Although sites range from just a few pages to more complex ones with hundreds or thousands of pages and sophisticated interactive features, the development process remains similar.
No matter the size or complexity, developing an effective website requires thoughtful planning. Understanding the entire process before you begin will save you time and money as the project progresses.
There are six basic stages:
- Content development
- Graphic design
- Marketing and promotion
Depending on your areas of expertise, you may need assistance for some or all phases of your project. Think like a home builder: develop a good blueprint, perhaps with the help of an architect; then hire individual tradespeople for the various tasks, or hire a general contractor.
First of all, determine the audience for your site. This is critical because many design and content decisions depend on understanding this.
To narrow down your audience, make sure you know the answers to these types of questions first:
- Is the site for children or adults?
- How technologically savvy is your audience?
- Does your target audience access the net from work, school, or home?
- Do they use mobile devices to access your site?
- How fast is their Internet connection?
- Do they want to be informed or entertained?
Your site must be well organized, both for the benefit of your visitors and to make it easier to maintain. It may help to map out your site in storyboard or schematic form, perhaps as a flow chart. Consider using index cards to represent the prospective web pages so you can rearrange them very quickly. It really helps to have some way to visualize the structure, whether you're working alone, with colleagues or professionals.
Don't rush through the planning phase. You'll save time and money, and be happier with the end result if you take your time in the planning phase.
If you do decide to hire outside help with any of the following steps, thoroughly check their portfolio to see if their design aesthetic matches what you’re looking for, and to make sure the company is experienced with projects of your size and scope.
Bear in mind that a website is a perpetual work in progress. Most websites change fairly often – technology makes electronic publishing rapid and relatively inexpensive. A well-planned site simplifies this process. New content and features can be added easily without having to redesign the site.
Not all content is created equal. Make sure that the content you use to build your site is the right content for your audience.
One type of content is customer service information. What questions do people ask most often? If you don't have a list of frequently asked questions and answers, sit down alone or with your staff to write one. The more your customers can get answers from your site, the less time someone has to spend answering those same questions on the phone or in writing. Posting this information on your website helps customers to build trust in your business as they get to know about you through your content.
A content or project manager should keep track of the text, graphics, and programming necessary to create the content and get it online. This kind of help can be hired on a temporary or freelance basis if you don't have the expertise in-house. A “one-stop” web development company can also provide this service.
No matter how well organized and interesting your content, graphics set the tone. You can make a good impression with some well-designed graphics throughout your site.
Be sure to create a sense of continuity by repeat a few design elements throughout the site. This is just one of many common sense guidelines to follow in creating appealing pages – a skilled web designer will be enormously helpful in offering creative options and ensuring your website looks professional and gives a good impression.
There are thousands of website building firms and freelancers who would love to help – the trick is to pick the right one.
Another option is to purchase a pre-made design template for your website. Templates designed by professionals are available for a wide variety of websites. Purchasing a template may not give your website a 100% unique look, but it’s much more budget-friendly than hiring a designer to create your website from scratch.
Programming and Technical Help
Content management systems make your site much easier to update and add content to. Most modern sites today are built with a CMS.
There are many options for converting your content into a website. While you can create your own HTML (HyperText Markup Language) files and upload them to the web, this method can be extremely time-consuming and make it difficult to update and scale your website later down the road.
Instead, using a CMS (content management system) is a good way to quickly create a professional-looking website without needing advanced coding knowledge. One popular example is WordPress, a free CMS. There are thousands of free and premium themes available for WordPress, or you could hire a designer and developer to customize or create a unique theme from scratch for you.
WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal – the top 3 content management systems – command 70% of the CMS market.
When all of your material is ready and you've got a developer ready to roll, you will need a service to host your site. If you are running an in-house web server, your system administrator will have to learn the necessary skills (perhaps with the help of a consultant). These days, most businesses and individuals host their sites with a web hosting company.
Marketing and Promotion
Creating a brilliant website is fruitless if no one knows about it. With over a 100 million sites, capturing attention can be challenging. Some developers offer marketing and promotion as part of their package.
Social media can also be an effective way to drive traffic to your new website by interacting with others and sharing useful content.
A professional Internet marketer can really help spread the word and offer ideas for bringing more people to your site – everything from advertising on the Web to creative promotions.
Creating a maintenance plan will ensure your site provides the most value.
Maintenance on a large site can easily be a full-time job, so build the costs of continuing maintenance into your budget. If you're working with a web developer who is helping with aspects of your project, the company may offer a maintenance agreement as part of the contract. Ask about this at the beginning of the project. Working with the same people throughout ensures consistency; a new person or company won't have the same working knowledge of your site.