Building an Effective Website Part 4: Build Phase

This is the fourth post in our series on the process of building an effective website! We’ll be explaining the entire process in great detail so you’ll know what to expect when you work with Indelible. If you’re a web developer or a marketing professional, borrow what works for you and keep us in mind when you need some staff augmentation :-). Our process involves several phases:

You’ve made it through all the strategic planning, approved the designs, and everyone is excited to see them come to life. Now it’s time for the build phase. During the build phase, the developers do their thing turning those carefully crafted mock-ups into live, interactive web pages. There’s not a lot to see until suddenly, there is. Let’s take a look at how it works!

Development Options

We will build your site with a content management system in most cases. We’ll need to determine if we should build everything from scratch or use developer-friendly visual builders. Using a page builder doesn’t mean that custom functionality is out the window – we can still develop custom modules that fit within these frameworks.

There’s no correct answer; instead, the decision should reflect what will support your business goals the most. Here are some things to consider:

Page Builder

The first option is to use a page builder, allowing users to drag and drop elements on the page. There are certain limitations, and in most cases, we’ll write a custom plugin to add any necessary functionality or more custom layouts. There are pros and cons to using a page builder, which we’ll cover more at another time, but here’s a quick overview:

Advantages of Using a Page Builder

  • Easier layout changes without needing to code
  • Faster build times (usually)

Disadvantages of Using a Page Builder

  • Excess bloat (builders support 100’s of options you’ll never use)
  • Likelihood of inexperienced administrators making poor design decisions increases
  • Future updates may cause compatibility issues

Custom Theme

A custom theme is our preferred option because it usually results in significantly better site performance and locks in the design. Only the components necessary to complete the site are developed, leading to leaner builds with total control for ensuring ADA compliance and other specific optimizations. Here’s the short breakdown:

Advantages of Using a Custom Theme

  • Typically faster loading time
  • SEO & ADA compliance without the need to fight against a site builder
  • Inexperienced administrators only have access to content, reducing the likelihood that their updates result in poor design.

Disadvantages of Using a Custom Theme

  • Limited ability to make layout changes without further development
  • Slightly slower development time

There’s plenty more that we could say about this, but as you can see, there are pros and cons to each. While we have our opinions (ok, we’re nerds, we like to build custom themes for technical perfection), what’s most important to us is that the development choices we make at this point support your business and workflows for years to come.

The Build Process

Once we’ve determined how we’re building the site (usually done in the planning phase), we set to work on it. There’s significantly less back and forth during the development phase since most of the work happens in abstract space until it comes together near the end.

Staging Site

We’ll spin up a staging environment where we’ll begin building the site. This staging site may be a completely fresh install, or it may start with an import of your existing site. Then, our developers will make copies of the staging site on their computers for any custom development. If you’re interested in our guidelines for development, here are some of our rules:

  • Do work that impacts the database on the staging site.
  • Only migrate database & media files down from the staging site, never up from local environments.
  • Write custom code in the local development environment.
  • Use version control and continuous integration tools (Bitbucket and pipelines!) to sync code without conflicts & push it up to the staging site.

Approvals & Testing

Once the site is at least mostly complete, we’ll begin the process of testing & getting approvals. We test as we build, but a more formal testing process starts as part of the approvals. Depending on the project, we may also do a series of user tests where we watch a user try to accomplish specific tasks to ensure everything is intuitive.

When it comes to client approvals, we use a guided checklist to help clarify what’s essential beyond “does this look ok?” Here’s a sample of what that series of questions might look like, though it will vary from project to project:

  • Does each page contain the right content and imagery (icons, pictures, etc.)
  • Is the content in the header & footer correct?
  • Does feature x work as expected?
  • Does form x collect the correct information and send it to the right place?
  • Does the site behave and appear accordingly across multiple devices (desktop, tablet, mobile)?

Another important aspect of web development that we like to remind our clients of is that the site will not look exactly like the mock-ups. The mock-up is a static image at a specific resolution, height, and width. In the modern world, the differences between devices can vary wildly. We aim to capture the essence of the mock-up and ensure the site flows into any screen size or pixel density beautifully.

It is important to note that requests for visual changes at this point (except for those areas that might not match the mock-up) are typically out of scope and will impact the costs & timeline. 

Moving On To Launch

Once the approvals are in (or fixes are complete), we move on to the “last” step (really the first step of your new digital strategy), which is launching the site. More on that soon!

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