Planning, designing and launching a website in modern times is a collaborative process between the design team, the client or business, and if possible, the client's users or customers. Together, we will discuss the plan which involves all of the domain name choices available, e-commerce models to generate revenue on products in addition to their services, and the development approach. The layout and design will also be discussed with the client to determine the design requirements, technical requirements, and all of the site content. A continuously collaborative process of involving the client in major decisions will limit the amount of scope creep later on because the process allows our design team to only work on approved ideas, and furthermore, only move forward with client approvals as well.
We will begin the process by conducting an interview with all of the stakeholders of the company, Sparkling Surfaces Cleaning Company, to discuss everything above. We also review numerous websites, layouts and functionality to get a better idea of their likes, dislikes, must-haves and a complete list of functionality. The design aspects of the website will take less time to complete than the functionality requirements, so this is a good time to dig deep into the desires of the client to make sure nothing unexpected comes up later on. However, when the client requests changes related to HTML and CSS we will be able to make those changes without affecting the proposed budget.
Once we sit down with the client and discuss all of the requirements above we can create a full proposal that mentions a list of tasks and a timeline for completion. We'll ask the client to review it and sign it so that it protects us from additional client requests that can't fit in the proposed budget.
Planning a website starts with a domain name, www.YourDomainName.com, and we decided together that www.SparklingSurfacesCleaning.com was a perfect domain for their company. Not only does it mention their business name but it also mentions a keyword of their services, "Cleaning". By including "cleaning" in their domain it's easier for search engines to understand what the company does and who to connect them with in terms of visitors. The domain was purchased for $10 per year from Sultan Host because my company has a shared hosting account that makes this a cost effective hosting plan. Sultan Host has a standard control panel accessed here: www.sparklingsurfacescleaning.com/cpanel. Here you will find a list of website files, visit statistics that include how many visitors came to the website and what pages they viewed, email options, security options, and much more. George Plumley, the author of Website Design and Development, says, "A hosting control panel is an interface that makes it easy for the average user to perform tasks that, in the past, had to be performed by the web hosting provider's staff." Our company has a monthly plan that costs $25 that allows us to buy domains for $10 per year hosted under a shared account. There are some minor limitations to a shared account but for a small cleaning website there won't be any restrictions that we have to discuss with the client.
In order to give the client exactly what they want the development approach will use programming code such as HTML and CSS instead of using a template or design software package from a third party. It will follow the standard, www.w3schools.com, in order to stay compliant with each of the many browsers. The development of the design and layout will start with the client showing us websites that they like and dislike. We may even start with a template to secure a certain structure or color scheme, but either way, we'll gather valuable information about the client's needs. This process will also allow us to discuss the requirements for their e-commerce capabilities. They mentioned that they want a shopping cart with a full content management system that stores information about previous purchases and customers. They will also need training in Joomla in order to post new products for sale and manage their collected data. They also want a Blog so that they can post their own content, so we're incorporating Wordpress Hosting for Blogging capabilities. As it stands we'll be including both of these features into our proposal along with additional hours of training to help get them started with both applications. It will include more work to incorporate the Sparkling Surfaces Cleaning theme and layout into the blog and shopping cart in order to have a fluid look for marketing and branding purposes.
The client has selected a few websites that they like based on simplicity, ease of use and clear presentation of their business:
Some of the design and technical requirements involve user experience because we have to show them what we offer in less than 5 seconds without confusing them between buying cleaning products and requesting our cleaning services. We plan to make a distinct difference between services and products while also incorporating a theme and layout similar to the three websites above. The 3 websites above do not sell products, they simply offer cleaning services within a designated area. We will have the same offer of services, but we'll also have a product section where users can sign in and purchase products online through Joomla software. The shopping cart will include cleaning products, Sparkling Surfaces T-shirts and clothing, and discounts on cleaning services when certain thresholds are met. There shouldn't be any technical requirement challenges because we're using Wordpress Hosting and Joomla applications for the difficult programming, and HTML and CSS for the easier programming.
There's very little need for text content on Sparkling Surfaces because the design and images will explain what their company is offering. A simple 5-6 bar navigation, a slide show of images on the homepage and a few paragraphs explaining the company products and services will be sufficient. However, in the product section Joomla creates products for sale by asking for an image, description, price, etc., so the content will be built into the shopping cart. In fact, when we interviewed the client the team mentioned that content should be minimal, and that they liked the simple look of the three website they chose due to the small paragraphs. So, when content is necessary, we plan to sporadically include paragraphs of content instead of full page width articles. Each service can be listed with a short description similar to how the product section will look in the e-commerce area.
There's a lot of work to do and we're only in the beginning stages. However, after two long meetings with the client, a full proposal with a signature, and three websites that the clients picked as favorites, we have a great starting point to give the customer exactly what they want and need. The next steps of creating a website that our customer will love is creating wireframes and prototypes that the customer can view before we move on. Again, we should waste too much time completing functionality and navigation formatting until we have the approval of the customer. Wireframes and prototypes are cost effective examples for the customer to see and either love or hate, but either way, we didn't spend half of the budget working on something that the customer could have shut down two weeks ago. Involving Sparking Surfaces in the process in our number one concern because we're building the website for them, not us.
Testing and deploying a website must first consider quality assurance, marketing and promotion, search engine optimization, and analytics in order to avoid negative feedback from users and customers. Testing the usability of the website includes analyzing the page load time, form error handling and CSS consistency throughout multiple pages. The website must also be compliant to the HTML, CSS and JS standard so that it functions and looks the same in all versions of all browsers. Marketing and promotion of the website includes press releases, online article submissions, social media profiles and local website profiles. Offline marketing includes newspaper and magazine advertisements, commercials and billboards if the budget allows for those high price tag marketing ideas.
SEO, Search Engine Optimization, involves descriptive title and description tags, keywords and phrases carefully placed throughout each page, and descriptive URL paths for file names and folders. Before optimizing a website for a search engine it would be helpful to understand the highest priority items that search engines look for when displaying the top ten results. Analytics cannot be conducted until visitors start using the website, however a plan can be created that determines which data should be collected and how often it will be analyzed. Furthermore, part of the plan for analyzing data can involve when changes will be made based on problems, complaints or when particular pages are viewed more than others.
In order to be sure we test everything we'll have a list of items to check among multiple people such as, 1) Check a:hover in navigation, 2) Check font style throughout all pages, 3) Check every type of browser listed here..., 4) Check HTML form and try to create errors, etc. Each person will be given a list of items to test the functionality before the website launches.
Marketing and promoting a website doesn't involve our website, but instead involves work to be completed on other websites. For example, once the website launches we'll have to create a press release which is about 600 words about the company's new website and goals. When the article is posted with a link pointing to our website it adds value to our website. We'll also have to create 600 word informational articles about our products and services to post them on different article directories such as www.ezinearticles.com and www.articledashboard.com. Similar to the press release, there's a biography section of these directories that allow us to mention our website and place a link pointing to our website.
Lastly, we'll create profiles for all social media and local websites to create brand awareness on currently active websites. There aren't many people that know about our website the day it's launched, however numerous people are viewing www.yp.com, www.facebook.com and www.twitter.com every day. The profiles on these websites will give us immediate exposure to new customers and prospects. Social media profiles will each be monitored on a daily basis to be sure we connect with anyone that's trying to connect with us. Also, it's important to search engines that social media profiles are active daily instead of stagnant, so we'll add posts weekly to show the search engines that we're here to stay, and to give our customers useful constant updates.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is conducted within our website programming code. If we're trying to show up in the top 10 results for the phrase "cleaning services" we'll need to optimize an HTML file in order below:
If we were trying to show up in the top 10 results for "Aruba Vacations" we'd have to optimize the list above with Aruba Vacations instead of Cleaning Services. Each HTML page will have a unique URL path, title tag, description tag, H1 tag and paragraph content. Each page of our website will need to be optimized to adhere to that list. Once we create and optimize an HTML page we can submit another article to a directory with a link pointing to that particular page in order to promote and market it externally. Finally, images and videos should be appropriately titled using title="" and alt="" tags. The title of each image should be unique to avoid confusing, but doesn't have to be. Using the page's keyword would be ideal, but the image or video should be titled appropriately to what it is and what the visitor is looking at, again, to avoid confusion. We'll be persistent in using every optimization tool we can, however usability comes first. We want to give the visitor a good experience before creating any confusion with optimization techniques.
Now that we've tested, marketed, promoted and optimized our website we need to collect and analyze the data. We'll determine how many visitors come back a second and third time, how many use our social media accounts, how many call us after viewing certain pages, how many place orders online, which products are more popular, which pages are more popular, and of course, why visitors leave our site without calling or placing an order. All of the data collected will be fed into a database to allow us to run various reports about visitors, customers and products, along with the geographic region most of them are arriving from.
If we determine that Facebook is being used more than our website we'll need to focus on that data and put more efforts and dollars towards Facebook. If we determine that one product is more popular perhaps we can move that product to our homepage with a special price attached. If our services aren't as popular as we thought they would be we can adjust the price or increase the amount of services for the same price.
Launching a website before testing it could create so many problems that it ruins the long term affect, and even worse, it could complete discredit the website entirely. If we forget to market and promote it then customers will never find the website unless we tell each of them about it individually. Neglecting SEO will stop us from showing up in the search engines top results because they won't know where to find us. For example, creating URL paths as, "/pg1.html" and "/pg2.html" are terrible SEO practices. Finally, without collecting or analyzing the data accumulated from the website and social media accounts will leave us confused when we have 1000 visitors and zero orders or phone calls. However, after analyzing it we might notice that we continue to get visitors from California instead of New Hampshire, so we understand that those visitors do not need our local cleaning services. Even though it's possible to create and launch a website in a few days, testing, marketing, SEO and analytics are the most important part of gaining visibility online.
We will recommend that Sparkling Surfaces buys an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate through the host. Typically, SSL certificates cost about $49 per year to have, but there aren't any additional expenses to have it. The HTTP pointing to the domain name will change to HTTPS when the SSL certificate is in place. Global Sign explains it as, "SSL Certificates are small data files that digitally bind a cryptographic key to an organization's details. When installed on a web server, it activates the padlock and the https protocol (over port 443) and allows secure connections from a web server to a browser." (Global Sign, n.d.)
Notice the HTTPS in green, and notice the small font under the URL that mentions "Cookies will be collected".
During the early stages we will conduct monthly maintenance to the Sparkling Surfaces website. First, we'll check the control panel for errors. There's a detailed list of every syntax errors that occurred, form handling errors, empty URL paths and much more. We'll fix any errors that we find and discuss additional errors that the customer mentions. After the first year, we might be able to start quarterly maintenance if things start to smooth out. However, we'll continue monthly support if problems persist.
Legal issues, maintenance, security and privacy are sometimes discarded by small companies because they are costly and seem like a waste of money if nothing ever happens. However, they are like insurance policies for when things do happen, and need to be addressed early so that the company can continue on to bigger and better things. As a reputable website design company, we need to assure Sparkling Surfaces that they're in good hands by helping them through these tedious website tasks.
Global Sign. What is an SSL Certificate?
Plumley, George (2011). Website Design and Development. 100 questions to ask before building a website. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Publishing, Inc.