Ever wonder how a website gets designed? It isn’t magic. You don’t swing by, drop off your check and come back 10 weeks later for the launch. If you want something which really meets your objectives then the development of your website must be a collaborative and interactive process. While your web design team is responsible for the heavy lifting, you will need to provide timely feedback, decisions and content to fill the pages to keep the project on schedule.
So what does a web design process look like?
It starts with some homework. Before you sit down with the web team take time to gather basic information:
- Where is your domain name registered and do you have control
- Where is your current site hosted and will you be switching the hosting?
- Do you have the account usernames and passwords?
- Do you already have a Gmail account and Google analytics set up for your existing site?
- How is your email managed. Will it need to change with this upgrade?
- Do you have a vector version of your logo, photos and other graphics you want to include in the site?
- Feature list. Do you want a calendar, appointment scheduling tool, testimonial or portfolio page or members only sections? Be sure to have a complete list before you go to the kick off meeting.
Bring Everyone Together for a Kick Off Meeting.
If someone is going to have input into the final product, bring them into the conversation. This first meeting is where you will set the project scope, including features, key messages and priorities. In every design project there are decisions made which will influence other elements down the road.
On many occasions I have seen someone who wasn’t involved in the first meeting throw a wrench into the plans several weeks into the process by requesting changes to elements already agreed upon. Don’t let this happen to you. Get agreement from all stakeholders early.
Plan the Content.
What is your primary call to action? Where do you want site visitors to go once they arrive on your site? Talk through these important details with your web design team. Agree up front who will write the copy for each page. In our experience this is the piece which usually slows down a project. Start working on your content as soon as you agree on the site map (outline).
Review content on your existing site to determine what content, if any, will be transferred to the new site. Review your sales material for other information which should be included in the site.
Approve the Mockup
Once the site map is outlined, you will see a preliminary wire frame or mockup of the home page. Colors, text, images and other details will change during the development. The primary objective at this step is to get agreement on basic placement of information and functionality.
Don’t rush this step. Take time to review the mockup, share it with key stake holders and provide feedback. Once the mockup is approved your web design team will start coding based on the preliminary design. This is the time to raise issues about site structure and specific features.
Once the shell is built, it is time to start adding content. Hopefully you have been working on the written information while the coding was being finalized. Missing information can delay the progress of the development process. As you are finalizing the content your web team will be installing analytic and SEO tools to help you manage the site once it is done.
About this point in the process, you will start seeing buttons, sliders and call to action graphics. This is when you need to check both styling and function. Do the navigation menus and calls to action drive visitors to the right places and do you have information ready when they arrive?
This is a good time to test all the landing pages, download offers and payment gateways in your shopping cart.
If you are going to manage your website after it is launched, schedule time with your web developer to be trained on how the site works. Ideally, the session is conducted early in the development process to give you a better understanding of how the site is being constructed. The sooner you are hands on with the tools the more comfortable you will be taking over the site upon launch.
Final Function Checks and Review
You are almost ready. As your web design team is running through the last reviews and testing, you should be working on your launch plan which might include emails to customers and prospects and status updates on social media platforms.
Then, once your site is launched, your web team should submit the site map to all major search engines and create 301 redirects from your existing site to insure continuity.
Take a moment and enjoy your new site. Now start working on blog posts and other updates to keep it fresh so you can make the most of the process you have just gone through.