A guide to what's involved in getting a website built and online

Creating a website is a mixture of inspiration, frustration, fear, joy, panic, psychology, quiet moments of self contemplation, tea, cake, a bunch of super specialist ninja skills, time and a budget that helps those involved create something of genuine value to a business.

The process outlined below is how we and many other individuals, studios and agencies create websites, and although what we cover here leans towards full service projects, every website will utilise these service elements in some form or other.

This is a reasonably long post, so you might want to get a cup of tea and some cake before you start.

Discovery - planning

After the initial contact, where you will have been asked a few questions to get a basic idea of things, the next thing is to meet in person or if that's not possible arrange a longer telephone or video call.

Based on the initial contact information, if it's a simple project, this might be nothing more than an informal meeting to discuss the project specifications and to get a better understanding of things including delivery timeline and budget. However, if the project is more complex there will probably be a couple of meetings to discuss everything in more detail.

When it comes to discussing the budget, it's always helpful to your firm if they know the financial situation in advance. Think of it in the same way as you would buying a new house or car, by telling your firm what you want and for how much, it will help them identify what can be delivered for that value, and remove any potential for confusion.

Once the initial discovery process has been completed, a project brief will be created, which will outline your requirements in terms of deliverables, schedule and the cost of delivery. And then if you are happy with everything, the firm will begin the researching phase.

Discovery - research

Everything stems from research, from the meetings the team will have an understanding of you and your business objectives, what they need to do now is broaden that knowledge by researching your customers and your competition.

The firm will look at your customers, to identify what it takes to engage with them, what are they looking for, why, where and how they are looking. They will also look at your competition, to see how they approach the market, to see what they are doing right and avoid what they are doing wrong. One of the reasons for a websites failure can be the focus on cost and speed of delivery over the need to spend time understanding the market, the competition and the needs and wants of the potential customers/site users.

This research will identify the right platform, whether to go with a customised or custom design, how the content is created, what the tone of that content will be and how the website is positioned to best reach the target audience. By spending time gaining an understanding of your business and all that surrounds it, your firm will hand over a website that will meet your requirements. A good firm will spend time on this important area, and if we are being blunt, you should expect to budget for it.

Creating content

For a website, there are many individual elements of importance, as well as planning and research, how it looks affects things, how easy it is to use affects things, but the one area that defines a website and determines it's chance of post click success is its content, and poor content will have an effect on a users opinion of a company and their decision whether to continue reading or stay on the website.

When it comes to content, there are a few options, the firm can edit your words and images, or start with your words and build from there, or create everything and provide customer, market and search engine friendly copywriting as well as meeting any image needs you may have.

Your content has to appeal to two visitors, the customer and the search engine. For the customer, you want them to buy, call or pass your details on to others, so your content needs to give them the information they seek, and talk to them in a way they understand and like. As a process, it requires research and understanding of the client, their business needs, the customer and the wider market.

For Google and co. it's about meeting their users needs, so high quality content that is useful and usable has the most value. From your company's perspective SEO is still of primary importance, but the focus has evolved towards a more human approach, where keywords occur naturally, or content is created around a naturally searched for key phrase or term. That's where having a blog or news section can help, there's no better way to build natural content that meets the needs of both the user and the search engine. Outside of natural content, it's also about in and outbound linking, page structure, and making sure a web page reads logically and follows certain rules which we will go into at a later date.

Content can take time to get right, nothing is ever written perfectly the first time, so rewrites are a given. When the firm discusses content with you, they will give you an idea of how much time will be needed for this element. Great content is the difference between getting a yes or a no, between success and failure. It sells, earns, engages and entices, and if you run a business, the right words and imagery will benefit you when trying to get a potential customer interested in the services or products you provide.

When it comes to images, they can do a lot of the heavy lifting so having spent an age signifying the importance of words, it must be said that great images will also help the viewer engage and commit. Original, on message images will reinforce what's being said and will always be better than stock images, so your firm should spend some time taking a few well planned photos, this difference will be noticeable to the viewer, and will help with visitor to customer conversion.

The mix of professionally written content, and professionally taken, edited and displayed images can significantly enhance a company's chances of attracting and then keeping customers. It's about user psychology and giving the visitor a reason to choose you over your competition. Quality content married to user focused design reinforces and puts the user at ease, and if they are at ease, they are more likely to initiate contact.

Design and development

Websites fall into two development categories, either partially or fully custom. With partially custom your firm will use a predesigned template/theme added to a pre existing CMS (Content Management System). The theme is then altered/customised to suit your needs, this means amending the layout, colours and font's to tie in with your company branding. With fully custom, the firm will start with a blank page and create something unique to you and your brand.

Think of the difference between the two as having complete design and development control with a custom option, and only partial control with the templated option. It's the same as buying a house, you can choose a house on a developer built estate, or you can get an architect to build you something bespoke. Both are houses, but one is better at meeting your exact requirements.

Whichever option you choose, both will result in a website which will be mobile friendly and will work on all screen sizes. The percentage of website searches done via mobile platforms continues to increase, so it makes sense to have a website that can be viewed perfectly on any screen size they may use.

When it comes to the actual build itself, the focus will be on purpose, reasonable longevity, scalability, responsive development, user engagement and conversion. For the user, everything needs to be easy and natural, so readable typography (fonts), the right colour mix, a balanced use of text, images and white space, logical menu and page structure with the content displayed in the way they expect.

In more defined terms, this means W3C standards coding, a fluid and scalable structure, no obsolete or insecure software, provision for analytics inclusion, the correct meta-data, error free navigation, no broken links or dodgy elements, no 404’s, no page speed or loading issues. Basically, from a search engines perspective a website that can be indexed fast with no security issues.

If it's a theme or template based website, it will need its core framework and design adapted/customised to meet the client's needs, this can involve the addition of new HTML and CSS, and adding and adapting pre-existing plugins, modules and components to bring the build in line with the business needs of the client - think in terms of adding ecommerce functionality, video displays, contact forms etc.

With templated design it's about adding and amending something to fit as near the purpose, with custom design it's about fitting the purpose exactly.

Testing and reviewing

At this point the website is virtually complete, now it's time to run some final tests and review everything. Your firm will be testing at every stage of the process, making sure everything works as planned, checking that the pages load quickly, the website structure is logical and user friendly, running through all the processes to make sure they behave as required and making sure the website performs correctly on all devices and the most popular browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, Microsoft Explorer/Edge etc.

Beyond reviewing processes and functionality, one key benefit of continuous testing is the fact it gives your firm the chance to reassess everything in terms of whether they have meet your goals, and the needs of your visitors/potential customers. By taking a step back, they can make final adjustments and remove any bloat or surplus content. As previously mentioned, your firm will test and review constantly, but it always helps to take a step back, return with new eyes and reassess everything.

Once everything is tested and all is good in the world, the website will be ready to go live, all that's left to do now is to add security software, pick a domain name and choose the right website hosting.

Website hosting, domain names and security

Once the website is complete your firm will add internal security software to help reduce the possibility of the site getting hacked. With every passing day, websites of all sizes are attacked and crippled, be it from lone hackers spreading a little misery to organised gangs aiming to hold a business to ransom. Adding security will add to your budget a little, but it's a lot better than running the risk of getting your website hijacked for ransom or losing all your data.

Security is a principle part of modern website design, all websites should come with some form of internal security software, and if you handle sensitive client data, it makes sense to add a site security certificate (SSL) which will convert your HTTP website into a HTTPS one, giving you an extra level of encryption and peace of mind. Although nothing is 100% secure, adding website security will reduce the risk significantly.

When it comes to choosing a top level domain (TLD), your firm will help you decide on the best option for your company, but as a general rule, if you're targeting UK based customers it's best to go with a co.uk domain. If you have global or brand aspirations, then a .com domain is still the recognised primary, although there are hundreds of others to choose from including standard options such as .co, .net and .law, to the slightly less standard .horse and .wtf.

When it comes to the actual domain name itself, you can go with a brand option such as ferrari.com, or descriptive as in theferraricentre.com, once again your firm will help you choose which best fits your purposes.

In terms of hosting, your firm may have an in-house solution or you can choose a reputable hosting firm, just as long as it has its servers in the country you're in e.g. UK for UK, US for US. This is for load speed and ease of contact if you need support.

These days hosting is very affordable, think £40 to £50 a year for the average website using shared hosting. If your business needs more resources than a shared account, then a dedicated and managed server will be the way to go, but this is a premium service and will cost more.

Beyond what has been discussed, there are a few services that are both of and outside the process of getting a website built and online, these include:

Logo design

Logo design is the process of creating an icon or emblem that represents a company, e.g. the Nike swoosh. It is the touch point, the identifier, the visual trigger that customers use to identify a company. It is not the brand in itself, but it can be an important element towards generating the feeling a customer has towards it.

The actual mechanics of logo design is very similar to building a website, it starts with a meeting with your firm to gain an understanding of what's required with regards to the message you're trying to portray, then the firm will research similar brands to get an overall feel for your market and the customer base.

Having done their research, the firm will spend time turning ideas into sketches, sourcing or creating a font and then (with your input) defining an appropriate colour mix (if you don't already have a colour mix in place), and through this process they will create a few prototypes and concepts. Then, once you have chosen a preferred option, the firm will revise and add any finishing touches needed before handing everything over.

If you're firm doesn't provide logo design as a service, it's best to go with a specialist graphic designer who works in your country, as they are contactable and will know how to create something that adds genuine value to your brand.

Logo design is like any other creative medium, it takes time, creative skill and customer/client understanding to get the design right. The concept has to be in keeping with the core message, and a cheap logo will not convey the message a company needs to give its customers. All talking aside, a good logo will take at least a few days to create, so expect the cost to be in keeping with that fact.

In terms of your company identity and brand, if your logo is the emblem of your company, the identity is the different elements that your customer comes into contact with, such as your business card, your website, your staff uniforms and your liveried van. Your brand goes beyond this, it's the emotional and psychological relationship your customers have with your company.

Your website is part of your identity, which is in turn a part of your brand, and because branding is such an involved subject in itself, it is something we will be writing about in more detail at a later date.

Post build management and marketing

Once your website has been built, it will need to be managed and marketed to keep it up to date, secure and in front of those looking for the services you provide.

If your website is built on a CMS, most of it can be managed in house with a little training, especially when it comes to adding content, administrating system updates and keep on top of basic security. However, some things will still need to be done by your firm, especially if it's custom developed or a very complex website with a lot of infrastructure to maintain.

If your time is limited, your firm can take care of the day to day. Having built your website they're best placed to make sure it runs smoothly, leaving you free to concentrate on fun things such as writing new Facebook posts, firing off a few promotional tweets or sending a few sales emails.

Marketing can be done in numerous ways, some avenues cost nothing but time and your own business acumen and awareness, others will take further and continued investment. A very easy and for the most part free way is to use social media (Facebook, Twitter etc), but if you have the means it's worth occasionally outsourcing some of your marketing to a specialist firm who have the skills and knowledge to drive traffic and generate interest.

Having a professionally built and optimised website is brilliant for increasing public awareness and helping to grow your business, but the real work starts after the website has gone live. It needs to be maintained and marketed for it to stay fresh in the minds of the public, as well as stay the right side of the search engines, who are constantly evolving the way they offer information to their users.

Choose create/enable as your firm, and we'll take care of everything

At create/enable, we can deliver everything we've just spent an hour of your life talking about. For a quick and informal chat, please feel free to call us on 01970 626035, we'd love to hear from you.

Thank you for your time and infinite patience.