What Is A Good Website Development Process?

There are many ways to divide the phases of building a new website. It is possible to shorten the steps in the process to 3 or 4 or to lengthen it to as many as 10. But the goal of viewing a website development process should be to convey an understanding of the major areas that need to be covered and the general order in which these things would normally be done. So with that in mind, our process at GoldHat is the following 5-stages.

Define your website audience. What does your audience need, want? What site features might fit your audience? Which sites do you like/dislike, and why? How does the site measure success, does it produce sales, leads or have another measurement form? Brainstorm ideas for the site. Record all the information in notes, links and files for use later in the Website Planning phase.

Ideally an experienced Website Development Project Manager will guide this research and analysis phase and best practices would be to use an elicitation documentation process that results in an initial draft of website requirements.

Phase 1: Research and Analysis

Phase Theme: Answering questions, discovering ideas, finding information.

Define your website audience. What does your audience need, want? What site features might fit your audience? Which sites do you like/dislike, and why? How does the site measure success, does it produce sales, leads or have another measurement form? Brainstorm ideas for the site. Record all the information in notes, links and files for use later in the Website Planning phase.

Ideally an experienced Website Development Project Manager will guide this research and analysis phase and best practices would be to use an elicitation documentation process that results in an initial draft of website requirements.

Phase 2: Website Planning

Phase Theme: Making decisions, writing the plan, drafting schedules and budget.

Plan how you will handle each of the 3 key areas of the website such as the graphic design (DESIGN), the development and programming (DEV), and the content development (CONTENT). How you address each of these key areas depends on what type of site you are building. For instance on a video site, you’ll need to think about which video player to use (DEV), how that video player will be themed (DESIGN) and the details of the videos and playlists (CONTENT).

Website planning should record all the major decisions affecting the project including the budget and payment schedule. The timeline of the project and major milestones should be set. Key technical decisions will include which platform to use (CMS, Framework, eCommerce system), where and how to hosting the site, the domain(s) or sub-domains used, and other factors such as whether an SSL certificate is needed.

Phase 3: Website Design

Phase Theme: Creating the layout, choosing a color scheme, designing key site features, revisions and finalization.

The Website Design should flow creatively from the diligent work done in the previous 2 stages. Just as the Website Planning phase uses the Research and Analysis phase as input, winning designs come providing a clear plan. Of course creativity and talent play a major role here, and ensuring that the design team are masters of their trade is important. Yet one of the keys to success in designing websites is optimizing the design process by having a very clear focus already developed through planning. This not only helps the designer in the creative aspects of design, but it also keeps everyone on the same page in terms of reviewing and approving the designs.

The question of “what is a good design” is often the most hotly debated topic of any project and changes and redesigns can often add time, cost and stress to the entire build. So it is very important that design reviews yield meaningful results in the form of clear feedback.

Phase 4: Programming & Development

Phase Theme: Release the coders, install the framework/CMS, code the site template, code site features one-by-one, test and debug features.

This is generally the longest phase of the project and it is where the website actually goes from a design to a finished product. If it is possible to have all the designs from the Design Phase completed before starting programming and development, this can help avoid common development problems. Sometimes a project schedule does not allow this, so the development coding begins in the areas where the designs are rendered.

On most CMS-driven sites built in WordPress, Drupal etc., this phase is divided into fairly distinct stages such as: theme development, module/plugin development, site configuration.

This is where the end client (site owner) will generally have the least involvement. If the work has been done thoroughly in the planning phase, all the details that the development team needs will already be contained in the written Project Plan.

Phase 5: Content Management

Phase Theme: Add or migrate site content, format content, review finished pages.

The content management phase is sometimes the odd duckling in all the phases. This is because if the site has fairly simple content, such as mostly basic text pages with some images, then this work can often be handled in the Programming & Development Phase. But if your rebuilding a site, and have thousands of pictures, videos or other data to import to the new site, then this phase can be very significant in time and cost.

Sometimes our clients will be involved heavily in the Content Management phase. In other situations we will handle all the content additions and formatting.

It is important to note that generally speaking, content should not be developed while the site is being built, because content development should actually be completed BEFORE the site is built. Of course in practical reality, it is not unusual for some content to be edited or created on-the-fly as the site is being built. But this can cause major complications, as it can cause the project to be put on hold while content is finalized.

Phase 6: Testing and Launch

Phase Theme: Test for issues, fix bugs, repeat, and repeat, and repeat. When all is well, place the site on live hosting and launch it!

This phase should probably be called the rollercoaster phase given that it combines the highs and lows of the entire project. Nothing is more alarming than finding bugs, only to fix them, and find 12 more bugs. Finding issues, fixing them and repeating the process is painstaking work especially if a deadline is looming or past. But the reward is a site that is ready to launch, and the enjoyment of seeing the finished product go live.

Phases 7 through 20

You might be thinking, how can a 6-phase development process have 13 additional phases? Well, we want to close this article on the website development process by pointing out that our website development process is designed only to go from “I need a site” or “let’s rebuild this site” to the live, fully-functional launch of the site you planned. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t also consider such things as admin training, content publishing, maintenance, SEO, social marketing, performance testing, security testing, usability testing, and dozens of other related work. The point is this, building a website is a distinct project, with a start and end. The main goal is to launch the new site. Don’t all the future and separate activities overwhelm the Site Development Process. Keep the eyes on the target, because developing an entire site from IDEA-to-LAUNCH is a big undertaking in itself, especially if you do it right!