Planning web site design and build

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In the past, it has been a common mistake amongst those creating a new web site for the first time to 'dive in' and start creating web pages without sufficient forward planning. Planning is necessary since design of a site must occur before creation of web pages - to ensure a good-quality site that does not need reworking at a later stage. The design process (Figure 7.2) involves analysing the needs of owners and users of a site and then deciding upon the best way to build the site to fulfil these needs. Without a structured plan and careful design, costly reworking is inevitable, as the first version of a site will not achieve the needs of the end-users or the business.

Main site development activities

Key support activities

Figure 7.2 Summary of process of web site development

Of the stages shown in Figure 7.2, those of market research and design are described in most detail in this chapter since the nature of the web site content is, of course, vital in providing a satisfactory experience for the customer which leads to repeat visits. Testing and promotion of the web site are described in subsequent chapters. An alternative model can be found in a practical 'Internet marketing framework' presented by Ong (1995) and summarised by Morgan (1996).

Figure 7.3 Example of web site development

The process of web site development summarised in Figure 7.2 is idealised, since, for efficiency, many of these activities have to occur in parallel. Figure 7.3 gives an indication of the relationship between these tasks, and how long they may take, for a typical web site project. We will explain some of the specialist design terminology later in this chapter. The content planning and development stages overlap in that HTML and graphics development are necessary to produce the prototypes. As a consequence, some development has to occur while analysis and design are under way. The main development tasks which need to be scheduled as part of the planning process are as follows:

1 Pre-development tasks. For a new site, these include domain name registration and deciding on the company (ISP) to host the web site. They also include preparing a brief setting out the aims and objectives of the site, and then - if it is intended to outsource the site - presenting the brief to rival agencies to bid for and pitch their offering.

2 Analysis and design. This is the detailed analysis and design of the site, and includes clarification of business objectives, market research to identify the audience and typical customer personas and user journeys and their needs, defining the information architecture of different content types and prototyping different functional and visual designs to support the brand.

3 Content development and testing. Writing the HTML pages, producing the graphics, database integration, usability and performance testing.

4 Publishing or launching the site. This is a relatively short stage.

5 Pre-launch promotion or communications. Search engine registration and optimisation is most important for new sites. Although search engines can readily index a new site, some place a penalty on a new site (sometimes known as 'the Google sandbox effect'), where the site is effectively on trial until is established. Briefing the PR company to publicise the launch is another example of pre-launch promotion.

6 Ongoing promotion. The schedule should also allow for promotion after site launch. This might involve structured discount promotions on the site or competitions which are planned in advance. Many now consider search engine optimisation and pay-per-click marketing (Chapter 8) as a continuous process, and will often employ a third party to help achieve this.

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