Your Complete Guide to the Website Development Process

Your Complete Guide to the Website Development Process

The Best Website Developers in Philadelphia

When a developer sits down to build a website, he does not simply click a few buttons and magically create the site. Instead, the web design process is a series of intricate steps and stages that all depend on one another. Sure there are some people out there who claim to be able to build websites in less than 24 hours, but these are not truly unique. What these “developers” are doing is actually making the same website over and over and only making a few minor changes each time. The best web designers are those who take the time to do the process correctly.

Over just the past two years alone, we at Direct Line Development have developed more than 40 different websites, so we speak to you not from a standpoint of speculation, but one of tried-and-true experience.

As we begin to layout the web design and development process below, we ask that you keep in mind that the conditions and timeframes used may vary from customer to customer. Some people come knowing they want a website as fast as possible and go through the process quickly. Others are very busy and do not have the time to make immediate decisions regarding their websites. A website can take 10 days to make or it can take 10 months. As a rule, therefore, you should remember that the faster the correspondence between developer and customer, the faster the website will be created.

In any case, in this article we will reveal the many secret ingredients found in a website developer’s kitchen.

Step One: Gather All Information Necessary for Custom Site Development

As with most custom projects, we must first start with collecting information from the customer. Although it may verge on the edge of triviality, this step is the most important out of the entire process. Think about it, if at this stage we have huge misunderstandings or our priorities are not in sync with those of the customer, the finished product will be incorrect and the customer confused.

If we gather all the information we need right from the very beginning, we save tremendous amounts of time down the road, especially in the initial phases of the design stage.

In order to ensure that we do indeed obtain all of this information, we have our customers fill out a multi-page brief. Our customers fill out this brief and answer questions pertaining to specific details about their company or business, their competitors, and what advantages their company has over others like it.

Once the brief is complete, our design and development team begins its research. On average, we explore at least a dozen of competitors’ websites in order to distill from them the best ideas for the industry in which we will be building the site. We then improve upon these ideas and incorporate them into our plan for our customer’s own website.

Following this research is the laying out of the initial structure of the website. From different modules to the functionality of each page, we want to understand how everything should work and interact on the website.

It is only after we have reached a thorough level of understanding of every aspect of the site can we proceed to the next stages of web development.

AOR Information Technology Solutions site structureIFMA - International Facility Management Association site structureMy Sister's Choice site structureGlobal Conservation site structure3rd Floor Media site structure

Step Two: Professional Content Review

This phase runs in parallel with the creation of the site through the entire development process. The reason being that we will inevitably collect more and more information from you as the process proceeds through each step.

When beginning to fill the site with valuable content, we start with the main page (also referred to as the home page) and the main internal pages. Although the content will be finalized at a later point, having these pages already populated allows us to develop prototypes of the design based on the layout of the content.

It should be noted that when we say content we do not only mean text. Content also includes visuals such as photos, videos, tables and charts. Even audio clips count as content. It is essentially anything and everything that we need visitors to stumble upon. Most of this content is taken from an older website, but we also advise that you need not be shy in hiring a professional photographer and a copywriter as the site progresses.

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Step Three: Website Design Prototyping

In principle, yes, you could have drawn the layout of the site from the very beginning, but it is best to wait to do so until all of the background components of the project are in place.

Every designer will do it differently, but we here at Direct Line Development make prototypes of not only the main page, but also of every small page throughout the entire site. We make sure our design team has plenty of prototypes to work with.

The logic behind this process is sound. It saves a huge amount of time and money for the design team. To clients, most of their critiques and suggestions will be during the design phase (unless of course they are programmers themselves), so it is much faster for us to change a prototype rather than a fully designed web page. It gives the customer the freedom to experiment with their ideas without delaying the process or adding to the total cost of the project.

In sum, we make the prototypes of the all the pages on the website, beginning with the largest and most important, and show them to the client. The client may remember that they actually wanted a specific module on the homepage in location that our designers originally placed the title of the client’s business. Using minimal effort, the designer can simply rearrange the page so that it fits the customer’s tastes, but is still aesthetically up to par. What is most important about this step is that it does not proceed further until the client has entirely approved each prototype. This ensures their satisfaction and prevents confusion and misunderstanding down the road.

Prototype for the IFMA company of web development processPrototype for the Global Coservation company of web development processPrototype for the Donna's Knit Resource of web development processPrototype for the AOR company of web development processPrototype for the Third Floor Media of web development process
After the client has approved the website prototype, (on the left), we start work on the design. You can see the final result on the right.

Step Four: Custom Website Design

Now we enter the stage that is arguably one of the most fun for clients: design. The prototypes are passed to the design team who, having already been working with the prototypes and client from the start, has a solid understanding of what the client is trying to accomplish with their website. Still, we arrange a working discussion around the specific website design needs of the client. For instance, if they own a business in Philadelphia, we will be sure to take all the implications of that region into account when building the custom website. It is not enough that we simply create a website. We need to create a website that exactly meets our clients’ needs and surpasses their expectations.

As with the prototypes, we begin by working with the client on the homepage of their site. From experience, we know that this is where the most questions will arise. The client is, after all, choosing the face of their company online. We do not move past this stage without the approval from the client because this selection sets the design theme for the rest of the website. We always encourage our clients to take their time in thinking over their approval decisions, but we also advise that they not dwell too long on something. Overthinking will cause you to scramble every idea that you’ve had up until this point. It’s best to make a calculated, yet timely decision.

If the client, even after all of our research and questioning, does not like the first design of the homepage that we present them, our designers will develop a second version with absolutely no extra charge. We understand that sometimes to make the right decision, you need to have options.

Layout is overwhelmingly important. It is the path by which you and your site’s visitors will navigate your company or business. In order to get it exactly right, we question the client in detail about their preferences and design tastes. We understand that most clients won’t know why they like something, they just do. Totally fine. Our designers and developers are fully capable of distilling your preferences from the information you provide us, such as which sites you like and the sites of your competitors. Again, this phase is crucial to the success of the website, but we do our best to move through it as quickly as possible.

Once we settle on the homepage design-scheme and layout, we can quickly integrate that design throughout the entire website, since the general theme is already established.

Different design of landing page for the Third Floor MediaThe first and the second version of the main pageThe third and the fourth version of the main pageThe final version of web design and development for media company
We create the different design concepts because we understand how important it is to have a variety of design concepts.

Step Five: Front-end Development and Programming

Contrasting the fun involved creative process of the design stage is the programming phase. This phase can last anywhere from four to eight weeks for an average sized site. During this phase, the client takes a back seat as the technical details are hammered out behind the scenes.

The project manager, having already prepared a detailed outline of all the pages of the site, passes it over to the lead developer for the website. That developer then installs the Content Management System (CMS) and programs all of the necessary modules for the site.

At the moment, we use Python as our primary programming language for all of our sites. It is high-powered and conducive to speed and reliability. For example, if we were to write a site in PHP and operate through WordPress, a few hundred visitors would cause the site to lag and freeze up. A Python website on the other hand could take that influx of traffic many times over and not even break a sweat. The difference is impeccable.

The goal of this step is not simply to scrap together the code needed to launch the site. Instead, our developers work to make the site run as efficiently and quickly as possible, and doing so requires intense analysis and review. The main blocks of code will be reviewed by many different people, including the lead developer for the project. The whole site then passes through Alpha testing order to ensure that our efficiency standards are met.

Step Six: Testing

At this point, the site is drawn out, compiled, programmed, and ready for use on an actual internet browser, but still only for the development team.

The first phase of testing is populating the rest of the website with relevant content. This is done through the CMS, which inadvertently checks the functionality of the CMS itself as well as the semantic integrity of the website.

It should be said that no matter how professional the team is, no matter how much time is put in, etc., you are going to find errors on the website. Some of these errors will be huge and require immediate fixing, others will be barely noticeable. Naturally, most of the main bugs will have been addressed and fixed, but some errors find their way to the surface only after a series of actions takes place that brings them about. The goal is to find each and every bug and correct it before the public launch of the site.

We also test the site for optimal User Experience functionality. We do this by having people use the site who are unfamiliar with the project. We ask them to navigate the site from a laptop, iPad, phone, etc., and to use it for its intended purpose (i.e. shopping, information, commenting). If we have the same people who have been building the site go through and test for User Experience, they will be too accustomed to the project and overlook certain details that a fresh set of eyes would notice immediately.

The goal is to make sure that by the time real users visit the site, there will be no errors that could spoil their impression of the site or business. We especially want to avoid the kind of errors that would cause visitors to leave the site altogether.

Websites which adapt to and look great on any mobile device, img 1Websites which adapt to and look great on any mobile device, img 2Websites which adapt to and look great on any mobile device, img 3Websites which adapt to and look great on any mobile device, img 4Websites which adapt to and look great on any mobile device, img 5
It's very important how the website looks and feels on different screen resolutions. We create responsive websites which adapt to and look great on any mobile device.

Step Seven: Website Launch and Customer Presentation

Welcome to our favorite step of the website development process.

Like the birth of a child, the finished product of a custom website always brings a smile to our customers’ faces. It is the culmination of several months of hard work by dozens of people and gives everyone something to be proud of. The designers and developers take pride in their work while the customer takes pride in their company.

If you want to experience the magic of website development from start to finish, just give us a call!  We treat each and every project we take on as the most important one of our lives!

“Even the most beautiful and modern sites are of no value until they begin to reach the goals set before them.”

What To Do With the Site After It Is Already Launched

While it is incredibly important to make a website and have it built in the most efficient and effective manner possible, you should also understand that the process does not end after the site’s launch. You must then begin to work with the site so that it is able to work for you. In other words, your site should begin to bring you new customers and business. Even the most beautiful and moderns sites are of no value you until they begin to reach the goals set before them. Fact.

Every company will have goals unique to their sphere of business and stage of development, but these goals will all remain unattainable without a consistent flow of new customers to your site. This is why when we develop websites, we almost always incorporate search engine optimization and social media marketing into the framework of the site from the very beginning. Driving targeted traffic to a website is a core tenet of success in the online world.

Nowadays, pay-per-click companies are simply too expensive with relatively low returns on your dollar. Organic SEO on the other hand has proven to bring about excellent results over a long period of time. Stay tuned for more information about what you should do with your site after it is up and running.

The article was updated on August 15, 2017.

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