As you develop company strategy, you should also develop a realistic Web plan for your website’s look, feel and functionality. This is often called the Web “front end,” or scale and technical reach of your site. There is an enormous range of possibilities for Web development, from the $10/month hobbyist site developed in simple HTML language, to the major business sites costing tens of thousands of dollars in Internet infrastructure and millions of dollars in development.
The front end is the appearance of your site. It is the graphic design and HTML portion–routinely called the user interface (UI). This step in your planning is very important–defining a plan for the UI will give your site coherence and cement it into your strategy. List the objectives that you want the front end to accomplish.
Do you want: millions of page views; a certain theme or branding goal you need to achieve; users to sign up for newsletters; users to register for your content and become members; or users to buy a service or product online? Define a maximum kilobyte per page download size. This includes the size of your HTML pages and of your graphics. A very popular site that supports visitors worldwide at low bandwidth will max out at 20Kb per page. You may be able to cater to a more elite group–sometimes your site has to be fancy and heavy with animation and Flash graphic images. However, don’t force plug-ins, programming scripts, and heavy graphics on your visitors if you know that these features do not match your market’s demographic make-up.
If what you want to do is communicate ideas and information quickly, to a lot of people, then design your website UI accordingly. The UI of a website is ultimately how you will let your users know what you have to offer them. Design an easy navigation scheme or your users will get lost, and will never find all the valuable information you have on your site. The full potential of any website is unleashed through the UI. If you have money to spend on design, consider spending it on some professional UI help.
In order to facilitate your front-end design, include a Site Map. This is very important for larger sites, and even a good idea for smaller ones. The site map will show the physical layout of all the pages, and how a user will navigate from page to page. Each page will also have a brief description of its purpose, and the ONE critical action a user must take on that page. If you do not create a site map yourself, work with your front-end designer to create one. Make sure that you both agree on where the pages will go, and what pages will link to where. Also keep in mind the problem of scale, making sure that you don’t spend more on the plan than on the site. If you are taking this to an outside UI designer, include some color printed copies of websites that you have looked at and like. Point out to the designer the parts of the example websites that you like: the color schemes, the navigation, the clean look, the fast loading pages, etc. All of these resources will help the designer build the front end exactly as you envision it. Make sure you provide your designer with a full copy of your website strategy. The more background he/she has, the better idea that designer has of the type of website you want.
Managing server options
The vast majority of business and organizational websites are hosted by Internet hosting services, vendors who offer their clients rented space on their computers serving up Internet sites. There is a huge range of service options: some are free, most cost $20-$100 per month, and others can cost thousands of dollars monthly. Some businesses host their websites themselves, plugging their own servers directly into the Internet. Include a topic in your Web plan to explain how you will accomplish your Web goals with your back-end technology.
The back end of your site handles the dynamic parts of the site, e.g., a newsletter, administration page, registration database, contact page, and other complicated Web applications. Your back end interfaces with your UI and makes your website work. Your back-end infrastructure may be fully supported by the Web hosting provider that you choose, or you may be hiring Web engineers to build functionality into your website, and create Web applications that run your front end.
If your website needs to simply display information, and help legitimize your services to your clientele, your back end will probably be fairly simple. But if you are building out a full-service hybrid site, your back end will be quite complex, and will need to be scalable, flexible, and easy to build on. You must decide which of the different programming languages and HTML design tools, (FrontPage®, ColdFusion®, ASP, Java®, etc.) you will use. You must consider which database to use. Depending on how quickly your content site will scale, you can begin with low-end databases that are included in your hosting package or a program like Microsoft® Access.
But if your site traffic is already well-established, or you are projecting heavy traffic soon after launching, you may need to use a Web-oriented, multi-threaded database. This could be Oracle®, or SQL (structured query language) Server, or a number of others. Evaluate how easy or hard it will be to transfer all of your information into a different database once your website content gets going. Specific implementation plans must be addressed. If security is an issue, how will it be dealt with? You may need to get a digital certificate to enable an https:// secure connection to your domain name. If you are taking orders online, you might consider connecting with VeriSign or another credit card vendor to get a real-time credit card authentication process. There are many different vendors and solutions for your e-commerce back end. Make sure you do your homework to find the best solution for you.
Here, too, you are looking at an enormous range of options, from the simple one-page turnkey site done by a website vendor for a few hundred dollars, to the multi-million-dollar website. The critical point for the website plan is that your resource requirements match your objectives and needs. This is one of the most important points in your Web plan. It gives your plan a view into realistic resource allocations, and real costs. It should be developed in careful coordination with your expense budget and Milestones table. Assign specific features in your development plan to the resources available.
Are there certain features that you do not currently have resources to build? Are you planning on outsourcing any of the front-end or back-end requirements for your website? Your development plan, along with your front-end and back-end requirements, will help you allocate the proper number of resources to each feature, as well as helping you communicate with any outsourced developers you may choose to hire.
If you currently have developers available, you may be able to work with them to figure out allotted time and timelines based on your requirements. Thinking about resources and where you will hire people to create the front end and back end of your website is an important task. When you are done with this portion in your Web plan, you will have a document to take to a Web design firm, or any person with the skills to build your site, and they will understand what you need. They will be able to build a site map for you, a fully-scoped-out project plan, and figure out the timeline for your website project.
If you are building a large hybrid site, and have secured investment from Venture Capitalists and/or Angel Investors (or are planning on this type of investment), consider hiring in-house talent to build and manage your website, as your website will be your core competency. A full-service design firm will cost a significant amount (often $100,000 to a few million dollars), and will mean that the outsourced firm understands your website better then you do. Also remember that your website is never “done,” it is always changing and always moving forward, so plan resources to continue to develop, maintain, and expand the site.
Future website development
Your Web plan should include a view of how the Web will grow and develop, what improvements might come in the future, and how objectives and resource requirements might change. Your plan should include a look ahead at the additional benefits, improvements, and functionality you plan to offer in the future, such as plans to launch new Web services, or expand content offerings. Once you build your development plan, including all the features and services that you want to offer, and prioritize how you will get those features and services built, you may end up with more features and services than can be built right away. Use these features to create a future development plan.