Websites are a vital part of any company’s digital presence. Websites drive home key messaging, secure brand loyalty, and have the potential to convert customers. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to think that a website simply has to exist to work. A website is only as impactful as the intentionality behind its strategy, design, and development. And successful custom website development should include all of that in the project plan.

What is custom website development?

To answer that question, you first have to ask, what sets a custom build apart from your average website? Many websites rely on the use of prebuilt themes to give the site a set of predetermined style choices and layouts. These same sites also rely heavily on plugins, or add-ons that build certain features into your website like contact forms, gallery slideshows, and animations.

In contrast to a pre-made website, a custom website starts with the goals and detailed vision of the customer—and instead of turning to pre-made themes, plugins, and add-ons—we build those exact functions based on exactly what the client is looking for. From a technical standpoint, custom websites are more secure—there’s also less code bloating the backend, making the site faster because it only contains what’s necessary to meet the client’s goals.

Additionally, custom websites are completely unique, made to fit your user journey, key messaging, and  brand. Rather than adjusting something pre-made to approximate a client’s vision, a custom website delivers the exact solution that client is looking for.

Custom website development process in 3 phases

Maestro approaches custom website development projects with three distinct phases: strategy, design, and development. Each of these phases have their own directives, and throughout the project, we make sure all of our teams are collaborating together to bring the final product to life.

Phase 1: Strategy

The strategy phase for custom websites is all about getting to know the client’s goals and a detailed understanding of their audience. All of the work, from copywriting to design to development, is purposefully based around the insights we gather with the client. This phase consists of two parts: research and discovery, and planning.

Research and discovery

To kick off research and discovery, we meet with clients for a discovery session. This is an important meeting where info on website goals, audience, brand, and competition are discussed in detail. Think of this meeting as vision casting for your dream website—come prepared with a thorough understanding of your goals, your target market, and details about your brand’s message for the best results.

From the initial input session, voice of customer (VOC) work and other research begins. We’re looking for the key messages that resonate with a company’s audience as well as their current user experience on the existing website. The key with research is getting as detailed and specific as possible to capture its user base, making the custom website work hard on behalf of a company (as it should).

Planning

The outcome of the strategy phase for custom website design is a plan for execution. The execution plan is a highly detailed plan that contains insights from VOC work and site analytics, including device types, user demographics, keywords, information architecture, and content strategy. The plan then serves as the foundation for our designers, content writers, and developers. 

It can be tempting to rush through this phase, but, remember, custom websites are only as effective as the strategy they’re built on. Making sure everyone is on the same page during this stage is key for determining the remainder of the project, which is why we recommend meeting to review the plan and work out any changes before moving forward.

Phase 2: Design

Once there’s an execution plan for a custom website, it’s time for designers to get to work! Although, depending on the client, every custom website project we take on looks different at this stage, we generally like to follow a ramp structure with design by starting with small, easily changeable concepts in low-fidelity and working towards high-fidelity designs.

We typically kick-off the design phase with mood boarding. This is a low-cost, high-impact way to establish a creative and visual direction for your custom website by using existing inspiration to create the cohesive direction for low- and high-fidelity designs.

Low-fidelity

A low-fidelity design for custom websites is a grayscale version of the website that focuses on placement, layout, and functionality. Low-fidelity designs are easier (read: more affordable for the client) to change than high-fidelity designs. You’ll want to build this step into your custom website project, and give as much feedback as possible during it.

High-fidelity

Once a low-fidelity design is approved, it’s time to build out a branded, colorful mockup that gives a glimpse of how the finished custom website will look. At this point, turnaround time for changes, especially major ones, can delay the project more than you would probably like—so having a clear vision through low-fidelity design is super important.

Phase 3: Development

Though the title of this section is “phase 3,” work in this area stretches all the way back to the strategy phase. During the planning portion of the strategy phase, we work on what’s called information architecture and content strategy; where content, SEO, site mapping, and priority messaging is covered. All of this information drives the development of the site.

From there, development focuses on building custom integrations that are completely unique for your brand. This could be branded animations, event calendar integrations, and anything else to improve the user experience. Similar to the design phase, the development phase has low- and high-fidelity components to it.

Low-fidelity

For development, low-fidelity focuses on things like site functionality, integrations, and technical SEO. Think of this as the skeleton of your custom website in terms of development.

High-fidelity

Once low-fidelity development has been approved, the final step is high-fidelity, which involves making the website yours through colors, typefaces, and design elements that add a branded polish to the custom website.

Tips for successful custom website projects

Companies want a website that works hard to convert customers, build loyalty, and leave an impact. To ensure that your custom website is a success, we recommend a few tips. First, remember to think critically and focus on building a smart site. Beautiful websites are nice, but it should be a priority for you and your team to push for something that’s also functional  for your user base (which may mean taking a step to really understand your users through VOC work).

And remember to make your voice heard throughout the process. At Maestro, we see our clients as partners in custom website development—we want you to be an active part of bringing your vision to life. You’re the most important part of that after all! The more invested you are in your website, the better your results will be.

Your website should work for you—not the other way around

Let’s work together to build a custom website that’s smart and beautiful.

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