TLDR; Quite a lot, actually.
Good websites don’t just happen. Ready-made themes and templates can speed up development, but implementation is just one part of the process.
The main stages that go into producing a site are laid out here. Even for a simple site there is little that can be skipped entirely.
Positioning, scope and scale. If you are making a website, where does it fit in with your overall activities, offline and online? Is it a standalone site? Or part of a broader digital strategy that covers social media, promotions, events, and other publications? Do you have an existing domain name and associated social media accounts? Existing brand assets?
Purpose. What kind of site are you planning?
Audience Who are your users, what’s in it for them, why they should care? The more that is known about them the more it will be possible to tailor the project to attract your target audience and have them engage with your site once there.
Competitor analysis What can usefully be learnt from your competitors or from other sites operating in the same space? Where do you hope to position yourself in relation to them?
Marketing & SEO Nobody knows about your website, and nobody cares. You need a strategy to fix that.
How a site looks is one of the first things a user sees – but one of the latter steps in the design process.
That process can broadly be thought of as having two main stages, functional design and visual design.
Functional design How users experience your site, how they navigate the site to find content, the steps required to perform actions such as uploading photos or buying an item—from finding, comparing and selecting what to purchase, to processing payment and scheduling delivery.
A traditional website where users browse published content will require less design-thinking than an interactive app or a site with user generated content, where potentially complex functionality needs supporting by user on-boarding and tutorials.
Visual design Not just how the site looks, but how the visuals direct the user, reveal functionality and aid site usability.
You may already have key assets such as a logo and image bank plus house styles for typography and colour that reflect the personality of your brand identity. In larger projects these may want formalising in a style guide; user interactions may want modelling with wireframes and testing iteratively with interactive prototypes before moving on to production.
And, of course, the design needs to adapt to the device it is being viewed on.
Whatever bells and whistles you may use to embellish it, your content is your website.
Whether published by you or generated by your users, it’s what brings people to your site, encourages them to stay, motivates them to tell others.
It’s your site’s number one asset—and yet is often taken for granted or tacked on at the end.
From the micro-copy in your footer to the most in-depth of featured articles, preparing quality content is time consuming and requires effort, which no free theme can circumvent.
From generating ideas, researching and writing the copy, to sourcing and preparing images, graphics and data, and categorising your content in a systematic way to make it discoverable.
You need to be honest about how much effort you are willing to make to produce content, or how much money you are willing to pay to buy it. Making content should happen concurrently with design so that it can usefully inform the design. There is no point in adding a blog to your site if it is rarely updated. Don’t devote space for big bold images if all you have are low-quality snapshots from your mobile phone.
Special attention will need to be paid to key areas such as the home page and landing pages, or the initial empty state in an app where there is no user-generated content yet, as well as required content such as cookie notices and terms and conditions.
And this may all need replicating in multiple languages.
Hosting If it is not already, the domain name for your website will need to be registered, hosting of your site arranged, email and social media accounts setting up.
Technology stack Is your content dynamic, often changing, or mostly static, updated only when some particular detail needs revising?
That will help determine the choice of technology used to build and serve your website. A dynamic site uses a Content Management System (such as WordPress) to add and retrieve content from a database, be it articles published in an online magazine, status updates in a community social network, or items listed for sale in an e-commerce store. When a visitor arrives at your website this CMS pulls snippets of content from the database to piece together the page on-the-fly, which is then delivered to the browser.
A static site delivers a ready-made page as-is, but needn’t be entirely ’static’. It may feature an animated interface, accept user input in forms, and embed dynamic content from other sites such as twitter or Instagram.
Implementation In either case the design needs implementing in code so that content appears where, when, and how expected, in what we typically think of as web development. Options range from using a ready-to-go paid-for theme, to building an entirely bespoke solution starting from scratch. Most commonly, a pre-existing theme or framework will be used as a starting point with more or less customisation employed to tailor the design to your needs.
Optimisation Website performance begins with design, but there are a host of technical measures that should also be adopted to ensure pages load quickly. Observing best practices will help maximise search engine positioning and can increase engagement by making your content as attractive as possible when shared on social media.
Publish A newly built website is likely a newly built house, decorated but unfurnished. Your content still needs to be published. Text edited and formatted, images cropped and uploaded, authors attributed, posts categorised and posted, inventory updated and priced, links linked to.
For a site refresh it may be possible to migrate existing content, but with a new site the process is likely to be mostly manual and possibly time consuming.
The website is live, content is published, you are open for business.
One of the most disappointing aspects of investing in a new website is learning that if you build it they will not come.
Not without effort, and possibly money.
You are going to need a plan to grow your audience. Search engines are one means of driving traffic to your site, social media another, but both require that you publish relevant, useful and/or entertaining content.
If you have nothing interesting to say it’s difficult to get anyone to listen, and even if you are just in the businesses of publishing funny cat videos, you'd better make sure they are good ones.
The days of black hat SEO buying a position near the top of the first page on Google are over, and efforts to manipulate search results will likely do more harm than good.
But paid advertising on google and elsewhere online is a viable means of buying traffic.
Your website can embed tools to help analyse the traffic to your site, to identify where it comes from, and to see what your visitors do while there, including testing alternate versions of the site to see which performs best.
You may want to budget for such tools, and possibly training in their use.
Things break, vulnerabilities are exposed, expectations are thwarted.
Rare is the website that needs zero ongoing maintenance, and you will probably need to budget for some ongoing work.
Some elements of a design just may not work as expected when in the hands of real users and need rethinking. Bugs may surface and need squashing. The software powering a dynamic website—such as WordPress and its ecosystem of plug-ins that provide additional functionality—continuously evolves, and adapts to emerging security risks and needs updating.
And content. Even if it is just tagging Instagram photos to be embedded in your website, you are going to want to continuously update your content.
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But before any of the above, we would need to learn about you and your team, about your objectives and expectations for the project. These may well be ill-defined to begin with, but talking about them will help to identify and clarify them.
Let's talk and get the ball rolling.