This is the second part of a post on the website design and development process. In this part we cover website development/build, website delivery and support. For part one of this post read ‘The Website Design Process, A Digital Agency’s Guide – Part 1‘.
Once again the content of this post is based on our processes and procedures at Plus Two, they are outlined to aid with general understanding of a digital agency’s website design and development process. We appreciate this may not be how all digital agencies work, but should give a solid foundation on what to expect when creating a website with a digital agency.
Building websites involves a variety of technologies and technological know how, this section provides an overview of the developmental steps which lead up to a website launch.
Most if not all websites have a web address, it is important to secure the name wanted for a website early on; so that competitors or other companies can’t get there first. Some agencies will look after this step but others won’t. There are many domain registrars out there to choose from personally I use http://www.domainmonster.com/ whereas another popular registrar is http://www.123-reg.co.uk/.
When choosing a domain name it is wise to consider which keywords you want to rank well for in search engines, if possible weave a couple of these terms into the web address.
Web hosting is rented space on a server which is accessible from the internet, it is where a website will ‘live’ once it has been uploaded. As with choosing a domain registrar there are many options out there for web hosting , the cost of these vary from free hosting to prices verging on extortion. Some agencies will sell hosting as a managed service which will cost more than hosting a site on a private hosting. If its decided to opt for managed hosting through an agency make sure to ask for a breakdown of the pricing.
Different websites have varying requirements from their a web server this is something a digital agency will be able to advise you on. Essentially there are 3 basic types of web server; shared hosting, virtual private servers and dedicated servers. Shared hosting is usually only suitable for basic websites and sometimes low level CMS functionality, virtual private servers offer websites more resources and so are used more often with CMS based websites, dedicated servers are used for enterprise level solutions and would be surplus to most website requirements.
There are generally 3 web servers which are used during the development of the site; these are local, staging and live. A local server is local to the developers machine, changes here are only visible on the developers computer. A staging server is a server which can be seen over the internet but is not indexed by search engines, files will be uploaded here for content population, testing and review. When a site is signed off the files will be migrated from the staging server to the live server which will indexed by search engines and visible to web surfers everywhere.
To CMS or not to CMS
Concrete5, Drupal, Joomla, Moveable type, WordPress… the list of content management systems goes on. Content management systems (CMS) are a platform for publishing, editing and modifying content. Deciding whether a website should have a CMS depends on the purpose and scale of the website. Microsites and small websites (3 to 5 pages) which will not have content updated frequently may not require the additional overhead of using a CMS whereas medium to large websites usually benefit from having one.
CMS’s provide a fast and efficient way to keep a website’s content up to date this often reduces the cost of setting up a large website, with medium websites (5 to 20 pages) you might not see this saving when comparing quotes this is due to the cost of setting up the CMS being comparable to populating the content directly into the raw HTML – something to remember is that future content amends and updates will be cheaper if a CMS has been used.
Many digital agencies utilise CMS plugins to extend functionality. It is a normal practice for these to be included when tailoring a website for a client. Plugins come in three flavours Free, Paid and Bespoke. Many agencies have their own library of trusted or paid plugins though if a piece of functionality is unique then the agency may create a bespoke plugin.
After a wireframe, sitemap, design and the decision on whether to use a CMS have been made development will begin. There are two main elements to this backend and frontend development, these run in synergy with one another.
Developers will continually test their code across browsers during development; this reduces the chance of ‘surprise bugs’ when the development cycle is nearing its end. Once a website has reached a stage where it is nearing launch then a formal testing cycle will begin. Having a testing cycle reduces the risk of things going wrong once a site is live, all facets of the website will be heavily scrutinised across multiple devices, platforms and browsers. As bugs are found and reported they will be fixed and retested to ensure the bug no longer exists.
If no CMS was included in the build content population will take place throughout the build as an integral part of creating the website. Most websites built by Plus Two include a CMS as part of the package. After a CMS has been installed on a server content population may begin and will continue as the site is developed. Content will include text, images and where applicable audio and video. It is worth noting that video and audio may need encoding into new formats in order to work with internet browsers.
What good is a a website if nobody can find it? It is important that SEO is considered when collating the website content. SEO is a vast subject, too vast to be included in this post – in brief: page titles, headings, first paragraphs, link text, image names and alt tags should all be considered as places to consider placing keywords, however try not to keyword stuff. SEO plugins are available for most CMS’s for WordPress we tend to use Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin; amongst other great features this plugin makes it easy to manage page titles and meta descriptions from within the editor.
Content amends and Sign off
Once the site has been tested and content population has come to a stop the client will be asked to give a final review. The purpose for this review is to identify any content amends and tweaks to functionality, once these amends have been completed the client is asked to sign off the website as complete, only after sign off is given will the site be ready for delivery.
Websites tend not to be physically handed over to the client unless a backup of the files on CD or memory stick is requested, instead they are uploaded onto an agreed server and the proverbial ‘keys’ are handed over via training and provision of documentation.
All files and database entries are transferred to the live server, any settings within the CMS preventing the site from being indexed by search engines are updated.
Update domain name settings
DNS settings with the domain registrar are updated to point the domain name at the live site, these changes can take up to 48 hours to propagate and so 48 hours for the site to appear as live.
Documentation & Training
Documentation if required will be prepared and supplied to the client, other 3rd party on-line resources may also be supplied as training aids.
If training has been included in a quote then a session will be scheduled either as a face to face or web meeting. In a face to face meeting relevant client employees will be walked through the process of adding and amending content, supplied with biscuits and a free flowing supply of tea and coffee. Unfortunately scientists haven’t yet figured out how to send biscuits or tea over the internet so these tend to be excluded from web training.
Once a website or project has been completed this tends not to be the end of the client-agency relationship. Web technology moves forward, budgets are renewed, new features are desired and old ones removed, this leads to a state of continued development; both of the client-agency relationship and of the project. Below are some examples of how the client-supplier relationship may continue to grow.
Depending on the level of training or by prior agreement; content amends may be made by the supplier at the request of the client. A retainer may be created to cover content updates and the addition/removal of website features.
As new technology is released and a website grows it is an unfortunate inevitability that the occasional bug will appear, a digital agency however should happily fix any which were covered by the original remit.
As new employees are hired and fired or time passes clouding memory en-route there may be the need for retraining or for the occasional reminder on how to do something. A client may also look for support with finding the best solution for new features. Whatever the assistance the digital agency should be happy to help out.
Hopefully by now you have a feel for the way a digital agency defines website design and development. As you can see there is a fair amount of client responsibility and work that goes into a website. A good agency should be willing to discuss any part of the website design and development process with a client and it is important for an agency to get the client involved; especially early on in order to insure a good product is delivered.
Also important to note is that the client needs to have faith in the digital agency to make the right calls in terms of usability, they have a vast body of experience in the field and its in their best interest to make the best possible choices when deciding where items live on a page and what technologies to utilise. Remember it’s their portfolio, the client-agency relationship (future work and recommendations) and finished website which they are working towards.