By Jason O’Connor
If you are in business for yourself, an executive with decision making power, or the head of your own company, you are probably bombarded with advice, opinions and information about how to build or re-vamp your website and how to use it to your advantage in business.
To be as successful as possible in your e-business, you’ll need to plan ahead and you’ll need to properly fuse the disciplines of design, technology and marketing. From conception to reality, the process of manifesting a website draws upon a multidisciplinary approach.
The more time and effort you put into planning and building your website, or revamping an existing one, the more successful you’ll be. Your new site will have more potential in accomplishing your business goals, your business will look more credible to all the people visiting your site, and you’ll increase your bottom line.
The following is a guide for building a new website. It shows how a corporate webmaster or web department creates a world-class website, and it is the same step by step process that every organization, no matter how small, should follow.
Step 1 – Discovery
The first step involves determining the scope of the project, the timeline and scheduling parameters, everyone’s expectations, and your current human and technical resources.
Step 2 – Concept and Planning
The next step is to determine site requirements, business goals, types of functionality, site features, and a timeline and due date. You’ll need to determine who your site audience is, the demographics and psychographics of your visitors.
In this phase, the architecture or organization of the information that will be included on the site needs to be planned as well. The most important part of this step is determining your goals for the site. You need to ask yourself and any other stakeholders exactly what the new site ought to yield when completed. What do you expect the site to do? What do you want to get out of it? What messages do you want to convey to all the people who will eventually view it? What are the priorities of the site in terms of your business and making money? What types of people will be using the site and what will they want to accomplish while there?
Step 3 – Design Specifications
This is when the look, feel and a visual design specification are created. Here you’ll determine the fonts, colors and size and layouts, always trying to keep consistency paramount. You’ll want to write specifications for the images you’ll be using on the site as well. It’s also the time to decide upon and design the technical infrastructure and architecture of the site, server, environment and platform. You’ll determine what programming languages and databases will be used, if any, and any other technical features your site will need.
One of the secondary benefits of following Step 3 is that you’ll have a document to refer back to later on when adding to the site. If you hire a new web person or company, you can give them this design specification document for them to follow whenever they work on your site.
Step 4 – Production
Before this phase begins, everyone who is involved in this project, including people who give the final ‘OK’, need to know that there will be a design freeze at this point. If any changes are needed during this point, then those changes will be done in the next redesign.
The production phase can be broken down into three areas and will include:
- Design production: The artistic look and feel design production, usability designing, the navigation production, and image and button creation. The homepage of the site and the inner page template both need the new design applied to them. The homepage design may use the same template the rest of the site uses, or it may be unique. If it differs from the rest of the site, then make sure its look and feel is very similar to the look and feel of the inner page template(s). Also, if it differs, consider applying this entire step-by-step guide to the homepage as well, treating it as a separate, but related entity.
- Technical production: This entails the html coding, any other coding to contribute to the functionality and the configuration of the server’s environment. The technical aspects could also include any server side coding in a major programming language, database design and development, and site security measures.
- The marketing production: This area includes creating the homepage and pre-determined inner pages to be search engine and index friendly. It also includes the copy writing for every page. Any mechanisms for interacting with the visitors will be produced here. For example, forms on your site that asks users to give information are ways for a user to interact with your site. Although the look & feel of the form falls under ‘design’, and the actual mechanisms that make the form work falls under technology’, the purpose of the forms will be very marketing-centric. What you ask, how you store the data, and how you retrieve it and use it later are all marketing issues that should be addressed in this step.
Step 5 – Testing
The produced site now must be loaded onto a staging area that is exactly like the production environment, or made accessible to testers only. During this phase, various people will test all aspects of site, including functionality, spelling and grammar, hyperlinks, and all other elements. This is often called the Quality Assurance phase.
Step 6 – Publishing
This phase is the push of the new site from staging to production. Here the site is made live and is now on the World Wide Web.
Step 7 – E-marketing and maintenance:
Unless the site is marketed, it won’t matter how well-designed or technically robust it is, no one will ever visit or use it. Therefore, the final and ongoing phase entails implementing e-marketing techniques, keeping the site’s content fresh and making continual adjustments based on site specific and customer research.
Whether you decide to tackle building a new website yourself, or you choose to hire someone else to do it, the steps outlined above ought to be followed. If you decide to do it yourself, you’ll need to read up on graphic design and usability, Web technologies and emarketing.
If you hire an outside company to build a site for you, ask them how they plan to accomplish it. Ask them if they have a set method for building a new site or re-vamping an old one. If they have a good system, it ought to look a lot like the steps above. They ought to be proficient in all aspects of website development and be able to communicate to you everything they are doing and why. Remember, the better your site is initially and the better you manage your new site going forward, the better your business will be.
About the author
Jason O’Connor is the president of Oak Web Works (http://www.oakwebworks.com), a web marketing, design and programming firm located in Boston. He has clients in North America and Europe and has helped Intel, M.I.T., a New York Times best-selling author, a national ticket brokerage firm and many other types of businesses and people with their web needs. He has written numerous online articles that have been published on countless websites and in many e-newsletters. He also regularly speaks at the Boston Small Business Association and SCORE. He can be reached at [email protected].