Want to build a house? You’ll need an architect. Website developers have hijacked this term from the construction industry, and for good reason — the process is remarkably similar in web development. In this post, the first of two parts, we’ll discuss the back end of the site, the foundation upon which the rest of a website’s structure will rest.
What is back end web development?
Before you even draft a blueprint, a significant amount of planning and strategy has to happen. Get ready to spend some time on this step, because successful planning can take six to eight weeks. You would never build a house without first determining how many bedrooms you need, whether you want a basement, and where you’ll put the garage. Similarly, your website’s strategic goals and functionality will determine its foundational footprint.
Answer the following questions to unearth your basic web development needs.
- Who is your audience?
- How will they access your site? (Hint: In 2016, the answer is almost always mobile device)
- What is the purpose of the site?
- What kind of user information will you be gathering and securing?
- What are your key performance indicators and what kind of data will you need to support them?
Pro Tip: When building your business case for the company bigwigs, be ready to answer questions with keywords like revenue, cost savings, results, and projected growth.
These days, building a website with a content management system (CMS) is a given. The good news is you don’t need to blow your budget on an enterprise-level product — even a massive site like CNN.com can run on WordPress. Get comfortable with your decision though, because you’re entering into a long-term relationship with that CMS. This is why an open-source solution offers more flexibility than a proprietary one; if you ever break up with that vendor, you’ll be stuck without support. Keep in mind who will run and how they will run that CMS down the road.
Pro Tip: A CMS offers a variety of functionality options, thanks to plug-ins. Even if you don’t use the functionality on day one, investigate what’s possible with your system for later website iterations.
Since you spent all that time planning, it should be easy to identify what kind of data you’ll need to measure your success. A behavior-based marketing plug-in gives you all that old-school data — where your traffic is coming from, bounce rates, click-through rates, page visits, etc. If that’s all you need, Google offers a free analytics tool that works well with any CMS. Want to dig deeper? Account-based analytics are quite robust and can create a mountain of information, so be sure you’re pulling what’s relevant to your strategic goals; information overload is a common pitfall when installing analytics software. Do you need to know how an individual user interacts with your site or where someone is in the sales funnel? Will you want to create accounts or remember preferences?
Pro Tip: Page views and visits don’t tell the whole story; prop up those numbers with meatier data like conversion rates.
Surveying the Grounds
You’d never set a budget and design for a house without knowing whether it would fit on the lot, right? The same goes for a website, but the “lot” is your technical infrastructure. So you shouldn’t finalize your development plans without the sign-off from your IT team. Do they have the capacity and ability to host, secure, and maintain the website? Can they handle the kind of traffic and bandwidth you anticipate needing? If you’re unsure, a hosting company like Rackspace can easily make up for holes in your support network by allowing you to scale up as needed.
Pro Tip: IT team members are notorious early adopters and can be a great source for cutting-edge ideas.
Now that you’ve covered the basic structure, you can let your interior designers know you’re ready for the next phase of development. Check out the second part of this blog for a guide to building the front end.