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April 10, 2014

Complicated Construction: The Stages of Web Development

Author: Valerie Baker

So, I’ve been sitting at my desk for the last few minutes contemplating the professionalism of an old blog article I wrote back in 2010 regarding the correlation between websites and underwear. Apparently I have not matured past that, as I still look at that article as one of the more insightful (Latin for “makes me chuckle”) word pairings I’ve made. The premise was simple: a website is the foundation to your business just as underwear is the foundation to your outfit. And while I have never found anyone who could put up a good rebuttal to my hypothesis, the general consensus still exists that websites are only slightly more complicated and intricate than Lego play sets. And that it is the same people who work on both.

What amazes me, in this day and age, is that there are still a large number of people who do not understand the complexities of website development. Then again, there are still a lot of people who like to display their opinions on the rear window of their car for the whole world (specifically those of us stuck behind them in traffic) to see. Nobody questions an electrician while they are setting up the fuse box; everyone is expected (and pressured, violently if possible) to pay at least $175 for every email from their attorney; and you have to trust the doctor’s competence while breathing in that last sleepy breath before he goes to work on your innards.

While companies may not like the Electrical Worker’s Labor Union, they still have to deal with them because electricians are the experts in their field. The web industry is still very young, and due to the nature of its beginnings, has a certain stigma attached to it. Take, for example, a few obvious un-truths that are actually still believed today.

  • My kid grew up on video games; they know what they are doing with a website
  • I don’t need to pay for a website; my nephew builds those from his parents’ basement
  • It’s just a couple clicks of a button; it can’t be that hard
  • Can’t you do that real quickly? It’s only a few clicks on your mouse
  • Why does it take so long? Can’t you just throw up some images and text for me?
  • My brother fixes computers; he can build me a website as good as yours

Simply by taking a look at a website built 18 years ago next to a recently built site, it is quite clear the growth in technology and specialization required. Websites are not purely built in HTML anymore; they are combination of different codes, each a different language. CSS styles the page; JavaScript gives it motion; PHP is an open source programming language; SSL provides security – there are plenty more acronyms and examples I could place here, but my goal is not to demean; it is to enlighten. From the original design ideas to the encrypted connection between your website’s shopping cart and your bank, website development incorporates many different languages, talents and specialties. And in just the same way we would never assume one person has both the left and right sides of their brain both working fully and equally (have you ever seen an accountant that can paint life Picasso?), the same is true in web development. Allow me to explain.


Apple Website: 1997


Apple Website: 2013

Website Design: Molding an Architect with an Interior Designer

When it comes to the design/layout of a building, no one is more important that the architect. They plan out the project by laying the foundation of design. How many stories? What does the space need to accomplish? Too much or too little? How does it interact with the environment? High-level architects need to be both artistic and organized (a challenge of itself), but when the two are brought together, you can get real works of beauty and functionality, not unlike Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.

Your web designer needs to be the perfect mash-up of artistic design and spatial organization. It is their designs that tell the rest of the team what they need to do and how they need to make things work. How much whitespace is too much? How do hovers need to react?

There is only so much a website can display at a given moment to your target audience. Give your users too much information and they will become lost on the site, give them too little and they will be spending too much time looking for that one piece. Web designing is like putting a puzzle together, except each piece is individually crafted and carefully placed so that it makes the most sense to the target.

By mixing a perfect blend of creativity, organization and foundational design, a good quality web designer can craft a vision for your website that will truly marvel your customer base. Remember, this isn’t about what just looks pretty, but what sells. It has to be intently designed to incite positive reactions and purchasing decisions from that target audience.

If your website designer fails to inspire action in your target, then you website’s success is doomed from the start.

Website Coding and Development: A General Contractor’s Work is Never Done

Once the general contractor gets the plans from the architect, they can go to work on the actual construction project. They are not the ones that start mixing the concrete, however. The title a general contractor does a lot of the work, but it is all based of the design and they stick to their areas of expertise, which tend to be the framing and the foundation. In essence, they turn the architect’s work into a 3D scale model, and even that takes some specialization. Have you ever tried to install drywall?

Your website developer literally builds the site up from nothing. This requires an acute eye for detail and an ability to understand—and regularly work with—multiple languages. To be bi-lingual in the world of web design is the absolute bear minimum. And it’s not just different languages they need to know – they need to be skilled in the different versions of those languages. CSS (cascading style sheets) is now in its 3rd reiteration and HTML (hypertext markup language) is in its 5th. Oh, and search engines do not tolerate errors in coding. Even small errors can have a drastic effect on your search presence. That means these people cannot fail – they have to be the best – and always learning more to keep up with the newest versions and languages.

The developers are also the ones who will stay connected to your site the longest. Need an update? The developer is there. Did something break? Is there a new error? Did the spam bots or hackers attack your site? Your website developer is the first on the scene and best response you have to ensure your website survives in its best form (and has all the “nutrients” it needs to work properly).

Custom Programming: Do You Really Want to Wire a House Yourself?

The ultimate specialists on any project are the ones who step into a situation, apply their unique trade and solve the issue. Need power to your house? Hire an electrician. Is the sink leaking? Find a plumber. These are the final touches to bring your house to life and make sure it does all it needs to do.

Unlike website developers, custom programmers usually stick with a programming language over the long haul. Though there are some, it is rare to find a programmer proficient in both PHP (hypertext preprocessor) and ASP (active server pages). The intricate details are just too much. Do you have a shopping cart on your website and you want to make sure that whenever someone adds item “A” into their cart, the site automatically recommends item “T3”? When they cash out and make the purchase, does the website automatically connect and speak with your fulfillment department? Where does the purchase order go? Let’s not forget that connection to the bank so that money passes hands correctly and seamlessly (I assume that’s important to most people).

It’s your programmer that makes the lights automatically turn on when you walk in the door. On your website, it can be a blog that automatically refreshes the home page content with every new post. It handles your credit card processing (with the help of proper security) by communicating with the bank. Do you need a search function on your website that automatically pulls and displays certain data dependent on the search keyword? It’s all programming. Without custom programming, your website is a one-way tool of outward communication: you to the customer. With it, your website gains intelligence.

Domain and Hosting Management: Data Administration and Organization

One of the worst realizations you can have after purchasing your first home is when you learn that you never truly own it. Sure, you can pay off the mortgage and area considered a land owner, but really it’s just a cruel joke. Property taxes don’t stop when you pay off the mortgage. The government still claims ultimate ownership and as long as you take up that space, you will be taxed for it. Besides, you have to get your house an address, get it listed and plug in to the outside world.

Your website host, or hosting server is the physical location where the files are stored. This is actual space that becomes dedicated to storing every file your website needs to do its job. Your website host then connects that server location to your web address or domain. This is another level of web “real estate”. All we can do is purchase the right to use a specific address for a temporary amount of time (and keep renewing it) from a domain registrar. It is not uncommon to get a call from a client that manages their own domain and hear the panic in their voice when they realize they forgot to renew and someone else swooped in and stole their web address right out from underneath them.

The DNS (domain name system) basically serves as the phone book for the internet. It translates your web address, or URL (uniform resource locator) into an IP address. This is what connects you to the outside world. It is also the piece that most closely connects web development with information technology. This is server and IP (internet protocol) address management. You have to know what goes where and personally interact with multiple parties (the host server, the domain registrar, etc…) to make sure everything is connected. Have you ever pulled up a website and saw a blank screen with a giant ERROR message on it? That means something in the DNS management isn’t correct and you need to speak with your internet technology admin.

 A Website is a Place: People Need to Know Where You Are

“Home remodeling/construction is not an easy job, and it can get even more so by choosing several companies to do your renovation work as opposed to one firm that can offer it all in-house. Just consider all the different aspects: cabinet install, countertop install, plumbing, electrical, tile installation, or adding an addition to your home. It is difficult to choose the right company whether it’s for work on your home or the website for your business. Companies that offer everything under one roof (such as us at Cornerstone for your Home Remodeling and Atilus for Web Development and Internet Marketing) make that so much easier and will give you a more complete, comprehensive final product.”

-Anthony Leeber, Sr., Owner, Cornerstone Builders of Southwest Florida

All of these things, working together in beautiful harmony can provide you a way to reach your target and influence them to buy from you. Yet, no matter how beautiful the site is or how well it works, there are still a few pieces that are uniquely you and must come from you (or from someone that can get the information out of you).

  1. Content | Only you know your message and you are the best one to tell your story. Content writers help, but they can’t make you up. They have to get the information from you. With you content, you have no message. Without a message, there is no sale.
  2. Images | Is there a picture of you? Your team? A specific building or landscape? Again, you don’t have to be the one that snaps the photo, but you better make sure whomever does knows what you are trying to accomplish.
  3. Marketing | Yes, with everything done correctly, the website and its content will be found by the search engines. That, however is temporary unless you have a plan in which to keep the search engines interested in you. This topic alone can fill a whole slew of articles like this, but the message is this: if you don’t tell anyone about your site, don’t expect any visitors.

With a plan for revenue, profit, and activity, you and the right team for you can create a website that will accomplish your business goals. Just make sure you have a good team on your side.

Valerie Baker

Valerie is the Senior Account Manager & Project Manager here at Atilus.

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