While a website can be designed and developed by a single person or a large team, the process largely remains the same no matter who does the work. And whether you're building a simple website for a small business, or one that involves custom functionality and complex integrations, you should expect to experience, at least in some form, the following steps involved in creating your website.
Planning: Without a doubt the single most important part of any website project, the planning stage involves everything from outlining and understanding goals, examining competition, discovering and exploring ideas, deciding on approaches, setting timelines and agreeing to milestones. This is where your project gets its direction.
Content Development: Almost without exception, content is what makes a website. Whether you're selling goods, providing services or presenting information, your website is full of content that is central to its viability. This is one of the most overlooked stages in building a website.
Design: Probably everyone's favorite part of creating a website is the design portion. For a lot of people, this is where their vision comes to life. It involves many things including the layout, branding, the overall look and feel, the usability of the website, and even how even some coding. Designers and coders (often referred to as "front-end developers") work with sketches, wireframes, images and code to develop the visual and interactive parts of the site.
Programming: It's true that sometimes there's not much hard-core programming needed for some websites, but when there is you'll be glad that you have an experienced and knowledgeable programmer available to you. They're mostly responsible for guiding the more technical decisions for your project, engineering custom functionality, and handling database and platform choices and integrations.
Integration & Hosting: On some level, every website needs to be integrated into something, whether it's an environment or in joining parts of itself together, in order to work. These integrations can include software and hardware, often times from third parties, as well as other websites and online services. When your developer has experience with a particular integration, it can make the whole process faster and easier, but when it's their first time then more time may be required.
Testing: Another overlooked but unbelievably important stage in the website building process is testing and quality assurance - and every website, small and large, needs it. This is when your site (or portions of it) is in a finished state and needs to be tested for everything from proper functionality, accessibility on various devices, content errors, speed and responsiveness, etc. Be sure to dedicate enough time and resources to this stage or your entire project may be at risk of failing.
Launch: When your site is completely finished (and usually paid for in full), it's time to release it into the wild. This is referred to as a launch. It's an anxious and fun time, but has to be handled with care and good timing (which would have been discussed during the planning stage). When a site is launched, it will then be fully available to its users or the public, so it should look and function perfectly (otherwise, you launched too early).
Service & Management: Despite some misconceptions, a website does indeed need attention and management during its lifetime. Depending upon the complexity of the site, it could require everything from the watchful eye of a non-technical individual (usually the owner) to a team of seasoned professionals who manage everything from content to those monitoring, fixing and upgrading the site's functions and the hardware it relies upon.
One note about search engine optimization (SEO): you'll notice it is not specifically mentioned anywhere else in this article. This is because SEO is something that must be done as part of the first three stages (planning, content development and design), and portions of the forth stage (programming). In other words, it's not its own separate stage of development. Rather, it is part of the whole process.
Do you want to ensure that your website gets build the right way, on time and on budget? Of course you do, and the only way to accomplish this is to dedicate and spend as much time as possible in the planning stage. Do this and everything else will be (much) easier.