After you register a domain name for your company’s Internet development project, you’re ready to embark on the concept-to-upload development phases that turn “we-need-an-online-presence” into a productive showcase for what you do. Limiting the amount of trial and error streamlines your task and helps smooth the path from idea to reality. The life cycle of your Internet “home” starts with your concepts for the site and ends — temporarily — when the results of your planning and design work go live.
Plan & Specify
Especially if you plan to design and develop your own website, it’s tempting to plunge into page-development tasks as a means of clarifying how you want to set up your online presence. Unfortunately, the cart moves faster with the horse in front of it. Before you start experimenting with page grids and color schemes, webfonts and CSS, start by formulating a cohesive plan for what your site must do and include. Until you quantify your target audience, the tasks visitors must be able to accomplish on your site and the types of information and pages you need, you can’t make cosmetic decisions or write content effectively. Your site map and site mission define your next steps.
Design, Program, Write
With a site plan developed, you can construct the look of your site. A wireframe diagram sketches out what goes where on each page or page template. After you construct the basic page layouts, you can build the code that runs your pages, write content, select fonts and colors, prepare graphics and mock up your design. In some cases, your design and programming activities may run concurrently. In other workflows, static designs precede background programming. At each substage of this set of development milestones, viewing your concepts on various systems with different screen sizes and resolutions, operating systems and browsers helps you refine dimensions, sizes and setups.
It’s easy to fall in love with the look of your work as you proceed from development through design. Each refinement shows how you solved a creative or practical challenge. Unless you put your design in front of a varied list of testers, however, you can’t know how truly intuitively it functions in the hands of real users. Road testing your site with people of varying levels of computer savvy helps you assure that your results provide an approachable experience for the full range of your planned audience, and that everyone who visits can find the information and accomplish the objectives that bring them to your domain.
Launch & Promote
As your site goes live, you face the task of promoting your online presence in a combination of online and offline venues. If you’re adding a new site or debuting the Internet presence of a new company, you need identity materials — letterhead, business cards, brochures — that incorporate your website address. Adding the address to your email signature helps promote it further. You may want to plan an email marketing campaign, social media blitz or other activities to give your site visibility.
Maintain & Update
Launching a website doesn’t end the task of maintaining an online presence. If your site includes a blog, you need frequent updates to spark visitor interest. Company news and press releases, product or sales information, introductions of new employees: all these kinds of information help you keep your website fresh. At the same time, you need to monitor your site for security, keep up with updates to any software you use behind the scenes and remove stale content. Eventually, you’ll reach the point at which you want to do more than freshen your pages, at which time it’s back to the drawing board to plan the next generation of your company’s Internet home.