The Website Process
Surely by now everyone in the business world recognizes the importance of having a professional website. Years ago, a man with a pickaxe and a little luck could strike it rich by unearthing an untapped oil deposit, instantaneously becoming a wealthy man. For the past twenty years, websites have become (metaphorically speaking) the new oil deposits. Today, it takes a lot more work than just hitting the right spot on the ground with a blunt and sharp instrument, but the fact of the matter is, countless people have struck it rich thanks to the internet.
But what are they doing that you or others aren't? What's the secret to their success? Why have they prospered when so many others have failed? The fact of the matter is that there is no substitute for a great idea. It goes without saying that if your idea is solid and your implementation is good, the success will follow. However it's important to note that the vast majority of website sensations didn't make their money solely based on their product or service alone. Marketing is a huge factor of success, and when it comes to marketing your website can be your best friend or that creepy guy that you picked up on the side of the road because you always thought it would be fun to see what it would be like to get mugged. The fact of the matter is, a well put together website is substantially better than a cheap and dirty just for now website. This leads me to my main point: The website design process... Where it begins, what to expect, who to trust, steps to take etc.
The first step in any project, be-it web design or building a house is the planning phase. It's probably safe to say that if you see a building or a house that wasn't planned out by a professional, you should probably stay out of it, because you're going to be crushed.
The website consultation stage is nothing more than a meeting to discuss what it is that you want, and what it is that you need. It's important to understand the difference when it comes to website design, because it's really easy to get carried away. Using our house metaphor, do you really need a retractable roof because you saw it on the Super Dome?
Things that are typically needed for most projects include: The ability to edit content (without having to rehire a developer) A "Home" page with the general information that you intend to show in more detail on other pages of your site A "Contact Us" page with a form or some other display of contact information An "About Us" page where you can discuss the history of the company or services provided A "Gallery" page where viewers can come and look at high quality images of your product(s)/service(s) A "Blog" page where you can update your viewers on the latest and greatest I'm sure that there are things that aren't listed above, that are necessary to your site, but I wanted to make clear that the elements that are "needed" are those that are on virtually every site. Everything else typically falls into the "want" category. Once all of the information pertaining to your wants and needs has been established, the hard work begins.
Gathering Website Components
You wouldn't begin building a house without lumber and nails, and we wouldn't begin building a website without all the essentials either. For the most part, clients already have some of the basics covered, but in case you're unfamiliar with the basics, here are some things that are necessary for any web developer to have before starting the process of building the website:
URL If you don't already have a URL, we will help you acquire one for your business. You can also purchase a URL through a multitude of domain providers. You'll also need FTP credentials. This sounds more complicated than it is. Basically when you purchase your domain, you'll be given a username and password where you can view your account on the domain provider's site. We need that information (quick tip: make the password different than the one you use for everything else, because we need to know it). Hosting is something that is offered when you purchase your domain, but many times you don't need it right away, as we can set you up with a good hosting company when your site is ready to launch. The other essentials that we need (typically, but not always) is content. This includes, pictures you have that need to be put on the site, text for each of the pages (unless you want to pay someone to write your content for you), contact information, prices, product/service names and anything else that you want on your site. Website Design Phase (The Wacom Pen is Mightier Than... Well, Anything)
The Design Process
Designing a website is significantly more difficult than people (namely non website designers) make it out to be. The fact is, in order to create an effective website, one must blueprint out the entire concept beforehand. It's basically like doing a thousand piece puzzle of pure blue sky with no edge pieces. Why is this hard you ask? Well, let's take the Allamar Design website as an example: If you were to open up the "work" page, you'll see the tiled portfolio images and projects that we've designed... But the layout itself has to be conceptualized beforehand. How many images should appear on the page? Should they be slightly transparent? How will they look when someone rolls over them with their mouse? How do you show more images? What will be the layout when you get to the subsequent page? How will the text look... and so on and so on. This may seem easy, but if you want your site to be user-friendly for grandma, I can assure you that it's not. There are millions of websites out there that you've undoubtedly come across that you've opened, taken one look at and left (hint: it wasn't the developers fault).
This process depending on complexity commonly ranges between 2-4 weeks. Certainly it can go faster than this, it can also be tremendously slower, depending on all sorts of things, but be aware when getting into this, that instant gratification is next-to impossible.
The design phase will end with your designer sending you a "comp" of the design. This is nothing more than a snapshot of what the site will look like when it goes live. This is effectively a proof for you to review and decide upon. Now, depending on the contract, you may be entitled to some revisions, or you may not (depends on the company, depends on the price etc.). With that said, when you have your opportunity to go over the comp, REALLY GO OVER IT! Too often, clients will return to the designer after asking for a few specific revisions and will ask for more. This is something that in many cases will get you one of three responses: 1. You will get a wonderful response and a designer willing to bend over backwards to make revisions forever. 2. You'll get the dreaded "sorry, we've already moved onto the next phase and we'd have to bill extra for that." 3. you can get fired as a customer. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes a firm will literally tell you to kick rocks and will completely scrap the project. Also, it should be known that option 1 doesn't happen very often either.
After you've agreed upon the design of your website, the designer will send off the completed files to the developer where the incomprehensible code work begins. I say it's incomprehensible, because if you've ever looked at it, it's about as readable to a layman as hieroglyphics. If you want to see what I'm talking about, right click on a website and click "Inspect Element" or "View Source" and enjoy.
A website Developer will use a multitude of different languages to turn the design of the site into a functional website. Allamar Design's Lead Programmer might kill me for this metaphor, but if you think of all of the languages like the makeup of the human body, it may make more sense.
The average time for a website to get developed once the design is in the hands of a developer is between 3-5 weeks. This again depends highly on the functionality that is decided upon in stage 1. These time estimates are fairly typical amongst the most expensive, high-end firms as well. Not always of course as they usually have a team of developers all working on that one site.
Website Soft Launch
This is where the Developer will put your site up on a test server and allow you to go through it and make sure that everything is as you expected. Keep in mind that when you completed stage 1, you should be aware of what you're getting. If you're confused or uncertain of what you're getting at the end of stage 1, ASK! Don't wait. You wouldn't ask the building company that constructed your house to tear it all down, because you didn't like the trim. If you did, you can probably guess what the result of that request would be, "sure we'll tear it down, but you can find someone else to rebuild it." You don't want that.
This stage is also meant for bug testing. This is where the developer and designer work together to try and literally make the site break (in a manner of speak). We want to do everything in our power to make the site not work when we do something or some combination of things. This way, when we spot the problems, we can fix it and none of your potential clients will think you're an idiot for going with someone other than us.
As you guessed, this is the moment you've been waiting for for all those sleepless nights. This is the day when your website is unveiled to the world. It's been a long time coming and we've had our ups... hopefully no downs, but if we did, just know we still love you. If you've gotten your website through us, you have a content management system that is going to make your life exponentially easier, and you're well on your way to striking oil.
Now What? Well, to be honest, that's up to you. If you want to start doing some marketing for your website, we can certainly help you with that. If you're looking for search engine optimization (SEO) we can help you with that too. If you want to get a custom email, different hosting, offsite backup or maintenance services we can help you there too. The point is, you now have the main component of your web presence completed, now it's up to you to decide how to push your product/service.