This week’s podcast episode features a complete rundown of what it takes to build a world-class website from start to finish. During my short career building websites, I have developed and continued to tweak my process for designing and developing websites.
The result (I hope) is a systematic process that is able to consistently produce great-looking websites that actually help my clients achieve the business results they’re after.
Here’s what it looks like.
The Strategy Phase
Set Website Goals, Objectives, and KPIs
To begin each project, we first want to know what our client is hoping to achieve with their new website. These goals and objectives become the guiding principles during the project and are the first step in developing an effective strategy for the website. We also determine what KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that we will use as metrics to measure success once the website is live to see if it is meeting these goals/objectives.
Develop a Content Strategy for the Website
Once the client and web designer are aligned on the strategy for the website, it’s time to start brainstorming what content the website should have that will enable the business to achieve these goals, objectives, and KPIs.
Here, we want to audit what content we have (blogs, videos, image assets, podcasts, lead magnets, etc.) so we can determine how we can use it effectively on the website. We also take into account what content the visitors of the website would find helpful. If new content needs to be created for the website, we will determine that here.
Perform Competitive Analysis & Market Research
During the strategy phase, it is also extremely important to perform competitor research. Here, we review websites of our clients’ local competitors to see what visual direction and style is being used, what content their websites have, and how they position their brand with the copy on the site.
This research allows us to create a website that differentiates our client’s brand while staying true to industry norms.
Align on the Visual Direction
As part of our research, we also review a wide variety of website designs and styles to find inspiration that we believe would work well for the website. We then present these to our client and get their feedback. Equally important here is to understand what designs our clients do and don’t like.
This way when we go to design the website in the next phase, we have a good starting point for reference and can design the website to fit our client’s taste.
Optional: Re-Brand or StoryBrand Framework
When a company decides to invest in a new website, it can also make sense to do a rebranding (either major or minor) during this time. If the client is interested, we can help them rebrand with a new logo and style guide (which include colors, fonts, etc.).
We also run our clients through a StoryBrand Framework – adapted from Donald Miller’s book “Building a StoryBrand”. This allows us to create unique positioning and messaging for the website that will allow it to cut through the noise and speak clearly to our client’s ideal prospects.
Website Strategy Meeting
Once we have taken care of all the items listed here, we then review and present our solutions to the client in a strategy meeting. This meeting serves as the kick-off of the project and ensures everyone is on the same page going forward.
At the conclusion of the strategy meeting, everyone is in agreement on what our strategy will be for the new website. And everyone will be coming from the same place as the research will clearly inform what direction the new website needs to go in to be successful.
Once we have approval from our client to move forward, we are good to start designing the website in the next phase of the project. Before that though, we perform a quick onboarding process so we can work together efficiently with our clients.
Usually, this includes showing them how to use our task management system ClickUp where all project deliverables will live. We also send over resources for them to help us with the website. These include a content worksheet where they can help write the copy of the website, along with a Google Drive link to upload assets for the website.
The Design Phase
Outline sitemap + Deliverables
Once the design phase begins, we create a “Sitemap” that will list every page of the website. The sitemap is a visual representation of the navigation of the website and servers as a list of deliverables to create wireframes of.
This makes it very easy for everyone to see the context of each webpage and understand the big picture of the project.
Create Low Fidelity Wireframes
Once we have a sitemap in place, the next step is to start designing the website. We first start out by keeping things very basic – mainly focusing on just getting the structure, layout, and copy in place.
Create High Fidelity Wireframes
Over time, we begin to add more and more detail to the wireframes, and eventually once complete the wireframe will be a final representation of what the webpage will eventually look like once completed, developed, and on our client’s live site. Here we add colors, images, real copy, and completely flesh out the design.
This process is very iterative, and we present updated designs in rounds to our clients for their review. We hold several meetings with our clients to allow them to influence the design direction of the website and ensure it is something they can be proud of.
Throughout the design phase, we use a tool called Figma that allows us to mockup what the website will look like. It’s browser-based, so we just send our client’s a link and then they are able to view it in their browser.
We are also able to “Prototype” it – meaning the design displays like an actual real website. Our clients are able to scroll through the page, click on buttons, and navigate around just like it’s a real website. This is great for being able to test out the design and see if it makes sense and will ultimately be able to achieve our goals and objectives we set in the last phase.
Develop Style Guide
Once we are done with the wireframes and the client has approved them, we are good to start developing the website in the next phase.
Before that, we usually like to send our clients a new brand style guide featuring the colors, fonts, logos, and other design elements used on the website. This way, they can ensure their marketing assets going forward match the new website for a unified brand look.
The Development Phase
Choose a Hosting Service
The first step of the development phase is to choose what hosting provider we will be using for the website. A great host should ensure your website has high uptime (meaning it won’t go down) is secure, runs fast, has a system in place for automated backups, and features reliable customer support.
For WordPress, we are happy to host client websites for our clients if they would like. But if they would prefer working straight with an external hosting service, our recommended options are Flywheel, WP Engine, and Cloudways.
For Webflow, Amazon Web Services hosting is built straight into the platform. So for Webflow projects, we use that.
Choose a CMS (WordPress or Webflow)
Once we know what hosting provider the website will live on, next we need to choose the Content Management System (CMS) that the website will be built with. A CMS is a modern way to build websites, that makes for easy management of websites and will allow it to scale with your company as it grows over time.
Our two favorite CMS are WordPress (with the Oxygen Builder) and Webflow. Both platforms are mature and full-featured. There are pros and cons of course with either one, but ultimately they can perform the same function 95% of the time.
To determine which one we use, we sit down with our clients and discuss what their needs are, and recommend a solution from there. Webflow is what we generally use (as it allows for a quick development process and allows us to add in some really cool effects) but if advanced functionality is needed then WordPress is our go-to. For an eCommerce website, we would also add Shopify to our consideration list.
The Launch / Quality Assurance Phase
Test Website for Responsiveness on all Devices and Browsers
Once the website is done being developed, we then ensure it is ready to go live by running it through an intensive quality assurance process to ensure it is pixel-perfect. To start, we pull up the website in different browsers and mobile devices to ensure it looks good no matter what operating system or device it is viewed on.
We use a tool called Responsively that speeds up this process and ensures we see every page on every screen size on every device type before going live.
Nothing looks more unprofessional than misspelled words on a website. That’s why before the website goes live, we use Grammarly to check all spelling and grammar to ensure all text is accurate.
Develop a Plan for the Migration and Launch the Website
Once we are ready to launch the website and have client approval, we plan out what the migration process will look like and notify our clients. This is usually only needed if the website platform or host is changing, or if a current website is already built on the current domain. The process for this always looks a little different.
Once that is ironed out, it’s time to flip the switch and launch the website!
Once the website is live, we want our clients to be able to make basic updates and be able to effectively manage and maintain the website (if that is something they wish to do, of course). To help, we record several tutorial videos on how to update content and make basic edits in the CMS step by step.
This way should they ever need to do something, they have personalized tutorials made just for them.
Sometimes we continue working with clients doing growth marketing work, but other times they already have a marketing team in place for that. Or, they are a small business/organization and will be managing the website themselves once the project is complete.
Either way, we do our due diligence for our clients by helping them map out the best solution for them going forward. At the conclusion of the project, we sit down with them to discuss various options to ensure the website is continually updated and properly maintained so it can be a high-performing sales tool for their website going forward.