Build a Website: Under Construction
Developing an effective website requires thoughtful planning. Understanding the entire process before you begin will save you time and money as the project progresses. Although sites range from just a few pages to more complex ones with hundreds or thousands of pages and sophisticated interactive features, the development process remains similar.
There are six basic stages: planning, content development, graphic design, programming, marketing and promotion, and maintenance. Depending on your areas of expertise, you may need assistance for some or all phases of your project. Think like a home builder: develop a good blueprint, perhaps with the help of an architect; then hire individual tradesmen for the various tasks, or hire a general contractor.Planning
First of all, determine the audience for your site. This is critical, because many design and content decisions depend on understanding this. Is the site for children or adults? Does your target audience access the Net from work, school or home? Do you use mobile devices to access your site? How fast is their Internet connection? Do they want to be informed or entertained? Make sure you know the answers to these types of questions from the outset.
Your site must be well organized, both for the benefit of your visitors and to make it easier to maintain. Map out your site in storyboard or schematic form, perhaps as a flow chart. Consider using index cards to represent the prospective web pages so you can rearrange them very quickly. It really helps to have some way to visualize the structure, whether you're working alone, with colleagues or professionals.
Spend as much time as you can surfing the Web at this stage. Take a close look at websites you like. Some sites credit the design company and link to its website so you see what else the developer has done. If you decide to hire outside help, make sure the company is experienced with projects of your size and scope.
Bear in mind that a website is a perpetual work-in-progress. Most websites change fairly often--technology makes electronic publishing rapid and relatively inexpensive. A well-planned site simplifies this process. New content and features can be added easily without having to redesign the site.
For detailed information, the mother of all website development indexes is the Web Developer's Virtual Library.Content Development
The content of your site will most likely be some combination of information that you currently have and information you will need to create. This may be the time to hire a creative writer, or for businesses, a Web-savvy public relations pro to help you define some of the concepts inherent in your company and its products and services.
One type of content is customer service information. What questions do people ask most often? If you don't have a list of frequently asked questions and answers, sit down alone, or with your staff, and write one. Then post this information on your website. The more your customers can get answers from your site, the less time someone has to spend answering those same questions on the phone or in writing.
A content or project manager should keep track of the text, graphics, and programming necessary to create the content and get it online. This kind of help can be hired on a temporary basis if you don't have the expertise in-house. A "one-stop" web development company can also provide this service.Graphic Design
No matter how well organized and interesting your content, graphics set the tone. You can make a good impression with some well designed graphics on the home page. Repeat a few design elements throughout the site to create a sense of continuity. This is just one of many common sense guidelines to follow in creating appealing pages. A skilled web designer will be enormously helpful in offering creative options.
The most important thing to keep in mind in choosing graphic designers is to work with professionals who understand the unique requirements of the Web. The technical limitations (and opportunities) of web pages are foreign to graphic designers trained in other media. File size requirements, color limitations, and screen resolutions are much different from those in print. Even if you have an in-house graphics department, you may want to hire a Web-savvy graphic designer to educate your staff about the demands of online design.