10 steps to website development (simplified)
Creating a successful website can be overwhelming. The same goes for updating or improving your existing website. It can feel like a huge undertaking, you may feel like you don’t even know where to start.
The good news; with a little fore-thought, research and planning, creating a website can actually be a very manageable and enjoyable process.
Just like starting a 5000 piece puzzle, separating similar elements and taking it one piece at a time can simplify everything.
Let's break apart the process and ask a few questions to help you get a clearer vision of what you really want and/or need. Sometimes what you want, may not actually be what you need, only answering the following questions will help you choose the best path for your new site.
1. purpose and goals
Determine the true purpose of having a website.
- Will it be an e-commerce site designed to sell items online directly?
- Will it be mainly a static informational brochure for your business?
- Will it be a portal to some other online venture or domain?
- Will it feature a blog that you intend to update regularly with relevant information?
- Will you receive lead generation, orders or bookings through the site?
2. regional market analysis
This is possibly the most important part of all your marketing strategies. While the Internet maybe global, if you are relying on local sales and traffic, you need to cater to your neighborhood. A successful business knows as much as possible about any other business that may siphon off profits or potential customers.
- Who is your closest competition?
- How long have they been doing business in the area?
- Are they more established than you?
- Are their rates/prices similar to yours?
- How will your marketing efforts affect them, and the reverse?
3. choosing the right domain name
Choosing your domain name to specifically highlight the products or services that you offer is critical to the success of your website from all your marketing efforts.
- Is your primary service or product included in the domain name?
- Is the domain name too similar to your direct competition?
- Is the domain name too long or contains dashes or "tricky" spelling that may lose visitors?
- Choose .com over all others. You can try to purchase the .net and .org of the same domain name, but never the other way around. If someone owns the .com version of your domain name, all your marketing efforts will eventually benefit them, not you.
4. prioritize tasks, design, functionality and content
Determine what is critical for your website today. Write down what you need now, versus later. Leaving yourself room to grow can be part of a powerful marketing strategy
- What is the most important part or feature of your site?
- Can you start with a simple site and add more bells and whistles later?
- Will your webmaster or host be willing to add functionality as you go?
- How do you want your site to look and feel?
- Visit your competitors' sites to see what they're doing. You'll know what you like and do not like.
- Design is important, but not as important as your content, a pretty site that "says" nothing also does nothing.
- Your design should reflect the mood and message you are trying to convey, be explicit with your web designer about your tastes.
5. site pages, content and features
- Develop a list of your website requirements. Remember, "want" is not always "need" or what is best for your initial site. For example:
- Number of website pages or article items
- Amount of website storage (images and videos mean more storage space)
- Tools such as online forms, blogs, customer reviews, maps, slideshows
- Links to, or integration with, social media
- Video and/or audio players
- A shopping cart or e-books
- Tech support interfaces
- A responsive layout (so your website looks good and works correctly on mobile devices)
- An easy way to make content updates
6. diy vs. hiring a professional
Decide if you want to create a website yourself or if you want to outsource the development and design to an expert. Most DIY website building tools are now made with small business owners in mind, and do not require coding or design skills. Non-technical people can achieve a professional-looking result just by following the online instructions included with a good DIY tool.
The biggest issue with the DIY sites however, is control. Many of the DIY site builders like WIX, Google, GoDaddy and SiteBuilder allow you to enter your information, but changing content, ordering or even menus and logos can become a challenge. Also adding scripts, embeds, maps or video can be difficult without an understanding of basic CSS or HTML.
Another issue with the DIY website builder is the design component. Professional designers have studied color theory, typography and basic page layout to entice the viewer to do certain things. For instance, a predominantly red site provokes "action" and heightened energy, blues and greys a more muted professional feel, etc.. There is actually a science to it and if put together amaturishly, results could be less than favorable.
7. plan and develop content
Determine what website content is essential and create it. This is possibly the most difficult and time consuming part of the entire process, but it is also the most critical. SEO tricks come and go, but solid content will always be the factor that converts visitors to customers. Be brief but thorough, clear and consistent in your message. Understand exactly what the message is you're trying to convey. If you don't completely understand it, neither will your visitors.
- What information will your visitors find valuable?
- The "About" page should be clear and concise and include bios about the primaries with pictures?
- The "Service" type page should list all services you provide with a brief description of each.
- At a minimum, make sure your website shows your business’ contact information such as your location, phone number and a way for visitors and potential customer to contact you.
- Thoughtful consideration of content can make your marketing efforts much easier.
- Quality photos help sell the service or product. If food, make sure the photos are appetizing. If you all you have access to is bad photography, don't use any, the negative impact of bad imagery is insurmountable.
- Hire a photographer or use a subscription stock photography service. People are visual, high quality images make a statement. It will be worth the expense over all.
- The main menu should be easy to use, find, clearly worded.
- All links must work.
8. promote your site!
Think about how your visitors will find your website. How would you look for your services on Google or Yahoo if you did not know about you?
- Put your Web address everywhere possible including business cards, letterhead, social media, advertising, and online business directories.
- Experiment with paid search advertisements to attract pay-per-click traffic to your website. Often a Google Ad campaign with well chosen keywords can give you that initial boost to get your site found right off the bat. Unfortunately, it can be expensive.
- Avoid allowing a SEO marketer to change the message of your pages just to get "hits". That is an ineffective way for conversion of visits to sales.
- Make sure you have relevant keywords and description meta tags on ALL pages. Relevant metas are derived from the content of the page. Make sure the keywords and descriptions fit what is actually on the page.
- Make sure all images that are used on your site have "alt tags" this is a description of what you're trying to say with that specific image about the content or page it appears on.
9. track your performance
Understand how your website is performing and who is coming to your site. Website analytics can yield great insights into what you need to do more of, or what you need to change. You can install an external analytics program, or use one provided by your website builder tool or hosting company.
- Ask your host for monthly reports if you cannot setup analytics.
- Google your business at least monthly. That will help you get a feel for where your site is in the grand scheme of things.
- Watch where your competitiors are in relationship to your site. What are they doing that may have them in above your listing?
10. your website is alive, feed it!
Continually adding relevant and interesting content will ultimately keep your visitors coming back to your site, thus increasing the potential to convert them to customers.
- Testimonials are a great way to promote the company and update regularly (weekly/monthly)
- If you have a company Facebook page that gets updated often place a feed on your home page.
- Remember; Facebook is useful in a consumer site, while LinkedIn updates are more effective for a Business-to-Business site.
- Create a blog, that allows you to promote various "new" features or services. (weekly/monthly) . If you do have a blog, you MUST post at least monthly. Nothing turns visitors off like a neglected site.
- Change out imagery often, quality photos can add a "bang" factor that might be lacking on dry content.
- Visit your own site at least monthly to get a feel for what your visitors see.
- Communicate with your webmaster at least monthly. Let them know about specials, events or news that might be relevant to your site's content. Your webmaster or host should be happy to update your content as often as you need them to (if that is in your agreement).