Here in this article we’ll take a typical website development process, break it down into a few key steps, and explain each step nicely and clearly.
Development process may not seem like a rocket science at first, but if we’re talking a good-quality website that really stands out, it often requires a huge team effort and a lot of time to make.
Without further ado, let’s get straight to business and take a look at the typical steps of e-commerce website design.
Step 1. Gathering Information About Your Future Website
On this step you (together with your developer or just by yourself) need to define the website goals, its overall design, and content. In other words, you need to draw up a product requirements document (aka “website brief”) for your developer. One cannot underestimate the importance of this document – if you’re not sure how to go about it, just read my article on “How to write a creative brief for a website”
If you did everything right, you will get a brief (product requirements document), which can be later used for preparing the full statement of work with the project timeline and budget.
Step 2. Preparing the Statement of Work for Website Development Process
Once you’re done with that brief, you ought to find yourself a developer. If you already have one, you need to make a website development contract with this developer, set the terms of payment, financial guarantees and agree on the amount of advance payment. “Yes, but what does it all mean?” you may ask. Read on to find out.
Based on your brief, the developer creates a website wireframe for your project and outlines the functionality. Basically, you just have to wait patiently and make sure the contract terms are not being violated. When the developer is ready, he shows you the wireframe, which you need to approve. Now you two can agree on the final price of the development (if it hasn’t already been done already).
After that, the developer prepares the full statement of work based on your website brief, wireframe, and approved functionality.
Step 3. Visual Design
Based on the statement of work, the designer will make a mockup of your website. Usually mockups include the approximate layout of the functional elements for all website pages, including mobile version (if there is one). The project manager will run these mockups by you and make changes/additions if necessary.
This process may take up quite some time, especially if we’re talking about such delicate thing as the main page or product page of the website. After it’s been approved, the designer moves on to the other pages, and only then he can do the mobile version design. In this case, the website design process may be a little longer, but it will eventually result in a well-rounded solid website design. Your brief will act as the main source of information for the designer.
A great deal of attention has to be paid to UI/UX, because modern users want their websites to look appealing, yet be simple and intuitive at the same time. And that’s not an easy thing to achieve, by the way. Now let’s talk a little bit more about UI/UX in website design.
UI stands for “User Interface”, while UX is the short for “User eXperience”. UX includes several components, such as information architecture, interaction design, graphic design, and content. UX design is a multi-dimensional approach to the interaction between the user and the product (whether it’s a website, mobile app or some other program). A person who performs these tasks is called UX designer. His main goal is to make sure that everything relevant to a pleasant user experience has been taken into consideration.
Step 4. Front-End Development
That’s when you take the website mockups and hand them over to the front-end developer, who will flesh out the design of the website pages. It’s a very important step, and the more professionally it is done, the faster your website pages will load. The website load speed optimization has become an urgent matter recently, as users wouldn’t want to watch your website page load forever, 5 seconds tops. Why is it like that?
Well, it’d be safe to say that your website isn’t the only one of its kind on the web. Probably, there are a few (hundred/thousand/million) similar sites out there, and if it takes too long for a user to load your page, he’ll simply close the tab and leave for some other website. Possibly, forever.
One thing you may also want to consider is your website size (usually measured in kilobytes). Heavier pages take more time to load and eat up more traffic, which will lead to users leaving your website before they even see it. The process of reducing website page size and load speed is called load speed optimization. Optimized pages tend to appear higher in search results. For example, Google even has a special tool, which measures the level of website page optimization, both for desktop and mobile versions of the website.
There are many directions in which you can optimize your website, but some things you just cannot escape. They are:
- Cross-browser compatibility – the pages have to come up correctly in different browsers (Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer/Edge, Safari etc.);
- Accessibility – you want to be able to add/remove information quickly without affecting the overall page performance;
- Performance – essentially, the time it takes a browser to render the page;
- Validity – your website should conform to the common standards;
- Semantic correctness – all HTML elements should be arranged in a correct and logical way, that excludes errors.
Step 5. Back-End Development and Creating Functionality
When the front-end development is done with, that’s when the actual programmer steps in and starts coding. Back-end development usually includes creating website administrator access, enabling payment systems and implementing various functions, as described in the statement of work. A Content Management System (CMS) is often used to optimize the working process. In simple terms, CMS is a tool, which helps the website owners to manage the website content without any special knowledge.
CMS serves two main purposes – it renders the pages for users and helps the website owners manage its content. Sometimes frameworks are used instead of CMS, or you can even do direct PHP programming, depending on the actual requirements provided in the statement of work.
Step 6. Filling the Site with Content
For this step, you’ll need high-quality professionally-written content, provided a copywriter and arranged by a sub-editor. Needless to say, that all the materials, whether they are texts or graphics, have to be relevant to the site. On this step, the site is filled with the content to the extent specified in the contract.
Step 7. Testing
This is usually done by a QA tester, who has to go through all the previous steps, making notes and corrections along the way.
Despite the fact that testing is present in each of the preceding project steps, you may want to test the website on the production server once again before it is launched. Here are some of the things to look out for:
- the site comes up correctly in all modern browsers;
- all the necessary content is in place;
- all the internal program elements work correctly.
Now, when the final testing is done and there are no bugs left, it’s time to publish the website. But even after it’s been published, you can’t just rest on your laurels and wait for something grand to happen. If you want to make money with your website, be prepared to:
- update/add content regularly;
- do search engine optimization (SEO);
- conduct user surveys and add/change the functionality based on the results.
Doesn’t seem like a piece of cake, does it? But it’s well worth the effort, trust me.
Step 8. Publishing Your Website
To publish a website, you need to solve two simple issues.
- Choose the address of the site, or domain name, to be precise. Common logic suggests that you use your company/brand name for domain name.
- Physically host your website. “Publishing a website” means that someone who has a server with a stable Internet connection will provide you with a space on this server, to make your website available for visitors. This process is called “hosting” a website. The actual geographical location of the server doesn’t matter. For example, you can host a website in English with a Canadian domain on the server in China. Your visitors won’t really notice it, because they will be searching the site by name/keywords and not by physical location.
Besides having problems with filling the site with content, small companies may also find it hard to maintain the site. What we mean by website maintenance is adding fresh articles, news, and other content updates. If you constantly add a lot of content, it gets indexed by the search engine, and your website may get a better ranking in search results, which is perfect for attracting new visitors.
It’s not always easy to find the time to manage the website on your own. If this is the case, consider hiring a company or a freelancer who will maintain your website. Fixed monthly fee will buy you fresh articles and news, published on your website. You can also use these people to make changes to the website whenever necessary. You should read this article “What is content marketing: guide to successful content strategy“
Specialists Required for Website Creating and Their Roles
As you might have noticed, there are at least 6 people needed to get the thing going. Let’s see what their roles are and how each one of them contributes to the project:
- Project manager is responsible for implementing the client’s idea, using the available resources and the time given. To achieve this goal, PM has to come up with a project scope, get a team together, establish the working process and communication between the teams and the client, ensure the overall quality and terms of project delivery.
- Designer is an IT specialist responsible for the overall look and feel of the website. He creates logos, banners and other visual elements. He designs the site navigation system and decides where and how to place the text. Coming up with a striking and memorable design is just one thing; a good designer should also consider the page load speed. He usually works together with the marketing specialists and brand managers, who help create an effective website.
- Front-end developer is a person who creates actual web pages. His typical responsibilities include:
- writing website page code using the appropriate markup language, such as HTML, XHTML;
- expanding the existing code by means of markup languages or Cascading Style Sheets styles (CSS).
In other words, front-end developer is a connecting link between the designer and the back-end developer. Based on the mockup done by a designer, he creates a sort of a “template” for back-end developer. You may think of it as a translation process – front-end developer “translates” the visuals into the code using tags. An HTML tag is essentially a piece of pre-formatted text, which contains certain information about various elements of design (text, picture, table). After the front-end developer’s work is finished, you can view all the graphic mock ups in the form of tags.
- Back-end developer is an IT specialist, who programs and creates the server-side of the website. He ensures the correct display of the content, automates the process of gathering and storing user data, fights off the spam and hacker attacks. Back-end development is a process of programming the website and adding functionality. It features such activities as creating website core, developing website platform, adding basic functionality and creating admin access.
- QA tester is a person who does testing. He is responsible for finding errors and bugs in a product or program. QA tester simulates different user cases (some typical situations/sequences which most users are bound to perform) in order to locate errors/bugs, and point them out to the developers. QA tester may go beyond that and simulate some cases, which aren’t provided for in the statement of work, but nevertheless possible. I’d like to think of him as a “quality engineer,” as his main goal is to ensure the best quality of the product tested.
- Copywriter is a person who articles on certain given subjects. There is, however, a difference between a journalist and a copywriter. The latter sells his copy and the rights to it to the client, thus losing the copyright. The client may dispose of the received copy at his own discretion. Usually the client sets specific requirements for the copy – subject, volume, and keywords. Copywriting is the art of selling stuff using words. Words mean a lot in our life – if you know how to use them, you can make friends, attract people and convince them of spending their money on something. If you explain how to drive a car to a newbie driver, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll get into that car and drive it like a pro, no matter how easy it seems (switch to D, hit the gas and steer). Same thing with the copywriting – if you want your copy to be appealing, take some time to find yourself a copywriter who is capable of delivering any message and knows how to achieve the desired effect.
Large-scale projects may often require more people to implement, as there are many additional sub-tasks. That’s where UI/UX designers, analysts, marketers and other specialists step in.
What is Web Development – Conclusion
Let’s sum it up! Website development process is a complex process that consists of 8 main steps:
- gathering information
- preparing the statement of work
- creating visual design
- front-end development
- back-end development
- filling the site with content
Website development requires a few key specialists, each one with his/her own role, duties and responsibilities. Minimal set of specialists includes 6 people:
- Project Manager
- Front-end developer
- Back-end developer
- QA tester
Your input is required mainly on the first three steps. If you want the whole process to run smoothly, take some time and effort to gather as much relevant information as possible, plan everything very carefully, and always communicate with the team. It’s your site after all – you’ll only get as much as you put into it.
I hope this article was helpful and now you know everything you need to kick start that project of yours – especially what is web development!
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If you have further questions on the subject, please write them in comments – I’ll be glad to answer.