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Web Development and Design Process


31. October 2009 18:54

Creating an effective website that will generate sales involves a number of different skills and processes to work in harmony. 

  1. Branding – Creating a brand identity or defined proposition for your company.
  2. Web Design – Designing a website incorporating the brand identity and features required.
  3. Web Development – Building a website from the web design visuals.
  4. Copyrighter – Writing killer sales copy.
  5. Search Engine Marketing – Optimising and marketing your website through organic and/or pay-per-click channels.
website-process

If all goes to plan, the development process will result in a clear and focused website that:

Read more about the web development process here.

If you’re still not convinced you need a website, read our post: Why do I need a website for my business.

Picture used under Creative Commons from veribatim

The Web Development Process


22. August 2009 17:56

From an initial client brief through to site launch the web development process can be divided up into a number of stages.  Here is a quick overview of what is involved in each stage. 

Analysis

The analysis stage involves talking to the client to gather requirements and determining the websites objectives.

The analysis stage will ensure the team understand the client's needs which is vital in ensuring the project delivers a solution that achieves the client's objectives.

Skills and resources required to complete the project will be assessed and a project plan will be put in place to deliver the website in line with the client's requirements.

A cost to deliver the project will be calculated and a proposal sent to the client.

Information Architecture & User Experience Specification

Assuming the client is happy to proceed and a signed proposal and deposit have been received, the specification stage will begin.

This involves defining how the information contained in the website will be presented in the form of a sitemap and set of wire frames diagrams.  These help develop the hierarchy, structure and navigation of the web pages that form the website and how each page will be laid out structurally. 

This stage is important as it will effect how users locate the information on your site they are looking for, a poorly structured site can hinder potential customers, which may mean fewer sales if they can't find what they are looking for quickly enough.

If the website contains interactivity that cannot be captured by a wireframe or sitemap, a functional spec will be written to communicate the intended functionality.

Web Content

Ideally the web copy should be sourced from the client before the web design stage as the content forms a large proportion of the design and the length of the copy on key pages can influence how a page is laid out and designed.

Where possible professionally written web copy is preferred as it will ideally include keywords and phrases to assist the search engine optimisation process.

Once the copy has been written another copywriter should proof-read it for typos, style and inconsistencies.

Web Design

A web designers job will involve taking output from the first three stages of the development process (the client brief, web copy, site map and wireframes) together with any existing corporate branding to produce a design for the website.

Web Development

Following the client approval of the design, the development phase can begin.  This stage will see the design transformed into HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Depending on the requirements of the client, a content management system may be built onto the website to allow the client to make website amends through an easy to use administration panel.

Once complete, a prototype will be deployed to a test website so the client can submit feedback.

Quality Assurance

The QA testing phase aims to ready the website for launch. 

The website will be tested on a number of popular web browsers and versions (Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox, Safari, Chrome), platforms (Apple Mac, PC) and monitor sizes.

The website code will be checked for errors and conformity to W3C guidelines for HTML and CSS.  Web accessibility compliance will also be checked.

The site will be inspected for broken links and missing images, and any forms on the site will be rigorously tested.

Deployment

The deployment of the website will differ depending if the site is new or a redesign of an existing website.  It generally involves migrating databases and website files to a live server, pointing domain name(s), setting up mailboxes and generally ensuring the site is running smoothly.

Deploying a website that is replacing an existing website is more involved as it requires special instructions in-place to ensure users who have bookmarked pages of the old site will be redirected to the most appropriate page on the new website.  This also helps search engines update its index.

Website Promotion

This stage is vital to ensure you get visitors and potential customers arriving at your new website. 

Depending on the most appropriate strategy for your website this can include search engine marketing, search engine optimisation techniques and or traditional offline marketing.

Maintenance and Updating

Most websites will require updating every now and then to keep them current, these may be simple content updates made through a content management system or slight changes to the design/navigation which require technical assistance.

Occasionally a bug or error might be discovered with the website and need correcting.

Organic SEO Takes Time and Effort


9. August 2009 18:48

Like an old tree that takes time to mature, so does an SEO campaignIf you require your website to attract new customers from search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing then read on.

Search Engine Optimisation is important and should play a key role in defining the content and structure of your website before you even consider hiring a web developer, but SEO doesn't stop when the website goes live, a search engine friendly website is only part of the optimisation process.

SEO is a continual process and can be broken up into two categories, off-page optimisation and on-page optimisation.  On-page optimisation ensures your website is search engine friendly and optimised for your target keywords and phrases, but a search engine friendly website alone is rarely enough to drive traffic to your site unless your business is a very niche market.  To improve your search engine ranking you will need to perform some off-page optimisation to establish your website's reputation and authority.

Off-page Optimisation

Off-page optimisation is the process of building reputation for your website content which in turn aims to increase your ranking in search engines for your target keywords and phrases.  Reputation on the web is measured in backlinks to your website.  Google calculates your website's reputation with its PageRank algorithm and the other main search engines use similar ranking methods.

Link Building

There are a number of methods and strategies involved in gaining reputation, but unfortunately most of them require time and effort to acquire.  These include:

  • Creating link bait with a blog (creating content other people want to link to)
  • Reciprocal linking (swapping links with other websites)
  • Purchasing links - buying links is a violation of Google's webmaster guidelines
  • Asking similar/complementary organisations for a link to your website
  • Promoting via social networking sites (e.g. social bookmarking sites like delicious.com, and social media sites like digg.com)
  • Forum posting
  • Press releases
  • Directory listings

Not all Backlinks are Equal

The best links you can get to your website are links from authority websites whose sector/business/topic closely relates to your website. If you are building links just to build PageRank you are going about the process in the wrong way, build links that ultimately help humans find your site from related websites.  If you do this you won't go too far wrong, just beware that Google does not like the link building process as it undermines the PageRank system.  So please read Google's Webmaster Guidelines and stick to them.

Aim for quality links over quantity, and remember SEO requires time and patience.  Don't expect miracles over night.  If you can't wait for the fruits of your SEO to take effect you should consider pay-per-click advertising as an interim solution.

Photo used under Creative Commons from Scudsone.

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Meta Tags and Search Ranking


29. July 2009 18:46

There are a number of meta tags that can be used on web pages, this post focuses on the two most misunderstood meta tags: meta keywords and meta description.

The Meta Keywords Tag

A lot of newcomers to search engine optimisation (SEO) believe that optimising a website involves writing a long list of keywords that describe your business, products and services which are then added to the website's meta keywords tags.  This was indeed the original idea behind the meta keywords tag, but over time this system was abused by webmasters "stuffing" the meta keywords tag with as many keywords as possible in order to improve their search engine ranking.  This led a lot of search engines reducing the influence of meta keywords or ignoring them completely. 
John Mueller of Google Webmaster Central stated:

"we generally ignore the contents of the "keywords" meta tag. As with other possible meta tags, feel free to place it on your pages if you can use it for other purposes - it won't count against you."

The Meta Description Tag

This meta tag is used to describe or summarise the page contents, it generally doesn't influence a web page's search engine ranking, but Google for instance may use its contents to create the description displayed in the Google search results.  Google state:
"While the use of a description meta tag is optional and will have no effect on your rankings, a good description can result in a better snippet, which in turn can help to improve the quality and quantity of visitors from our search results."

Conclusion

Meta keywords and meta description tags are optional tags and have limited benefit especially in terms of SEO.  We recommend you don't spend too much time writing them, instead spend that time writing more content for your website or improving existing content.  If you do want to include them focus on the meta tags for the most important pages of your website.

10 Reasons to Start a Business Blog


26. June 2009 15:08

If you are unsure whether your company should be blogging on your corporate website here are ten reasons why you should consider it.  You might also want to read our overview of blogging to understand what all the fuss is about.

  1. A blog is an inexpensive marketing tool.
  2. They allow you to talk to your customers in an informal way.
  3. A blog is a good way to inform and educate visitors about your products and services.
  4. A blog can make your company seem more approachable.
  5. Having a blog on your business website can help its search engine ranking overall.
  6. A blog can help you generate sales leads.
  7. You can start a two-way conversation with your customers and show that you listen to what your customers have to say.
  8. Your customers comments can help you develop products and services that better match their needs.
  9. A blog lets you communicate your company's expertise within your sector/industry.
  10. Positive comments left on your blog from happy customers act as recommendations for your product or service.