Developing a website: a simple 10-point checklist
Developing a new website requires thinking through a range of factors that shape the final outcome. This 10-point checklist takes you through the basics.
1. Purpose and goals
What do you want your site to do? Knowing this is a critical starting point. Is it to sell something, provide information, establish a campaign, develop awareness of an issue, mobilise an online community? Define what you are about, and how your site will help support that.
Who are you talking to? Remember, your website is less about you and more about communicating with other people. Who are they? What are they interested in? Are there different kinds of audiences? How are you offering something that is useful to them?
Practically, you need to break down the kinds of features the site will need, which can include:
- Number of pages
- Content tools, for example: online forms, blogs, photo galleries, slideshows, maps
- Integration with social media
- Video and/or audio players
- A shopping cart and payment function
- An email collection system
- A user ‘login’ system
- Keeping stored information secure
- Technical support
- Site optimisation for mobile or tablet platforms
- Ability for you to easily update content on the site.
4. Domain name
This is the ‘web address’ for your site. Do you already have one, or do you need to register a new one? You’ll need to decide on a suffix: .com / .org / .edu – or use a country-specific domain. There are best practices around choosing a name, making it unique and memorable.
5. Developing content
Content is the critical component of your site. Understanding your audience (#2) will help you understand what site visitors will find valuable. Different kinds of websites will focus on different kinds of content. A blog might have more punchy and opinionated articles; an educational site might house a series of lesson resources; an arts-related site might rely mostly on images. Whatever the topic, you’ll need to create content that is high-quality and interesting to your audience. You will want to plan for ongoing development – people often won’t come back if there’s nothing new. And these days you should think not just about content for your website, but how you spread this across social media platforms to extend your audience reach.
The look or styling is an important factor. What kind of image do you want to project? Consider things like: colour; the styling applied throughout pages; use of images; use of illustration or even animated elements. On top of style you should think about ‘user interface’ issues: the organisation of the site and how information is found; the hierarchy of content and how you direct users to particular end points. Again, consider your user: are they professionals, a younger audience, a cultural group – how do you best appeal to them?
7. Technical requirements
All the decisions you’ve made so far will dictate the technical requirements. These include things like: whether your site is a ‘static’ html-based website (not so common today) or whether it uses a content management system (CMS) – which allows you to edit site content yourself. If so you’ll need to consider which CMS platform to use – there are a many and vary in features and customisability. You’ll want to consider issues of compatibility – whether the site needs to be accessed not just on desktop computers but on mobiles and tablet devices. And if so test it across different platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS. Webpage code compliance can sometimes be an required – making sure that page code conforms to web standards. This is sometimes a requirement within certain sectors such as government, as it makes the site more accessible across browsers and platforms, and to ability-impaired users.
8. Website hosting
The files that make up your site will need to be stored on a computer server – or ‘hosted – to allow people to browse it. The level of hosting your site requires will depend on a number of factors. Firstly, the features of your site can require specific platform or technology compatibility. A particular CMS system will have certain requirements, as will, say, the ability to stream media such or the setup of a customer database. ‘Free’ or low-cost hosting may be ok for a simple site, but this often has limitations making it less appropriate for a more fully-featured sites. You’ll also want to consider how reliable the service is. A host server is just a computer, and if this goes down or is hacked your site will go offline. You’ll want to find a service that has a good ‘uptime’, is secure, and has backup facilities in case of failure.
9. Promoting your site
Once your site is up an running, you’ll want to help people find it. Do this by putting your web address everywhere – business cards, in online business directories, in advertising. Also remember the importance social media platforms and think about how you repurpose and connect content so that it pulls people to your site for further engagement. There are many channels you can spend time and effort on. Consider your audience, experiment and work out which ones work the best for you.
10. Management, servicing and updating
Finally, remember that the web is a dynamic landscape. As you develop new content for your site also consider other ways you can improve it and keep your audience engaged. Site design and structure impact how people find and locate information or offerings, and you’ll want to continue to refine this. Site metrics will give you an understanding of how visitors use the site, which can be fed back into improving it. Also keep in mind that computer and web technology moves quickly, and the website that you build today will be outdated in a year or more. That’s not to say it won’t work – it will – but like any complex machine it will need maintenance to keep it in good shape. For example, computer software updates may alter the way your site displays; new code standards may mean that older code does not work the way it used to. At its worst a site using dated technologies becomes a security risk, and more vulnerable to being hacked. Avoid this by having a plan in place to keep the ‘backend’ of the site up to date and secure. Keep in mind that it can be more cost-effective to prevent a site from ‘falling over’ than it is to pay someone to resurrect it after it has.
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