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Planning a Website


29. November 2009 17:05

Planning a website project

Before jumping into any project it always makes sense to do a little planning beforehand to ensure the project runs smoothly, website projects are no different.

During website planning and brainstorming sessions write down notes and questions you may have.

Follow these basic steps as a guide:

  1. Choose an appropriate domain name.
  2. In a notebook set aside a page for each web page you require on your website and make the page title the name of the web page section.
  3. Begin to jot down notes relating to each website section on its page in your notebook.
  4. Look at your competitors websites and sites you like and use these as inspiration for your website.  Make a note of:
    • Websites you like and why
    • Website you don’t like and why
    • Elements of websites you like (e.g. colours, layout, navigation and content)
  5. Start gathering materials and information you want to put on your website.
    • Company logo
    • Brochures
    • Website text
      • About your company
      • What your company does
      • Contact details
      • List of products/services
    • Photos and images
    • Testimonials

While planning your website you should consider the following:

  1. The purpose or objective of the website
  2. Target audience of the website
  3. How will we drive traffic to the site (get people to visit) – Introduction to search engine marketing
  4. How often will we update the website?  Would a content management system be beneficial?
  5. Development budget, on-going marketing/maintenance budget

Read more about the web development and design process.

Picture used under Creative Commons from aarontait

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

Web Browser Testing


31. August 2009 18:27

An essential part of web development involves building websites that are cross-browser compatible. Cross-browser compatibility ensures a website will look and function correctly in a range of different web browsers.
Unlike a few years ago when Microsoft's Internet Explorer dominated the web browser market, the chances are users are more likely to use a wider variety of web browsers to navigate the internet, such as Apple's Safari web browser or Mozilla's Firefox, there are others too such as Opera and Google's Chrome.  This is down to a number of reasons including the increase in popularity of Apple Mac computers and well publicised security problems with Internet Explorer.

Web browser testing is essential to ensure a user experience is consistent irrespective of which browser a user chooses to browse the web but also to ensure you don't alienate a potential customers.

Supporting the latest versions of each web browser isn't necessarily good enough however.  Often, as is the case with Internet Explorer (IE), a website has to be compatible with a number of versions of a web browser as is currently the case with IE 6, IE 7 and IE 8.  The stats below obtained from Google Analytics show Internet Explorer versions used to browse a client website.

Internet Explorer browser versions To determine what web browsers you should support you need to analyse your log files* for browser versions your visitors are using to browse your website.  If you don't have a website yet then check the latest web browser statistics for the market share of each browser version.

* If you are using Google Analytics, you can obtain browser share like the graph below by clicking on Visitors > Browser Capabilities > Browsers in the left navigation.

An example of web browser statistics obtained from Google Analytics

If you already have a website and you're wondering what it looks like on different web browsers you might want to try browser shots, a free web browser testing tool (However I would suggest that you only test web browsers you wish to support).

Remember: If you are commissioning a web developer to build a website on your behalf ensure you stipulate what web browsers you wish to support before any web development begins.

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.

Should I try a Free Website Builder or use a Professional Web Agency?


7. August 2009 21:57

There are a lot of free website builders cropping up on the internet lately, and during a recession it can be tempting for a small business or sole trader to use a free or cheap "pay monthly" website builder rather than forking out a lump sum to a professional web design agency.

A professionally designed site will almost always surpass a cheap or free out-of-the-box solution in almost everyway, but don't dismiss them straight outright.  A lot of the website builders have free trials that allow you to demo the websites to see what you get.

Get a Web Presence!

Studies show that half of the UKs small businesses don't have a website, and half of those businesses think that a website wouldn't deliver any real benefits.

These businesses might find that the low cost of an off the shelf website builder package could tempt them into creating their first website.  Chances are they won't regret the decision!

If you are one of the businesses without a web presence, you should read our post entitled why do I need a website for my business.

Upgrade to a Professional Website

After trialling an out-of-the-box website, the business owner will have a fairly good idea what the package can and can't do and be in a good position to create a list of requirements for a custom designed website.  These may include:

Paying for a Website

Like the majority of businesses web agencies are also being effected by the recession and as such many are prepared to go the extra mile to win new clients.  This can work to the advantage of a small business by being able to negotiate on price or get more website for the budget.
You may also find many agencies will also allow you to spread the cost of a website over a number of months to lessen the burden.

Contact us today to enquire about our competitive prices and monthly payment plans!