Hi, I'm Tyler Willis and I've been helping businesses optimize their digital marketing and web development efforts for over 10 years. I excel at teaching and helping companies understand complex digital solutions, and applying them to their businesses.
Developing a new website, conducting a redesign or making major upgrades or improvements to your site is an exciting opportunity for your business.
It's a chance to correct past wrongs (i.e. making content easier to edit), give your business a much-needed modern facelift, and enable new technology that will make certain operations or processes more efficient - or even completely automated.
A well-built, designed and optimized business can and should be a major contributor to the success of your business - whether increasing top-line sales or decreasing bottom-line operational costs.
But the entire process of developing a new website for your company, from start to finish, can feel very daunting. And it is a big task - one whose results will have repercussions (positive or negative) in your business for months and years to come.
But that doesn't mean that you should avoid the process (after all, we just talked about how important it was!), you just need clear direction.
In this post, I want to present a complete guide, of sorts, for how to approach website development for businesses. This is with the understanding that you might not have a developer on staff, you might try to build the site yourself or hire a 3rd-party team, and it's vital that you "end" the process with a powerful tool that will grow your business.
The first thing you need to do, as a business, is sit down and plan your website.
Planning your website
This step might be one of the most difficult steps to execute - or, at least, execute well. I understand the desire to dive right into a project and start seeing results.
But if you don't take the time to plan out how the process will go, you may find yourself half done, with days and weeks of time already used and thousands of dollars already spent, and realizing that major changes need to be made.
Or, you may not be prepared for how long the project might take, or how much investment of time from you and your time will be required.
Proper planning starts with your business ...
What are the goals for your business, and how does that cascade down to your website?
What type of phase is your company currently?
- Is it an awareness phase where you're trying to get the word out about your business, or possibly a new service you're offering?
- Are you in a revenue phase where your business is well established and you're just trying to increase sales?
- Are you wanting to leverage your website more for certain business operations, such as online sales, registrations, human resources or inventory management?
A successful website isn't one-size-fits-all. A pre-built design template might not be able to help you with any of the above items, or at least not well. And certain platforms or technologies might be better-equipped to support the goals of your business.
It might require that you invest time or money in a technology that you haven't used before, but planning will allow you to prepare for that before getting past the point of no return with a system that will be unable to solve your needs.
You should also consider future goals. Where might your company expand, or where would you hope your website to be able to better support your business?
What resources does your company have?
One thing that you've probably already thought about in the very beginning stages of realization, is what resources your company does or does not have that would support the website.
If you have a financial budget and money set aside for this project, then you can hire a developer and team from a web design or marketing agency. This is often the best-case scenario - being able to leverage a professional to custom-build the exact website that you need regardless of special functionalities or requests.
(I say that this is often the best-case scenario because sometimes it's not. Many web developers are not actually developers but rather rely on no-code solutions such as WordPress plugins or platforms like Wix or Squarespace. They might be able to solve your needs if you're looking for a basic website, but if you need advanced functionality then be sure to do your research and ask a lot of questions before you sign on the dotted line!)
If you don't have money set aside that you can use to hire a professional developer, then that means you'll need to take on the responsibility yourself. More on this below. There are many great tools to help, but you will be limited depending on your goals. You could always start the process yourself and then set aside funds to hire a developer to help with advanced functionality.
Is it important to be able to make content updates?
Hopefully, the answer to this is "yes". If not, it's important you realize that your website won't perform well in the long run if you don't make continual modifications and additions to the site's content.
But many businesses don't think about this prior to getting started. Maybe there's an assumption that they will automatically be able to edit whatever they'd like once the site is live?
While that might be true, that would also most-definitely require you get your hands dirty in the actual source code which might cause more harm than good! And that's not a practical, repeatable process.
There are many different tools that you or a developer can use (see below) to make content management a possibility, but it's important that you keep this in mind during your building of the site, or when a developer is building it for you.
What future upgrades should you plan for?
During the planning phase, hopefully you're giving thought to the future and what you might like or need your website to be able to do to support your business.
Within the next 5-10 years, what are some pages or functionalities that you might consider important to add to the site? Things like:
- An online store that would require payment processing and inventory management
- A database of content or information that could grow into the hundreds or thousands of rows
- A login area that would require user authentication, a dashboard and user settings
Each of the above items would require certain functionalities or storage that is perhaps not available with certain website platforms. If you're planning on the possibility for future expansion, you should make sure that your new site will work so that you don't need to spend extra transferring and rebuilding your site in 2-3 years.
Sitemap and functionalities
Before you start with development, you should also map out what you'd like to have included on the website. If you're working with a design company or marketing agency, they may be able to help with this, but you should still spend time prior thinking this through.
You should think about what pages you'd like to or need to have included. Those might include pages like:
- An "about us" page
- Our team
- Our history
- Our services
- Blog and individual blog posts
- Contact us
- Industries that we serve
- Shop and products
And if you can think through or even start gathering the content and images that would be included on these pages, that would be even more helpful.
I always try to make sure that all of the content and assets to be used on a website are collected prior to any development taking place. This does 2 things - helps the client to make sure they finish and complete this step because, until they do, we're not going to develop anything, and helps make the development process that much more efficient - not needing to go back and forth to the client for everything, changing text after it's already been added, etc.
In addition to the pages, what functionalities need to be included? For example, no functionality would basically result in a page with only design and text. But with functionality might mean a contact form. Some example functionalities might include:
- A contact form
- Online shop
- Database exporting
- Accessibility user interface
- A secure login area
- An administrator area
Once you have taken the time to plan your website from a business perspective, thought about what needs might arise in the future and gathered assets, then you can start on the site development.
Developing your website
You've arrived at the execution step. Congratulations on getting through the planning phase of the website development project. Most businesses skip that step and end up paying more money or spending extra time in the long run because of it, so you're already a step ahead!
This is the fun part - at least, at first! It's fun to see designs and visions come together.
As we discussed above, depending on your company's resources, the development of your site can vary greatly. Either you are able to hire a professional developer or you're going to be doing everything yourself (or with your team).
Either way, below, I'm going to walk you through how to execute the development phase, and do it well.
Designing and building the site yourself
If you're designing the website yourself, or with a team, you might be approaching the project from a few vantage points:
- You've built a website or 2 in the past for yourself or a friend
- You're generally good with technology and so feel fairly confident
- You have no idea what you're doing
Actually, for the first 2 points above you may also feel like you have no idea what you're doing. And that's fine - even developers need to think through how to best approach a new website project.
If you've built a website in the past, maybe you're thinking that building a website for your company will be similar. And it might be, but this time you have the weight of a company on your shoulders. But at least you have some experience.
But don't neglect what we did in the planning phase above. It might be tempting to think you'd use the same platform you used for your personal project for your company's site, but it might not make sense in this case.
It's important to consider which website platform would make the most sense.
Choosing a website platform
There are many solutions for do-it-yourself website development these days, and they come in different shapes and sizes.
There are "open source" solutions such as WordPress and Joomla. Both of these platforms will ultimately give you access to the code (so you could basically make any change you'd like so long as you're comfortable). They both also rely heavily on plugins and extensions made by 3rd-party developers to provide additional functionalities.
My experience with these is that they're overly-complicated and 3rd-party plugins are often not well supported (and they're built by thousands of developers all around the world with different styles). The administrator can often be confusing and limiting (again, unless you're a developer).
But, since you have unfiltered access to the source code and you own the whole site outright, these are good solutions (WordPress preferred) for if you're looking to start small and expand into other pages and functionalities down the road.
"No code" solutions provide you with an online administrator that mostly lets you drag-and-drop design elements and manage your content all in one place. These would be platforms like Webflow, Wix and Squarespace (as well as dozens of other new platforms created daily).
They help you to get a start up and launched within minutes and the designs are more than sufficient. The negative is that you don't have access to the code, so you're extremely limited to the options that they build in for you. It would be hard to take a site like this to the next level with custom functionality.
You also won't, technically, "own" your website. You can't take a Webflow website and move it to Wix, for example, or host it yourself. So, that means that if you weren't happy with them or what they'd be charging you on a monthly basis for your website, you'd have to start from scratch somewhere else.
I would recommend a platform like this to get started with a great design with the intention being to expand to a custom-built solution within a few years.
No code - avoid
Then there are other solutions that I would probably avoid entirely. These would include platforms like GoDaddy, MailChimp, Web.com and other sites that specialize in something else but just so happen to also offer websites.
GoDaddy specializes in domain name registration and MailChimp specializes in email marketing. Use them for those purposes, but not for your website. I say this because of personal experience - they just don't give websites as much attention as the other platforms.
Speaking mainly to small businesses here, but maybe you don't need a website - or, at least, not yet. There are platforms that would be available to you that would allow you to get content online and start building awareness for free.
If you're a new business starting out or you've been around for a while without much online presence, consider a platform like Medium that will allow you to host a blog for free. Then there's Google Business and even Facebook. There are also sites like Reddit or Quora that allow you to create profiles and build community.
Yes, there are absolutely times when you need your own website and I'm not suggesting that you never have your own address online, but starting with a free solution like the ones mentioned above might allow you to get your foot in the door with an established platform that may get you in front of your audience more quickly.
Hiring and working with a developer or agency
If you're able to hire a professional team to help you with your website, then that's great, but it doesn't mean you don't have to do anything!
Hopefully, from the planning phase, you've already taken the time to put together your page sitemap and functionality information. You might be eager to get the development started, but if you can try hard to focus and get all of this to the developer at the very beginning, it will actually save you time and money during the project.
But it doesn't stop there - you should be present during the project. This does NOT mean emailing constantly or even reaching out regularly looking for updates. Don't do that! What this means is that during the project estimate or proposal phase, you designate certain checkpoints or times where you'll get together for 30 minutes and see a quick demo of the site and be able to provide some input.
Maybe this will be once every 2 weeks, or after major parts of the site are completed. You can jump on a Zoom or Teams call, and one of the developers can share their screen and show you any progress that has been completed. You'll then maybe be given 10 minutes at the end for feedback, questions and adjustments.
This will be beneficial in 2 ways:
- You'll feel better knowing what's going on.
- This will save time from major fixes needing to be made at the end of the project.
And, if you know you'll have these regular checkins, you won't feel the need to email the developer or account manager every other day.
Your responsibility here is to ask questions, seek to understand and correct issues or miscommunications that you notice. This is also a good time for you to be aware that rarely does or can the development of an actual site look exactly like the design, or what you thought the design would be. There might be certain limitations you were unaware of. And that's okay, because there's no limit to the number of times a website can be adjusted even after it's been launched.
"Don't repeat yourself"
"Don't repeat yourself" or DRY is actually a mantra that developers try to remember and live by when they're coding. The idea is to identify areas where your code can be reused instead of rewriting the same block of code 5 or 10 times. It saves you time and helps to make your code easier to read.
I think that DRY can be used by businesses in their websites, too. And I'm thinking primarily about the management of a website. When you or a developer is building your business's website, make sure that it will be easy to repeat processes down the road after the site is fully constructed.
You should have a plan (more on this below) for creating new content for your site, but it'll be difficult to do that if it's not really easy to add a new page. If you can just click on a button that says "add" and then start typing away, wouldn't that be easier than having to click and navigate to a menu 5 pages deep, then click to add a page, then add a menu item and maybe a couple of other steps?
Or what about reviewing your site's analytics. Can you automate the reporting process at all so that you'll make it more likely that you will look at, review and then modify your site based on the data?
During the development process, keep in mind the core activities that will need to take place post-launch and make sure that those processes are being optimized.
You're not the first person to develop a website. No, millions of people already have before you. And some of them have built hundreds of sites themselves (I might be one of them).
So, that means there are a lot of tools and software (free and paid) that have been created to make your job as a website developer or editor that much easier (see this post for more).
- TinyPNG for image compression
- SEOMountain for simple SEO tag management
- ArtDefend for site security and image protection
- One Page Love for design inspiration
- BitMtn Accessibility plugin for site accessibility
- Tailwind Snippets for HTML and CSS code snippets
- Contentful for content management
- Google Analytics for analytics tracking and measuring
- Mailchimp for email list creation
- Filezilla for source code file management
Wow, you've made so much progress and now you're ready to launch your site - to set it free, release it to the wild, and whatever other corny, inspirational phrases you might come up with.
The launch feels good. The launch is the passing to a new phase. The launch ... is anticlimactic. At least from an audience standpoint.
You see, no one is as excited about the launch of your website as you are. If you are an existing business with existing traffic, your site visitors will see something new when they visit your site. They might be impressed, but they might even complain!
If you're a new business (or at least a new domain name), there's a chance that no one will visit your website, for days or even weeks.
This is fine - this is normal. This is how the web works. And it's why you shouldn't be nervous to launch your website. Get it out there as soon as you can - that will only help it to be seen more quickly in the long run.
Take this time to double-check that things are working properly. Check links to internal and external pages, functionalities, contact forms and more.
Share the launch of your new or updated website on social media, in an email, in your store, to the customers and prospects you see and converse with every day. This will help to start getting real traffic to your website and hopefully give you some helpful feedback.
Then, there are 2 main things that you should do as soon as you can:
Connect your site to analytics software
I mentioned Google Analytics above because it's free and gives you plenty of analytical information to get you started, but there are dozens or even hundreds of different analytics tools that you can use for your site such as:
- Open Web Analytics
These can mostly be connected to any website and will likely require placing something like a snippet of code somewhere on your website (simple copy/paste).
This will provide you with validation knowing that people are finding your site by tracking your site visitors, see what pages they're viewing, how long they're staying on your site and more.
As you get more comfortable with the analytics, you'll want to use the data to make modifications to your site. For example, why are people not navigating to the contact page from the services page? Or why are they staying on that certain page for only 12 seconds on average?
You can use this information to update links, improve sales funnels, make a more concerted effort to improve page content, and more. The point is that you'll be making these changes based on data, not a guess.
Submit your website to search engines
You'll likely be looking and wanting to see your website show up on the first few pages of search engines for your key search terms. This takes time (months, at least) and it's never a guarantee that you'll rank as highly as you'd like.
But to start the process, you can and should actually be proactive and submit your website to search engines like Google and Bing directly. Search engines like these may find your website eventually, but you can speed up the process by submitting your site's pages to them and requesting indexing.
Both Google and Bing have user dashboards that you can sign up for. For Google, it's called Google Search Console, and Bing is Bing Webmaster Tools. You'll see them request the domain name of your site and verification, and then, as the days go on, you'll actually be able to refer to these platforms to see analytics related to how well your site and pages perform in search engine result pages.
It will take some time for search engine's to index the pages of your website, but this will get the process started. While you're waiting for the traffic to come flooding in, start executing your continual investment plan.
What!? You're not done yet? There's more to the website development process?
Well, technically, I guess you could say that the website development project itself is complete. But your website is far from done. In fact, the mindset should never be that the website is done.
A website is like anything in that the more you put into it the more you get out of it. I've worked for too many clients in the past (especially in my first few years) that built or had me build their website and then nothing. There were hardly any updates and no attention given to the site. And then months or years later (depending on how patient they were) they revealed how disappointed they were with the performance (or lack of performance) of their website.
I take the blame for this. How were they supposed to know what to do? They hired me, after all. But I didn't know then what I know now, and that's that people aren't waiting to knock down the door of your website as soon as it's launched and give you all their money.
That websites take time and require continual investments of money and time. But, if that's done well then they will return your initial investment in multiples. For some businesses, their website could end up being their top-performing "salesperson". For others, their website has basically become the entire business providing freedom for the business owners.
So, how do you get to that point? Consistency, proper expectations and data.
Consistency as you press on in your website optimization and digital marketing tactics. Proper expectations for the investment required and what will come out of the investment, and data that you can use to review and adapt to how people are accepting your website and what you can do to improve performance.
Practically, some digital marketing tactics that you could consider include (see a few more on this post):
- Search engine optimization: attempting to increase the traffic that your website receives from organic (free) search queries, high quality traffic, takes a while to see results at first but provides consistent traffic in the long run (learn more at our post about the top 6 SEO services).
- Lead generation: offering value in exchange for email addresses then following up and trying to upsell users via email and convert these users to paying customers, works well if your site receives consistent traffic and you have something of value that you can offer.
- Digital advertising: paid ads on social media or Google, gets your site traffic immediately although it will cost you money as long as you have the ads running, you'll want to make sure you have high-converting webpages set up first to not waste your money.
- Sales funnels: High-converting paths that take users from website visitors to prospects to customers.
The best plan might be to include all of the above (or more), but learn and start with what you're comfortable with and then go from there. The main thing is consistency. Especially with search engine optimization (SEO), since it takes a while, you might get a month or 2 in and not see the traffic you were hoping for. Don't forget that it takes time, and it will work as long as you're producing high quality content on your website.
Regardless of your situation, your business, industry or resources, you can develop a website that will work for you and grow your business.
It starts with identifying a plan for your business and the goals for your website. Then development - finding the right platform that works for you and setting yourself up for success even after launch.
Then we start promoting our site after launch and telling search engine's to index our content so that we can start receiving high-quality, organic content. Finally, we set good habits and proper expectations with continual investment in our websites knowing that the more we put into them, the more we'll get back.
Stay consistent. Stick to the plan. Your website can and will grow your business.