Anatomy of a Website Project

chest x-ray by Aidan Jones CC BY-SA 2.0

It is a generally accepted rule that in order to do business in today’s marketplace, you need to be online.

Whether it is an e-commerce site or simply a place for prospects to learn more about your company, your website is a fundamental business tool.  So if a good website is critical to a business’s success why are there so many bad websites out there?

My answer is this:  Because people don’t really know what goes in to producing a website.

The DIY Website Lie


Our modern era of DIY marketing has sold of bill of goods to a lot of small businesses and start-ups, with web-building sites touting how easy it is to create a website yourself – how their templates and drag and drop editors provide everything you need.

Everything you need?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the Wix’s and Squarespace’s of the digital world.  But, so much focus has been put on making website design and development easier, cheaper, and faster that a critical element to the process has been overlooked in the race to the finish line.  The website strategy.

In addition to rushing to build a website without a sound strategy that covers the who, why, what and how of a site, there is also a degree of misconception and confusion about the different stages of the process and who actually does what.

So before you jump in to your web project, consider all of the elements that go in to producing a website.  And know who is going to be responsible for each.

7 Key Elements of Producing a Website


1) The Website Strategy:

This is the initial concept phase – the work before the work – before anything is designed or developed.  Having a well-thought strategy will make the process go more smoothly and can be the difference between your website being a success or a waste of valuable time and budget.

Have a clear vision.  Do your research and conduct as many meetings, interviews and discussions as it takes to get to know:

  • What problem you are trying to solve
  • Who your audience is
  • Your goals and objectives
  • The message or content you will deliver
  • What your competition is doing

Remember the old adage, “Measure twice. Cut once.”  The more you plan, the smoother the process will be, and the greater the result.


2) The Creative Brief

The Creative Brief (sometimes called Project Brief or Marketing Brief) is basically a summary of your findings and strategy.  It’s what helps form a collaborative and productive partnership between the client and creative team.

A good brief identifies the critical factors that can impact your project; goals, target, budget, technical parameters (forms, shopping cart, video, etc.), and other requirements (contact information, logos, licensing, etc.).

The Creative Brief also forms the framework for your creative approach.  It provides direction for the look and feel and gives the designer and developer the information they need to come up with designs and site functionality that are on target and strategy.

Without clearly articulated direction, the creative team won’t have a good understanding of your needs and expectations.  A formal, written brief puts all of the pertinent information in one place and serves as a strategic tool that can be agreed on and implemented by all parties involved.

Don’t underestimate the value of the Creative Brief! I’ve seen many website projects fall apart because the client skipped this very important step.


3) The Website Architecture:

Also referred to as Information Architecture, this is how all of the information – the navigational menu, pages and critical elements of your site – are organized.  The site architecture is what determines the flow of the site and how easy it is for people to navigate it.

Think of it this way, every person who visits your site comes to it with a question: What services does this company offer? What is the cost? What are their qualifications? What do I do next?  Whatever the question, your job is to make it simple and clear to find the answer.  A well-researched site structure presents the information you want to provide in a way that site visitors can intuitively navigate to find the information they seek.


4) The Copywriter:

Make sure you are clear up-front about who is providing the copy.  If you are working with an independent designer and/or developer, they are not going to be the person who provides the copy for each page.  Even many web development companies and smaller digital agencies do not provide copy.  And if they do, it’s for an additional fee.


5) The Designer:

The designer is the person responsible for all of the visual elements of the site.  Based on information from the Creative Brief, they determine fonts, colors, layout, graphics, etc.  Depending on the type of site, they may do this using a program such as Photoshop and then hand off the designs to the developer.

A good designer will have a solid understanding of the development process, but their focus is on graphic design.  They do not strategize, write copy, code or optimize for SEO.


6) The Developer:

Sometimes referred to as the “coder”, this is the person who actually builds the site.  They convert all of the designs into an actual live site (writing the code for the site) and are responsible for the site functioning correctly – ensuring links are set up, videos play, installing shopping cart functions, including forms, and much more.

With the growing popularity of WordPress themes and website builders, there are a lot of developers now also doing design work. Are they designers?  Not really.  Their primary skillset is still on coding and site build-out.


7) SEO

There is still a misconception that Search Engine Optimization is something that happens after as site is built out.  But, this thinking can lead to a lot of headache just when you think your site is ready to launch.

Because there are so many factors that go into a site’s search engine ranking – whether it is responsive or mobile-ready, how pages are titled, URL structure, where keywords are located on the page – it’s important to make sure you are optimizing your site for search from the onsite.  Or you risk having to re-do it all later.


Can these roles overlap?  Absolutely – depending on how much you’re willing to compromise.  If you aren’t working with an agency or budget is a concern, you may opt for the designer/developer route.  However, I have yet to come across someone who does both really well so manage your expectations.

And remember, spending time on website planning will help set you up for success.  Do your homework.  Know who is going to be responsible for each step.  And don’t skip over the strategy and Creative Brief!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2014 and has since been updated.