How to Build A Web Site

So you're thinking of building a website of your own. My guess is that you're considering a brochure, e-commerce, or community site (read Five Types of Web Sites for a description of these types of sites). You're going to go through the same steps regardless of the type of site. However, the size of your endeavor will determine with one or two people handle all the web development tasks or if you'll need the services of a large number of people.

Where To Start

The first question you need to answer is, “What do I want my site to do?”. Or put another way, “What should my site do for me to consider it a success?” Trying to build a site without having a good idea of the answer to these questions will cost you a lot of time and perhaps money.

When you have a one or two line description of the goal of your website you'll need to start refining it. This task is often done by a requirements analyst (sometimes called a business analyst). The end result of this analysis should be a document describing the features of your site.

Create a Prototype

With your requirements document in hand, you are now able to begin work on a prototype. I'm a big fan of prototypes as they offer an accurate simulation of how the actual site will function when it is complete. Creating a prototype determine the main sections and navigational features of the site. When you know how people will move through the site you can begin thinking about the look of the site. If you're not artistically inclined you should consider hiring a graphic designer. Your site needs to make a good first impression, so you want it to look professional.

System Architecture and Database Design

If the content of your site is dynamic in any way then you'll need to put some thought in to the
system architecture. Things you'll need to consider are what technologies you'll want to use and
how you can use these technologies to make your site maintainable and extendable. Remember, over time successful websites end up doing more than originally intended so you don't want to paint yourself in to a corner with some short-sighted architecture decisions. You'll also want to start working on a database design if you plan to store web content or user information.

Again, depending on your skills you can do these tasks on your own or look to getting help. A web developer with several years experience can often handle the task of determining the system architecture and designing a database.

Web Development

All the analysis and design is handed off to one or more web developers who are responsible for
putting all the pieces together and making the site functional. Usually there's nothing to see
for a few weeks while the web developers put together templates and such. However, after some preliminary work bits and pieces of the site should start to become functional so that you can review the sections as they are completed.

So Now You Have a Working Web Site

You might think that once you have a working site that you're almost done. I wish that were the case. Your next steps will include the following:

  • Finding a hosting company that is reliable and cost effective
  • Submitting your site to search engines. You will probably only need to do this once, but it may take a month or two before the search engines visit your site.
  • Ongoing search engine optimization so that your site appears in the first page or two of search results
  • Other advertising and promotional activities such as mailing lists or newsletters

The good thing is that once you reach “critical mass” your site will almost run itself. Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing how long it'll take before you reach this state, but I guarantee you'll know when you get there!

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