Website development process
Developing your website is a multi-step process. Take time to understand each of the steps in the process and how they fit together.
On this page:
Analysis: Establishing the parameters of your website
To plan your project, you need to determine your website's purpose. Begin by answering the following:
- Who is your intended target audience?
- What information will your audience expect?
- What do your competitors offer on their websites?
- How will your website support your overall business strategy?
- What business processes can you incorporate into the functionality of your website?
- Will the website be developed internally or be outsourced?
- What is your budget for the website's initial development? What about ongoing maintenance?
Depending on the type of business you operate, you may need more questions and answers. If you own a small accounting firm, your website requirements will be quite different from those of a large online retailer.
Determining your website's target audiences is the first step to integrating it into an existing business strategy. Make a list of your intended target audiences, such as customers, employees, suppliers and investors, and then determine what action each audience should take when it visits your website. The type of audience may determine the content and its style, as well as the level of technology used to develop your website. For example, if your audience includes many rural users, broadband capabilities could be limited. Using fewer graphics on your website will allow it to display faster.
A successful website will meet the needs of your various target audiences by delivering valuable content, matching technological capability, and providing good website design and practical functionality.
Tailor the content and services on your website to match your audience's knowledge level. A website intended mostly for subject experts and repeat visitors would be designed differently than one for the general public. If your audience is knowledgeable about your business, its services and subject matter, introductory information can be buried more deeply in the website and the user interface streamlined for faster loading. Similarly, frequent users generally know where they want to go: your website should allow users to navigate quickly to specific content or services.
If your website is intended for:
- The general public and many first-time visitors – You may need more navigation tools and introductory information and a heavier use of graphics to captivate users' attention and draw them into your website.
- Clients – Pay close attention to appearance and presentation, as these aspects represent your business.
- Employees – If this is used as an Intranet or a business tool, website functionality is more important than page appearance.
- Business partners – Functionality and page appearance are equally important.
Other websites from within your industry, especially those of your competitors, are excellent resources for planning your own. Evaluate how they cater to their visitors and what types of e-business functionality they offer. Make your website even better.
Support your business strategy with your website, one of many tools to help you to achieve your business goals. Clearly state what business goal(s) you want to support with your website. A website that aims to reduce shipping expenses by providing documents online will have a very different design and structure than one that aims to increase online product sales.
If your website is properly constructed and well-managed, it can automate your typical business processes and help increase productivity. Customer service calls can be reduced if your website:
- Provides project status and/or shipping information
- Allows your customers to order and pay for your products and services
- Provides your customers with information and documents related to your products and services
By knowing how your business operates, you can analyze which of your business processes can be moved online.
Once you determine your website's goals and parameters, you can decide how to build it. To develop it internally, first evaluate your developer's skills. If you want to use an external source, you need proposals from other website developers.
You may decide from a wide range of options:
- Create a custom, database-driven website
- Purchase low-cost software and create a simple website internally
- Access online tools to enable non-technical staff to add and manage content using a content management system
A content management system can be very useful if your website requires frequent updates or if several non-technical people must contribute to its content upkeep. Some content management system features include multi-user administration, workflow approval, or "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) text editors for non-technical contributors.
You may need two budgets: the build budget for developing your website and the maintenance budget for ongoing hosting, promotion, website maintenance and required improvements as customer expectations increase and change. You'll need to consider software, hardware and any additional staffing requirements when creating the budgets.
Project planning: Getting organized in four steps
Assemble your project team
If your business is small, one person may be responsible for website development; a project team may be required if it is large. Build your team with employees who have valuable skills to contribute, as well as management support, and are authorized to make decisions on their own. This project team will be responsible for many decisions and approvals during the next stages, and your project can stall if every issue is handled "by committee".
Your project team should review and continue analyzing the website's requirements. If your company is streamlining internal processes by using the website, consider an employee survey to help identify bottlenecks in the process or useful functions that might have been overlooked initially. A web development firm or consultant can assist you with this task.
Manage build or buy
Will your website be built internally or do you need to hire a website development firm? Base your decision on available resources and the complexity of the project. If you decide to outsource the project, itemize the requirements and put together a request for proposal that includes the:
- Target audience groups
- Required functionality
- Specific performance goals
- Required development platform or programming language
- Future or planned functionality
You may also include a budget in your proposal. Responding developers and firms will find this useful in determining how to maximize deliverables and provide recommendations on how to meet your requirements. They might suggest a phased approach if your requirements exceed your budget or help you to scale back some of the non-essential features of an application. Send the request for proposal to between four and six firms; reduce the results to two or three firms for a final detailed review. Include each step of the review process in the project timeline.
Websites can be long-term investments of both time and money. A strong partner will complement your internal resources and provide you with a proactive vision for the future of your website.
Establish publishing policies and processes
The website will need ongoing content maintenance. Your content publishing policies and processes should emphasize high quality standards. Some points to consider include:
- What content requires regular review to keep it current? Who is responsible for this process?
- Who will evaluate the user interface, website usability and future changes?
- What documents will be published on the website? Who is responsible for converting, validating and managing the publishing process?
Scheduling resources and time
A website development company will provide you with a project timeline and schedule. If your project is handled internally, it is wise to create a schedule for tracking project progress. Establish milestones and set deadlines for project phases to be completed.
If you operate a busy company, managing your website build may be an additional project on top of an already heavy workload and can become your lowest priority, delaying the project indefinitely. Keep the priority high by setting and meeting milestone deadlines. Have you assigned enough people to the project to handle reviews and approvals as necessary? A simple website can be completed in three to four weeks. A complex e-commerce website with various internal processes may take six to eight months or more.
Development: Building your site
The flow of the information you provide will be a critical component to your website's success. Systematic, logical information organization leads to a coherent, user-friendly and flexible website. Your website's information structure must be able to accommodate growth. Take maintenance issues into consideration as your company grows and information expands.
Plan your website on paper before the developers start programming. Consider your target audience and analyze the content that needs to be incorporated. How many sections does it need? Your navigation system should allow users to see where they are and how to get back at any point.
It may be helpful to create user case scenarios in which a simulated session is created for each type of user from each target audience group. How easy is it to find the relevant information or to perform a desired function, such as purchasing an item?
The information structure creates the framework for your website, but your visitors will react to its branding and design. A visually compelling interface can attract visitors and extend your brand. If the interface is easy to use, your visitors will be able to find their way to the information they seek. Interface design can have a big impact on the usability of your website, making the difference between a website that is user-friendly and one that is frustrating.
Your visitors are looking for snippets of information that can be used quickly and effectively. Your website should be “scannable”: brief and concise with links leading to deeper information. When the information structure contains well-written content, your website will encourage a positive experience and response from your visitors.
Photographs and images can add tremendous value to your website when used appropriately. High quality photos should reflect your image, while low quality photos may detract from it. Be selective when choosing the quantity and size of photos: pages with large photos take longer to display.
Whether your website will be built internally or by an outside firm, the technology used will be dictated by the functionality and other parameters that you have set as your goals. Some websites can be built using HTML, dynamic database systems or online software. When the programming is complete, your website should undergo rigorous testing before it is deployed. Your website project team should ensure that the website functions properly, that promised deliverables are met and that the website's strategic goals are accomplished.
Web content accessibility
It is a good idea to make your content accessible to all audiences, including people with disabilities. Such disabilities might include blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and various combinations of these.
It is useful to identify common barriers to accessibility in order to avoid designing a website that only serves a partial audience. To be directly accessible to as many users as possible, web content must be:
- Perceivable, or available to some of the user's senses
- Operable, in that the user must be able to operate the interface
- Understandable, so that the user can understand both content and operation
- Robust, so that the user can access content by means of various assistive technologies if needed. As technologies evolve, the content should still be accessible
Some simple approaches to improve accessibility might include:
- Adequate contrast between text and background colour (colour contrast tools are available online)
- Section headings to make content easier to handle
- Descriptive titles or alternative text for images to be read by screen readers or when browsers cannot support images
- Large text in a clear font
- Transcripts for video or audio
- Navigation that can be done with a keyboard only (for stylus users)
Providing accessibility is the most humane approach possible to website design, but there is also a practical application: many people with disabilities use the Internet to conduct a wide variety of business transactions. It makes good business sense to ensure that, by complying with legal guidelines or international standards, your website can be used by all customers or people seeking information about your goods or services.
- Web content accessibility guidelines
Make your website accessible to all users, including those with a disability, by familiarizing yourself with accessibility guidelines that will help your content reach your full audience.
Advertising: Using your website to generate revenue
Will you use your website to generate revenue by including advertising? If so, your website could become a revenue-generating "product", but this will take time and cost money. You have to advertise it, you have to nurture it and you have to continuously create new and interesting content, or your customers won't come back. If you can create new, dynamic and exciting content on an ongoing basis, visitors will be drawn to your website and ad revenue could become a reality.
Interactivity and e-business: Providing value to your visitors
Your website should be more than an online corporate brochure. Motivate your visitors to interact with it by providing forms, questionnaires and other customized content.
Creating databases to manage content is one way of simplifying your website's maintenance to ensure that ongoing, current and valuable information is available. Whether your website is an Intranet with human resources information or a product catalogue, databases can help you conduct your business online in a dynamic fashion.
More and more retailers, distributors, wholesalers and manufacturers are moving online to reach their customers, suppliers and other businesses. You can provide a wide range of consumer services, allowing your customers to make informed and secure purchases of products and services.
To be competitive, stay abreast of trends within your industry and be on the lookout for new technologies. Web-enabled mobile services and GPS-enhanced proximity marketing are two examples of technologies that may be of use to your business. As your strategic website plan evolves, new technologies may provide more opportunities.
Developing a mobile-friendly website: Keep it simple
As more consumers use their mobile devices and smartphones to access the Internet, consider developing a mobile website that allows your customers to access your information more conveniently while on the go. This version will be more pared-down than your desktop website.
The key to developing a mobile website is simplicity:
- Screens are small, so keep information clear and to the point.
- Your mobile website will often be navigated by touch, so keep links and buttons as far apart as possible. This will keep users from clicking on more than one at the same time. Easy navigation is important.
- Avoid graphics and large photos; they take too long to load.
- As some mobile devices do not support Flash, it is best avoided.
- Does the design work well in both landscape and portrait views?
Ensure that your website developer has experience in creating mobile technology and that your mobile website is tested on a variety of operating systems and devices. After testing the mobile version with focus groups, you may find that the option of a redirect to the full website is in order.
- Seizing Opportunity: Good Privacy Practices for Developing Mobile Apps
When developing mobile apps for your business, make user privacy your competitive edge by following guidance designed to help you protect personal information.
End-user technology: Effectively using multi-media
Sound, animation, shockwave, Flash, DHTML, RSS and blogs are just a few examples of the many additional multimedia options for your website. However, your target audience's bandwidth could influence what you're going to include. Visual and auditory stimulation can add pop to your website when used properly, but always ask yourself if it will enhance or detract from your target audience's experience.
One such technology is Real Simple Syndication (RSS). Users can pull updates from frequently visited websites to a reader application on their desktop without having to browse those websites directly. This technology would be appropriate if your website content changes frequently.
You could create a blog on your website if you want to display serialized, journal-type entries. Websites with blog pages often allow anonymous readers to post entries or comments to the page. If used correctly, a blog can help you promote interaction with your customers and create a sense of community. In some circumstances, however, blogging may detract from the experience or expectations of your target audience, so be sure it fits with your overall business strategy.
Website marketing: Promoting your website to increase traffic
Once you've launched your website, you will need a strategy to help customers find it. A successful Web strategy is built on effective promotion, and marketing is a critical, ongoing process. You may want to integrate a combination of traditional off-line forms of marketing with Web-based strategies to drive traffic to your website.
Encourage your target audience to visit your website by buying print, television or radio advertising, offering online promotions or using social media to interact with customers. Remember to include your domain name on all printed marketing materials and business cards.
To optimize your website for visibility and ensure customers can find you, register it with search engines and have it listed in business and industry directories. Consider using the following online promotional strategies:
Banner advertising: When you buy banner ad space on websites frequented by your target audiences, they will be able to click on embedded ads that link directly to your website.
Interstitials: You can purchase pop-up advertising on appropriate websites in order to attract your target audience.
Discussion list sponsorships: Discussion lists include groups of people who are interested in talking about specific subjects; the topics are numerous and varied. Many discussion lists offer paid sponsorships, providing members with information about your business and links to your website.
Email marketing: Targeted email with information and a link back to your website can encourage customers to visit your website.
Social media: Developing a social media strategy can help you connect directly with customers and engage them in a two-way conversation. Many social media platforms are free to use and can help you reach new audiences.
Measuring effectiveness: Tracking your visitors
To determine if the resources that you spend on your website are maximized and that your business goals are being attained, a regular review of your website is recommended. Your website can be evaluated based on business goals, using a variety of tools such as a visitor tracking system, online surveys or feedback from website visitors. Keeping track of statistics will provide you with information to justify the investment and allow you to better plan for future upgrades.
- Website analytics and performance management
Do you want to know how effective your website is? Find out how visitors reach your website, what they do there, and how often they visit.
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