meant when anything is referenced.

CSS – What A Site Looks Like

Another fundamental web development building block is the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) which controls what a webpage looks like.

CSS files contain style information such as fonts, border sizes, and colors.

In older versions of HTML, the style information was embedded in the HTML itself. But that changed with the release of HTML 4 when style sheets were introduced to separate style data from content-related data.

The innovation of CSS means that it’s possible to style an entire website with one file.

Types Of Web Development

You can create webpages from scratch using HTML, but it’s inconvenient for publishing sites daily.

That’s why the most popular way of creating websites is with a content management system (CMS).

There are open-source content management systems and closed-source versions.

Examples of open-source CMS:

  • Drupal.
  • Joomla.
  • WordPress.

Examples of closed-source CMS:

  • Duda.
  • Shopify.
  • Squarespace.
  • Wix.

WordPress And Web Development

WordPress is the most popular way to create any website, including ecommerce stores, news sites, informational sites about a topic, and local business sites.

With WordPress, you can pick a template for the look of the site and start publishing. But making the template look exactly how you want it requires some template editing.

It’s not necessary to know how to code HTML, CSS, or PHP to edit a template.

Although WordPress is designed to be easy to use, the fact is that web development skills are useful for creating alternate templates (called “child templates”) and for creating useful functionalities that are not a part of the template.

That’s why third-party WordPress site builders exist, to make creating sites with WordPress easier.

Closed-source content management systems are generally designed to be easy to use, so web development is less of a concern with those systems.

How Web Development And SEO Work Together

Web development is increasingly crucial for SEO.

Page speed, directly and indirectly, impacts webpage search rankings.

Optimizing for page speed often comes down to understanding technical aspects of web development that impact how webpages are rendered in a browser.

Chrome’s tool for debugging website performance is called Chrome Developer Tools (not Chrome SEO Tools).

While some SEO pros may try to install WordPress plugins to chart their way to better site performance, the fact is that web development skills are more effective for troubleshooting and fixing performance issues.

Web development offers solutions for scaling SEO necessities like structured data, automating meta descriptions, and optimizing code for optimal site crawling by search engines.

From the front end to the back end, web development can play an important part in properly search optimizing a website.

Website Development Is Key To Online Success

Understanding web development is not only about understanding how to fix a problem.

It’s also useful because it gives you the ability to actually identify the problem in the first place and at least a general idea of the solution.

Learning even just the basics of web development will assist in nurturing greater online success.

More resources:

Featured image by Shutterstock/Cast Of Thousands

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