04 January 2018 - Dave Jackson

The Essential Website Development Planning Checklist

I first wrote a post covering this topic in 2015 but things have changed a lot in terms of technology and our process has evolved accordingly, so I wanted to revisit my article and update it for 2018.

It’s not easy starting a new web development project if it’s not an industry you already work in, most people who create websites are usually not web designers or developers. It can be a minefield of technical and marketing jargon and there is a long list of things to consider throughout the project as well as after the website goes live.

If you don’t have a lot of experience in creating websites the chances are you haven’t considered everything that needs to be done in order to make sure you get the best possible results and the process to use. It is important to choose the right team to collaborate with and develop the right process, not just for design and development of your website but in marketing and support when the website is live. Good website development planning is key to successful project delivery.

The aim of this list is to make sure you are informed and have realistic expectations of what’s ahead. These steps form part of what we do for any web development project at The Friday Agency but if you can start considering this stuff it will go a long way in helping you get an informed proposal and quote to help you get the best possible results.

1. Research

No matter how confident you are about what you are creating, you need to back it up with research. First off you need to sense check and find out if there is a market for your product or service. How will users want to engage with it online and when you have planned and designed your website? You will want real users to give you feedback (especially if you are selling directly online), more about this later.

2. If you have an idea, then have a plan

Planning is everything in this business. The more attention given to the detail before design and development are carried out, the faster it can become a reality and it will show in the quality of the execution. We would spend roughly 30–40% of our time on a website project in the planning stages.

Give your website careful thought, create a roadmap and establish your goals and objectives. If you are selling online make sure your offering has a unique selling point.

2. Create a sitemap

Create a sitemap, this can just be a list of the web pages or sections showing a hierarchy of content and functionality, a bit like a family tree with the homepage on the top. Also think about the user journey, how they will navigate through the website and the experience you want them to have.

3. Think about content

Your sitemap will give you an idea of the content you need to create but when you start to drill down into it you may find gaps or it will spark a great idea for something you didn’t consider before. Content should always be created before any wireframe or design is looked at, see my post about this here. Also, think about who is going to create the content — be it text, photography or video, will you do it yourself or will you need your agency to help with this? Also, have you considered SEO as an integral part of your content plan?

4. Listen to your audience

Too many times we have seen websites or apps created on what the business owner(s) think will work, the reality is that they, and even the web development agency, will be too close to the project to see some of the most obvious issues in terms of the offering, user experience and messaging. Try to avoid making assumptions, in the end it doesn’t really matter what you think, it only matters what the end user thinks. Usability testing on any project is essential. Real users in front of the actual interface will tell you so much and will often surprise the creators, its well worth the time and effort – I can’t stress this enough. More about usability testing here.

4. Marketing

“If you build it they will come” — unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like this, there is a lot of noise out there and, like anything, you need to shout for attention. Any website launch should be coupled with marketing activity — social media, SEO, PPC, online display, email marketing, press releases, sponsorship…and that’s just the off-site activity you should look at. We’d advise you to also have an on-site content creation strategy — it doesn’t have to be a big deal but some activity with regular website updates will help keep the site fresh for your users as well as the search engines (they love active websites). If you don’t tell people about your website it won’t get any traffic and that would ultimately be a waste of time and money. Marketing your website is as important as building it so talk to us about how we can help you drive traffic to your new creation.

5. Ongoing website management

Your website is live, what now? Web development isn’t just for Christmas, its for life! The software will need to be updated, backups made, security scanning and hosting will need to be managed, and that’s just on the technical side. Content will need to be freshened up, products updated, QA testing, enquiries responded to and regular activity to promote good SEO is also very important for your website’s visibility in the long term. Take all of this into account in terms of time, resources and budget.

6. Have a timeline

When does your website need to be live? We can guide you on this based on the brief but it helps if we know your expectations at the start. Try to avoid rushing a project. We would usually split a website project into 4 main stages (with sub-stages within each). Planning, design, development and testing.

7. Establish your budget

Which comes first, budget or brief? Well both, you need a brief in order to get a quote but keep in mind how much you want to spend. If you have a budget, make sure it meets your ambition — for example, a budget of €2,000 for a custom e-commerce website is unrealistic, if you can communicate this within the brief it can help save a lot of time. However, if you have no idea, that’s ok too – we can help to guide you.

8. Write a brief

If you have followed the steps above, well done — you are organised and ready to write or discuss a concise yet detailed brief that any digital agency can read and get a really good insight into your requirements. This will also start the collaboration process, when there is no confusion the ideas will flow and your project can only benefit from this. Showing this level of thinking and organisation may also bring your costs down, often when everything is laid out clearly the task at hand looks easier.

The Friday Agency is here to help if you need any advice or assistance in creating a brief or collaborating on a website project, talk to us, we’d be delighted to add real value to what you have in mind.