Over the last few years, web design has become a truly open field. From the services, like Wix, which allow users to create their own website without any sort of coding, to the complex and comprehensive APIs found around the web, building something beautiful and packed with features has never been easier. Of course, though, this doesn’t mean that people are making the most of their sites.

A web server is a very complex piece of machinery. Like a normal computer, it has a processor, RAM, and the other components you’d expect inside. Along with this, though, it has a very different operating system, giving it the power to communicate in ways which most people would never expect. To give you an idea of the true power your site has, this post will be exploring some of the different ways to use it to speak to your customers, using more than just webspace.

First, though, it’s time to introduce you to the tool which makes it all possible; PHP. PHP is a server-side scripting language designed to enable clients to communicate with a web server, without having to send requests which compromise security. There are alternatives to PHP floating around, but, for the purpose of this post, all of the code snippets you can see are in this language. If you’d like to learn some basic PHP coding skills, you can find some resources to help you at the end of this post.

Most people see a server as a simple box which will only communicate with other computers on the internet. In reality, though, emails, text messages, faxes, and even phone calls can all be handled through a website. Below, you can find some detailed examples of these different forms of communicate, along with the different options you have to get it all going.

Email

Even the lowest-spec web servers have the power to send simple emails through the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, or SMTP for short. Being the most widely-used form of online communications, there are loads of ways to send emails through your website, ranging from services which handle everything for you, to options you can program for yourself. Below, you can find a basic PHP script which will send an email to php@theblogtest.com from info@theblogtest.com.

<?php

$to      = ‘php@theblogtest.com’;

$subject = ‘This is the email subject’;

$message = ‘This is the message body – where you’ll put the content.’;

$headers = ‘From: info@theblogtest.com’ . “\r\n” .

   ‘Reply-To: info@theblogtest.com’ . “\r\n” .

   ‘X-Mailer: PHP/’ . phpversion();

mail($to, $subject, $message, $headers);

?>

It doesn’t take much to work out exactly what that little script is doing, given just how simple it is. Of course, though, a method like this might not always work for you, and a self-service option might be better. Companies like MailChimp have worked hard to create mailing systems which are very good at their job, while also being aimed at small businesses, making them very affordable. This is perfect for anyone without the time to invest in programming.

SMS

Of course, for normal people, sending out text messages without a sim card is impossible, and it can be hard to see exactly how you’d send an SMS through a website. In reality, though, the site won’t be sending it at all; it will be emailing the cell carrier SMS gateway. With the help of a carrier list, it’s nice and easy to create a system which can send emails to phone numbers, and you already have all of the tools to do it. Below, you can find a similar email script to the one above, only this will send an SMS message to 07123123213 on the Verizon network.

<?php

$to      = ‘07123123213@vtext.com’;

$subject = ‘This is the SMS subject’;

$message = ‘Always make sure to keep this section below 100 characters to avoid sending multiple messages.’;

$headers = ‘From: info@theblogtest.com’ . “\r\n” .

   ‘Reply-To: info@theblogtest.com’ . “\r\n” .

   ‘X-Mailer: PHP/’ . phpversion();

mail($to, $subject, $message, $headers);

?>

A system like this starts to become unrealistic when you begin the process of including other networks, as you will need to send an email to each carrier for every SMS you want to send. To avoid this, there are loads of fancy APIs out there which can help you to build a messaging system into your site. Of course, though, you’ll need to work hard to find one which meets all of your needs.

Fax

For a lot of people, the age of faxing documents around the world is very much over, and this little piece of technology is often forgotten. With integration to the web, though, a tool like this can become extremely powerful. Sending an email which can be received as a paper fax, or vice versa, can make life a lot easier when you’re dealing with loads of different types of document. There isn’t a way to send faxes directly through PHP, unfortunately, though, and you’ll need to find a service to handle this for you.

Push notifications

Like sending a fax through the web, push notifications are a little more complicated than sending emails or texts. Each web browser application will have its own methods to handle this sort of request. Thankfully, though, most have them very well documented, and are starting to follow the standards Google have set. Below, you can find an example of the process you’ll need to go through to set something like this up. Of course, though, it could be different if you’d like it to work with more than just Chrome.

To begin, you’ll need to install some class libraries to your site, using a tool like Composer to make it nice and easy for you. From there, you can follow the instructions provided by Google to get the website setup for Push Notifications, along with getting access to the code to help you with it. This process is a complicated one, unfortunately, and it will be hard for a lot of people to complete it smoothly. If you find this is the case, it could be well worth looking for a developer to support you.

Learning a programming language like PHP comes with loads of different benefits. For one, you will be able to make use of interesting tools like the ones detailed above. But, along with this, you will gain a much deeper understanding of the way your website works, giving you loads of scope to improve it in the future. To keep learning this powerful language, you can find some very useful resources below.

W3Schools is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people to learn about web development. They have extensive resources covering almost every area of this field, from basic design to complex coding. Along with this, resources like GitHub and StackOverflow can also be incredibly handy during your learning. Giving you access to other users, these platforms are perfect for those who are unsure of what they are doing, as they give you the chance to ask people who have some experience.

Along with the sources you use, software applications like Notepad++ can also be very useful. Though it can’t check your syntax, it can give you a good picture of the way your code is structured, making it easy to find issues which stop it from working. Along with this, though, a simple PHP code checking tool could also be very useful. It can be almost impossible to diagnose an issue when you only have a white screen as your results.

Hopefully, with all of this in mind, you will be able to start making more use out of your website than ever before. This sort of effort can make a huge difference to a business, shaping the way that you communicate with your customers. Of course, though, when you’re working with something like PHP, it’s always worth making backups just in case something goes wrong.