Launch Successfully With a Great Website Creation Process

Hot air balloons launching into the sky

A methodical website creation process sets you up for success. Focusing on the right things in the right order allows you to win, every time.

Technology is a means; not an end

Do you ever find yourself asking these questions immediately when you begin a website project?

  • What Content Management System will we use?
  • With what languages will we code?
  • Will we use any frameworks or libraries?
  • On what devices will our users view the website?

These are good questions to ask, but they’re the wrong questions with which to start.

The best websites focus on people

People with a laptop using a website
The user should be your first consideration

A website’s users are more important than the website itself. The technology used to build the website is important, but you should consider users before committing to specific technology. If a website user buys your products or reads your content, those are two examples of successful websites.

If a website has no traffic, or if users are leaving in search of something better, maybe it’s because your website focuses on the wrong things. A website is a tool for real people to use. Always remember to put people first.

Coming up with user personas allows you to choose technology wisely

After determining who will use your website, and how they’ll use it on the front end and the back end, you should definitely start considering what it will take to build the website, and how it will be maintained over time. Here are some more important technology questions to ask up front:

  • What are our business goals?
  • Who will use the website front end?
  • Who will use the website back end?
  • How do we define success?

Answering these kinds of questions will be much more helpful in determining what kind of technology is right to accomplish your goals.

For example, some websites should really use a content management system like WordPress to store information in a database. Others are more suited to lightweight static websites built with Markdown and a simple generator like Jeckyll.

Always consider what’s going to make sense in the long run before deciding on one particular language or platform.

Your message precedes design

When many people think of creating a new website, they imagine the visual design. It’s all about which fonts and colors you’re going to use, and how nice the thing will look on the new iPhone. I want to say something to designers: Close Photoshop. Don’t worry about making amazing wireframes and style tiles quite yet. Don’t worry, we’ll definitely get to that at a later point, but there are a few things to consider and solidify first.

A great visual design is nothing without solid content. You can style content any way you like. You can update design over time, or frequently iterate on design to optimize user experience based on feedback and testing. But without a logical data structure and appropriate content, you’re just drawing. Your website creation process starts with writing.

Jeffrey Zeldman (publisher of A List Apart and founder of Happy Cog) said it very nicely:

The decisions you make about content are going to most affect your website creation process. Don’t skip over content and dump in Lorem Ipsum. Designing content-first will work out much better for you in the long run.

Deliver essentials before extras

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’ve heard of the phrase “mobile-first”. This important concept was written about in 2009 by Luke Wroblewski (Product Director at Google), who later wrote the book, Mobile First. Luke said in his essay that mobile is exploding, it forces you to focus and it extends your capabilities. The big idea I like to get at around mobile-first design is that you want to deliver what’s essential, before cramming in what’s extra.

Mobile first website creation process shows progressive enhancement
Mobile-first design allows essential content to be progressively enhanced with extras for larger devices

This approach is future-friendly

With more and more devices and screen sizes coming out, you never know next year where someone will view your website, and how incredibly small or large their screen might be. It’s best to display important information first, and design for the smallest scenario first. Using progressive enhancement, you can add extra content and more complicated layouts for larger and larger screens. This way mobile users aren’t short-changed.

This goes back to putting people first. If you want to build great websites that focus on people with great content that accomplish your business goals, you need to reach people wherever they are, and that means starting with mobile devices. And really the idea here is screen size, regardless of device.

Skip Photoshop, design in the browser

When most companies have someone design the visual appearance of a website, the designer immediately opens up Photoshop. This is a great image-editing tool, but it’s not web design or development software. Sorry Adobe.

With that in mind, design in the browser and you will save yourself a ton of time. Instead of creating multi-layered PSD static mockups and calling that the “design” phase, and then handing it over to someone else to code during the “development phase”, just combine both tasks into one. A modern browser-first workflow can be as simple as using a text editor like Sublime and a browser like Chrome or Firefox.

Three paperclips, a cup of coffee and a pencil
No advanced tools required.

Design in the browser instead of Photoshop, and you’ll be able to quickly prototype and iterate dynamic, interactive websites. If a single person can complete all of this in one step, you save yourself a lot of time and money.

Can one person handle web design and development altogether?

Hi, my name is Paul, and I design and develop websites. I’m the author of this article you’ve been reading, and people like me are the ones you want to hire to build websites. I went to school for graphic design, learned to draw and paint, and mastered the Adobe suite. And that’s great, now I’m a graphic designer ready to take over the print world.

But then I learned to code. I can write HTML, CSS, PHP, Markdown and some Javascript. I learned content management systems like WordPress, Joomla and WebFlow, and I can build some pretty awesome websites. And of course, I use GitHub for version control and back everything up.

But I’ve also taken those skills a step further by learning how to apply them to business. I’ve taken business classes online and done a ton of reading and listening to books and podcasts by business experts and consultants.

I’m getting better at writing copy by blogging and writing articles for clients. I’ve learned about SEO and accessibility, and I apply those best practices to everything I design.

I use Adwords for outbound marketing and Analytics to track what’s working and what isn’t. I understand that one of the best avenues of marketing communication is email, so I’ve learned to write HTML emails and use email marketing platforms like MailChimp and Constant Contact. Speaking of marketing, I’ve also taken the time to learn relevant social media platforms, and I use Buffer and Publish to automate them all.

I’m not alone. I know there are lots of people out there with this kind of diverse skillset, and if you can hire someone like this, you’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary time and money spent on a larger team of people with fewer skills and a clunkier workflow.

Always aim for an efficient office workflow

If you can train or hire employees with more skills and use tools like Asana, Slack or Ryver to streamline communication and project management, that’s really going to improve efficiency and production when it comes to building websites or anything else in the world of marketing and communication.

Seriously, form a website creation process

There isn’t one best process for everyone and every application, but come up with a process that works best for you, and always work on improving it. Here are the steps I take from planning and prototyping to development, production and launch. Start with people, create content, then decide on technology, build and style the thing, and then launch.

People

  1. Define problems and goals
  2. Research and define user personas and user jobs

Content

  1. Define data architecture
  2. Create SEO strategy
  3. Write and create content

Technology

  1. Set up local environment
  2. Set up version control
  3. Install CMS
  4. Add content & optimize SEO
  5. Create or install plugins as needed

Visual design

  1. Create or install theme and templates

Production

  1. Redirect hosts file and perform browser testing
  2. Setup and deploy to remote testing environment
  3. Perform varied device & user testing
  4. Setup analytics, backups, updates, site monitoring
  5. Setup and deploy to remote production environment

The end is only the beginning

Launching a finished website is rewarding and hopefully profitable. Following a methodical process from start to finish, you should set yourself up for success by remembering these concepts:

  • People first
  • Content first
  • Mobile first
  • Browser first

Just know that when you launch a finished website, it’s only the beginning. The fun is just starting, and next I will write about how to form a successful post-launch task list which will grow and improve as you test and refine over time. This article will be focused more on marketing and growth aspects, and those who subscribe will receive this article in their inbox as soon as it’s finished.

I’m not the first person to write about forming a website creation process

Leave a Comment