Best Practices for Building a New Website!

Best Practices for Building a New Website

Your new website must represent your business, capture your target audience, convey your message, and sell your products. To ensure that your site fulfills these critical tasks it’s important that the project methodology you use incorporates best practices in website design and development.

Challenges Related to Website Design and Development Projects

There are a number of challenges with website projects that should be understood and will shape your design and development project. 

First, it’s critical that you define the objectives and purpose for your site before you start working on a logo, picking a theme or selecting colors.  What do you expect your site to do?  What action(s) do you want site visitors to take?  What image do you want to portray?  Answers to these types of questions will inform your design and help to set priorities for the features to be included.  Lack of clarity on site purpose and priorities at the beginning of the project will result in schedule and cost overruns later in the project or even worse a site that conveys a muddled message to visitors and fails to meet your expectations.

Second, building a website is a visual and creative exercise.  Because of this it is a naturally iterative process where new ideas will emerge as the site takes shape. You should not attempt to define and plan every detail of your site up-front. Instead, you should use a methodology that allows and encourages new ideas so that the best final result can be achieved.

What Makes A Modern Website?

Third, for most website owners their site is never “finished”.  There is always an additional list of features and content to add and if you try to incorporate everything in your initial build you will almost certainly go over budget and miss your target launch dates.  Your methodology should focus on the MINIMUM set of features and content ESSENTIAL to your initial launch.

Finally, launching your initial website may be the end of your new website project but it is just the beginning of website ownership.  At launch you will almost certainly have a list of features you weren’t able to add and new requirements will emerge driven by changes in the business, technology, or user preferences.  Plan up-front for the on-going monitoring and maintenance that will be required.

For these reasons the methodology that we use at Flexpro is a balance between careful up-front planning to ensure the site’s goals are clearly defined and flexibility to accommodate the changes that will occur during the project and after initial launch.

A Balanced Methodology for Website Development

Below is an outline of a balanced methodology for website design and development that we use at Flexpro.  Following this methodology we complete just enough up-front planning to guide the design and development process while leaving room for new ideas to emerge along the way.  This methodology also maintains a constant focus on the essential requirements so that an initial launch can be achieved at the lowest cost and in the shortest timeframe.

1) Requirements Assessment

During this step you will outline the objectives for the website (what important work should it do for you) and develop an initial game plan for how to build it.  This is typically accomplished in a meeting with key stakeholders and may take a few hours for small websites and several meetings for large websites.

Key topics addressed:

      • What do you want your site to do – inform users, generate leads, enter transactions, etc
      • Initial list of significant features and functionality – Blog, landing pages, forms, secure portals, commerce, integrations to other systems, …etc
      • Content – Type and volume
      • Priorities – Begin to identify the minimum and essential features for initial launch
      • Alignment – How does the site align with overall business and marketing strategy
      • Branding – Is branding in place already for the business or will it need to be developed
      • Overall social media strategy – How does your website interplay with other outlets and with marketing activities such as email marketing
      • Competition – What do you like/dislike about their websites
      • Site benchmarks – Examples of sites that you like
      • Tools – Initial discussion of CMS and/or other required tools
      • Project plan – Initial discussion of timing, budget and resources

Typical output:

      • Project charter and scope document
      • Rough project schedule and major milestones
      • Initial list of prioritized requirements (in agile terms this is the “product backlog list”)

2) Establish On-Line Project Collaboration Workspace

A secure workspace for the project team is required to share documents, collaborate on tasks and communicate status. There are many good options here for tools that can be used.  At Flexpro, we use Microsoft Teams.

Key items to address:

      • Organization and structure of the workspace best suited for the team’s needs
      • Expectations for types of documents to share, timeliness of task updates, document naming conventions, and other administrative details that will help organize the work
      • Team roles and access privileges

Typical output:

      • Structured team workspace
      • Key users invited to the workspace with training as needed to effectively use it

3) Detailed Planning

During this phase a set of meetings are held to establish details for design, content and architecture.  Note that the intent of these meetings is not to complete these tasks but rather to clarify what must be done, required resources, and rough task estimates.  Actual task completion will be done in two week sprints described in the next section.

Design meeting(s):

    • Topics
      • Domain name
      • Look and feel / Brand
      • Features and functionality
      • User experience and calls to action
      • Responsive design
    • Outputs
      • Initial site map showing organization of pages
      • Wireframe designs showing general page layouts and feature locations
      • Initial design style guide
      • Updates to product backlog list (design tasks that need to be accomplished)

Content plan meeting(s):

    • Topics
      • Static page content including text, images, and graphics
      • Product descriptions
      • Meta data (closely related to SEO)
      • Marketing landing pages
      • SEO strategy and content

    • Outputs:
      • Content requirements and resource assignments
      • Updates to product backlog list (content tasks that need to be accomplished)

Infrastructure plan meeting(s):

    • Topics
      • CMS options and requirements
      • Hosting options
      • URL / domain name registration options
      • Use of Development, Staging and Production instances
      • Site speed
      • Site security
      • User access and responsibilities for the infrastructure components

    • Outputs:
      • Decisions on domain name registration, hosting and CMS tool
      • User and Administrator rights and responsibilities defined
      • Updates to product backlog list (infrastructure tasks that need to be completed)

4) Agile / Iterative Work Completion

The goal of this phase is to iterate rapidly through delivery of design, functionality and content.  By using short build cycles (sprints), feedback and adjustments can be made quickly without significant rework.  Importantly, this iterative process allows for new ideas to emerge that will improve the success of the site.

Key activities during this phase:

      • Prioritize the backlog list and add details to highest priority items
      • 2-week sprint planning and selection of tasks to be completed during the sprint
      • Sprint execution
      • Review and testing of completed sprint tasks

Typical output:

      • Completed sprints and sprint tasks (the exact number of sprints will vary based on the website complexity)
      • Staging environment with all completed items reviewed and tested
      • Delivery of the minimum and essential features.  Additional features may also be completed prior to launch if budget and time allow 

5) Launch

The goal for this phase is to have a live and functional site.  Since testing has occurred throughout the sprint process the actual launch should be free of any last minute surprises.

Key activities during this phase:

      • Final user acceptance testing
      • Code and content promotion to Production
      • User training – CMS training, Use of other features, etc.

Launch phase outputs:

      • Live site
      • Trained site Administrator(s)
      • Updated backlog list to be used for later iterations (a website is never “finished”)

6) On-going Maintenance

Site maintenance should not be an after-thought!  Maintenance activities should be defined and budgeted at the outset of the project and should cover the need to monitor, tweak, improve and maintain the site.

Key activities during this phase:

      • Monitoring site use / Google Analytics
      • On-going feature and content updates
      • Periodic infrastructure updates

Typical outputs:

      • Reports on site use
      • Viable and secure site
      • Updates to backlog list

What is your approach to managing websites?  We would love to hear your your comments on this post!

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