The Path to Great Design & Function
What are the key phases of website development? Knowing these will help to ensure your website represents your company’s value, it’s infrastructure supports your business goals, and it’s designed to attract new clients. Even if you aren’t building a website yourself, it helps to understand the phases of website development when working with a designer or developer. We’ve talked about some important questions to ask when interviewing a website designer and developer. Along with an initial time and cost estimate, potential candidates should provide you with an overview of their process for website development. This article will help you understand the overall process and what to expect, so you can make a truly great site that represents your business. Note that not all developers will follow these phases to the “T.” Each step really depends on the size and functionality of the website.
Phase 1 of website development – Information Gathering
The first phase of an exemplary website is the Information Gathering or Analysis phase. This is when the website developer asks you important questions about what you want to see in your website. What your goals and objectives are. What you want to communicate and whom you want to attract. During this phase, your role is to communicate your brand requirements. The developer needs to understand what your business is about and what online tools you need to achieve more business. For complex sites, it’s common to use a questionnaire to help you both determine these goals and the best strategies to achieve them. Your developer may ask you about:
- Blogging frequency
- Social media
- What colors you dislike
- What other sites you like and think are successful in your industry.
- What content sections you need, for example, do you need a services overview page or will each service be available in the main navigation.
Smashing Magazine has several sample website development questionnaires, also known as a web design brief or creative brief. The developer takes this information and a web design brief or creative brief. This document is meant to briefly and clearly outline the key elements of your website. Throughout the development process, you’ll be referring back to make sure all important items are addressed.
Phase 2 – Planning
Every good product, whether a website or an exhibit at a museum, starts with a good plan. Now that your developer has the necessary information from the Information Gathering Phase, they can put together a strategy for creating your website. The work is in their hands now! The developer may conduct competitive research during this phase, defining user personas, usage scenarios, usage goals, and performs task analysis. At the end of the planning phase, the developer should review their findings with you. They may also give you a summary of their Project Plan and an initial Site Map. A site map is an overview of all the main topics or pages and subtopics to be included in your site, and potentially how they connect.
Phase 3 – Design
In this website development phase, the User Experience and overall aesthetics — imagery, colors, and fonts — is created in order to achieve the website’s tone. If it didn’t happen in the previous phase, now they will develop a site map. The site architecture is devised. Developing the information architecture (IA) and the user interface, navigational models and wireframes are created to provide a visual guide to the underlying functionality of the website. These can be helpful for you to review to ensure your business objectives are being met. Content development can also begin in this phase. Now is a good time to compile source content; write, copy, edit and fact check unique content. SEO (e.g., keywords assigned to content pillars, internal linking structure) planning can begin now or in the next phase. At the end of phase three, you’ll review the visual design, wire frames, and site map. Once these elements are approved, it is time to move on to the next phase… website development.
Phase 4 – Website Development
In the development phase, the website truly takes on shape and form. Before coding starts, especially if you have an existing website, your developer should prepare a safe place where your new site is hidden from the public and search engines. This is critical especially if you’re using or editing content from an existing live site. Without having the correct code (robots.txt), you run the risk of search engines indexing your site and making it public. Not only is it embarrassing, it has the potential of creating duplicate content — something that will hurt your website’s SEO.
Now that you have a development sandbox to play in, you’re ready for the heavy lifting phase of website development. The approved designs from the previous phase are now fleshed out and implemented. Visual designs are transformed into appropriate media and code. The site architecture is instituted. Initial content can be inserted into the site. More usability testing and quality assurance testing can begin.
As mentioned before, the website development process is iterative. This means a phase might be “completed” but everything is being continually tested, analyzed, and refined. Findings from new usability tests inform changes on the site architecture.
White Hat SEO architecture can also begin now; keyword research and analysis to define your target keywords. These keywords are then artfully (read: natural but purposeful usage) incorporated into the content. Copy may have to be tweaked to match the layout design. Final copyediting can be done. Last but not least? You guessed it, now it is time for you to review the progress and approve the designs before moving on to the next phase…the Launch!
Phase 5 – Launch
This is a really exciting phase for any website development project. Hello world! Your website is finally ready to face the public. Is it as simple as clicking a button? Not exactly…
While this is probably the simplest of the website development phases, it is crucial to get this one right. Testing, testing, testing. Although the site has already been thoroughly tested, your developer should give it one more round of testing before putting it on a live server. This includes final spell-checking, code validation, checking all links and cross-browser checking. Yes, all web browsers are not equal! We also highly recommend that you triple-check your Google Analytics code and other conversion tracking code on the site. You don’t want to lose connection to these important data-gathering tools.
Once all the technical details are confirmed, the website is ready to be put on the live server and… checked once more! Here are a few common items overlooked during the launch phase:
- 404 Errors & Redirects
- Broken Links
- Missing or Poorly Constructed Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
- Google Ads campaigns that break because landing page URLs have changed
Tip – launch your site on a day where you can have several sets of fresh eyes to review the site when it goes live. Often we choose Friday evenings or weekend to minimize impact during peak business times. Then sit back and relax in the afterglow of your newly minted website.
Phase 6 – Marketing
Marketing – this is the time to market your site. Now it has launched, you want people to know about it. Announce the good news to your network via your social channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Don’t forget to highlight in your newsletter and let your customers or prospects know.
The Marketing phase is also a time to build upon your SEO foundation. Utilize your keyword research and apply it to your marketing blog to build an audience. Link building is also an excellent way to drive traffic — and business — to your brand-new website.
Phase 7 – Post-Launch
Although you just launched, there is no “end” when it comes to websites. A website is a living entity – it continues after the developer has “finished.” What happens when something breaks on your website? Or your website links to an external site and that site has changed? What if you want to update content? You need to plan for all of this. We also highly recommend that you retain control over all accounts. Otherwise you risk becoming a “technology hostage.”
A website developer should hand off all assets including source files and any documentation they may have for you. If you are happy with your web developer and aren’t inspired to try it yourself, you’ll want to create a maintenance plan with them. This will ensure avoiding any website emergencies in the future. Even if you decide to continue the relationship, you should understand how to add content (pages, posts) to your site. Make sure the appropriate staff members have been trained and have administrative access.
Now that the mystery of website development has been solved, you can look forward to creating a website that represents your business.