If you are thinking about getting a new website, read on to find out how a good website planning process will make it more effective.
Web design and build can be quite complicated. It’s very important to plan your site way before you get involved in any design or build – this will help to ensure it does its job once live.
At Toast, we have an ever-evolving website design and build process that includes a lot of focus on website planning. Planning is always done first and informs all other stages of the project.
Web development process steps do vary from project to project, so the below is just a guide to how we do it – there’s no magic website checklist for clients that will cover everything you need!
Depending on who you’re working with, they should have their own project set-up and initial discovery stages.
The first thing we do is to write up a concise brief for the project – this is over-and-above anything that was written at the proposal stage.
This brief serves to cover-off all the key requirements of the site and what it needs to do – proposals are often quite lengthy, so this just lifts all the fundamentals that the project needs to achieve.
If you’ve got a current site, make sure you benchmark it using website planning tools like SEM Rush – this will give you a report on how good your existing site is, any errors and what keywords rank where.
If you’re replacing an existing site, the new one should be better and more importantly, should not lose you any of the current rankings you have. This is a crucial stage of the website planning process.
Here we firm up what the site needs to do from a functional perspective. What plugins will be needed to accomplish your requirements and how will these be used.
Are you going to be using the content from your current site? If so, we take a look at it to check the on- and off-page SEO and the overall quality of the existing content. If you’re planning to replace all the content on your site or remove a lot of it, careful consideration needs to be given to ranking content and SEO.
Testing your hosting environment
A good site that sits on cheap under-performing hosting will always underperform itself. A quick review of your hosting and server speed is done here to show you how good the current setup is. This is often an area that’s overlooked during website planning – but it’s a very important stage.
We then like to get the key stages into our project calendar and set some deadlines – some for us, some for you. This way we know what needs to be done, by when and if they’ll be any bottlenecks on the project.
At Toast, we generally ask our clients to set up a free Google account if they don’t already have one – this allows us to quickly and easily share documents and keeps one copy of everything in one place – making it easier to update and review.
One word, lots of work. The preparation stages are a good time to start thinking about this (even if you’ve done it already) – revisit it and refine it.
2 Research and Planning
This is where we take a close look at your current site (or your competitors if you’re not online yet).
We run your site through our SEO tools to get lists of keywords for you and your competitors. These then go into spreadsheets for analysis so we can start to get a handle on how and where your site ranks and what content we’re going to need or improve. These keywords are also mapped to your sitemap so we can identify and content gaps or opportunities.
These form the initial stages of the design work – we collect found designs that we feel are in the same ballpark as what you’re looking to achieve visually. Nothing is copied – it’s really just a prompter to start talking about the look and feel options for the site and any creative preferences you (and your team) may have.
Some initial discussion on who the site is talking to, what they need from the site and the ways in which they will interact with the site. These personas will influence the final sitemap, design, information architecture and site journeys.
Depending on the size of your site and how complex it is, we’ll either spend a fair bit of time on working these through, or we’ll outline them to influence the following stages of the project.
3 Wireframes and website design
This stage includes pulling all the information together from the previous stages and putting together some initial wireframes for the site home page.
We look at content, hierarchy, user experience and a wide range of other factors during wireframing stages to explore the optimum layout and content for the site homepage.
Once the wireframes are signed-off, we start on the creative work. Our design process is probably similar to other agencies you may have worked with, but we also like to work quite loosely on the initial design work.
We don’t produce three concepts and ask you to choose one – we work up more designs and then work collaboratively with you to develop these.
The creative work MUST work with the wireframes, personas and site objectives – we don’t build sites that look pretty and don’t perform.
The design is a crucial element of a web project, but it’s only one element and will not convert visitors on its own.
We ask for a lot of feedback on all our projects. This helps keep the project on track and moving. It also means that we can agree to things stage-by-stage rather than be progressing too far too quickly and having to then change everything (which gets expensive).
4 Site Build and content
This stage of the project involves setting up the development site (and keeping it hidden from Google and the public). We develop new sites on our own servers so they can be backed up and each stage of work can be rolled back if required.
Installing and configuring WordPress
We only build sites on WordPress, so the first stage is to get this all setup and our to install our bespoke theme. This creates what we call a ‘skeleton site’ – it’s basically the framework of your new site with no content or design/build work done.
Building out the homepage
Once approved, we then build out the homepage to the approved visuals. There’s always some disconnect between what you see on a flat visual and what you then see in the browser. Getting the pages up at an early stage means you can see them working in the browser.
We also start to build in the required functionality at this stage – this will include anything on the homepage, such as sliders and other requirements for the rest of the site.
This is another side to website planning – the functions. It’s important that we know everything you want the site to do at this point.
5 Top level pages
While the homepage build is in progress, the content and design team will then focus on the other top-level pages of the site.
We go back to the wireframes (see the earlier website planning stage) for each top-level page that requires it – again, planning the content based on the personas and site journeys identified in earlier stages. We’ll do desktop and responsive wireframes as required.
These pages then go through the same design process as the homepage – with initial concept visuals and development of the designs for approval. All design work is based on the content requirements and the overall approved style from the homepage, so this stage often requires fewer rounds of development and tweaks.
Page build and on-page SEO
As each top-level page of the site approved it moved to the build team to be built out. This includes template creation in WordPress as well as custom fields for page-specific content.
During this stage of the process, we also get the content loaded and stuck into the on-page SEO (based on the research conducted earlier).
This process is repeated for each top-level page.
Planning your website properly at the start of the project saves you time and frustration further down the line.
6 Snagging and development
Once all the top-level pages and content are in, we then begin the process of reviewing and testing the pages (desktop versions) to highlight and remedy any issues.
In general, we leave the responsive work until all the snagging has been done on the desktop version of the site. Working this way saves time and budget as we’re not continually going back and forth between desktop and mobile versions of the site. Responsive requirements differ from site to site and depending on your own unique site there may be more website planning required at this stage.
The responsive stage also has its own snag lists.
Getting a new site ready to go live is a complex process that requires everything to be done correctly at each stage to avoid errors on the live site – it’s also where all your website planning comes to fruition.
In short, we pick up the site from our development servers and move it to the live servers with as little downtime as is humanly possible.
There are various other complications that come into play such as DNS changes, but we’re very experienced in dealing with all these!
Once the site is live we then have a 50+ point go live checklist that we work through to thoroughly test the site and make sure everything is working properly.
Any agency worth its salt won’t leave you at this point. We have a two-week free support period following any site launch where we fix any issues as part of the original project.
When everything is working at it should, we then discuss website support options with you to help you with the site moving forward.
Website planning does not end on launch
When your new site is live, don’t stop with your website planning – it should be an ongoing element of your digital marketing.
Many sites we work on have phase 1, 2 and 3 development. Phase 1 is the initial site design and builds with phases 2 and 3 being additional planned development.
One of the great things about a well-built WordPress website is that further development is straightforward – there’s no need to throw the old site away and start from scratch.
Get more information
If you’re planning a website and would like help with our website planning guide, website content planning or simply a quote for Toast to plan, design and build you a new website, get in touch. We’re a web design company that’s based in Banbury, but we work with clients all over the UK to build better websites.
One good thing to remember is that there’s no website planning checklist that suits all sites. Your project will have specific requirements that a simple website planner template will not cover-off, so it’s best to have an initial chat through your requirements on the phone – call us on 01295 266644.
Dave is Toast’s Managing Director and also heads up the digital team. He’s been a designer, illustrator and web designer for over 25 years and has worked on a diverse range of projects across many industry sectors.