The process you need to build your own website
A website is not just about looks or content. It’s much more than that. When you set out to make your own website, you need to have a robust process in place. That’s the only way to ensure that the website you build will work for you and deliver results. While there are plenty of web design tutorials online to teach you the technicalities of building a website, this article looks more at the process and the business angle of building a website.
Why do you need a process to make a website?
As yourself these simple questions:
- Is this website merely your expression or meant to give your audience what they want?
- Does it matter to you that the visitors get a good experience they would want to return to when they visit your website?
- Would you want visitors to your website to share the information, let others know about it and send more visitors to your site?
- If it is a business website, do you need your visitors to trust your business and want to do business through your website?
- Do you need your website to rank in search results so that people searching for your products and services find and visit your website?
If your website is a channel for you to connect with your target audience, then it is important that your website is created with this target audience in mind, that it communicates effectively with the audience, that it delights your audience enough to make them want to come back and share your website within their network. The Flying Cow Design process of building a website has proven to be successful for a number of clients and could help you make your own website — or let us make it for you.
The process of making a website
As you go through this five step cyclical process, you will realize that this is neither simple nor frivolous. You will also be better able to appreciate why professional web design is a preferred option many businesses take. For it to be effective, the process needs to be detail-oriented, rigorous and exhaustive.
Making a Website Phase 1: Research
The research phase of the website development process includes:
Define the objectives and the audience:
Recognize that the website is not about you, but about your target audience. That means defining that target audience is the very first step in making your website. When defining your target audience:
- Segment: Divide your audience groups into as many groups as you possibly can.
- Be specific: Avoid generalizing the audience groups. Be as specific as you can. If you do not have past data from an earlier website, try and find statistics about how much population there might be in each group
- Choose your visitor: You cannot create a website that appeals to everyone. Based on the groups and their potential audience, choose a single group that your website should delight.
- Profile: Try and create a profile of the perfect visitor to your website. This should be a single person: male or female, what age, what location, what income level, what preferences, what likes and dislikes. This will be the person your website needs to talk to. All your decisions about the website you make should be from this imaginary person’s point of view.
Understand your audience:
Having defined who the ideal visitor to your website is, you next need to understand what this person would be looking for, what other websites this person is likely to be visiting, what this person’s behavior patterns are likely to be, what the aesthetic sensibilities would be and so on. This will help you take many decisions like design personality of your website, medium of content delivery (visual, text, video, animation, etc) and more.
Study your competition:
Visit other websites that rank for the terms that your target audience would be searching for, analyze these websites from your target audience’s point of view. Make a list of attributes that make these websites good in your target audience’s opinion. Some of the items on this list may include:
- Domains names: Do brand or keyword-driven domain names do better?
- Navigation: How does the navigation flow through the site, what links are most interesting, etc.
- Language: Tone, language and words used in the messaging that you find relevant
- Size: How many pages do they have? Do they have blogs? Do they have pictures or videos?
- Where are the present: Do they have a Facebook or LinkedIn page? How is that working to build their community, where else is a reference to your competitors found?
- Give-aways: Do your competitors have give-aways like whitepapers, free memberships, loyalty programs, etc.?
At the end of this stage, you should have an exhaustive wish list of the various things that could contribute to the success of your website.
Making a Website Phase 2: Plan
This would be decision-making time. You may or may not be able to do it all on your website. You need to prioritize and select the elements that would make up your website. You need to start planning and conceptually giving shape to your website.
Domain name and hosting: Your research findings should help you decide what your domain name should be, where your website should be hosted and what kind of hosting infrastructure you need. If you are not sure, talk to us or a reliable domain registration and hosting company who will work with you in finding you the right solution.
Information Architecture: This is probably the most important element of the planning phase. You need to create on paper, an organization chart of your website, based on how your audience would be searching for it. Tip: No one searches for words like “products”, “services”, etc. Think of terms your audience would be searching for and make sure your website hierarchy is driven by these terms. Here is a partial information architecture for a pet care website. You will notice there are no “products” and “services” links listed in there. You need to structure your website based on how your audience searches for information.
Inverted Funnel: You want your website and every section in your website to start resembling an inverted funnel.
It is important to spend time getting these inverted funnels right. When you get to the execution phase and create the pages, you want to make sure that the cross-linking flows through each category linking the deeper pages with the higher level pages, creating critical mass within each category and across the site. At the end of this stage, whether you go to a professional web design company or make the website yourself, you would have armed yourself with a comprehensive brief that will make the web development smooth and seamless.
Making a Website Phase 3: Execution
You can take a decision on making your own website or getting professional web designers to execute it for you at this stage. This phase in the process includes:
- Graphic design to create the look and feel of the website
- Deciding on the technologies, CMS, flash, images, etc.
- Keyword research to finalize the names of each link and the focus of each page’s content
- Writing the content for the pages in the site around the keywords selected for the page
- Programming and bringing it all together
- Verifying the site with Google Webmaster Tools
- Setting up analytics to track site traffic and performance
- Social integration
- Testing the site to make sure it works fine
- Generating and submitting sitemaps to search engines
Making a Website Phase 4: Analyze
Most would consider the website development complete at the end of Phase 3. For your website to do really well, the process should not end there. If you have validated your website and have analytics installed, you should now start assessing the site’s performance. You should consider investing in SEO, PPC, email marketing or some form of promotional activity to popularize your website. When you analyze your website performance, many things could emerge:
- Are the keywords you selected driving visitors to your site? If not, you may have to do course corrections
- Which pages are visitors accessing
- How are visitors flowing through your website
- Are they engaging with the site: spending time on it, sharing its content, etc
- Are they converting: email inquiries, downloads, transactions, etc
This and more will tell you which aspects of your website are working and not working. This will be valuable input to refine the site, make changes and improve the site to serve your audience better.
Making a Website Phase 5: Test
Perhaps the most commonly ignored phase is the testing phase. Based on the analysis, you need to make refinements and course corrections to make sure your “action elements” are placed where visitors can see them, the site layout is engaging the visitors, the content is being consumed, etc. Just putting up the website and expecting visitors to take it or leave it is a recipe for disaster. You need to constantly test and refine your website to do better and better.
As is evident, this calls for a lot of focus, expertise and involvement in the process. Most business owners would have their business demands to adhere to and devoting precious in-house resources on building the site right may not be a luxury most business can afford. This is where a professional web design company like Flying Cow Design can ensure you get a website that performs and helps your business grow.
CEO, Flying Cow Design
Attended University of Auckland
Lives in San Francisco Bay Area