Ah, the joys of building a new website. While many of us love the thrill of a website launch – we don’t always get excited by the development process. And there is a process – or should be a process.
Over the years, we have met many firms, both small and large, who have learned the hard way that website building isn’t as easy as one expects it to be. We provide B2B companies with marketing implementation services; thus, the development of a new website is often one of the first activities we undertake.
Here is a summary of the 10-step process that we use to develop new websites for our clients:
Step 1 – Sitemap and Requirements
Every website begins with a brainstorming session – how is your current website serving/not serving you and what do you want from a new one? The purpose of this exercise is to help build a sitemap, a detailed requirements document that outlines the functionality / interactivity needed on the new site, and set expectations on how the site needs to evolve in the future. A website should never be built for today – it needs to be built with the future in mind.
Step 2 – Vendor Selection
Once you have an approved sitemap and final requirements document, you can begin to source potential vendors who will design and/or program your website. In some cases, a designer may be hired to develop concepts and final wire frames, which are then used by a programmer or website development company to build the website. Depending on budget, timing and complexity, it can often make for a more seamless process to choose one vendor that provides both design and programming services.
Step 3 – Design
Your requirements document should outline how many creative concepts (unique designs) you want to see. Typically, we recommend a company develop at least 2 unique designs, where each design includes a home page and 1 – 2 inside pages. This will help you envision the design translated across other key elements of the website.
Step 4 – Programming
Once the design is approved, the website company will begin programming the website. They usually begin by programming the website shell, in tandem with steps X, Y, Z. A website company should provide you with test links for the home page and at least 1 inside page to ensure how the programming is aligned with the approved design (sometimes there are variances). Once steps X, Y, Z are done and given to the website company, programming continues as they integrate these elements and build out the remaining pages.
Step 5 – Content Development and Page Elements Programming and content development should happen simultaneously. Developing website copy will likely involve an audit of the existing website content, determining what can be repurposed and what needs to be created. The key to content creation is ensuring that your target keywords are incorporated to support your search engine optimization activities. As you outline content for each page, you’ll also need to outline all graphics, images, calls-to-action, etc. elements that appear on each page. Depending on the design, you may multiple elements that require copy and/or direction for the website programmer. Lastly, be sure to develop alt tags for any images that will appear on your website.
Step 6 – Search Engine Optimization
In addition to any search engine optimization activities you may already be undertaking, it’s critical to develop keyword-rich page titles, meta descriptions and meta keywords. If you haven’t undertaken any SEO activities, begin by conducting keyword research to ensure you have identified the best target keywords. These keywords should be infused in your website copy and strategically placed in page titles, meta descriptions and meta keywords throughout the site.
Step 7 – Redirects
For companies who already have a website, it is important to create a set of redirects. A redirect (or a 301 redirect) will point a previously used url to a corresponding new url (E.g. from www.abcompany.com/aboutus to www.abcompany.com/aboutus/who-we-are). Redirects ensure that visitors of your current website, who may have bookmarked a url that no longer exists, or that exists elsewhere on the web, will still take visitors to your website. When redirects are not set-up, any url that you are no longer using will receive an error when visited.
Step 8 – Analytics
Every website must have an analytics program, such as Google Analytics, which is a fantastic – and free – tool. If you are using Google Analytics, ensure your programmer has properly configured the website to be read by Google Analytics, (this will require a Google Analytics account to be set-up along with your account code to be embedded on every single website) and that it’s been tested before going live.
Step 9 – Beta Testing
While every step is important, testing your ‘beta’ site is one of the most critical. Essentially, a beta site is your final website that is being temporarily hosted (often by your website programmer), giving you the opportunity to ensure it is ready to launch. During a beta test, all web pages and page elements need to be tested for functionality (submit buttons, hyperlinks, forms), page consistency, and content (grammar, spelling, etc.). A beta test will often reveal a list of final fixes - be sure to share them with your programmer and have them completed before launch.
Step 10 – Launch (including hosting)
Now you are ready to go live. To launch a website, ensure you have a well-developed launch plan, outlining the activities you will undertake to let the world know about your fabulous new website. Have website hosting confirmed and an agreed upon launch date.
While there are a number of steps and work involved, when done right, a new website provides businesses with many benefits. If you’re embarking on this project, ensure you have a well-planned approach, employ a solid team and follow the best practices we’ve shared in this blog.