Hooooold on a second… weren’t there supposed to be five steps to planning? How did “building” make it into the planning steps when it should come after? Ha! Bet you know that building could be part of planning, too.
Of course, this is building in a different way than you might expect. What you’re really doing at this point is taking your spec and building a beta based on that spec – nothing pretty, nothing fancy, certainly nothing you want to release to your audience, but a bare-bones strictly functional and clickable site.
Step 5: Build It
Why would you spend time building and then building again? Seem redundant, perhaps? Not if you want a great site. This is just one step on a path that will take your site from one of many billions floating in the ether to one that will be clear, fresh and meaningful… translation: make you lots of money when customers can’t stop coming back.
Build The HTML
Nothing incredibly difficult here. What you want to do is create a skeleton of your site – no graphics, no styles, no beautiful layouts – just the minimum necessary to see your site in a working state. That means building navigation links, even if they’re not pretty buttons and setting up the contact form even if it doesn’t work.
Once you can see your site in action, you’ll have a much better idea of whether it flows well and will take visitors through it easily. This is the time – now, before the pretty buttons come into play – to decide if the vision represented by your sitemap and wireframes is fully realized. If something seems confusing or not-quite-right, fix it now.
If you’ve got a basic informational site this will probably be easy. If you’ve got a more complex or ecommerce site, it could take a little while to test the paths you’ve created to be sure they will make sense for visitors.
Build The Content
If you haven’t written the copy by now, make friends with your keyboard and get busy. You’ll need it to fill in those empty HTML pages. There’s a very good reason for this, and it’s because many people either seriously overestimate or seriously underestimate the amount of copy that they’ll have or need.
Copy looks very different in your double-spaced, one-inch margin, 12-point font Word document than it does on a web page. Your mission statement may look sharp in that nice paragraph you’ve written but might be lost and floating all by itself on your site.
Looking at your copy in context may inspire you to add pages, consolidate pages or simply rewrite pages.
The other good reason to do this is so that you can see where there are gaping holes. It may have sounded great on paper to split your consulting services into four categories, but once you realize you don’t have a whole lot to say about them, it might make sense to describe everything on one nice, meaty page instead of four anemic ones.
Build The Image Layout
Yes, you’ve put it on paper, but now you get to see how well you’ve measured those pixels. Drop in your 500 pixel wide photo and see what it does to your page. Are you left with too little room for the copy? Would a 200 pixel wide photo make more sense? You’ll only truly know this with a little bit of trial and error. And even then, you may find yourself adjusting later.
The point is to make your site happen in incremental steps that you can adjust as you go, rather than jumping into the middle of the process and going backwards to make the pieces fit.
Build The Back End
If your site is database driven, as is the case with content managed or ecommerce sites, you will want to build a basically functional prototype so that you can test the results of the data transactions in the real world.
Again, this may look great on paper but during the preliminary building stages you may realize that something you thought would work doesn’t, or that there’s simply a better way to do it than you’d anticipated.
For content managed sites you should be able to plug some data into form fields and have it returned on your beta site so you can see that it works as planned. For ecommerce sites, do a little bit of testing to be sure you’ve categorized products sensibly, in a way that will lead visitors right through checkout without confusion or obstacles.
Is it a little extra work to build your web site this way? Actually, no. It’s more work if you design it, build it and then find out something doesn’t work, isn’t as good as it can be or isn’t what you thought it might be. Then you’re either forced to go back and correct things (translation: more time and budget) or you’re stuck with a less-than-stellar site.
Hopefully you’ve taken these planning steps to heart, because it may take a little bit of thought to make your site great, but it doesn’t take much to wreck it.
Make sure that whatever developer you choose to work with understands the value of planning and has a tangible process that takes you along the path to success one incremental and well-plotted step at a time.
Do you have any planning nightmare stories? Misery loves company, so please share!