You’ve realised you need a website. Good choice as it’s well accepted that’s not a choice for businesses anymore. But you might find yourself asking what steps web designers take.
When you contact a web designer to get a quote and start the process (whether they’re working by themselves, or it’s an agency) they’ll probably be following some fairly similar steps. It can be daunting as you don’t know what to expect. What are they going to ask you? How can you prepare? What can you do to get the most out of that first meeting?
I’ll outline some key steps below that any web designer/developer will likely take. Some people/agencies might differ slightly, but they’ll give you a good start and a bit of knowledge about what goes into the process.
You’ve probably already had a brief chat over the phone (or by email) with your web designer about what it is you need. They’ll want to have a more in-depth talk with you to give them the information they’ll need about the business, and they should suggest that’s done in person (whether at your office, theirs, or perhaps a cafe).
A lot of agencies and some freelance designers/developers can carry out the work from start to finish. For example, they can provide the content creation, design work, write the code for the website and make sure it’s functional across different devices, assist you with getting it online, and finally help with ongoing SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). They should be clear with you from the beginning about what work they can undertake.
This ‘discovery’ meeting is about what your business actually needs, although I appreciate that’s a bit general. This meeting also helps the designer/developer provide with a more accurate quote (as helping create content or a logo, for example, can take more time). I’ve created the list below from some questions I’d ask a new client to give you an idea of what your designer may ask you. Even if you don’t know specific answers, they’ll help get you thinking:
(You might notice this section is a lot longer than the others… it’s probably one of the most important stages (in my experience) as it really gives you and the designer good building blocks for the next stages. It’s important to get things right at this stage, but if you don’t have answers right away, don’t worry)
If you’ve asked your designer to help writing the content for your website (also called copy) then they’ll generally do this before they started designing the visuals. In my experience, the content generally drives the design. There’ll be a message you want to get across on the website and good content is the start of that. Not to mention having great content that your users will enjoy is a cornerstone of SEO. It’s important to remember that the search engines are there to serve the users, not the websites.
There are certain things you designer will probably do before actually writing the content as well, such as looking at keyword searches that your business should focus on. I won’t go into the specifics here, but SEO is a consideration at each stage of the process.
There’s a good chance your designer (or copywriter if you’ve employed someone specifically to do this) will need to ask you more questions about you and the business while writing the content. They’ll probably want to share updates with you to get your feedback as well.
Now the design work can begin! It’s time to select and refine a colour palette and initially wireframe the website layout. If you’ve asked your designer to, this will also include designing a logo. Out of all the steps web designers take, this is perhaps what we think of most.
There can be a lot involved in the designing stage, and the designer will almost certainly go through different iterations of site design to chisel one out you’re both happy with and ticks the boxes for what your business needs.
Again, prepare to be provided with updates and requests for feedback regularly.
This may be one of the steps web designers take if you’ve hired one, or you may have hired a separate developer to carry out the coding/markup work.
The shortness of my description of this section compared to the first three should not make you think there’s not a lot of work involved. There’s a lot of technical knowledge that goes into creating a functional, bug-free, and above all mobile responsive website; but that isn’t the purpose of this post. Having the design and content created, however, does help make this stage much easier. While designing the website, your designer probably has a good idea of how they’ll construct the code.
Ideally, this will be a fairly small part of the process, but perhaps the most exciting. You get to actually see the website live.
Your designer has probably already talked to you about setting up a hosting account at the latest as they’re finishing step 4. If you’re arranging this yourself, they’ll ask you for the login details so they can set the hosting account settings for you (there are certain things like setting up an FTP login (File Transfer Protocol; it’s just a way to get your website files into the host’s server), and helping you get an email account set up that might want help with). Whenever I do this part, I’d always offer to sit with my client when I set these up so they have an understanding of what I’m doing.
Lastly, once the website is live, there might be some small bug fixes or perhaps even minor changes to make. Although your designer/developer would have tested the site on different browsers and made sure the website is well suited to mobile users, there’s always the chance a few changes need to be made. If they’ve already got an FTP account they can make those changes and upload the new version straight to the host server.
Although it very much feels like you’ve hit the finish line, and in many respects you have. But there’s generally going to be follow up work to be done in the form of SEO.
As I’ve mentioned before, SEO is a consideration at every stage. It’s one of the steps web designers take that permeates every aspect of the project. For example, you should make sure the content is engaging, written well, the design flows and keep users engaged etc. But also, your designer/developer will have optimised the code for SEO. Technical on-page optimisations include:
There’s other work you need to do as well, such as building incoming links to your website (called backlinks). There’s a number of ways you can do this. The best is by having fresh content, usually in the form of a blog. You can also get other websites (ideally good websites that have some authority in your particular business area) to link to you. Remember: If you have good content, other websites are more likely to link to you.
Then there’s social media promotion too. You cannot ignore social media; they’re such a powerful tool to reach wider audiences when used correctly.
I hope that gives you a good idea of the steps web designers take and the work involved in creating a custom website that works well so you know what to expect.
In my experience, the discovery, content creation, and design stages are the most important three. The design being complete and one you’re both happy with makes the coding work (step 4) much easier. If you/your designer carried out in-depth content creation and design there will likely be fewer changes at this stage. Lastly, if the discovery meeting is done well then accurate and detailed content can be created which in turn drives the design stage. You wouldn’t build a house with poor foundations; there’s no reason a website is any different.