The vast majority of websites don’t deliver a return on investment.

If you’re going to invest in your digital infrastructure, make sure you do it properly.

A fundamental component of your audience engagement system

Every business has different audiences and therefore needs to use different channels and tactics to engage them in different ways.

However, one fundamental thing that is consistent across every business and every audience engagement system is a website. While they may have different purposes and need to do different things, every business needs a website to sit at the centre of how it engages its audience(s).

With them being such a fundamental part of your business it is crucial you set your website up for success by following a robust process.

Get the foundations right with a robust process

Starting off on the right foot is essential to ensuring the end product will deliver your objectives.

A robust, multi-step process should span documentation, user experience, user interface, developer handoff and ongoing optimisation.

You should also factor in a number of testing opportunities along the way. The number will depend on the needs and scale of the project but many businesses overlook testing and live to regret it.

Discovery and functional specification

The discovery phase should ascertain the needs of your business and your users. This information should then be used to inform the subsequent stages in the and ultimately deliver the best solution.

Once the discovery is complete it should be documented in what is known as a functional specification. This details the functionality requirements of your website in full and forms the briefs for design, content and build team.

This is a crucial stage as it helps determine any dependencies, iron out complexities and gives all parties full transparency over the project plan and what will be delivered at the end of the process.

User Experience & Flows

The next phase is all about shaping and mapping out the users experience of the website.

It should begin with hands-on design with user flows – this means plotting the various journeys people will take around the site to get to the information they need.

The purpose of this crucial phase is to identify and detail the route that particular users will take through the website to carry out specific actions and ensure that all routes are easy to navigate and don’t encounter roadblocks.

It is especially important to ensure that such fundamental functionality like this is easy to access, hence why it should be undertaken at this early stage.

Information Architecture

The next phase should be to carry out detailed information architecture.
This means mapping out all of the connections between each area of the website.
Again this is often an overlooked aspect but is crucial for two key reasons:

  • It helps all parties discuss and resolve complexities and intricacies early, circumventing the need to carry out time-consuming changes to high-fidelity designs further down the line
  • It provides a framework for both design and development teams to work from, ensuring a smoother long-term process and cost efficiencies

Wireframing

Many people jump straight in to high fidelity designs too soon.

Before fully designing your new website you should always create wireframes. Wireframes provide the functional basis on which to build the main User Interface.

This stage begins to define some foundational user experience principles and design patterns, such as structural approach, navigational elements and core behaviours which are important to define prior to any design concepts.

A key point to note is that design output at this point is not exhaustive; wireframing serves as a demonstrative tool that allows for rapid exploration, iteration and feedback on a purely functional level – again saving time and money in the long-term.

User Interface (UI)

User Interface (UI) design should only begin once you have largely agreed on the core structure of and approach to the website.

The purpose of this phase is to define the visual style and start building out screens and components into a fully-fledged design. This stage of the process should adopt guidance from your brand design team to ensure your brand is brought to life appropriately through the design of the website.

The designs at this stage are based on the wireframes from the previous step, and are informed and guided by the early UX work around user flows and information architecture.

This is where you start to see all of the initial thinking and planning coming to life.

Design Testing

Testing can be carried out at various stages in the design and development process but is crucial to the success of any website.

As core functionality is designed, it should be tested with users to provide validation and actionable feedback on the structure and journeys through the website.

The data gathered from these testing sessions should then be used to inform any necessary changes to both current and forthcoming designs.

Development

The development process should begin with a formal handover from design to development.

Here a handover document should be provided to the development team with a basis from which to work. A feedback loop with the design team should also be set up to discuss any details and issues that may cause blockages.

Depending on the software used to design the website, for example Figma, should allow developers access to all design work, including the in-context visual designs with measurements, components, font sizes, etc. which will ensure a smooth transition and consistency from design to build.

Best practice for the development process should focus on what is known as Git Flow to enable continuous integration. Here features are developed and tested in isolation before being integrated into the master code base to ensure the highest quality and consistency.

To manage a quality assurance process, the development phase should incorporate testing methodologies, for example:

  • In-development Testing
  • Performance Testing
  • User Acceptance Testing

Shipping & Optimisation

The final stage in the process is making the website live.

While this is the last stage in the process it shouldn’t be the end of managing your website.

Best practice is to carry out ongoing observation and testing using a wide range of tools and methodologies to further optimise the user experience and evolve the website to sustain the desired engagement levels.

Tools and technologies to help with this include:

  • Google Analytics
  • SEM Rush
  • Hotjar
  • Ahrefs

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