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The Importance of Website Planning

Consider constructing a website like building a house. You must begin with a solid foundation and architectural plans before you can apply paint or hang kitchen cabinets or the house will fall apart.

Creating even a basic website involves planning and discovery before any design or development can begin. These initial planning and strategy phases allow the website’s developer to uncover your needs, brand information, audience demographics and the core purpose of the site in order to build a solid foundation upon which the site’s “look and feel” are applied.

A discovery phase allows the website team to ask the client a myriad of questions to determine the needs the site addresses, the problems it solves and the functionality it must possess.

Building a website is like building a house

What is the purpose of the website?

Will the site’s primary goal be to generate a list of qualified leads, to sell products, to provide resources or to strengthen brand awareness?

If the goal is to generate leads, your site’s team will discuss how to create a website that will facilitate that and utilize marketing automation services to nurture and engage those leads. Next is identifying any third-party software required, such as an email service provider or a marketing automation system.

If the primary goal is to sell products online, the discussion would include e-commerce systems, as well as discussion of payment processors and site security. Your site’s team also investigates the product portfolio to determine things like number of products and variations or attributes.

Who is your audience?

It is important to unearth the demographics of the site’s users (age, habits, education, comfort with technology, etc.) to create a website experience that is easy for the audience to engage with and defines a clear path to your desired actions, which may include filling out a form, requesting a demo or making a purchase.

Who are your competitors?

What do their websites have that you like or dislike? Looking at the competition gives you an idea of the possibilities, as well as how others in your market are positioning themselves online. Are they far ahead of you? Will this project put you out in front of your industry? It’s good to identify these things early so you can account for them in your planning.

If you currently have a website, what do you like/dislike about it?

Chances are a lot of time and thought went into your existing website. Over time you may have discovered users are not engaging in the way you had hoped, elements are missing or the site simply hasn’t kept up with changing technology and trends (for example, being mobile responsive). Letting your site’s team know what is or is not working can help them plan for additional features, functionality, content or layout modifications to ensure the site performs well for your audience.

Do you intend to update content yourself?

If you do, your web team will discuss the available in-house resources and skill sets in order to select the best content management system (CMS) for you. Prominent CMSes have their own strengths and weaknesses and must be evaluated in relation to the specific needs you’ve outlined in earlier steps of the project.

Do you intend to provide user-restricted content?

Your web team will need to know in advance if your site will provide secure content to users in order to investigate options such as membership systems, user group plugins for content management systems and other login features, as well as the need for an SSL certificate for secure data transfer.

website development checklists

Your Responsibilities in the Web Development Process

Once the discovery phase is complete (learn more about discovery here) and the design and development process begins, there are a number of other items that the web development team will likely need, depending on the goals of the site and your answers to some previous questions.

Where is your current site hosted?

Hosting companies essentially “rent” space on servers where your website files reside and are made available for viewing online publicly. These companies offer various hosting solutions defined by the type of server—a shared server, a dedicated server, or a virtual dedicated server—and the operating system and software. Hosts sell packages based on server type and other options such as bandwidth, disk space, domain options and more. How a website is built, what it needs to do, and how much traffic it handles all go into the choice of the right host.

If you already have a host, your web development team will ask for your control panel or cpanel login. This access allows them to assess your current host’s resources; set up a development or testing environment; create any necessary databases; and manage files. Not all hosting plans include cpanel access. If you do not already have a host, you’ll need to get one prior to any development, based on the needs uncovered during the discovery phase. Your website team can make a recommendation based on the plans for the new site. 

Where is your domain registered?

Your domain is your website address or URL. Internet domains must be registered via a domain registrar. Your web host might also sell domain names or work with other companies to make it easy to register a domain when you purchase hosting. However, your domain does not necessarily have to be registered with the hosting company. Domains can vary in price and you can shop for the best annual price from a variety of registrars.

The web development team needs registrar access if you are creating a new website or moving your site to another host in order to “point” the domain to the server where your web files are stored. 

Where is your email hosted?

Web hosts can provide email services such as POP/IMAP accounts and email aliases (or forwards). If you are moving your site to a new host, it is imperative to know if your email is provided by your existing web host or is hosted by a separate email provider such as Google Apps for Business or Microsoft Exchange.

If your email is part of your web hosting and you are moving to a new host, the development team will need to recreate any email mailboxes and aliases on the new host and move the email.

Who is your email marketing provider?

During the discovery phase, we may have talked about collecting email addresses for a newsletter or other email communications. In order to add a sign-up form to your website, the development team will need either an “embed code” for the sign-up form or direct access to your email marketing account so the team can generate the code or configure any plugins needed to generate the form in a content management system such as WordPress. If you are not currently using a provider, there are many options available for building lists and sending marketing emails.

What social media channels do you use?

Depending on the level of social media integration you intend to include on your site, the development team might need as little as your page/profile URLs for linking social media icons to your profiles. However, if you intend to create more complex integrations and feeds, administrative access will be required in order to generate the proper access credentials and authentication scripts for passing information between your website and the social media channel.

Do you have logos (and other branding elements)?

The design of your website starts with your brand. Providing your logo, your colors, your fonts and any other elements that define your brand (anecdotal or formal) ensures that your website accurately conveys your brand to your website visitors.

Do you have any photos you can provide?

Pictures are worth…well, far more than a thousand words. We live in a visual age. We visit and engage with social sites dedicated to photos and imagery, and we create and consume photos in amazing quantities.

If you don’t have any photos of your own, stock photos can be purchased. However, you risk using the same photos as your competitors – or other, unrelated sites – and visitors might see the images as less than sincere. Additionally, if another company used the same or similar photo and created a negative experience for the visitor, the visitor might project that same experience onto you.Care should be taken to see who else is using the photo (via a Google search) and to make the photo your own via editing or context.

Providing access to these and other assets as early as possible helps to move your website project smoothly from the discovery phase to development by allowing your website team to identify any issues or shortfalls in your hosting environment, connectivity or visual library and address them in a timely manner. This ensures that your project stays on track. Missing information can lead to delays in the project schedule and potential cost overruns if your site’s team has to do forensic work to find your registrar, get into your email marketing account or move your hosting to get cpanel access.

Information Architecture and Wireframes

Information Architecture is the process of figuring out what type of information your website will include and how it will be organized. We’re answering this big question:

What is your audience looking for?

We approach this challenge like a game of 3D tic-tac-toe, where you are looking at multiple layers in order to develop an organized website that is intuitive to users. We also want the site’s functionality to be scalable, so we are able to add new elements over time if needed, such as additional products, services, industries or markets.

Information Architecture leads us to the navigation and the taxonomy — how we classify everything on the site.

Using wireframes to begin the site’s design

Wireframes are the first tool to begin visualizing the website in a low-fidelity manner. Think of them as the skeleton or blueprint of a web page. Typically, there are no colors, fonts, images or other visual elements at this phase. Wireframes are a tool to work through page structure for various types of pages in a website (home, contact, products). The ‘blueprint’ view allows us to look at the fundamentals — such as content areas, headers, buttons or image areas – without being distracted by design and content.

We want clients to look at their website at this point with horse blinders on or tunnel vision. It’s so easy to get caught up in content and design at this stage, but we can’t go down those rabbit holes just yet. Wireframes allow us to take the process one step at a time and help us focus our clients’ attention where we want it: functionality now, design later.

We use a website navigation map and wireframes together to give a client an overview of what pages the new site will contain and their hierarchy. It’s a great opportunity to look at what may be missing — and to ask a lot of questions.

Wireframes also give the content creation team some guidance on developing the content, as there are placeholders for content areas, graphics and more. Wireframes also assist the site designers by providing a conceptual roadmap to follow.

All of these elements continue building the foundation for the site and the overall marketing plan.

How to Choose a Content Management System

An important step in the website planning process is identifying how self-sufficient you want to be once the site launches versus whether you’ll rely on external resources to make updates and edits and perform regular maintenance. If you determine during the discovery phase that you want to make edits, add events, write blog posts or other content but you don’t know (or want to know!) HTML/PHP/Javascript or other programming languages common in web development, then a Content Management System (CMS) might be right for you.

A CMS is an application used for digital content creation and management. They were established to create an easy way for content authors and publishers to add information or make edits to their websites without needing to know how to write code or work within complex programming languages.

A CMS has loads of flexibility and can be customized for all your needs. One can include:

  • Multiple user roles and permissions
  • In-house integration to add features and advanced functionality
  • The capacity to display multiple languages on one site
  • Plugins to extend functionality or add deeper, feature-rich applications
  • E-commerce (done cheaply or free)
  • Advanced security and hosting support
  • Integration with all back-end systems to provide seamless, uninterrupted business process flow
  • Management of multiple websites from a single admin interface

Choosing a CMS

Choosing the proper CMS for your short- and long-term needs can be a complex process. We often facilitate that process for clients with marketing discovery, which includes discussions about business goals, marketing objectives and long-term vision. Discovery helps you choose the best platform based on your needs.

We ask questions, such as:

  • What do you want your website to accomplish for the business?
  • Who will be managing the website? Will you need multiple roles and permission levels?
  • Are you planning to sell anything online?
  • Will you need to integrate your website with data from other sources?
  • Do you need multi-lingual support?
  • What features and functionality will your website require?

The answers help us determine which CMS best facilitates your success. The majority of websites built today use a CMS, with WordPress being utilized by 60% of those (30% of all websites are created with WordPress). Google’s ever-changing algorithms play nicely with WordPress sites, making Search Engine Optimization simpler. Joomla and Drupal are currently the second and third most utilized CMS.

Joomla is more flexible for developers to create something new and to override an existing system. However, it’s less user friendly from a content author standpoint. WordPress has some constraints but is more user-friendly for authors, editors or administrative users.

Savoir Faire’s development team works with all PHP-based, open source CMS.

Customizing a CMS to work for you

 

Any CMS you choose will initially lack capabilities that are critical for your business. Savoir Faire will help you navigate the complex landscape of plug-ins available to extend the core functionality of the CMS to achieve your goals.

Keep in mind that setting up, designing and launching a CMS is only the beginning of this journey. You must utilize its capabilities in content marketing, social media marketing, SEO and other online channels to reach your destination.

While our developer uses a CMS to provide all the functionality of a completely custom site, it’s also possible to set up an easy-to-use interface for your staff to update website pages or publish blog posts. 

Time and again, we’ve heard companies gripe about saving all their website edits — minor or major — because it was so expensive to have their webmaster go in to make changes. Those days are gone. We’ll empower you so someone at your company has the ability to post blogs, write website pages, add events, fix typos and more. If it makes sense for your company, we can offer you control over being able to make updates and edits to your site.

On the flip side, we have several clients who do not have the hours in the day or the staff in-house for content creation and updates. In those cases, we act as website manager, making edits, writing and publishing blog posts, making additions to pages, and performing routine maintenance.

We know that choosing and/or switching CMSes is a big undertaking. The needs of your customers will guide us in deciding which system is ideal to support both your business objectives and the future growth of your digital presence.

The User Experience of Website Navigation is Crucial

The user experience (UX) easily guides your potential customers toward solving their challenges. Poor menu labeling and navigation design cause frustration – and likely bounces from your site.

For example, one of the blunders we see time and again for site navigation is placing company information or an About Us section as the first or second menu item. As much as you want people to know more about your company history, most people landing on your site seek solutions to their problems, not team biographies. They want to know about your products and services. About Us should be one of the last menu items in primary site navigation. The first categories need to be user-focused.

When you consider the navigation menu items on your site, ask the following questions:

  • What challenges do your prospects have?
  • What solutions do you provide to their challenges?

Be specific, not vague with menu names

We see a lot of websites classify their menu items with labels such as Services, Products and Industries, which are user-focused categories. But that generic language isn’t strong enough, both from a UX and search engine optimization (SEO) perspective.

In terms of SEO, your global navigation tells search engines like Google what the most important pages on your site are. Global navigation is also useful for attracting visitors to your site based on their specific search queries.

For example, if you’re trying to sell puzzles, instead of the menu item Products, consider using Jigsaw Puzzles. (With some keyword research, you’ll have a better sense of what keywords to use in your site navigation, based on the questions and search queries potential customers use.)

Standing out from the competition has its benefits, but don’t sacrifice the usability of your site’s navigation just to be unique. Trying to reinvent the wheel and use descriptors that don’t make immediate sense to people causes confusion and frustration. 

Analyze your audience’s needs before they come to the site, and develop your menu item names with those needs and relevant search queries in mind.

Massive menus

Once upon a time, nearly every page was included in a website’s navigation. This caused the need for extensive dropdown menus. These are visible when you hover over a menu item and several deeper levels of menu options are revealed. 

Extensive website navigation menus are like The Cheesecake Factory menu – enormous and potentially overwhelming on your first couple of visits. (Important question for you: are your website visitors hungry enough for information that they’ll spend as much time on your site looking for what they need as they do looking for the right cheesecake flavor? Ninety nine percent of the time, the answer is no.)

These enormous menus also create problems for users who have dexterity issues. Depending on the design and depth of your menu, some users might move their mouse slightly, causing the menu items to disappear. 

Use only your top categories for your site’s primary navigation. Try to keep your primary navigation menu items at one to two levels. There are other places to share your navigation so your menu isn’t overstuffed. If there are too many items in your navigation, it not only baffles your potential customers, but it also confuses search engines on the level of importance of menu items, which can negatively affect your site’s organic rankings.

Secondary site navigation

Don’t be afraid to use the footer or bottom of your site for additional or secondary navigation elements. It’s common to find careers (hiring) and contact information at the bottom. Many business sites include links to their social channels in the footer, too. (If your business relies heavily on social media, or if your social channels tend to have newer information than your site, you might consider having those links with icons in navigation at the top and bottom of your homepage.)

Landing pages are another opportunity for secondary navigation. Rely on in-content links to navigate users to deeper pages on the site. Calls to action (CTAs) on landing pages or blog posts are also great opportunities to guide users to pages which will provide further relevant information.

Having multiple ways to reach deeper pages of the website allows you to simplify navigation at the top of your site.

Mobile site navigation

Navigation is often different for sites optimized for mobile due to the smaller screen size. Mobile users are generally savvy about using the hamburger icon – the icon with three horizontal lines that indicates ‘this is a menu.’ UX designers needed a way to represent navigation in a much smaller space. They needed a recognizable icon that users would know to click to reveal a panel or drawer to access the navigation menu.

The acceptance of the hamburger menu may have started with early mobile designs that included the word “menu” along with the icon. As people got used to the icon and the “pattern” became recognizable, designers could drop the textual hints.

The hamburger opens the navigation on your mobile site and also presents challenges. Menus with deep dropdowns can be harder to navigate on mobile sites because of the inability to open/close navigation items and dropdowns while hovering (as you do on desktop devices). 

But if you eliminate many of your dropdown pages, your users could lose easy access to important information. One option is analyzing what users seek when they visit your mobile site. This information is available in Google Analytics. Using that data, you may be able to simplify the navigation  on your mobile site.

Again, you can encourage deeper navigation through in-page links on landing pages and via CTAs on your mobile site, too.

Another best practice is using common patterns in design for your navigation on both your desktop and mobile sites. People get used to navigating in a certain way because they recognize patterns. However, these design patterns shouldn’t last forever.

If they did, we’d still be navigating websites with all the content above the fold, a left side navigation, spinning email icons and flashing banners. When more sites adopt design patterns, users become accustomed to navigating sites with new patterns, which then become accepted practices. Eventually, designers make changes to patterns to improve the user experience. It’s a continual cycle.

We mention using keyword research, analyzing data and other tasks within this section, and those practices might be out of your current reach. A quick phone call with us can answer many of your questions and shine some light on your navigation solution.

Request Your Free Website & Digital Marketing Assessment

Our team of experts will take a tour of your website and online presence and offer you some suggestions to take your website and digital marketing to the next level.

Content Authoring with Wireframes as a Guide

By the time we reach the content authoring stage, a client has approved the information architecture of the site, wireframes and the content that will appear on all the site pages.

As you may recall from above, wireframes serve as a blueprint of a website. Purposefully, we generally leave colors, fonts, images or other visual elements out at this phase, as the focus is on structure. Wireframes demonstrate page structure for various types of pages in a website (home, contact, products), to look at basic functionality, such as content areas, headers, buttons or image areas.

Once upon a time, a website was generally a header, footer, text and an image or two. As such, it was easy to add content to pages by either directly typing a few paragraphs or a quick copy and paste from a prepared document or text file into the page.

Now, we can do so much more with sites in terms of content design — utilizing different types of content, content modules, columns, sections and more. Unfortunately, these individual design areas and elements often need to have content added in much smaller chunks.

For example, when working from content documents supplied by the client or our writing team, we may need to copy and paste a header and then copy and paste a paragraph and then copy and paste a caption to author a section of a page. Obviously, the complexity that we can achieve in page design can slow content authoring a bit, as we’re not just copying and pasting a single page of text from top to bottom.

Wireframes as a guideline

When content is written to fit in the framework determined by the wireframes, authoring the content into the site can be simple. It can truly be as easy as copying and pasting into various sections or modules within the template. How closely the final content follows the wireframe or design determines how quickly and easily it can be authored into the site.

One challenge is, we don’t always create a wireframe every page of the site. For a second- or third-level page, we may only wireframe a semi-generic example. Sometimes we discover that the wireframe or a page within one section of a site doesn’t satisfy the content needs of another section of the site. (Consider product detail pages. Product type A has a certain set of information, but Product type B may have a different set of information.)

When this occurs during the authoring process, some design decisions might need to be made on the fly, based on the content. That can pose a challenge. The web developer and content creator are generally different people in the project, which means they may need to come together to devise a solution.

Even if we were to wireframe every template, page or section, the wireframes don’t always satisfy the messaging needs. Remember, they are a template or guide created often before content is written. Additional design elements or content modules may need to be added to specific pages in order to accommodate any variation between the wireframes and the final content.

These occurrences cause content authoring to take some time, as we convene a collaboration between content and design in order to accommodate changes.

Another potential challenge of content authoring involves imagery. The authoring process includes collecting all images that will augment text, whether they’re icons, photos or other graphic elements. If the supplied photos aren’t all sufficient – perhaps they are low-quality or the company no longer has the license to use them – the content author or another member of the development team may need to update page designs for that area or spend time searching for alternate photos.

Worst-case, you may have to hire a photographer or develop graphics or iconography from scratch. Again, this can slow the content development process.

That said, it’s very difficult to plan for every design element during the initial design phase. We’re creating guidelines at that time and not the final product. Development and authoring becomes more time consuming when we run into these alignment issues. As much as we plan, sometimes, as we dig into the actual messaging needed for the site, we find additional needs.

And yet, the initial wireframing is still an important – and time-saving – part of the process. Imagine how long it would take a developer if they had zero idea what to expect for content.

Form Follows Function with Website Design

When it comes to the look and feel of the websites we design for our clients, our designer refers to the  Bauhaus method of “Form follows function.” We approach website design for our clients with the idea that a completed site is a product that someone uses. Both the desktop and mobile versions of company sites need to be user-friendly, which entails deeply knowing your audience.

Designers are artists, and artists thrive in a creative, free landscape.
But, we understand that our client’s sites have needs that supersede our desire to go too wild with design. The sites should:

Market at the right time

Satisfy the client

Serve the audience

Changes to the SERP

Play nice with Google

… and not necessarily always in that order! Therefore, when we have out-of-the-box ideas regarding design, we sometimes test them first on the Savoir Faire site. Even then, design must also work well together with search engine optimization efforts on the site.

Number 1

Design for functionality

Keeping the Bauhaus school of art’s principal in mind, a page’s design directly reflects what it needs to do. The look is all about the user and their pathways through the site.

If your audience is younger, the design can take some risks. These users are savvy enough to navigate around and get themselves back and forth on the site. Whereas, website users who are older and may be newer to an online experience need more basic, intuitive ways to get back to the top of the page or back to your homepage.

Website design includes understanding iconography, architecture and flow — and making every element work together so it’s all easy on the eye and simple to use. It’s less about what pleases a designer and more about leading the audience on a journeytyo a specific destination via an aesthetically pleasing, intuitive presentation — which takes us to the second guideline:

Number 2

Don’t be too precious

At Savoir Faire, we take this seriously – not just with design but with everything we do for our clients. You’re the client and we deliver what you want. That said, we advise and explain why certain things are best practices, but ultimately, you get what you want. This means we won’t be too precious about colors, fonts, headline sizes, image choices, rows, columns, captions, videos, icon placement — we can go on and on. Guideline three is:

Number 3

Evaluate and test

Make sure your design choices allow your audience to do what they need/want to do. For example, is a “submit” button too small to click on a phone? If someone can’t click something, that creates issues with the user’s ability to convert.

One way we tackle this early – to save everyone involved time and money – is creating wireframes for some site pages (remember them from above?). These are skeleton pages without fancy colors and distracting images, so we can all evaluate the functionality of the page overall and not focus on the details to be added later. 

Next ask, do we have visual cues that assist the hierarchy of the page and guide interaction? Yes! Great, now we can begin thinking “pretty” or “fun” — if pretty and fun works for your audience.

We look at trends (but don’t always follow them). It’s important to see what works well for others in a variety of industries, culling ideas and evaluating how those ideas could benefit our clients — and their clients.

As mentioned before, it’s important to optimize a site so it can be found by search engines. Our website successes for clients result in Team Savoir Faire playing nice together. That means design considerations partner with content creation and SEO/analysis. Each member of the team knows that their speciality is just a gear in the larger machine and all gears must be functioning for the machine to run properly.

Catch the Little Things with Website Quality Assurance

Website QA is a big process, especially if you’re a small organization. This is the time to address all the little things on the site pages — from design to functionality.

At Savoir Faire, we combine the forces of our web development expert and UX/IA expert to pinpoint any element on the site that didn’t come together exactly as intended — or any mistakes or issues that snuck through the development process.

QA should not result in a site overhaul

The QA process may be tedious but should not result in major site changes if you’ve done good due diligence with a client. We go through the steps of marketing discovery to ensure that, by the time we get to this stage, our team and the client are all in agreement as to what is going to be on the website for launch. 

We create a requirements document that the client approves and signs that outlines the functionality and guides the entire development process. Then, at other points in the process, we’ve created, agreed upon, and the client has approved: wireframes, design comps and the content that will be authored into the site. By the time the client sees the website put together, there should be little surprise (with the exception of the excitement of seeing it all together!).

During the QA stage, if we’ve done our job well enough, we’re just tweaking the pages to make them function absolutely as intended – and cleaning up any little mistakes.  We analyze the site holistically for spacing, image sizing – any issues that stand out as incorrect. And, we read it thoroughly (again) for typos and any incorrect type treatment.

We evaluate site pages for issues during the building process and during the authoring of content. At the end of the process, we look again with a fresh set of eyes. We go through each site page, checking for any functionality issues, looking for elements that may be more than just static content, such as accordion-style boxes that contain content, tabs that hold content, special features or filtering elements.

At this stage, it’s essential to make sure the functionality operates as intended. Then, we check the navigation to ensure all links go to the proper pages or points on a page. The content links get tested. We view pages for any missing images, and any areas where might see consistency issues. 

For example, a single page heading that should match on all similarly-designed pages may accidentally have a variance in font size or color that needs adjusting.

Next, we check that all images have proper sizing. Sometimes, when working with images, we might initially add them to a site page at a larger size than they need to be for optimal viewing. Here, we adjust the image size dimensions to match the proper display size, which often makes the files smaller and improves page speed loading.

Say goodbye to bad emails

How does it look – everywhere?

Then, we view the site on mobile devices like a tablet and a phone. We also utilize Chrome or Firefox inspection elements so we can view the site in an emulator, such as an iPhone or other devices we may not have physically in front of us. (This tool will emulate all types of handheld devices and generations of smartphones because you never know what device someone may use to browse the site.)

Then, we look at the site’s appearance on multiple web browsers for both Apple and Windows-based machines to check for any inconsistencies.

The site is also evaluated at a high level for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

From here, our analytics expert takes over, looking at the site’s layout/design at a high level on a phone’s browser, checking spacing of items, links, and other elements – to ensure we have multiple eyes on each page in case something is overlooked.

Then, we anticipate what Google sees as a mobile-friendly perspective. We may make some minor adjustments to content to make them more Google-friendly, such as:

  • The phone number properly links
  • There’s ample space between navigational elements for mobile touch
  • The text is large enough for mobile viewing

By the time the site is sent to the client, ideally there will be little left to adjust, because we’re not making any major changes to design or content at this stage. Everything has been approved at various steps along the way. 

That said, there may be some tweaks necessary before launch, based on the client’s feedback. Sometimes those bullets that looked great in the design comp don’t look quite as great with the content in them. Maybe there’s too much or too little content.

This is the first time a client sees the site in its full glory, with all images, fonts, and the full layout. We anticipate there may be slight adjustments requested by the client to make sure their company is accurately and properly represented by the site. Plus, they’ll see things we don’t see and those will be fixed before the site is launched.

Launching a Website and Performance Tuning

While developing a new website, we like to work on a staging site or in a staging environment, so that we don’t affect an existing or live website while we create the new site.

Some hosting providers offer a staging environment as part of their hosting plans. This type of staging site is preferable because it allows us to easily push our new site into the live environment and replace the existing site with one click.

When a staging environment such as this doesn’t exist, we often develop the new site “next to” the existing site. However, launching this new site requires additional steps to replace the old site with the new version either manually or using a migration plugin. The trick here is ensuring that all references to the staging or temporary domain are updated when the site is moved and refer to the live domain instead.

Migration plugins such as Backup Buddy, Duplicator or All-in-One WP Migration do a good job of finding and replacing URLs. But having a true staging site or one-click staging site within the hosting makes things easier in terms of launching the updated version.

Other things that make launching easier are knowing where the domain is registered and where the organization’s email is hosted.

It is not uncommon for hosting, domain registration and email to exist in separate locations. For example, we might build a website on SiteGround, but the domain may be registered with GoDaddy and the email may be hosted by Google using GSuite.

In this case, we will need to evaluate how the domain points to different services and update accordingly. This is known as updating the DNS or pointing the DNS. Unfortunately, while this should be easy, we sometimes need to untangle a web of services and DNS records/references to be sure everything works correctly.

Before launch, we need to have a clear understanding of what the moving parts of the site are:

R

Where the domain is registered

R

Where the DNS is managed

R

Where the website is hosted

R

Where the email is hosted

R

Where all of that will end up if we’re moving to new hosting

In a perfect world, we just need to back up the live site and “push” the new site to the live environment to launch the new version. Or, we just need to point the domain to the new version of the website. But more often, especially when replacing a site rather than launching a brand-new site, we need to do a bit more work to ensure no information is lost, email remains functioning and there is minimal downtime.  

Once the new site is “showing” at the organization’s domain, we go back through and QA again, specifically looking for any references to the staging site and checking for broken links or images and implementing any redirects that need to be put in place (for retired content or replaced pages). We retest the forms and otherwise ensure everything is working as expected.

We want every client to be completely satisfied with a new site once it launches. This means there is typically some back and forth fine-tuning post-launch. We always build sites with best practices and the client’s best interests in mind. We want all parties to be proud of the end product.

We embrace the theory that launching a website is a starting point, not a finish line. To take advantage of this opportunity, we recommend implementing a content marketing program to both increase visibility in search queries and rankings, and to generate qualified leads.

Ongoing Website Maintenance

Throughout the year, WordPress issues updates, from minor bug fixes and security releases to completely new versions. As WordPress issues those updates, many plugin developers keep pace, either because they have identified their own bugs or because they need to make adjustments to their code to remain compatible with the updated WordPress core code.

Keeping up with these updates is a critical part of keeping your website healthy and secure.

Hackers exploit vulnerabilities that go unfixed. If you aren’t upgrading to the latest versions, these vulnerabilities invite nefarious users to inject malware, deface your site, or even cause it to crash completely. According to WPBeginniner, 83% of hacked WordPress sites are not upgraded.

Every 5,000 miles, you bring your car to your dealer or trusted mechanic for regular maintenance. They change the oil and filter, check the tires, inspect the brake pads and top off the fluids. At other times, more in-depth maintenance is performed such as tire rotation or manufacturer-recommended software updates, recalls or repairs. You take care of your car to make sure it works and continues to  perform at its best.

So, why would you let your website stagnate for years?

An old website isn’t working for you

Not only has technology evolved to facilitate more interactive sites with faster image loading and pages viewable across desktop and mobile devices, it also allows easier integration with social media, video and other emerging web trends.

Keeping your website up to date can be complicated and time consuming. You need to keep software and website systems current, perform ongoing analysis of your error logs and optimization strategy, improve integrations, ensure you have complete backups at your fingertips and monitor for security breaches and vulnerabilities.

For example, if you are using a CMS (remember from above?), you’ll want to keep up with new version releases, as well as any plugins or extensions that are installed. This ensures better site performance and protects your site against malicious attacks.

CMS’s and plugins are often updated to address any bugs discovered during previous versions and to add new features and functionality that might have been requested or conceived after the previous release. Plugins are sometimes updated simply to remain compatible with core updates.

Additionally, updates address security issues. There are millions of cyber attacks each day. Attackers look for vulnerabilities in software and develop ways to exploit them. Updates fix vulnerabilities once discovered and hopefully before an attacker has a chance to compromise any sites. And while an update might be worrisome, protecting against a hack should outweigh concerns that any plugins might break or become incompatible after the update.

Updates to these systems are best done as new versions are released, utilizing incremental updates that are easier to perform and troubleshoot than major version leaps.

If your site has been compromised, you’ll want to be able to restore from a backup. Backups allow you to restore your site to a point in time before the hack with as little content loss as possible and in a timely manner. Having to manually clean hundreds of files of any injected code can be a massive undertaking. And rebuilding completely from scratch is even more costly to your business.

Occasionally, you might also need to do maintenance due to changes your hosting provider makes. For example, a hosting provider might update server software such as the version of PHP that is running, in order to provide better security on their servers. This could cause systems on your site to “break” due to compatibility issues. You’d then need to be able to update or rewrite information to work with the new software on your host server.

Other companies or organizations might make changes to their systems that also affect your site. Many websites these days utilize another service provider’s application program interface (API) to integrate or improve functionality. Examples include showing a Twitter or Facebook feed on your site or a Constant Contact form or enabling automatic updates of themes from a theme marketplace. If the service makes changes to their API, your site’s scripts may no longer be able to connect and display the proper information.

Maintenance can also include SEO performance reviews using Google Analytics. According to SEO Moz, Google changes its search algorithm around 500-600 times each year. Most changes are minor but occasionally Google makes major changes (such as Panda and Penguin) that require a change in strategy on your part.  Knowing the dates of these algorithm updates can help explain traffic changes. And knowing the specifics of how changes affect search rank allows you to make updates to make your site more search-friendly.

Maintenance isn’t only about the technology

Your content says a lot about your business. With so many buyers starting their buying process with online research, your website needs to make a good first impression. Latest news that hasn’t been updated in two years doesn’t say much about your business. Additionally, Google will penalize you in search results for out-of-date information and page structure. Regular maintenance should include a review of site content to ensure it is up-to-date and accurate.

Whether it’s content updates, software updates or performance updates, monthly reviews and edits can take time. But not making them can affect your site and your bottom line. At minimum, you should be making sure you have a monthly plan in place that includes regular full backups, regular software and plugin updates, and regular cleanup of files, cache and database. A well-tuned website, like a well-tuned car, will perform better and present fewer large-scale problems in the future.

SFMC bubble

Conclusion: Running the Machine

You’ve built an incredible machine with your website. Machines have engines and engines consume fuel, and we like to think of a marketing plan as the fuel that keeps your engine running smoothly. This is an ongoing phase to keep your site running at peak performance.

Content is a key ingredient of a marketing plan, which may include a blog, email campaigns, social media posts, longform content such as whitepapers – and updating the content on your site pages. Each piece of content can require a number of related elements, like landing pages and calls to action, that turn a simple piece of content into a conversion opportunity. Then, it needs to be promoted, whether via social media, paid advertising, public relations or another method.

Without content fuel, your machine won’t run for long. Remember, we always say a site is not “set it and forget it.”

Running the machine also means measuring and analyzing your efforts to identify which are showing results and which aren’t. The benefit of the digital channels is that they are more measurable than many traditional marketing tactics you may be accustomed to. You’ll be able to measure, down to the social post, landing page, form, email or website page, what worked and what didn’t. This means you’ll soon be making decisions about your marketing efforts based on data versus on hunches or guesses.

You might need some help running the machine now that it’s built, shiny and new. That’s where our team comes in. Perhaps you need a little prep course on content creation, or you want someone to handle all that heavy lifting. For our customers we do a little up to “all” content creation and implementation. We can devise a plan that works for your timeframe and budget.