Designing a website can be a stressful and confusing process. Particularly if you are a small business owner working with an outside developer, designer or agency, understanding the time and effort it will take to build an effective long-term website for your business is paramount. In an effort to make this process a little easier to anyone who may be thinking about building a website, I sat down with Blue Fountain Media Senior Account Director Loren Wilson to get some insight into what goes into creating a website and what business owners should expect when working with a full-service digital agency.
What does the client have to do to make sure that the website is finished as quickly and efficiently as possible?
"The first step is to do some internal planning to make sure that you have the resources available for the areas of the project that will require your feedback.
Then, make sure you know who the decision-makers are for each step of the process and prepare them in advance to have time available to review deliverables and provide feedback. As a part of this process, don't put too many cooks in the kitchen - limit your key decision-makers as crowd-funded feedback tends to lead to confusion and clouds the website build process more than it clarifies it.
Ideally, have one person responsible for consolidating feedback - this not only makes the process go faster, but it allows your design team to be efficient in finalizing revisions needed per your feedback. Plan to have resources for putting together content - content is the number 1 reason that website projects get delayed. Your Account Director will work with you to outline all content areas needed and will provide a suggested schedule for delivering content over the course of the project. Stick to the schedule and assign different resources to own different pieces of content and you will succeed!
When you are trained on how to use your CMS, set aside time very shortly after the training go into the CMs and actually use the tools to test them out and see how to manage content. There is a bit of a learning curve in getting used to the new CMS, so the sooner you dig in the better!"
What content management system options does the client have and how does their choice of CMS affect completion time?
"For ecommerce sites, we typically use the Magento platform. It has an enormous amount of functionality out of the gate, hundreds of existing plug-ins and extensions for added functionality, and a ton of online information for support and troubleshooting. For informational sites that need a CMS, WordPress is a very easy-to-use and scalable platform that can be a great option. If Magento or WordPress don't provide the functionality that a client might need, two other great options that we have experience using are Joomla and Drupal.
For either ecommerce or informational sites, we also have a custom CMS system that we've developed called WebModulite. This is best for highly customized websites that require unique functionality not typical of pre-existing systems, or for clients who require a white-labeled admin area of the site that can be branded and have custom workflows."
What optional features of building a website take the longest - why are they worth the time and financial investment?
"If you're trying to decide which features are worth additional cost, it's best to consider which features play a role in increasing your website's visibility online. Features that improve usability for your target audience, provide them with tools/information needed to make a conversion, or features that affect how your webpages rank on Google search results pages will give you a bigger bang for your buck.
Responsive design, while it requires some up-front cost, is definitely worth the investment.
Another optional feature that is great to have is social media integration. At a minimum, it's good to have social links in the website to your social profiles. For some sites where you want high engagement with customers, or user-generated content, you can also feed in content from social channels on the site or allow for content from the site to be pushed to social, such as pushing products to Pinterest or allowing Instagram or Twitter content to be pulled into the site.
Blogs are another optional feature that can be a huge asset to any company. Having fresh, high-quality content on websites plays a large role in ranking factor, and blogs are a great way to segment content into different categories and easily manage ongoing posting.
It is also important to remember that rich media content gets better engagement from users. If you're trying to inform your audience about a step by step process for taking some action, or you're presenting a large amount of information to paint a picture of a scenario, you could try to create an infographic that lays out a large amount of information in an easy to digest way. If you want to easily communicate the value from a service offering or product, brief videos area a great way to clearly communicate your value."
What kind of added time does a responsive or mobile website require to complete?
"Responsive development typically adds somewhere around 30%-40% in terms of hours and cost to a project if you compare it to a regular website design and build. Separate mobile sites can be done cheaper - for ecommerce there are great extensions available for Magento or we can create a custom mobile website that is integrated with the CMS. However, due to changes with Google's algorithm and the AdWords platform, responsive is typically the best approach if a client has the budget to do so. Long-term, it tends to give clients the best value (since most other mobile sites will have to be updated at some point), plus it helps to improve overall performance of online marketing being done, which is the end-game for all online businesses."
How long does Quality Assurance take to complete and across what platforms does WA take place (Safari, Chrome, etc?)
"We QA our websites on the most recent versions of the following browsers for both Macs and PC: IE, Mozilla Firefox, Chrome and Opera. For mobile sites, we test on the most recent versions of the iOS and Android systems and additional browsers/devices can be added per client request."
What other questions do you have about the logistics of building a fantastic website? Leave us a comment below or on Twitter at @BFMweb!