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Web Site Development: Creating a Comprehensive Plan

August 20, 2007

The first web site you build for someone else may well be your last.

Unfortunately, the project is always much, much bigger than you think - especially if you've never gone through a formal planning process. You invest ten times the time you expected to spend, and it still isn't what the customer wants. Sometimes, you can't deliver what you had intended, and don't know where to go.

Hence this article. This is the basic format I follow when discussing the project with a prospective client. They may, at the end of the hour, decide they are no longer interested - that's fine. If they still want to forge ahead, they'll have a very good idea of what's involved. Realistic expectations in terms of amount of time involved, cost, and what the end product will look like are critical to your sanity and your client's happiness.

I try to split the work into two phases, billed separately. Phase I is agreed on in advance, and billed hourly. You may wish to set a fixed fee, or a mixed fee structure, i.e. fixed amount plus an hourly rate for any hours worked past a specified amount.

Phase I: Develop the Project Plan

meet with client to determine the client's requirements, research, and production of a detailed development plan including specifications, timelines, and estimated time and cost. These are the areas I address:


  • purpose(s) for site
  • client's vision for site, including target audience, anticipated outcomes, measurement of success
  • review client's company, products, vision, existing branding, promotional literature, etc.
  • review complete content inventory: images, text, etc.
  • client's specific design preferences, as well as dislikes
  • domain name preferences
Basic Site Design
  • market research:
    • customer web habits
    • customer preferences
    • competitors' practices
    • competitors' web sites
  • types of unique page types to be designed, including:
    • main page
    • index page
    • product pages
    • article/information pages
    • blog pages
    • image galleries
    • search page
    • contact page
    • custom error page
    • etc.
  • amount of content per page type, including:
    • frames
    • tables
    • text blocks/formatting
    • navigational structures and other common elements
    • number and type of images and other media
    • etc.
  • number of pages to be created
  • image design and processing, i.e.
    • images to be associated with pages, including
      • formats and sizes of each image to be displayed
      • thumbnails
      • etc.
    • amount of image processing desired/required, i.e.
      • optimize for contrast
      • optimize brightness
      • optimize saturation
      • optimize color
      • remove noise, dust, scratches, red-eye
      • other advanced image manipulation
    • page banners to be designed
    • specify who provides images/artwork/other media
    • copyright checking
    • roll-over images, buttons
    • custom art, illustrations, etc.
  • prototyping of page types and approval by client:
    • time anticipated
    • timeframe for completion
    • specify upper limit of time allocated for same
    • specify cost for and upper limit of time allocated for further prototyping, if desired by client
  • compatibility and testing:
    • specify browser compatibility required and tested, i.e.
      • Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 and 7
      • Firefox
      • Mozilla
      • other browsers on demand
    • page and per-page item testing with and without javascript
    • page and per-page item testing with and without ActiveX, if used
    • etc.
Advanced Site Design
  • custom/dynamic navigation menus
  • printability:
    • printability of standard pages
    • addition of printer -friendly pages
  • sitemap pages: HTML, XML, ROR
  • RSS site feeds
  • e-mail functionality:
    • contact forms to e-mail function
    • e-mail accounts required
    • e-mail auto-forwarding
    • e-mail newsletters
    • web-mail
    • e-mail security functions required, i.e.
      • spam protection
      • e-mail contact form injection protection
  • photo albums/image galleries:
    • number and types of pages
    • image upload code
    • image processing code, i.e. for
      • resizing
      • thumbnail creation
  • user forums/message boards:
    • number of forums
    • page design for same
    • message creation/formatting/upload code
    • mechanisms for adding/deleting/modifying user accounts, for:
      • webmaster
      • moderators
      • existing members
      • prospective members
    • security protocols
    • protocols for detecting spam, inappropriate content
    • specify who monitors forum content for inappropriate or illegal content, copyright violations, abusive activity, etc.
  • blog page(s):
    • specify duration of blog history
    • design and formatting
    • number of blog pages
    • etc.
  • databases:
    • number and types of databases required, i.e. for customers, products, images, articles, blogs
    • code to push data to/pull data from database
  • advertising, including:
    • on-page advertising i.e. Google AdSense, for generating revenues
    • creating accounts
    • implementing code
    • paid advertising of site
    • creating accounts
    • implementing code
  • e-commerce, including:
    • numbers and types of product(s) to be featured
    • types of product information to be featured, amount of information per product
    • images to be associated with product, including formats and sizes of each image to be displayed
    • shopping carts
    • wish lists
    • number and types of order forms:
      • fillable PDF order forms
      • print order forms
      • on-line order forms, with processing code
    • payment mechanisms, i.e.
      • creation of accounts for
        • PayPal or other on-line services
        • credit card payment
        • direct debit
        • etc.
      • implementation of payment code
  • audio or video:
    • format(s) for same
    • mechanisms for serving audio/video
    • mechanisms for securing audio/video
    • specifying who provides media content
    • copyright checking
  • custom programming, i.e.
    • dynamic HTML
    • javascripting
    • Java
    • FrontPage
    • PHP
    • ASP
    • any other code
    • testing and debugging of custom code
    • identify any coding that may need to be out-sourced
  • security:
    • web site access
    • account security
    • secure directories
    • firewalls
    • encryption
    • secure forms/databases, etc.
  • site testing/review by third parties, ideally target audience users
Article continues on next page: Site Hosting and Implementation; Web Site Promotion; Approval Process, Timelines and Payment; Changes, Upgrades and Maintenance; and Phase II: Web Site Development
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