What to Expect During the Web Development Process

August 23, 2016   /   by  Diane Callihan

A Phased Approach to Building Your New Website

If you work in the marketing department in a large organization, you may only go through a full-scale website development process once every few years. Whether you’re hiring an agency to build your site or working with an internal team, we think it’s important to have a clear understanding of the process upfront, so you know what to expect.

Most digital agencies follow essentially the same process. While there may be some variations, if you’re working with someone that skips any of these essential steps, that could be a red flag that your agency is cutting corners.

Step 1: The Discovery Phase

This is the first phase of the project, and perhaps the most important, as it sets the groundwork for everything that follows. This is the “getting to know you” phase where the agency needs to learn about who your company is, what makes your brand different and your buyer personas/target market. This is also where they learn what your key goals and objectives are for your site.

This phase will likely include the following:

  • A brand questionnaire/discovery document
  • The kick-off meeting
  • Interviews with key stakeholders
  • Business analysis, including competitor and industry research
  • Review of your current collateral, branding materials, etc.

After the initial Discovery Phase, typically a Creative Brief is written to summarize key findings and establish the foundation for your website strategy going forward.

Step 2: The Site Planning Phase

The planning stage is when the agency works with your business to formulate a detailed plan for your new website.

This phase will likely include the following:

  • Site Architecture – Your planned site map, including main, secondary and tertiary navigation
  • Wireframes – A visual representation of the user interface—often done in a flowchart format through a tool like Visio. Wireframes don’t contain any design elements, but act as a production sketch of the page layouts.
  • Technology Decisions – Your agency and your business should determine what technology will be used to build your site – and if you’ll be integrating marketing automation system, customer relationship management tool or any other 3rd party databases or platforms.

Once you sign off on the site architecture, wireframes and confirm the technologies that will be used, the agency can begin working on the site design.

Step 3: The Design Phase

The agency will now compile all the information they’ve gathered so far and can begin to design your site. During the Discovery Phase, you may have given them some design direction in terms of examples of sites that you liked, styles, layouts, etc.

This phase will likely include the following:

  • Creation of all visual content, including images, photos, videos, infographics, etc.
  • Comps – Typically presented in a PDF or image format, comps provide the overall look and feel of the site. The homepage comp is usually presented first, and once that is approved, the agency can begin building additional comps including:
    • Secondary Page Comps
    • Tertiary Page Comps
    • Other specified pages

Comps should also be provided that show how the responsive website will look on different devices – cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc.

Design comps may take a few iterations before consensus is achieved. Once all the comps are approved by the key stakeholders in your company, the design agency can begin “slicing” up the design to HTML/CSS and actually building it in the chosen platform.

Step 4: The Content Development Phase

The content development phase may coincide with the design phase, and can begin once the site map is approved. Your company may want to provide all the content for the site, they may want the agency to create it, or some combination of the two.

This phase will likely include the following:

  • Gather/assemble content – pulling together copy, photos, graphics that already exist and can be used for the site, etc.
  • Interview/research
  • Outline new page content
  • Write any new copy for the site
  • Shoot or purchase new photos
  • Identify and pull information for graphic elements, like charts, infographics, etc.
  • Create metatags for every page of the site – keywords, descriptions, SEO tags, etc.

A copy document may be compiled that includes all the copy for the site, organized according to the sitemap. Once this is approved, the agency’s production team can add the copy into the site, or – if a content management system is being used – your company may receive training on adding, editing and administering your own content.

Step 5: The Coding Phase

The coding phase is when your site is actually built, and your design comes to life. All of the interactive elements: navigation, stylesheets, custom programming, third party integrations, form functionality and everything else comes together here. This is where the rubber meets the road.

This phase will likely include the following:

  • Create and test static design elements
  • Develop special features and interactivity
  • Build site framework/hierarchy
  • Perform custom programming or integrations
  • Optimize site elements for SEO

Your website will likely be built out on a private development environment, and later moved to the appropriate server when it is ready to go live.

Step 6: The QA/QC Phase

Once the development website is built, it should be thoroughly tested by your agency, and then ultimately reviewed internally. Testing involves a methodical process of going through every single page of the site, testing every link, every form, every script or piece of code. We’ve put together a fairly comprehensive list of 74 things to check for a successful website launch.

Step 7: Site Launch

Launching a site is not quite as simple as just flipping a switch. It's a process.

This phase will likely include the following:

  • Upload the website files to the server where it will be housed
  • Set up redirects from your old site to your new one
  • Retest to ensure that all files have been installed correctly
  • Notify key stakeholders – clients, partners and employees – via social media posts or emails

Enjoy your shiny new website. Champagne all around.

Step 8: The Maintenance Phase

A website is an ongoing service you provide your customers; not a static product that you can just set and forget. Put a process in place for creating and posting new web content, updating images, removing outdated information, etc. Make sure you get any third party software updates as they come out or new plugins as applicable. Regularly check links and fix any errors or bugs as they are reported.

Also, keep track of your web analytics and make adjustments to poorly performing pages. Listen to feedback from your customers on usability or experience issues and update the site accordingly. Your website is a living thing – be sure to take good care of it.

So that’s our quick cheat sheet on the web development process. We’ve been through this many times, creating award-winning websites for our clients. If you need help, we’d be happy to exceed your expectations. Let’s talk.

Diane Callihan

Diane Callihan

With more than 20 years of experience writing for some of the country’s top brands, Diane helped to shape Roger West’s content strategy, lead generation, and PR efforts as Director of Marketing. She currently serves as President of Callihan Content Creation.