When designing a website, there are five steps or phases to account for. There’s the project kickoff, site architecture, web page design, website development, and launch. Each phase has its distinct purpose, and the attention given to each phase can make or break the success of your website project.
This post is not about the value of a good website that converts leads. This post assumes you already know that value. Rather, I want to focus on what you, a business owner, can expect during the process of building that website with an agency partner.
If you’re like most new businesses (or well-established ones, for that matter), you know how important it is to have a website. A robust website helps you make sales, build awareness, and reach a large audience. And chances are, you’re at a point where you need to build (or refresh) your website. Websites only have a few years of relevance before they need some major attention.
Let’s face it, you have a lot on your plate — building and nurturing client relationships, opening a new office and hiring staff, ordering new business cards, meeting with shareholders, combing through reports, and making whatever product it is that got you to where you are in the first place. It’s overwhelming. Now you need that new website up so you can meet the expectations of your clients and shareholders.
Matter has built sites for companies across all kinds of industries and our approach is the same each time. Why? Because our experience tells us it works. Another thing that experience has taught us is that it can be easy for a business to feel left in the dark throughout the website building process, which can sometimes take months depending on the size and type of site. This process can be complex and requires input from people on several different teams in your company.
A breakdown of what you can expect while you work through the process of building or refreshing a website may help shed some light on this complex process.
PHASE I — Discovery + Kickoff
Expect a long meeting at the beginning of a website project. Your agency is going to want to gain a good understanding of your target audience, business goals, and your goals for the site. This is true even if you’ve worked with the agency before. Your business, your competitors, and your customers evolve over time, and it’s important to plan for the future when building a website.
Have all the decision-makers at that initial meeting — this will help give your agency a fuller picture and will make those department heads feel better knowing their input will be a part of the strategy. It will also help everyone to understand the process and get on the same page so there are no surprises later. After this meeting you should expect a comprehensive schedule of the project as a deliverable.
Things you’ll need to consider here:
- A contact person. Identify which team member will facilitate communications with your agency throughout this process.
- Hosting. Where will your site live? Typical hosting options include GoDaddy, Bluehost, and DreamHost. Your agency may offer hosting as well.
- Email. There are myriad choices for email hosting — Gmail, Microsoft Office, GoDaddy. Identify what service will work best for your business.
- Content. If you’re going to update the messaging on your website, determine who will be writing it, who will be editing it, and who will be responsible for approving it. Some agencies offer content writing as a service.
PHASE 2 — Architecture
Before you start seeing designs, you need to figure out the foundation and inner structure of the site. To understand site architecture, it may be helpful to consider the architecture of a building. Before you start putting in furniture and decorations, it’s important to know how many stories the building will have, the total number of rooms, and which rooms will lead to one another. The same is true of a website.
Let’s assume a goal of your site is lead generation. The journey your audience takes through the site will need to be engineered to capture the ideal customer and the experience tailored to that type of individual (more on this in Phase 3). People decide very quickly whether or not they are going to stay on a site (15 seconds is the average). To capture this lead, you will want to limit the amount of work it takes to act.
Expect these deliverables:
- A site map. This is an organized list of a website’s pages. Typically, this looks like a flowchart diagram. The goal here is to identify what pages you need, what they will be called, and where they should be placed within the site.
- Wireframes. This is the skeleton of a website and determines how you will present the content. Think of the wireframes as a sketch — no colors, fonts, or imagery. This will help you to understand the structure and determine whether or not it achieves what it should. Often, there will be a wireframe for each page of the site. Matter delivers wireframes as an interactive link our partners can click and scroll through in order to get the closest possible experience to the real thing
PHASE 3 — Design
I would call this the most exciting part of a website project, but, as an art director, I’m a little biased. Your agency will most likely present a few initial concepts which should accomplish a couple of things:
- All designs should complement your existing brand collateral, if you have any.
- The look should appeal to the identified target audience.
- The layout should naturally guide people through the site in a way that makes sense to your audience.
As with Phase 2, there will be a back-and-forth and you will have opportunities to provide feedback and input.
Typical deliverables include:
- A presentation of concepts. This could be emailed, or it could be presented through video conference, or in person. We prefer to walk partners through this phase in person. Initial reactions are insightful, so be honest with your feedback.
- A set of designed page templates. This could be a PDF or a private link with a gallery of pages for you to browse. Don’t expect a working site here — this is an opportunity to focus on the emotional impact of your site. Remember that you have a short time to capture someone’s attention, and the design is paramount to that success.
PHASE 4 — Development
During this phase, there is little for you to do, and from the outside, it may seem like progress has slowed. Rest assured — there’s a lot of technical work going on here. During development, a web developer is coding the design into a private beta site (or staging environment). You should expect communication and maybe even progress reports during this phase.
- A beta site. This is a working version of your site hosted on a private link. Take the time to live with it for a bit. Have the team members who were in the initial discovery meeting use it. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your customers. It’s common for there to be some kinks in a beta site — discovering and finessing things like that are what this phase is for.
A note on content writing: If you or your agency has been writing any new content for your website, it should find its way into the beta site. Reviewing copy in the context of a site is a much different experience than poring over a document.
PHASE 5 — Launch
Once you and your team are happy with the site, the final step is to share it with the world and have it begin working for you. You and your agency should work together to have a plan in place so the launch goes off without a hitch.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Day/time of launch. This is particularly important if you’re refreshing an old site. You don’t want to run the risk of disrupting your current audience’s experience. It’s a good idea to have data on when your site gets the most traffic and avoid launching during a busy period.
- An announcement. If you’re making substantial changes to a site that has a lot of traffic, you may want to consider giving your audience a heads-up. An email campaign would be a great place to do that leading up to the website launch.
A Final Thought
Once you’ve launched your new (or newly refreshed) site, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re good to ignore it for the next few years. Things change — devices, trends, your audience’s expectations, your business goals, your offerings, etc. You made need to continue to fine tune or alter bits and pieces of your site as time progresses.
Consider installing and closely monitoring analytics to watch and analyze the behavior patterns of the traffic on your site. You may even find an agency who can do this for you. Get the most out of your site by knowing how it works and where to put your effort if it needs further changes.