Over 4 billion people across the globe are now using the internet – that’s over 54 percent of the world’s total population! There’s no doubt that as a business in today’s digital world, having an online presence is an absolute necessity to remain competitive and reach your target market.
Your company’s website is an important factor in establishing your online presence and has the potential to be your most powerful marketing tool. If it is not up to scratch (or non-existent) this can cause your visitors to doubt your credibility and question your expertise.
Whether you are about to take your first leap online or looking to transform an underperforming or outdated website, this development guide is for you. Having just re-launched our own website and with experience building over 80 websites for our clients, we share some of our lessons learnt and walk you through the 8 step process of developing and launching an industry leading website.
8 steps to website development
The process of website development can be challenging, especially if digital is foreign territory to you and your team. Our easy step-by-step guide helps you plan the development process in advance, allocate resources and eliminate much of the confusion surrounding what needs to be done.
It’s important that you have a clear vision in mind for your website. Get online and start searching for some inspiration. The process of discovery will involved looking at your competitors websites or looking at sites winning awards in your industry. Explore what your competitors are doing and make a note of what you do and don’t like.
At Thirst Creative, we began our discovery process with a questionnaire designed to delve deeper into what we really wanted and needed from our website development. This approach ensured that our final product had the look, feel and functionality that we wanted it to.
Throughout the development process make sure that you ask plenty of questions and constantly research features and functionality being used in your industry. If everyone in your industry offers a planning or appointment booking tool on their site, then it would be remiss of you to not include similar features.
If you are in need of further guidance, follow our discovery phase checklist below.
Discovery Phase Checklist
Review your existing website – Is the content on your site compelling? Does it communicate your key message? Is it working for your business and achieving the intended purpose?
- Set your goals – What does a successful website look like for you? What is the end goal and are there any deadlines?
- Define your website’s purpose – An ecommerce website is going to have very different features to a health care centre’s site. Do you need a payment system? Should visitors be able to book appointments? It’s important to consider the functional requirements – what will users actually do on the site – as this will ultimately affect how your website is used by your visitors.
- Research your competitors website development – What is the industry benchmark for quality? What are your competitors doing well and what areas can you do better?
- Do you have any standards to meet? – Government sites and many health service websites need to meet minimum accessibility standards. Is accessibility important to you? Are you required to deliver content in different languages?
- Determine your target audience – A youth oriented site will be completely different to a website for baby boomers. Who is it you want to communicate to and keep coming back for more?
- Set a realistic budget. – The more complicated your website development, the more time and resources will be required to build it. Do some research and match your expectations with your budget.
Similar to constructing a house, sketching a blueprint for the structure of your website development is a necessary step in the development process. You will need a sitemap which outlines the page hierarchy and determines how the end user will navigate your site. A sitemap will also help you set up an SEO friendly website.
As an example, you can see our initial sitemap below. Once we identified the structure of our website, we were able to start thinking about the content that we wanted on each page.
Once your sitemap is outlined you can begin to create a wireframe. A wireframe is a basic design mockup, typically sketched in black and white. It uses boxes and placeholder text to indicate where key elements such as menus, photos, call to actions (CTA) and text will appear.
Because wireframes strip away the design, you can focus on the structure and layout of page elements and make sure the your key content is featured prominently on each page.
This is a crucial step towards optimising the user experience (UX) of your site and increasing conversions through design.
Now that you have a sitemap and wireframe on hand, it’s time to decide how your website will look. At this stage it is useful to start looking at other websites for some design references, but you must also consider the visual identity of your brand and how that will transfer to the web.
Make sure you focus on maintaining brand consistency – your website development will impact how customers perceive, touch and interact with your brand.
Use your existing brand strategy and visual style guides to make sure your designer stays on the right track and your website acts in cohesion with all of your other communication channels.
If you’re starting to feel like your business doesn’t really have a consistent brand strategy, check out our related post below.
And don’t forget about designing for mobile! Google now has a mobile-first indexing and ranking system, preferencing the mobile version of a site, to better help users find what they are looking for. According to GlobalWebIndex desktops are still frequently used, but more and more people are relying primarily on mobile devices to experience the web.
Look at the analytics for your existing website and consult industry benchmarks to determine how important mobile is for your target audiences. For most industries mobile users are fast becoming number one. If you have high mobile traffic, your design will need a mobile-first approach.
At Thirst Creative we design websites that are responsive across all devices to ensure your website looks great no matter how people choose to access it.
Through analysing our own data, we noticed that we had a high volume of desktop traffic visiting our site. As a result, our website was designed with a desktop-first approach to better serve the majority of our visitors, but is still compatible across tablet, laptop and mobile too.
This is when all of your ideas, functions, structure and design comes to life! Most modern websites will need to be developed on a solid Content Management System (CMS). When choosing your platform, we highly recommend selecting one that is open source, such as Craft CMS or WordPress.
Open source platforms ensure a large pool of experts are on hand to help you build and maintain your website on an ongoing basis, you’re not locked into a proprietary system and you can build and rebuild off the same platform without having to start from scratch each time.
Once a CMS platform is in place, your developer will create your homepage first, followed by the shell of the website (this is the template to ensure all pages flow with each other.) Once the shell is in place the content can be added. This includes all graphic elements and additional technological functions such as e-commerce carts, interactive forms and social media integrations.
5. Content population
If you want to kick goals with a high traffic website then quality content should be a high priority for you. Content is still king and all other components such as design and function are there to support it.
So the pressure is on to generate great content, but that may be harder than you think. Creating the content for each page needs careful consideration. This is your sales pitch, so you need to consider the purpose of each page and what you want people to do next. Whether that be browsing through more content on your site, filling in a form or survey, signing up for a demonstration or actually buying something, you need to have a strong call to action.
Then you need to think about ongoing content updates. A well thought-out content strategy will allow you to develop content around your core service or product features over time and ensure that your site is always fresh, which is important from an search engine optimisation (SEO) perspective.
This strategy will set out the foundations for all content published on your site and ensure that it acts in cohesion with your brand and all other content published through your channels. A strategy will also act as the support for SEO tactics.
Content is quickly becoming the number one way to optimise your SEO. Google is such a fan of high quality content, they have altered their algorithms to favour it. They will also rank your site higher if you execute content well. Luckily Google hasn’t left us in the dark, and has tools to help you create relevant content for your audience.
Once the site has been developed, content has been loaded and the site is ready to go live, a last minute test should be done, checking and correcting any functionality issues with your new site.
At Thirst Creative our team run thorough quality assurance tests to ensure all links, form submissions and backups are working optimally before launching. We then check if the site is compatible across all different devices and browsers.
At this stage it is important to ensure that the site loads quickly as site visitors hate waiting and Google penalises slow websites. During this stage we also add plugins to enhance website security and check that all files have been loaded correctly.
7. Deployment and maintenance
After the new website has passed all its tests, including your final approval, it will be time for the site to launch live to your audience! But the process doesn’t end here. It is only just the beginning…
Your website will need tender loving care as time goes on to ensure it is constantly up to date with security updates and technical changes to the internet and those of your business. An ongoing website maintenance package will ensure your website isn’t left behind when it comes to bug fixing and updating or optimising for new features.
Your website should also receive a monthly performance review. The best way to do this is with Google analytics, as it delivers a report card that lets you delve deep down into traffic trends to see what is working well and areas that need improvement. It is also useful to uncover your ranking position and further inform your keyword and content tactics.
There’s no point spending money developing your website if no one ever visits it. The old idea of “build it and they will come” doesn’t apply anymore.
In an online world that is saturated with content and business options, just being there isn’t enough. You need to look at your marketing strategy and re-evaluate how you integrate your website into your existing marketing mix. Think about how you can use other digital marketing tools to drive traffic to your new site.
A new website will require content and promotion and if this isn’t already part of your marketing plan, you are missing out on a prime opportunity to promote your site as an information hub and lead generation tool.
Obstacles and challenges are inevitable
Now that you have an idea of the steps you need to follow, it’s time we reminded you that developing a new company website is very rarely a seamless process. In fact, it can be quite a bumpy road, especially if you have many stakeholders involved.
As with all long-term projects there are often a few factors and obstacles that can throw your process completely if you don’t know how to manage or deal with them.
Here are three of the most common hurdles you may encounter and our tips to overcoming them:
Trying to please too many stakeholders and dealing with an overwhelming number of opinions
We get it! It’s not just you calling the shots. But it is important to remember that too many opinions can lead you to stray away from your digital strategy, waste precious time and shift your focus to less-than-important, small and minute details.
So how do you manage the burden of competing opinions and an overwhelming number of people having their say? With a filter. Choose one person in your team and give them the task of collating and filtering your team’s opinions. It is important that this person has clear focus and is capable of sticking to your original strategy.
By doing this, you create a single point for feedback and nominate someone to take on the role as gatekeeper to your website development.
Building a new website is a labour-intensive process
Don’t underestimate the time it will take to get your website to the point where you are ready to launch. Building a new website is a labour intensive process, even if you have outsourced an agency or developer to do most of the work for you. Your feedback and opinion is still needed throughout the entire process.
So prepare yourself. Make sure you are ready for the challenge. As a guide, here at Thirst Creative, we recommend our clients schedule 2-4 hours per week to review our progress and give their feedback.
Remember that time is money! By giving regular feedback you ensure that the money you are spending on getting someone to build your site is being used as efficiently as possible and not on restructuring or re-designs the week before launch.
Content development is a lengthy process
Content is king! We know this phrase is totally overused, but it is still relevant. Your content is the most important part of your site so it needs careful planning, drafting and playing around with.
If you are writing your own content… then prepare yourself. Copywriting takes a loonnnnnnggggg time. Mainly because it is so important to get your messaging right. Take your time, conduct thorough research and understand that you will probably re-write your content multiple times over. Also bare in mind that a sentence on paper can often look like a paragraph in digital form, so write concisely, use short sentence structures and choose words that create your desired impact.
Designing can also be time consuming. Prepare for different rounds of feedback, tweaks and prototypes. As we mentioned above, your feedback and opinion is an important part of this process. Your designer will be working to your brief so you need to make sure that they stick to it.
Nothing is ever finished
Your website is live. You’ve done the hard yards, or so you think! While it is definitely worth celebrating such a massive accomplishment for your organisation, remember that nothing is ever finished when it comes to website development. Now that your website is live, it is going to need constant maintenance, updating, optimisation and possibly the addition of more pages.
You will also want to regularly evaluate how your new website is performing and take a look at your analytics so you can make sure your site is giving your customers what they are after.
At Thirst Creative, we provide our clients with monthly reporting on their website’s performance. This provides them with the insight they need to constantly optimise their site and helps them achieve their desired outcomes.
Where to from here?
So there you have it. Our 8 step process to building a great company website that works for your and helps you to achieve your business goals.
Can’t wait to get started? Get in touch with our team today.