Introduction to Website Building

A website is the main anchor for your corporate or brand identity. It's an essential component of how the general public views your organization. You may need a new website, perhaps for a new organization or brand, but you may also be looking to refresh your current site. A new design, coupled with better UX (user experience), can dramatically improve the performance of your website. 

Building a website is an evolutionary process. While you certainly want to take advantage of a fresh new design, you also want to get things done promptly, so a phased approach will often make the most sense. Let's break down the most critical steps that will help ensure your success.

Take a Content-First Approach

At Agility, we recommend taking a Content-First approach to building your website. Often your most important content will outlive any current design of the moment, so why not focus some attention on getting that content just right? Consider what types of content you have, who will be managing it, and how that content will evolve and grow over time.  

Your new website should set your entire organization up for growth. If you get the Content Architecture just right for your team, you should be well on your way. Consider the Content Workflow that your team of editors will use day-in, day-out with the new website - they'll thank you for thinking of them! Knowing just how your team will manage the content is key to your long-term success with this project.

Know that Experience Matters

There are three important types of experience that you should consider when building a website. Let's break them down real quick:

  1. User Experience. It should be readily evident that the people visiting your website need to have a great experience. It should be fast, fluid, and responsive.
  2. Editor Experience. The people managing the content for your organization are essential! Giving these users the best tools and processes will help your entire team create and maintain a great website.
  3. Developer Experience. You need developers to build your website. Giving them the best tools to do their job, and helping them to focus on the code they write and making it easy to deploy and test that code, will help ensure everything works smoothly.

Configure the CMS

It will help if you start configuring the CMS as soon as possible. Give your team a headstart to familiarize themselves with the structure of the content. Your content doesn't need to be tied to the actual output at all. Focus on getting your most important content in place as soon as you can - you may be amazed at how reusable this content becomes over time!

Choose A Framework

Modern website development techniques and frameworks have evolved dramatically. Jamstack and hybrid frameworks have emerged as the go-to choice for the most secure, high-performance websites. Development teams with mainly front-end skills can often build websites using these frameworks, focusing on Javascript as the primary language. Some of the most popular choices are:

  • Next.js: The fastest-growing framework! Build production-grade React applications that scale. The world's leading companies use Next.js to build static and dynamic websites and web applications. 
  • Gatsby.js: Based on top of React and relying heavily on a growing set of plugins, Gatsby makes it easy to build lightning-fast websites.
  • Nuxt.jsNuxt.js supports generating a static website based on your Vue application. It is the "best of both worlds" as you don't need a server but still have great SEO.
  • ASP.Net: Still one of the top choices for development teams, ASP.Net has evolved a lot over the years.

There a plethora of frameworks out there, and some of the old methods for success have changed. Server-side rendering has given way to static site generation, which provides many benefits. Static sites are more reliable, secure and are lightning-fast, no matter where your users are. 

Agility CMS can run in ANY framework, though. You might be looking only to replace your current CMS or implement a CMS in an existing site. Agility CMS allows you to use whatever programming language with which YOU are most comfortable.

Plan to Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

The key to ongoing success with your website build is continual improvement. Agile methodologies work great for Agility's content-first approach! Start with phase 1 of your website as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and plan out the future phases as an iterative approach. You'll be amazed at how much easier it is to create, test and deploy a website in smaller releases than it is to try and do everything all at once.

Determine your Content Strategy

Getting your Content Strategy right involves two main factors: Content Architecture and Content Workflow. Before you start development, you should have both of these figured out. Content Architecture determines your content's overall model, including the types, the fields, and how the different pieces relate to one another. Content Workflow addresses the people who will be working with this content day-in, day-out. Make sure you have the Content Architecture tuned for the skills and size of the team who will be working with it. Please make sure you spend time talking to the content team to capture their ideal workflow so that the CMS is a tool, not just another task.

During Development

When you're in the initial development phase of the project, be sure that your content team is also working on getting the content in place. In most cases, the team should input content BEFORE the development happens. That way, the developers have something they can work with instead of using placeholder content.

Fine Tune Your DevOps

Don't wait until you're close to the deployment of Phase 1 before you think about DevOps. Set this up on day 1 with proper source control, with the main branch, and optional branches for QA (quality assurance testing) and UAT (user acceptance testing). Setup at least two hosting environments for QA and Production. It may seem like overkill when you're just getting started, but this will set you up for success in the long run.

Deployment Checklist

Before it comes time to go live, sit down with your team and as many stakeholders as possible to build a checklist of all the things that need to happen. Sometimes getting simple things like DNS changes can take many approval processes and days of calendar time, so make sure to have those things ready to go well ahead of your launch schedule.

Bonus Content! 

Congrats, you've nearly made it to the end! Keep on going for some essential insights on how you tell if your new website is doing its job.

Measuring Website Performance 

Before building a website, it's helpful to know how to measure whether you've done a good job. That way, you can say for sure whether it was all worth it! Here are a few different measurements you can use as a before-and-after marker to measure the improvements your new website will bring.

  • Lighthouse Score

    • Lighthouse provides a score that outlines the relative performance of your website for both Desktop and Mobile browsers.
  • Engagement Score

    • Engagement is a tricky metric, but it's usually a combination of several metrics that you can glean from a tool like Google Analytics. Look at your Bounce Rate, Time On Page, Time On Site, etc.
  • Conversion Rate

    • How many of your users are converting into leads? It's a simple metric, and any website build process should focus on improving it.
  • Revenue

    • Your websites may be the main point of commerce for your organization, or it might just be part of your overall revenue mix. Measuring your online revenue generation is an essential measure of how well your website is performing.

The scores and measurements above are a guideline for how you combine leading (Lighthouse, Engagement) and lagging (Conversion Rate, Revenue) metrics to judge how well your website has improved over time and rebuilds.

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