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The 3 Elements of Web Development (Hint: Don't Start with the Template)

If you're as addicted to caffeine as we are here at Geek Chicago, you already know that a cappuccino is one-third espresso, one-third milk, and one-third foam. It’s that rule of threes that makes this iconic drink 100% delicious. 

Now, we’re not saying that building a website for your brand is just like making a cappuccino. But it is a process that takes skill, experience, and, of course, the rule of threes.

In this case, we know that there are three central elements that go into creating a great website, one that will help you attract and convert customers for years and years. Those three essential elements are:

  • Content
  • Design
  • Template

… and the order that you should prioritize them in may be different than you’d think!

For a Great Website, Don’t Start From a Template

In our experience, many people are quick to jump to that third bullet point, without taking the time to consider the other two.

This can be a huge mistake – since, in many ways, the look and feel of your site is going to be massively impacted by your unique voice and distinct branding.

At the same time, many business leaders find it tempting to use a free website builder, or to opt for a simple template, into which they can throw some relevant content. But this also doesn’t work. In fact, many of your potential customers may be completely turned off by a website that looks generic or “cookie cutter.”

On the flip side, opting for a “drag and drop” website template may read as sloppy or unimpressive – two words that you definitely don’t want associated with your brand.

It’s also important to remember that many of these “free” website builders and templates aren’t necessarily going to be able to deliver what they promise. For one thing, these templates aren’t always “free,” and you may well have to pay extra for certain features or functionality. What’s more, it’s important to remember that lots of these companies tend to come and go fairly quickly – meaning that you may be left in the lurch just when you need help with a tricky design element.

Instead, Think About Who You Are

A great website is about you, you, you. Your site is your way to effectively communicate your brandtake charge of your message, and grow your business through your online presence. 

With that in mind, a great website build starts with a little bit of self-reflection. It begins with understanding what you want to say and how you want to say it. This will then help determine the framework, flow, and functionality of your site.

So, don’t start with a template…

Start with your content

Your content essentially defines your business' online persona. It’s how you are, and what you’re trying to say and do as a brand.

By creating thoughtful, quality content, presented in a distinct and memorable voice, you can convey professionalism, humor, or other fundamental "personality traits" that you want people to associate with your business. 

Remember, content is a broad category, and will come into play in many different ways on your site. On the one hand, yes, it’s the copy on your homepage. But it’s more than that. It’s about your SEO-focused blog; the images and videos that you use to make your site standout; the digital newsletter you distribute; the call-to-action messages and buttons that guide your users from visit to conversion.

Bottom line? Content is key – it’s the meat of the matter (or the espresso in that aforementioned cappuccino). There’s no reason to have a site without it.

Once you have a grasp on your content, it’s time to consider how to…

Make design and branding choices that reflect your business

Your website design needs to communicate your services and engage with your customers visually, as well as through your messaging.

Again, it’s important to understand who you are, what you offer, and what sets you apart from other businesses – all decisions that cannot be left up to a generic, free template!

Begin with a core image of your brand (like a logo or a top-selling product) and move on from there, asking yourself questions like:

  • What colors define my brand?
  • What images reflect my audience and their wants?
  • What multimedia elements will people engage with?

Consistency across your website is key. At every step of their journey, your users should be able to identify your brand from look and feel alone.

Build a functional template

Now that you know who you are, you can build a site that really reflects your vision and voice, creating a template or framework that works in service of your unique content and design choices.

A template, like content and design, can affect your relationships with users – particularly when it comes to converting them into customers. Think about elements such as navigation, responsiveness, and above all, mobile friendliness. Thinking about  how your site will look and function on smaller screens has to be a vital step, rather than an afterthought.

Making the Process Work for You

These three elements of web development flow together in this specific order. Your content will inform your design, and then your design will determine your template. Once you've built these parts, you can replicate and adjust them to suit your evolving business needs. 

If you have questions about the process or want someone else to do the work for you, that's where the Geek team can step in! This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow our newsletter to stay up-to-date on all things geeky, including web design and development, SEO, and social media!

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Jason Finn

Founder & Chief Geek

Jason has nearly 20 years of consulting experience, predominantly in the technology space. Most recently he was the COO and Director of Technology for Rich Casto & Company, a national training and consulting organization in the real estate industry.
As a consultant for IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and Envision Consulting Group (now IMS Health), Jason has served clients of all sizes, including Big Pharma, Fortune 500, and Global 1000 companies:

  • Allstate Insurance Company
  • AOL (America Online)
  • Astellas Pharmaceuticals
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Ford Motor Credit
  • Wockhardt USA (formerly Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals)
  • Norwich Union
  • PNC Bank
  • Reynolds and Reynolds

Sarunas Budrikas

Creative Director

Sarunas is a web design and development expert with hundreds of successful projects in his portfolio. He is passionate about delivering extraordinary user experiences for every client and consistently goes above and beyond everyone’s expectations. As an SEO expert and strategist, he can optimize your website, or app, to get the most out of it, day in and day out. Sarunas holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Kaunas Technology University, in Lithuania. Sarunas now lives in Chicago, and calls it home.

Alexandra Olsavsky

Client Experience Specialist

Alex specializes in content generation and social media promotion for Geek | Chicago clients, helping to solidify their presence in the online community. This includes blog writing, graphic design, co-ordination and design of weekly newsletters, and active engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Outside of Geek, Alex is a classically-trained soprano who professionally performs around the city of Chicago (most recently with the Chicago Baroque Band, and with the Rolling Stones for their "50 and Counting" tour).