In the Part 1 of this series of tutorials we looked at key upfront issues for you as a client engaging in a website design & development project.
In this Part 2 of the series we look at the web design / development process itself. For you as the client what are the steps and milestones. How does it work. What will happen? Who is responsible for each phase. What are the timings ? If you understand the process at the outset then less can go wrong. The process includes
- Scoping the website project
- Design Phase
- Content / Image Development
- Website Coding
- Onsite / Upfront Optimisation
- Testing / Hosting
- Go Live !
What happens during the scoping phase. Well you should meet with your web development company and run through all aspects of the project.
- Finalise and document all aspects of the design / development approach. The approach will be largely dictated by your overall budget.
- Ask your web partner to present a plan. This will contain key milestone dates and all deliverables for each phase.
- Your web design company should complete online research for all your key competitors and other industry relevant sites. This research can generate additional ideas for you to incorporate into your final design brief.
Your website project is a big investment in not only money but your time. So do it right and fund it appropriately! You don’t want to be redoing it for another 18 months – 2 years at least
If your budget is limited and you cannot afford professional customised design then you can purchase a working website template online for a small fee (as little as Euro 50 – 100). Sites like http://www.templatemonster.com/ are fantastic for companies operating on a shoestring. Check with your web design company first to make sure the template is suitable for your needs and industry. They can start the web development process using these predesigned / built templates.
Assuming you want professional customised design then the web design company will now work on initial design ideas. These are graphical representations or pictures of what your website page ‘template’ will look like. All web design agencies have slightly different approaches. Typically they will mock up all the different page types or templates you will need starting with the home page. Once that’s signed off they will move to the inside page templates for your products , profile , contact pages etc. The designer can put their designs online on temporary links for you to view, share and comment.
There are a few things you need to ensure your website company can deliver in terms of design.
- With the growth of mobile and tablets the design must work across all platforms. To ensure this the website design needs to be “responsive” . This means the layout adapts to the device being used to view it. To understand the responsiveness concept view this link http://finecitizens.com/defineResponsive/.
- Designs should be to a particular width which is suitable for most viewers. At the time of writing we recommend 1040 pixels wide. I know this is a little technical but just ask them to deliver on the optimal width.
Content / Image Development
This is the phase where real delays and bottlenecks can occur. Why because it can take a lot of time. Upfront, we recommended that you finalise your site map (structured view of all pages required) and develop a plan for content . Now you or your web partner has to deliver the ‘actual ‘ content. This is where your internal project champion earns their money. They are responsible for co-ordinating all the content and imagery development and getting that over to your web developer. Key pointers
- Don’t copy content from other websites . Make your content unique . If you put duplicate content on your site it will likely not perform well in Google.
- Think about your target audience and write for them. Make sure the language is appropriate. Don’t write for search engines!
- Keep it simple though. Don’t put up huge blocks of content online. Site visitors browse ‘flick through’ online they don’t read.
- Make sure all the images you put on your website are high quality. Particularly if you selling a product or service online. The images will really help to sell it if they are high impact and high quality. Buy quality “stock” images if necessary. We use http://www.istockphoto.com/ and http://www.shutterstock.com/.
- Images can be big files so use services like www.dropbox.com or http://www.yousendit.com for sharing content and images with your web design agency.
Website Coding / Development
Based on the final design templates your web developer will now create a working website. Our developers take the page template “design files” (typically photoshop .psd files). These are then converted into either WordPress or Joomla themes . Again a bit technical. Essentially the flat images are brought to life on working links and the website ‘coded’ to the agreed site map structure. Content and images are then loaded via the Content Management System back-end.
A special mention here on eCommerce websites where you are selling online. This is configured and content loaded into the ‘cart’ by the web development company in line with the agreed brief. Product categories, sub product categories, product content , pricing , delivery details , and shipping details – all have to be set up . Be kind to your web partner a detailed brief at the outset will save a lot of time down the line when you get to this coding stage. Ask your web design company for the eCommerce brief you need to complete.
Onsite / Upfront SEO Optimisation
This is a key phase. It’s quite technical. I have given an overview here . This will help you get a feeling for what your web development company should be doing. Some of this SEO work is done just before the site is launched. Other some tasks can only be completed once the site is live.
Pre launch key tasks include
- Completing keyword research . This identifies keywords which potential customers are using online to find products and services which you provide. Your content should be edited to include keywords relevant and appropriate.
- Onsite tagging of Meta Data. These tags are code which tells Google what your website page content is about. Explained well here .
- Implementing Google Analytics code on your website for traffic reporting and statistics. You can then log into your Google Account (free!!) and get all your website statistics.
- Creating your website site map and linking it on your website. Submitting XML versions of your site to the main search engines. This way they will find your new site quicker and list your pages in their index.
- Set up redirects from all your old website pages to your new website pages . Over time the old pages will drop out of the search engine indexes.
- Set-up Google places account . This is now linked to your Google + account. Yes you do have one!! This is key for performing for local searches e.g. “bakeries in tallaght”
- Tell Google what country or region the site is targeting.
Post Launch tasks include
- Check that Google has not flagged any issues with the new website. Broken links , problems finding pages, bad Meta data – the list is endless . Google effectively communicates to your web design company about your site using an online interface. This interface is called Web Master Tools.
- Benchmark your website in the search engines for your position in search results for relevant keywords.
- Set up conversion tracking on key calls to actions via Google Analytics (GA) e.g. if a site visitor fills out an enquiry form is it tracked in GA. Make sure your web development company is capturing all form & enquiry inputted information in your back end CMS so that you can follow up on these leads.
Testing / Hosting
Before the site is launched you should have a final review of the website. Your website design company should be doing these but do your owns checks. This gives you an opportunity to review it with fresh eyes . Circulate among your team and get them to put a ‘fresh’ pair of eyes across the site. They will see things that you never will as you are too close to it. You might even send it to a couple of your customers ‘ target audience’ and get their view form a customer perspective. Check for the following
- Typos, bad grammar and badly written or malformed content.
- All internal links are working as intended
- You have full copy write on all images used on the website
- All website forms are working as intended, inputted data is captured in the back end and the email alert is going to the correct internal person.
- For eCommerce sites with a full shop you should do detailed testing on all stages / aspects of the purchase process including the payment gateway system. Is the process intuitive for customers, easy to use and engaging. Do the payments end up where they should and is the customer getting the right confirmations.
- The site displays correctly across the major browsers, mobile and IPAD devices.
- Have you website hosting in place , does it support your Content Management System and is physically located in the country or region your target customers are based.
This is the start of your Journey to online business success. Build, sit back and they will come is not something that will work online. Customers will not physically or metaphorically “walk” past your online shop or website. They need to find you online. Find you in a vast confusing myriad of competing websites just at that moment when they need your product / service.
How do you make sure your products and services are found. Marketing ! Online marketing to be exact . This typically includes a mix of activity from search engine optimization , social media engagement , listings and quality links and email marketing. Talk to your web development partner , they should be able to help you get started. Good Luck and enjoy the Journey!