Suppose you’ve just bought the website that’s going to make you an internet millionaire. Maybe you bought an expired domain with plans to start from scratch, or maybe you stalked the owner of an already established website and bought that. Now what? How do you get the best out of your new acquisition and make it successful?
This guide to the website development process outlines a method I’ve found to be useful when developing websites of my own. The process is split into three stages:
Developing Websites – Analysis
During the analysis stage of the website development process, we collect data over a period of time about the traffic that our site receives. Only when we have that data can we assess how the website is currently performing before we roll our sleeves up, get the bonnet up and tune up the site.
We analyse the traffic data to discover where our visitors are coming from, and to try to understand their behaviour on our site. Only when we understand that behaviour can we optimise their user experience by changing the site appropriately. These changes may include enhancing existing content (perhaps the internal navigation needs improving, or maybe it’s hard to find important material on the site), and writing new content (maybe visitors arrive looking for something in particular but leave disappointed because that content just doesn’t exist – yet).
We will also do some keyword research in the analysis stage to determine how we can expand our content to satisfy our visitors.
The analysis stage usually gives us the following information:
How much traffic the site gets.
Where it comes from: search engines, referrals from other sites, bookmarks.
What search phrases people are using to find the site.
Whether people are satisfied with the pages they visit (yes, we can determine that!).
Whether visitors feel inclined to explore other areas of the site after they’ve finished with the current page.
Exactly how we will determine the above from some dry looking traffic statistics will be discussed in Website Development – Analysis. That discussion will also explore how we can interpret that data. It’s all very well knowing what key phrases bring traffic to our site – but how can we use that information to get more traffic? Only when we have interpreted the data can we draw some meaningful conclusions from it, and then create a plan of action.
broke-the-websiteThe performance data we collect also provides a useful benchmark against which we can measure our improvements. At some stage we need to know whether we have optimised our site or have in fact broken it.
It’s difficult, but if you want to get the best out of your site, you must be patient and collect data over a long enough period of time. I’m currently a week into recording traffic stats for a new website acquisition and I’m determined to accumulate a month’s worth of data. Part of the process involves hand wringing and clock watching.
Developing Websites – Planning
Once the analysis stage is complete, we will understand how our site is currently performing and what we need to do to make it perform better. The planning stage involves making a list of exactly which tasks we’ll need to carry out and will usually include the following:
restructuring existing content. Perhaps there is duplication in categories, perhaps we need more categories in which to file our existing content.
improving navigation. It could be that we’re not giving users an easy way to get to the important content. For example, if we’re trying to sell something on the site, it wouldn’t be a good idea to bury the sales page in the darkest recesses of the site. Instead, it needs to occupy a prominent position.
creation of new content. Our previous analysis may have highlighted material that we should add to satisfy potential visitors.
rewriting existing content.There are a few reasons that we might want to rewriting existing content. Some of it may be badly written, or not well optimised for search engines.
migration to a new platform. If the site is hand coded in html, you may prefer to move it to a content management system that allows you to add new content/amend existing content more easily.
redesign. If you do decide to migrate to a CMS, you should be aware that many CMSs use themes or templates that you can buy to jazz up the look and feel of your site. It’s at this point that you decide what theme or template to use.
Developing Websites – Implementation
Finally, it’s time to actually do something! The website has been operational for a month in its old guise, steadily feeding our traffic statistics package, but now we’re going to put the wheels in motion and update it. I’ll list briefly some tasks you’ll need to perform here, but most will be covered in a later article. These are standard tasks that are independent of the results of the previous analysis stage. You’d need to address them whatever site you were managing.
standard redirects. Make sure that the non-www version of URLs redirects to the www version (or vice versa). Also do the same for index.htm and the root. You’ll be surprised at how many websites don’t do this.
install the CMS if required
copy old content to new CMS
sort out the redirects of the old URLs to the new ones
write, or commission someone else to write, new content
The job is not over once implementation is complete. Now, as well as being able to stand back and admire the view, you must monitor performance and make adjustments to maximise it. Stay tuned for an article on that too.