Table of contents
- Website development
- What is website development?
- A potted history of web development
- Who makes websites today?
- Why are websites complex?
- Website coding languages
- Coding frameworks
- No coding options
- Website photography
- Website templates
- Page builders
- The cost of making a website
- The cost of website maintenance
- Web design trends
- Digital marketing and SEO
- The importance of content
- Promoting your business online
This is a guide into the technical and practical aspects of making a website, its history and why we have web development in the form it exists today.
What is website development?
Website development is the process of making a website. It doesn’t necessarily refer to coding or designing. Sometimes, making websites doesn’t require coding or designing, sometimes is does. Usually, it requires a whole bunch of other skills.
A potted history of web development
Websites have gotten more and more complex in the last 20 years.
When people first started making websites – everything would be hand coded in HTML and CSS then uploaded to a server and then downloaded onto the browser (there were maybe two browsers).
What a website looked like didn’t matter, what was important that they worked.
Very early on, companies tried to make the process easier through visual design tools that worked on your desktop – so that you could see what the website was going to look like before uploading it to the server.
Everything was slow and fun and mostly harmless. You could say making websites was an amateur hobby – a follow on from making PCs.
Then as more and more companies saw the potential of the internet, it started to get complicated because of all the conflicting browsers and improvements to CSS.
You would hire a “web master” to put together a website or you would become one yourself. The web master would code, design and upload. The whole job could be done by a professional.
As things got more complex, web agencies were formed. Jobs were divided into various roles such as designer, front end and backend developers. You had other people taking care of servers that hosted the websites.
Designers would use Photoshop, Front End developers would use Dreamweaver and Backend Developers would use PHP or ColdFusion.
As more and more people piled into the industry, you had a whole ecosystem of coding languages, techniques, job titles, seniors, juniors, architects.
There was a time when people were evangelists or ninjas coders. Thankfully, the whacky name season is over even though there are still quite a few dubious job titles out there.
However it has to be acknowledged that what everyone is trying to achieve is to move away from the jack of all trades to the specialist model.
Who makes websites today?
Website are complex. There are too many things to know to make a very good website on your own. This is why web agencies exist and why making a website on something like Wix isn’t suitable for businesses over a certain size.
Today, if you want a website you may need designers, writers, SEO specialists, marketers, developers, coordinators, user interface specialists, testers, business analysts – all working together as a team.
Why are websites complex?
Fundamentally, websites are still HTML and CSS BUT they are also much more than that too. On any one website there could be:
- Website analytics
- Resizing the website for different devices
- Code to create the layout
- Text, Images
- Marketing messages
- Content Delivery Networks (CDN)
- SEO software
- Content Management Software
And that’s just on a normal website.
Why have websites gotten so complex?
Because everyone wants a better, faster, cheaper, easier, higher ranking, all singing all dancing website.
Websites are now easier to edit, easier and cheaper to make – but all this comes at a cost – code complexity.
Website coding languages
As websites got more and more complicated, developers found they needed to create more and more structure to be able to deal with the amount of code that was needed to run and look after the modern website.
Coding frameworks and standard ways of organizing code were introduced so that developers could work together and not end up with spaghetti code (very messy and confusing code).
No coding options
From large enterprise website initiatives, to global ecommerce websites, to corporate websites, right down to the smallest of business websites – everyone is trying to remove the need for developers and designer to make a website.
The goal is to bring down the price and to make websites easier to manage.
For this you had to remove the human factor.
Developers (professionals trying to make a living) were and are expensive so the companies invented better ways to make website without coding.
There has always been the tendency to remove labor from the equation. This is why you have robots, artificial intelligence, self-service checkout counters and website that don’t require coders.
WordPress came out in 2003 – and its rise in popularity was because it allowed non-coders to make amateur websites for the purpose of blogging.
Over the years, the system has improved and due to its open architecture which allows developers to create software modules (plugins) to work on the system they have the largest share of the small business website market.
You can develop in WordPress but you don’t have to. Having the option is great because there are still a lot of things you need a developer for.
However, developers are not as needed and job has moved away from pure coding to fixing and systems integration.
In the same way, car mechanics no longer get down and dirty when they fix cars. The job has evolved into swapping in and our specialist components – and knowing which bits to switch out.
Shopify is a good example of a website solution that involves no coding at all. The whole internal system is complex and run by a dedicated team of developers.
The people making websites using Shopify do not need to know how to code at all. It’s easy to use and requires no maintenance.
However, you do need a designer or a taste for design. Robots haven’t been able to replicate the art of taste but there are plenty of ways the world is making it easier and cheaper to design a website.
As internet speeds increased, photos on website could become larger and more imposing.
There is also a wealth of stock photography websites that make the job of getting photos for your website easier.
Unsplash is a very popular website where all the photos are freely available to use on your website but you still need an eye for design.
A good designer is hard to find and harder to keep. The good ones move away from web development and go into advertising. If they stay in web making world they work with larger, more lucrative clients.
Hence the need for templates.
Page builders are drag and drop tools that let you build a website without the need of a developer or a designer.
They reduce the cost of owning a website because you’re not dependent on developers and designers anymore but they make website code more complex.
They use templates (themes) that you can adapt easily to fit your content. Still, to make a pretty website, you need an eye for design – and that is unlikely to change, even with the invention of artificial intelligence.
The downside of page builders is that the HTML and CSS code they produce is quite bloated. It’s only editable via the page building software and it cannot be changed by hand.
Traditional developers (ones who know how to code) don’t like the slow user interface that you need to use to modify template design.
Now, there is a whole new breed of website developer that doesn’t know how to code and is more comfortable with page builders.
They are somewhat in between a developer and a designer. They are more familiar with front end code (HTML, CSS). Whilst they cannot code, they have more of an appreciation of design and all the other technologies and things that is needed to make a website, including basic SEO.
The cost of making a website
The cost of websites has gone down significantly. An ecommerce website 15 years ago would have cost 10 times as much as it does now.
This is thanks to the amount of effort it takes to make a website.
Modern coding languages, competition, outsourcing, coding framework, templates and the introduction of no-coding website building technique – all have contributed to the reduction in cost.
The cost of website maintenance
The cost of website maintenance has gone up a little. This is mainly because a website is never finished and it needs to be worked on to keep it ahead of the competition.
Also, websites have gotten more complicated, which makes them faster to build but bugs creep in every now and again due to the complexity.
Web design trends
When making a website, one has to be careful to not fall into the trap of following a web design trap. Trends last a few years, then fade out, leaving in its wake a sea of dated websites.
It’s impossible to not get caught up in a trend or two. Trends don’t seem like trends, they seem like good ideas – until the next good idea comes along.
To avoid this, try to strategically plan your website, stick to a minimalist design and true to the nature of your business and brand.
Developing a brand identity will help you stay excesses of trendy designs.
Another tip is to do a thorough competitive analysis. Don’t look at large consumer websites for inspiration and don’t do anything that’s recommended in articles with the title “best website trends of 202X”.
We have a more in-depth guide to our managed hosting services. If you’re planning to host the website with a company, choose one of the big ones. GoDaddy, BlueHost and A2 hosting are all great choices. They are competing with each other on volume and have driven down the price of hosting to trivial levels.
With the advent of CDN (Content Delivery Networks), where you host has become even less important than before.
Cloud computing is more expensive and takes more skill to set up and look after. It’s a good solution if you have a complex website that have lots of users.
In sum, for the business websites, an ordinary hosting solution from a reputable supplier with good customer service is a perfectly acceptable choice.
Digital marketing and SEO
Digital marketing and SEO used to be a different field to web development. It used to be done by a digital marketing agency but now it’s such a big part of having a website, its goes with the territory.
Since there are so many websites in the world and websites are the primary means of marketing a business, you really need to think about how you’re going to promote your business before your begin developing it.
You don’t want to wait until it’s finished – only to realize that no one will visit your website unless you spend on digital marketing even more than you did on your website.
The importance of content
As more and more websites up their game, so must you. You must work harder to beat the people that are trying to beat you for the coveted top spot on Google.
Google and users are benefiting. There isn’t a subject someone hasn’t written something about – and what’s driving this is advertising revenue and the need to attract users to your business.
Content marketing works wonders, it has improved the ability of a business to find new customers but since everyone else is doing it – you have to work smart and work hard.
Promoting your business online
The knowledge has now transferred from knowing the technicalities of making a website to knowing how to make a better website that will provide the best customer experience.
On top of that, you also need to know how to get people to your website.
We have created two guides: