Chapter 4: How to Design and Develop Your Website for Success

 

Everything You Need to Consider When Starting Your Own Website

Chapter 4: How to Design and Develop Your Website for Success

 

Everything You Need to Consider When Starting Your Own Website

Website Design & Development

 

So, this is the big one, right? You need a huge workforce, deep pockets, and a multi-tiered team of highly paid technical professionals to bring this one in on time and in budget

 

Well, maybe that was the case ten years ago but the web has changed. There is now a variety of web content management systems (CMS) available that provide you with the ability to run your own website and manage your own content, and all without six-figure development costs.

 

As web developers in 2018, we find ourselves in the position where we no longer need to start from scratch with every web project, rather, we analyse a client’s requirements and look to leverage an existing piece of software to keep development costs down.

 

This approach allows you to manage your own websites. You control the expansion and growth with no theoretical limits and very modest running costs. Additionally, this provides a high level of value to the client and means that the website can be launched in a fraction of the time it would have previously taken.

 

The real trick here is to understand your options and ensure that you select a web design company that can provide you with value for money and a competent solution. Over the course of this section we will look at the different approaches available, the different types of web design companies, and some of the pitfalls you should look to avoid.

Website Guide

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How to Select a Web Design Company

There is certainly no shortage of web design companies out there baying for your business, so the problem is how do you select the right company for the job? Price? Existing clients? A friendly telephone manner? It can be a difficult choice and you will likely be given a different approach by each company.

 

Web design is a fairly new industry and it has been adopted as an extra service by many printing, marketing and graphic design studios. The problem is that for many companies this is not their main area of competence and this leads to your requirements being massaged to fit with their skill set.

 

Many of these companies know just about enough to patch something together but you will likely end up paying way too much for too little or steered towards a specific platform that the developer has experience with (but may not be the best one for you).

Budgets will vary with small, inexperienced designers starting around £1000 and big, often overpriced companies looking for £10,000 as a starting budget. To do the job properly and ensure design, development and marketing are all taken care of on a site that works on phones, tablets, laptops and desktops, you will often be looking at around £3000 to £5000 as a fair budget.

 

Ultimately, the price will depend on your budget and the real trick is ensuring you are getting the best possible job for the available budget, and if concessions are required, that those are aligned with the business and website goals. Again, this is something an expert can help with. Often the most expensive websites are the ones that don’t work and need to be redone six months later, for example, healthcare.gov which was budgeted at $93 million and ended up being closer to $1.7billion!

 

Choosing a web design company to work with can be an extremely difficult task. The best way to make an informed decision is to fully understand the options available for building and managing your site and then to look for work examples that match your requirements. The rest of this chapter will aid in you that task.

Key Words:

WordPress

WordPress is an open source (free) blogging and web content management system that is used to power over 200 million websites (and counting).

 


 

CSS /Cascading Style Sheets CSS

CSS is used to control the look and feel of a web page and to allow for a separation of content (HTML) and presentation (CSS).

 


 

Joomla!

Joomla! is an open-source content management system platform for publishing content on the World Wide Web and intranets.

 


 

SEO /Search Engine Optimisation

SEO is the process of improving your website’s results in the natural search results of search engines. This is achieved through the development of additional content, a series of small improvements to the structure and composition of the pages and by getting more links pointing to the site.

How to Select a Web Design Company

There is certainly no shortage of web design companies out there baying for your business, so the problem is how do you select the right company for the job? Price? Existing clients? A friendly telephone manner? It can be a difficult choice and you will likely be given a different approach by each company.

 

Web design is a fairly new industry and it has been adopted as an extra service by many printing, marketing and graphic design studios. The problem is that for many companies this is not their main area of competence and this leads to your requirements being massaged to fit with their skill set.

 

Many of these companies know just about enough to patch something together but you will likely end up paying way too much for too little or steered towards a specific platform that the developer has experience with (but may not be the best one for you).

Budgets will vary with small, inexperienced designers starting around £1000 and big, often overpriced companies looking for £10,000 as a starting budget. To do the job properly and ensure design, development and marketing are all taken care of on a site that works on phones, tablets, laptops and desktops, you will often be looking at around £3000 to £5000 as a fair budget.

 

Ultimately, the price will depend on your budget and the real trick is ensuring you are getting the best possible job for the available budget, and if concessions are required, that those are aligned with the business and website goals. Again, this is something an expert can help with. Often the most expensive websites are the ones that don’t work and need to be redone six months later, for example, healthcare.gov which was budgeted at $93 million and ended up being closer to $1.7 billion!

 

Choosing a web design company to work with can be an extremely difficult task. The best way to make an informed decision is to fully understand the options available for building and managing your site and then to look for work examples that match your requirements. The rest of this chapter will aid in you that task.

Key Words:

WordPress

WordPress is an open source (free) blogging and web content management system that is used to power over 200 million websites (and counting).

 


 

CSS /Cascading Style Sheets CSS

CSS is used to control the look and feel of a web page and to allow for a separation of content (HTML) and presentation (CSS).

 


 

Joomla!

Joomla! is an open-source content management system platform for publishing content on the World Wide Web and intranets.

 


 

SEO /Search Engine Optimisation

SEO is the process of improving your website’s results in the natural search results of search engines. This is achieved through the development of additional content, a series of small improvements to the structure and composition of the pages and by getting more links pointing to the site.

Types of Website

Let’s have a quick look at the three main different types of website.

Static Website

A static site is much like a brochure. It is created by the web developer and has little in the way of interactivity. You also have no ability to add or edit content without the costly assistance of your web developer.

 

This may be a relatively cheap site to get up, but long-term it will either become out of date or will incur long-term running costs. In 2017 this is a very old-fashioned approach and whilst there are security benefits to not using a content management system, this will not meet the needs of most businesses.

Dynamic Website

A dynamic website is a more complicated affair and the site’s content is usually housed in a database. A series of web scripts work in concert with the information in the database to generate pages as they are requested. This approach allows for custom pages, a set of search results, for example, where the content has been dynamically generated based on the user’s search criteria.

 

When looking at a site for your business a dynamic website will usually provide a set of private pages that can be used to administer the site by non-technical users. Functionality will include adding news, pages, editing existing pages, and generally updating and managing the content on the site.

Hosted Solutions

There are a number of hosted solutions out there that allow you to build a site using online tools. Sites like Squarespace.com and WordPress.com allow you to build a simple business/blog site using online tools. Sites like Volusion.com and Shopify.com allow for the creation of online stores. Hosted solutions work well for businesses that want to self-manage and avoid any technical exposure, but they tend to provide a narrow set of options that rule them out for many projects.

The Website Design Process

The traditional website design process works as follows:

Technical elements of search engine optimisation are implemented

 

 

Goals, brief, sitemap and content is determined (scope)

 

Site is designed in a graphic design package and client signs off the design

 

Small tweaks and iterations based on user feedback

 

Site is built using web technologies and a content management system

 

Site is launched and tested

 

The majority of the content is inserted

 

Training & handover

This is largely simplified but represents an overview of the typical process. Generally, the initial step (1) outlines the scope of the project. Anything not identified here could change the scope and as such impact the costs and lead time of the project. This is an important point and one often not made strongly enough and it is as fair for the client to want something extra during the build as it is for the developer to say ‘but we did not quote for this’.

 

The important takeaway here is to ensure that you talk to your website developer about the implications of additional features not indicated in the brief and that the developer helps you outline the project as well as possible so this can be discussed in the early stages. Where this is a complex project or has complex navigational elements then some basic prototyping up front can simplify the scoping of the project.

How Websites Are Built

Websites are built using a variety of presentation and programming languages. The simplest of sites are built using just bare bones HTML and CSS files to describe and style the content. Most websites will use a scripting language called Javascript to provide some additional features on the client side.

 

Likewise, most websites will use programming languages like PHP in the backend to add additional features like a search. Nearly all modern websites hold the content in a database and the web programming languages query the database to determine the content for the page.

 

In most cases, a content management system (CMS) like WordPress is used that provides much of the basic functionality. The website is then configured rather than programmed and the design is layered over the top of the CMS using HTML and CSS.

 

Confused? It is a technical process but an understanding of these core elements will help you navigate things a little more easily.

What Type of Site Do You Want?

A seemingly simple question but an important one nevertheless. If you are happy that your site is unlikely to need updating then maybe a static website is a valid, if dated, approach. Certainly, when done right this can remove the need for any monitoring or maintenance and associated costs.

 

In most cases, and if you want your site to be a reflection of what is going on in your business, you will need the ability to add and edit content. You will want to update the site to show work you are doing, you want to add news and information that is relevant to your clients and marketplace, and you will want to add new products and services as and when needed.

 

You will want the ability to make all of these changes yourself when you need to and without any complicated web design knowledge. For that, you will need a web content management system.

Website Builders

There are a variety of website builder systems out there and the more popular ones are Squarespace, Weebly and Wix. These systems have their benefits as there is no technical knowledge needed, but they provide very narrow parameters of what can be achieved and in most cases, are simply not flexible enough.

 

WordPress also provides a simple cloud-based version and whilst not as flexible as self-hosted WordPress, it does offer a simple starting point and upgrade path to the self-hosted version.

Web Content Management Systems

Web content management systems (CMS) are the backbone of all modern websites so it is important that you understand the options. These may be off-the-shelf systems like WordPress that allow lots of customisation and extensions or systems your website design or developer has built themselves. Additionally, some projects require a custom-built CMS due to very specific needs.

 

There are many options each with their own pros and cons, so the following will take you through some of the big and likely options to give you an overview and understanding of how a given CMS can impact the success or failure of your site.

 

The ideal CMS will allow non-technical users to make changes to the website’s content and for more technical users to add features or make changes to SEO configuration.

Drupal is a largely technical CMS that seems to be losing ground to WordPress of late. Drupal tends to be used as a more flexible starting point but it lacks the usability of WordPress from a user perspective.

 

This is very much a developer’s CMS and it works well as a starting point for a complex build, although I would advise that you try before you buy. Drupal is the second most popular CMS system out there for larger sites though, so it is important to be aware of its pros and cons.

Umbraco is a free CMS solution that is based on the Microsoft Dot Net framework. This is another extremely capable platform that allows for simple management of website content. One drawback of Umbraco is that it requires much more technical ability to customise and add functionality than WordPress, Joomla or ExpressionEngine.

Joomla is a fully featured web content management system that can be used to power everything from a few pages to large portal-style sites. Joomla by its nature is easy to use for simple tasks but can be confusing for larger sites and there is a considerable learning curve when compared with products like WordPress and ExpressionEngine.

 

Joomla was at once a leading CMS but in recent years has lost market share to WordPress. From our experience at Bowler Hat, we know that users are less comfortable with Joomla than WordPress and as such, its popularity has faltered.

ExpressionEngine is a commercial content management system. It is an extremely capable system and supports standard pages, blogs, discussion forums, eCommerce and mailing lists out of the box. The system also supports modular extensions to provide a wide range of additional functionality.

 

As a commercial product, ExpressionEngine provides technical support that goes beyond what is available with the free alternatives.

WordPress is a free blogging platform and content management system that is currently used to power over 75 million websites. It is intuitive, well-documented and easy to learn the ropes and therefore is an ideal system for most small business websites.

 

WordPress supports RSS feeds and has an extensive array of plugins and extensions enabling feature-rich websites to be constructed without the herculean effort involved when starting from scratch.

 

WordPress also has a rich network of theme developers who provide templates that extend WordPress core functionality and streamline the development of a website. These can be a gift and a curse, and ensuring your developer chooses a theme that supports your requirements is essential. Otherwise, you may end up being boxed into what their theme wants to do rather than what you want to do.

 

WordPress currently accounts for about 25% of all websites and 50% of the top 100 blogs run WordPress, so it is a well-proven system.

 

Additionally, WordPress accounts for around 50% of all CMS websites. The ubiquity of WordPress has led to some security issues with popular plugins of late, meaning that the system does need to be maintained, although this can be done with relative ease or for a small monthly fee.

Drupal is a largely technical CMS that seems to be losing ground to WordPress of late. Drupal tends to be used as a more flexible starting point but it lacks the usability of WordPress from a user perspective.

 

This is very much a developer’s CMS and it works well as a starting point for a complex build, although I would advise that you try before you buy. Drupal is the second most popular CMS system out there for larger sites though, so it is important to be aware of its pros and cons.

Umbraco is a free CMS solution that is based on the Microsoft Dot Net framework. This is another extremely capable platform that allows for simple management of website content. One drawback of Umbraco is that it requires much more technical ability to customise and add functionality than WordPress, Joomla or ExpressionEngine.

Joomla is a fully featured web content management system that can be used to power everything from a few pages to large portal-style sites. Joomla by its nature is easy to use for simple tasks but can be confusing for larger sites and there is a considerable learning curve when compared with products like WordPress and ExpressionEngine.

 

Joomla was at once a leading CMS but in recent years has lost market share to WordPress. From our experience at Bowler Hat, we know that users are less comfortable with Joomla than WordPress and as such, its popularity has faltered.

ExpressionEngine is a commercial content management system. It is an extremely capable system and supports standard pages, blogs, discussion forums, eCommerce and mailing lists out of the box. The system also supports modular extensions to provide a wide range of additional functionality.

 

As a commercial product, ExpressionEngine provides technical support that goes beyond what is available with the free alternatives.

WordPress is a free blogging platform and content management system that is currently used to power over 75 million websites. It is intuitive, well-documented and easy to learn the ropes and therefore is an ideal system for most small business websites.

 

WordPress supports RSS feeds and has an extensive array of plugins and extensions enabling feature-rich websites to be constructed without the herculean effort involved when starting from scratch.

 

WordPress also has a rich network of theme developers who provide templates that extend WordPress core functionality and streamline the development of a website. These can be a gift and a curse, and ensuring your developer chooses a theme that supports your requirements is essential. Otherwise, you may end up being boxed into what their theme wants to do rather than what you want to do.

 

WordPress currently accounts for about 25% of all websites and 50% of the top 100 blogs run WordPress, so it is a well-proven system.

 

Additionally, WordPress accounts for around 50% of all CMS websites. The ubiquity of WordPress has led to some security issues with popular plugins of late, meaning that the system does need to be maintained, although this can be done with relative ease or for a small monthly fee.

eCommerce

An eCommerce website has a different set of goals to a marketing website and as such there are dedicated eCommerce platforms that prioritise the required functionality. WordPress, Joomla and other popular CMS systems also have eCommerce add-ons that provide basic shopping functionality, but this is not the main feature of these CMS systems and, as such, they do not always provide an ideal platform. The right tool for the right job is important here.

 

This is a more complex issue and somewhat beyond the scope of this document, however, we will outline some of the more common platforms in 2017 and beyond and when these are suitable. When it comes to eCommerce, picking the right platform is crucial to your success, so educate yourselves before you dive in. Always happy to help if you have any questions, simply click here to get in touch. 

Shopify is a cloud based, easy to manage, secure and affordable. Our favourite eCommerce CMS at www.bowlerhat.co.uk in most cases.

Big Commerce is another cloud-based system. Not as flexible as Shopify from a design perspective.

Woo Commerce is a bolt-on for WordPress. We are not too keen on this as it needs a lot of resources and it is not really what WordPress was built for. That said it can be done well but needs a careful hand.

Magento is the big daddy of eCommerce systems. Highly Flexible. Can be expensive. Needs a lot of maintenance.

Key Considerations

The following are some key considerations that should drive your decision process:

 

  • Easy-to-use interface (ask for a demo if unsure)
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) functionality
  • Social media integration & optimisation
  • Email platform integration & optimisation
  • Analytics integration & tag management (Google Tag Manager)

Beyond Content Management

Remember that a CMS will have to do more than just manage content. The CMS you choose is the foundation your site is built on. Shaky foundations mean that sites are prone to topple over.

 

It is important to get impartial advice to ensure you get what is right for your project rather than what is right for the skillset of your developer. That is, many developers have a preference for a given system and will massage your requirements to fit what they know, rather than provide a truly impartial opinion on the right tool for the job.

 

WordPress tends to be popular as it is easy to use, easy to develop for, and has a rich suite of extensions, known as plugins, for every scenario. WordPress also tends to be pretty search engine friendly out the box and is easily optimised with a variety of SEO plugins (with the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin being our favourite).

Shopify is a cloud based, easy to manage, secure and affordable. Our favourite eCommerce CMS at www.bowlerhat.co.uk in most cases.

Big Commerce is another cloud-based system. Not as flexible as Shopify from a design perspective.

Woo Commerce is a bolt-on for WordPress. We are not too keen on this as it needs a lot of resources and it is not really what WordPress was built for. That said it can be done well but needs a careful hand.

Magento is the big daddy of eCommerce systems. Highly Flexible. Can be expensive. Needs a lot of maintenance.

Key Considerations

The following are some key considerations that should drive your decision process:

 

  • Easy-to-use interface (ask for a demo if unsure)
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) functionality
  • Social media integration & optimisation
  • Email platform integration & optimisation
  • Analytics integration & tag management (Google Tag Manager)

Beyond Content Management

Remember that a CMS will have to do more than just manage content. The CMS you choose is the foundation your site is built on. Shaky foundations mean that sites are prone to topple over.

 

It is important to get impartial advice to ensure you get what is right for your project rather than what is right for the skillset of your developer. That is, many developers have a preference for a given system and will massage your requirements to fit what they know, rather than provide a truly impartial opinion on the right tool for the job.

 

WordPress tends to be popular as it is easy to use, easy to develop for, and has a rich suite of extensions, known as plugins, for every scenario. WordPress also tends to be pretty search engine friendly out the box and is easily optimised with a variety of SEO plugins (with the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin being our favourite).

Types of Content

I am going to reiterate this, as it is important: be sure when scoping out your site to consider all the types of content you require as this may have implications for the design, build, and costs of your project. It is always easier to work this in at the start rather than hack them on at the end.

 

A few important content types to consider:

This list is not intended to be exhaustive but rather to get you thinking. What content do you need at the bare minimum? What content do your prospects need to determine your credibility? How can you help your audience and build relationships before any commercial transactions? What has the competition got? What are they missing? Opportunities? Weaknesses?

 

In a way, your website is just a wrapper for your content and marketing tools, so this thinking will help ensure you cover all the angles and have a site that will support and not hinder your marketing efforts.

 

Marketing online goes way beyond your website, so ensure that any solution you implement considers your email marketing, social media channels, downloads or anything else important to your marketing mix.

Website Design & Development Summary

If you are looking at various web design companies and looking for a way to gauge their experience with CMS software then they can’t fail to have heard of Joomla and WordPress, so asking to see example sites they have done with those systems is a good start.

 

Another good question to ask is why one CMS was chosen over another; if they stumble or tell you that they always use that system then you may see the aforementioned massaging of your requirements to fit with their existing skill set.

 

As a simple guide, at Bowler Hat, we always look to use WordPress for most standard business websites where there are less than a hundred pages. WordPress is just so flexible, easy to use, and has no licensing fees. We have also conducted user surveys and time and time again, people come back with WordPress as the favoured system.

 

Additionally, a great way of gauging the usability of any platform is the amount of support enquiries it generates and our WordPress users are a quiet (but happy) bunch. Ultimately, WordPress is so user-friendly that we often look to see if there are any reasons not to use WordPress for a given project.

 

Where the requirement is not something that is well-suited to WordPress, we will look at other options. These can range from bespoke builds to leveraging CMS systems that are suited to the specific job, with Magento being an example for an eCommerce site.

 

Our approach is always to define the problem and requirements and then research the available software solutions that best fit the bill. We seek to follow the path of least resistance and avoid any specific development, where possible, and favour existing, robust, proven, mature solutions. This approach heralds cost savings, a decreased development time, and ensures that you get an extremely capable system and the very best value for money possible.

 

One last important point is with regards to training and support. By utilising existing, proven solutions, there is a shift from all of our time being spent developing a complex system towards helping you get the very best from your new website and content management platform.

 

Whatever approach you choose, be sure to select a company that understands your requirements and provides justification for all choices. Remember, once the site is built you are, to some extent, stuck with it, and starting from scratch can be an expensive, time-consuming exercise. So, spend as much time planning the site and determining your requirements as possible until you are 100% happy.

Free 30-Minute Consultation

 

Get in touch below to discover more about the best approach to take when designing and developing your own website, or read our blog for more information about web design practices.

 

All of our websites – small business websitesredesigns and rebuilds, and bespoke builds, are designed and developed to your unique requirements and budget. Get in touch to find out more.

 

We also offer a free 30-minute consultation in which we analyse your requirements and provide you with a strategy to get started.

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