Friday, February 6, 2009

6-Step Website Development Process

6-Step Website Development Process

There are a number of steps in the website design and development process. The number will vary slightly from designer to designer, but basically the process can be summarized by the following six steps:
1. Information Gathering
2. Planning
3. Design
4. Development
5. Testing and Delivery
6. Maintenance

Phase 1: Information GatheringThe first step in designing a successful website is to gather information. Many things need to be taken into consideration when the look and feel of a website is created. This first step is actually the most important in that involves a solid understanding of the company or organization that the website is being created for. It is important that a web designer start off by asking lots of questions to help them understand the target business and needs in a website.

Things to consider in this step include:
• Purpose - What is the purpose of the site? Should the site provide information, promote a service, sell a product… ?
• Goals - What is expected to be accomplished by building the website? Two of the more common goals are either to make money or share information.
• Target Audience – Who are the specific people that will help you reach your goals? It is helpful to picture the “ideal” person trageted to visit the website. Consider the demographics: age, sex or interests - this will later help determine the best design style for the website.
• Content - What kind of information will the target audience be looking for? Are they looking for specific information, a particular product or service, online ordering…?

Phase 2: Planning
Using the information collected from the first phase, the next step is to put together a plan for the website. At this point a site map is developed. The site map is a list of all main topic areas of the site, as well as sub-topics, where applicable. This serves as a guide as to what content and structure will be on the site, and is essential to developing a consistent, easy to understand navigational system. The end-user of the website - aka your customer - must be kept in mind when designing the site, after all, these people who will be buying your products or learning about your services. A good user interface creates an easy to navigate website

Phase 3: Design
With the information gathered up to this point, it’s time to determine the look and feel of the site. A web designer may create one or more prototype designs for the website. This can be accomplished using graphic (bmp or jpg) images of what the final design will look like or developing prototype pages that can be viewed by access to a non-public area of the website. This latter approach also facilitates review of work in progress.

Either way, the designer should allow previewing of the website project throughout the design and development stages. The most important reason for this is that it gives you the opportunity to express your likes and dislikes on the site design. In this phase, communication between both you and your designer is crucial to ensure that the final website will match your needs and taste. It is important to work closely together, exchanging ideas, until you arrive at the final design for your website.

Phase 4: Development
The developmental stage is the point where the website itself is created. At this time, a web designer will take all of the individual graphic elements from the prototype and use them to create the actual, functional site. This is typically done by first developing the home page, followed by a “shell” for the interior pages. The shell serves as a template for the content pages of your site, as it contains the main navigational structure for the web site. Once the shell has been created, the designer will take your content and distribute it throughout the site, in the appropriate areas.

This entire time, a designer should continue to make your in-progress website available to you for previewing, so that you can suggest any additional changes or corrections you would like to have done.

Phase 5: Testing & Delivery
At this point, web designers will attend to the final details and test the website. They will test things such as the complete functionality of forms or other scripts, as well last testing for last minute compatibility issues (viewing differences between different web browsers), ensuring that your website is optimized to be viewed properly in the most recent browser versions.

Once you give your web designer final approval, it is time to ‘Launch’ the site where the website is either uploaded to the hosting server, or the website is moved from a non-public area to the public area on the hosting server. Most web designers offer domain name registration and web hosting services as well. Once these accounts have been setup, and your website uploaded to the server, the site should be put through one last run-through. This is just precautionary, to confirm that all files have been uploaded correctly, and that the site continues to be fully functional.
This marks the official launch of your site, as it is now viewable to the public.

Phase 6: Maintenance
The development of a website is not necessarily over, though. One way to bring repeat visitors to your site is to offer new content or products on a regular basis. Most web designers will be more than happy to continue working together with you, to update the information on your website. Many designers offer maintenance packages at reduced rates, based on how often you anticipate making changes or additions to your website.

Other maintenance type items include SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SES (Search Engine Submission). This is the optimization of you web site with elements such as title, description and keyword tags which help your web site achieve higher rankings in the search engines. The previously mentioned code validation is something that plays a vital role in SEO, as well.
There are a lot of details involved in optimizing and submitting your website to the search engines - enough to warrant it’s own post. This is a very important step, because even though you now have a web site, you need to make sure that people can find it!

The Bottom Line
All in all, your web designer should work closely with you on a very similar process to this one. A good working relationship with your designer, including an open line of communication, is important to ensure they are creating a successful web site that will help your business grow.