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The eCuras Web Design and Development Process Playbook

Published on 01.26.2021
Updated on 08.13.2023

All too often, when agencies sign-on new clients, they rarely take the time to step back, review the task at hand, the client’s request, the assignment ahead of them, what is in both their best interest as an agency in terms of maximizing the profitability of a project and, of course, how to best deliver the most effective results for the client. As practitioners and professionals, humans tend to focus on two things:  “fast” and “more.” Our society dictates that the first thought upon being selected for a new project has leaders collecting their checks and accolades and moving on to the next great assignment. 

How a digital agency deploys its techniques and methods towards building client deliverables is the foundation on which the entire agency runs. If you do not have a sound foundation, prepare to fail. Wouldn’t it make logical sense that you sit down as a complete team and flush out the best and most efficient means for product development?

Among the most powerful of all periods for defining the process occurs at the beginning of the new business courting period. Both agency and client feel each other out, assessing the other’s strengths, weaknesses, skills, and, most importantly, how the other thinks. During this period, details are determined and future expectations set, simply as a result of the natural back and forth banter and questions and answer evolution that occurs as the two firms get to know each other. It would benefit agencies to lead the client to answer questions about the problem they are trying to solve by engaging in a new relationship. Whoever asks the most questions leads the discussion and secures a greater implementation that satisfies the project’s long-term objectives.  Ask a lot of questions. A question that is clearly framed addresses 99% of the problem. In fact, the best use of time and energy with a prospect is to frame the most effective questions that help to hear from the client what quantifiable success metrics they will be expecting. Use it as an opportunity to find out the client’s strategic priorities and which tactical elements will be used to complete the project successfully and within the scope of their expectations.

Phase I - Strategy 

Concept & Discovery: The first stage in any new website build process is to create a comprehensive overview of the vision for your website. This overview includes a detailed Q&A and messaging session to have a complete and thorough understanding of your vision, thought-process, and concept, followed by an extensive peer analysis to have a complete view of the competitive landscape. During this initial stage, we identify any specific elements that will be important for us to know as we commence and engage in the initial work, including: 

  1. Definitions – Identifying key facts about your business or industry that may be unique or unusual, industry history and dynamics, competition by company and landscape, and geographic identification, if necessary. Defining the purpose and meaning of your website. What will it be used for? Who will be using it? What should it emphasize? Will it require commerce functionality? Affiliate program? Any specific features that we need to plan for?
  2. Target Audience – This is among the most important parts of the discovery process as it identifies your audience and their specific needs. Of course, a website must be designed and built with its target audience in mind, as it must speak to those users. This is where the entire UI/UX team will need to focus their efforts. Knowing who you are targeting and speaking to can and will affect your website’s look and feel. Different audiences have different needs and rarely do we speak to different demographics in the same manner.
  3. SEO Keyword Analysis – It is important to consider the longer-term SEO optimization early on in the process as the website’s foundation will require keywords and analytics tools, including metatags, headers, title tags, image tags, and the like. Consideration of SEO keywords early on will maximize your site potential later on by attracting relevant traffic.
  4. Strategic Goals and Future Outlook – it is helpful to think about the future and what your expectations are for your business online. If you can put a foundation in place now to position your business for future developments, you’ll save yourself time, resources, and money in the future. If you can identify what digital success looks like to you in the future, you can put features in place now to ensure proper measurement. Decide now how you want your site to be measured later. 

Project Timeline

From this initial overview, we draw the next stage of the process: to identify the most effective structure for your site build, complete with productive, functional, and powerful messaging. Of chief importance here, we look to construct a unique approach for your site, one that is most likely to generate engagement and conversions in whatever method and manner are most appropriate to you, your business, and your industry. Once we complete the initial consultation at the end of the discovery process, we provide a projected timeline. Depending on code language, functionality, API integrations, etc., a build may call for professionals of different skill sets. A simple marketing site without advanced functionality typically requires 1-2 months to complete depending on how fast we will get different items approved by the client. To complete a site with advanced functionality, a 1-2 month timeline may still be feasible with the addition of greater human resources. We develop our timelines on a case-by-case basis as no two clients are alike. Your technology issues are our priority.  Historically, the only real challenge we have experienced relates to delays in receiving the appropriate feedback within the required timeline from the client. Everyone involved in the project from your side and ours must respect the deadlines and deliverables or impact the greater team. 

Phase II - Mock-up Design & Content Development

Following the audit, the design team begins the mock-up process for the homepage. As part of our process, we always provide various hero section mock-ups that help us determine color palette, typography, and overall design direction. The hero (aka. ‘above the fold”) section of the homepage is important as this is the first creative asset site visitors will see. Once you provide input on the initial mock-up, we determine typography, the most beneficial color palette, logo, and the overall stylistic approach. This would include all site areas, including headers/footers, dropdown boxes, tabs, button functionality, if any login or search features are required and what they look like stylistically, etc. We then review these elements with you and measure your feedback and preferences. If you are pleased, we move forward. If not, we head back to the drawing board. After determining the primary styles, we begin the process of mocking-up all required pages. 

Two of the key elements included in the mock-up design phase focus on:

Brand Identity: it is important that the design of your site properly represents your brand, its meaning, and the value proposition behind it. Our designers are adamant about ensuring that your brand showcases your business’s strength and is persuasive in that your target audience can relate your brand to your superior products or services. Your brand becomes the essence of who you are; it is the face of your business. Brand identity includes logos, icons, banners, any awards or achievements you may have received, and any words or phrases by which your business stands behind. 

Visual Design: This is among the most creative timeframes of the entire build process where our designers affect your brand using visual elements to create meaning and messaging from images, graphics designs, or other creative metaphors. Naturally, both the design and text must be relevant and within the preferences of your target audience. 

Interactive Elements: Important to note while reviewing our applications is that nothing is static. We strategically include interactive elements and motion subtly where it wouldn’t overwhelm the audience. This approach captures the user’s attention and has a hypnotic effect making it harder for them to close the tab. Of course, we keep these animations in mind from the inception of the project, but this is the stage (after mock-ups are approved) when we finalize these elements and submit them for coding. 

Copy & Content: While the design team is focused on the mock-ups, the copywriters are simultaneously conferring with you on copy and content development and structuring the messaging platform for your website instance. Naturally, the founders and leadership team have the clearest vision of what the product or service is designed for, what the brand stands for, and how they wish to communicate the message publicly. After you share your vision, value proposition, and key features, we take it from there.

Phase III - Development, Coding and HTML

HTML: Once you approve the final mock-ups and copy, our developers take over and implement the HTML code. Your site will be coded exactly, spec-for-spec, according to the approved mock-ups. Upon completion of the code integration, the process points towards responsiveness to ensure the site is fully optimized for different screen sizes, devices, and browsers and minimizing any causes for site bounce. 

Sitemap & Wireframing: The key part of the Code Development process points towards the creation of the sitemap and wireframing of each page of your site. This will begin to layout the main topics of your site and any relevant sub-topics. This phase is essential towards developing a consistent, easy-to-understand navigation system. Again, your target audience is also considered here to ensure an engaging experience as, ultimately, their experience will determine your site. 

Our developers use the most updated technologies based on the requirements of each project. Our technical capabilities include: PHP, JS.node , HTML5 , CSS3/C++, MySQL , WordPress , WooCommerce , Gutenberg React, Webpack ,jQuery , PUG , SCSS , LESS.

Phase IV - Adopt to Custom WordPress

WordPress Integration: Finally, upon completing the HTML coding, we turn to WordPress integration - which essentially means we create a custom WordPress theme for your site. From now on, you will have the ability to login to your backend and modify any language, images and create new pages based on the custom templates developed with the integration. 

Phase V - Testing

Our team also includes a dedicated and highly skilled Quality Assurance team whose chief responsibility is to confirm the site runs smoothly and displays properly insomuch that every pixel is perfect to the naked eye. They are experts at poking holes in every possible aspect to certify that every element runs precisely and accurately. Our QA experts run compatibility tests among different devices, browsers, content delivery devices, functionality testing for content, images, links, social sharing, tabs, dropdowns, interstitial pages, banner click-throughs, and the like. 

Following a comprehensive testing period, your platform undergoes a soft launch whereby we push the code to production on a limited basis so that insiders (management, employees, secret testers, designers, coders, and everyone involved in the project can go through and complete a responsiveness test. Once a comfort level is received, we release the site by pushing all final code to production. We typically remain on close watch the first few days to monitor responsiveness,  


Phase VI - Ongoing Promotion and Site Maintenance

In addition to developing websites, we also promote them. Our expertise in producing digital identities brings a unique understanding and approach to digital marketing, its core functionality, what makes it tick, what works, and what doesn’t. Under the guidance of our SEO director, we follow a team approach to ensure all the core marketing elements are working together in tandem:

  • The SEO director determines the scope of the current and upcoming month of promotion. 
  • Dev team implements technical changes and improvements to the architecture of the site.
  • The content department works on new landing pages and blog posts. 
  • The marketing calendar is where we schedule social media posts using a strategically balanced approach of editorial vs. commercial. 
  • Paid ads are managed by a campaign expert who optimizes and monitors the campaigns closely. 
  • Designers are involved in almost every step, as most promotional techniques involve visual elements. The UX team is also quite opinionated and adamant about the most effective conversion strategy. 
  • The SEO director reports KPIs in a detailed monthly report so that every step of this technical process is as transparent and easy to interpret for each client. 

This is the recipe for success and has worked wonders for our clients and us for years. Our KPIs and other metrics exceed those of most industry standards pound for pound due to our integrated, balanced and strategic approach to the full digital lifecycle. We are a small shop, but we are proud of the great work we do for clients and hold each other accountable to produce the best product possible.  

Our web development project package includes ongoing maintenance and support such as the following:  

  • Script and plugin updates to ensure optimum speeds and usability.
  • Browser compatibility period testing.
  • Security monitoring and response.
  • On-page SEO to ensure your site is optimized.
  • Periodic backups to ensure your website is fully backed up in case of emergency.
  • Downtime support.
  • Minor customer-related updates.
  • Consultation and guidance on future products and steps moving forwards.

Client Considerations Before and After the Process Commences

When a new client approaches an agency with an interest in engagement, there are many thoughts, questions, and considerations to and from the agency. Many of these considerations surround segments of the process, and others contribute to the client’s decision-making as to whether they wish to engage said agency to take advantage of their process.  No one would dive into a process in a vacuum without first having a 360-degree overview of who they are signing on with. The client will have to work closely with the agency, after all, so they should have a level of comfort before signing on the dotted line. We’ve put together a few of the key considerations for your review here.

What Industry Do You Specialize In? Clarifying False Assumptions.

As an agency, we are frequently asked about our industry or sector specialties. There is a popular notion that in web design, development, and even online marketing if you have performed for one company in the sector, you will likely perform for all others. This is a false assumption. We specialize in a technique, a process for building websites that is industry and brand agnostic. Other than a few highly scientific and/or rare technical complexities, our expertise lies in our ability to take a client from vision to reality. We work closely with clients through each step of the process to fully grasp the visual message from conception through launch. Our expertise lies in the process’s details regardless of the industry, brand, or product line. We have worked with clients in highly specialized niche sectors to broad-based CPG brands, and all are given the same expert care. While products are similar, no two companies are alike, and to suggest otherwise, especially in a creative genre, is ill-advised. Prospective clients need to understand that you know how to build, design, and/or market websites, not be an expert in bioscience or manufacturing, or fashion. It is your job to sell them on your project system and give them confidence in your sound strategy, effective methodology, and technical and/or creative expertise. 

We Act As An Extension Of The Client’s Team - They Run Their Business, We Manage The Website.

Our job is to manage the development process so the client can focus on running their business. We act as an extension of the client’s team. We include the client in every step of the process to catch any questions and/or feedback early on. All we need is a clear view of their vision for the final product and their attention when it comes time for approval, so we remain on schedule. If clients don’t approve a mock-up on time, it could delay the process. However, we remain flexible and can move our deadlines to accommodate schedules. 

Account Team Structure

To ensure all bases are covered, each client is assigned a domestic account manager. We create client service teams that include UI/UX designers, animators, illustrators, content strategists, hosting and SEO experts. The full team is part of the process and decision-making from the beginning, so everyone remains on the same page and no time is wasted relaying messages or meetings from one team member to the next. 

Transparency Is Your Friend. The Only Challenge Is Not Explaining The Potential Challenges

We are not boasting when we say we are proud of what we have built, the team we have put together, our clients who continue to give us interesting and thought-provoking assignments to work on, and, of course, the quality of the product we release but of all our successes we are probably most satisfied is our a transparency with our clients and our recognition and identification of who we are as people and professionals. 

We do not jeopardize our client’s projects or deadlines under any circumstance. Our virtual staff allows us to keep a low overhead and create redundancies and back-up contingency plans triggered automatically should certain situations or circumstances occur. Technical issues are always prioritized with the highest urgency. Life happens, things change, but our experience has taught us well about establishing alternatives and creating technical and human resource redundancies where necessary. 

Other Process and Procedural Considerations

As logic dictates, no two client projects will be alike, and there isn’t any way to know or speculate in advance which will request what features, functionalities or attributes. As such, we could hardly compensate for each possible scenario within this article. We can, however, provide some additional insight into common process requests over and above the basic web design, development, and digital marketing components. For example, we receive frequent inquiries into how and why we favor WordPress, particularly if a client comes with an existing site that may reside on the Wix or Squarespace or some other platform. Like the other phases of the process, while we may have varied preferences, we make sure to stay abreast of all the marketplace opportunities. Although WordPress is our core specialty. Our developers and engineers are trained on multiple platforms, code language and stay well-versed in changes, updates, and factors that impact website renditions. Upon the interview phase, we discuss the platform requirements with the client and identify just the right model to meet each project’s needs. 

We Can Take Responsibility For Hosting and Maintenance So You Don’t Have To

eCuras supports the full ecosystem of digital technologies, including web design, web development, and digital marketing. This is not because we are trying to be all things to all people. It is because our goal is to provide our clients with a superior product. To do that properly, we must be able to supply all the elements from soup to nuts. If we control the process, we are responsible for the up-time, that features and functions work the way they are intended to, and that conversion optimization is on point at all times. By managing the hosting ourselves, we can control the outcome and ensure it is being performed to our standards. 

Nothing Is Constant But Change

Before we ever start a project, an important topic discussed and documented in our timelines and contracts surround updates, edits, and changes after the product’s formal launch. It would be implausible and unfair to think that a website, a digital product that lives on the information superhighway, would remain static for very long. We make sure our clients understand that amendments and modifications are part of the process and what they can expect in terms of their ability to alter their product once it’s launched. Simple content changes can be made as often as clients wish - creating new layouts or redesigning visual elements is quoted on a project-by-project basis. Upon completing an initial assessment of the revisions in question, we will provide a scope of work estimate. 

What makes eCuras special is highly customized processes and personalization. However, before commencing any work, we establish a flat estimate based on an itemized objective list so you can see exactly what the final deliverables are. We don’t arbitrarily add unnecessary features or functions to rack up extra fees, and we don’t overbill. Unless there is a change in the project scope, such as adding new pages and large adjustments to the original proposal, the price will be the same as the initial quote. The price only changes if the order changes. Additionally, operating a remote organization, our fees are typically lower than our peers due to the lower overhead.  

Holistic Service Structure - Realizing Synergies

As we stated earlier in this article, few agencies use a holistic service approach. They either specialize in design or programmatic, editorial, or marketing. eCuras is unusual in this respect as we specialize in web design and development and hosting and a full suite of digital marketing disciplines. When it comes to digital marketing services, clients engage us for services even if we don’t build their websites. In this case, they often ask whether we can perform marketing services for them without changing their website to support SEO and/or to add new marketing content. 

It has been our experience that when assigned the full project scope, we can realize synergies as our team has experience working together and can often perform certain tasks at a faster rate and, many times, for lower cost, then if a new transition process is required. That being said, we are equally as efficient working with other firms on a single element of the full project. 

Naturally, when we are responsible for all the above-mentioned tasks, we can sometimes deliver the results faster with less time and effort spent on coordinating these various tasks between our team. In other instances, we can generate results just as impressive when we are delegated to perform only a portion of the given project. 

Moving On

At the end of the project, we make sure to send the complete set of deliverables to our clients. Clients receive the complete set of elements - the final copy, mock-ups, designs in editable form, HTML files, customized word press themes, and any deliverable we create on a client’s behalf is theirs as soon as it’s completed.  We do not believe in holding clients’ businesses hostage.

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