Web Design and Web Development – It’s Complicated


11647355_mWeb design and web development represent a continuum of skills that are interrelated. I hope to explore these skill sets and shine a light into the abyss for the uninitiated.  For the most part the terms Website Design and Web Development are used interchangeably by most people. Even within the industry there is no definite line that you cross to be in one camp or the other. The reality is that the skill sets overlap and the specific skill set of an individual usually begins and ends with their personal predilection.

Web Design and Web Development – the lines are drawn

Web design includes graphic design, user interface design UI, and an understanding of markup coding such as HTML. Web Development generally includes server-side scripting, security, client interfaces, and e-commerce. In the overlap, many designers and developers code in HTML, XHTML , JavaScript, and server-side languages such as PHP or ASP. Both groups are also known to develop written content, work with analytics and perform SEO, that is, search engine optimization and some would argue SMM – social media marketing. So the set of skills tends to be a continuum and what a certain individual’s skill set contains usually has to do with experience and natural inclination.

Left Brain – Right Brain Dichotomy

Classic “left brain” properties include skills that deal with logic, and thus mathematics, programming, computer architecture are often left-brain associated. The right brain is generally associated with creativity, and so things like creative writing, drawing, intuition and human psychology are assigned as part of the right brain attributes. In general, people are a combination of left and right brain attributes, but naturally tend towards one side or the other. When we apply this theory to the creation of websites we quickly realize that individuals, who excel in graphic design and creative writing, generally are not disposed to programming server-side scripts or doing statistical analysis of user behaviour and vice-versa.

Working in Teams

So given the foregoing it follows that websites are designed and developed in teams, where each team-member has the necessary skills to develop a portion of the project. The skill sets of each individual overlap so each may understand the other’s needs while advancing the project.

What You Need to Know

You should understand that a webpage is really a bunch of boxes that are filled with something, be it a paragraph, heading, graphic or form. The HTML code basically tells the boxes what they should contain and how they should align with each other. The CSS stylesheet tells the boxes how things should look inside the box. In the past different browsers rendered things differently so many workarounds and hacks where coded so a webpage would look the same to different users. Even though today this has pretty much been ironed out, the advent of different devices, laptops, pads, phones and phablets, have created many different screen sizes and resolutions that must be considered when designing a webpage. When one considers a fixed webpage that is 1600px wide, that looks fabulous on your desktop wide screen, will be difficult to view on a smartphone with a 3″ screen. Adjustments must be made, sometimes alternate mobile sites can be coded or a website can have a responsive design that realigns the boxes when it encounters different screen sizes and resolutions. For designers, this poses a problem, since design tends to be inclusive, all elements of a design work with each other, so if you start shifting them around, the overall design falls apart and user experience diminishes.

Beyond the Screen

So really, when you are considering the design, not only does the audience need to be considered, but also how the audience will access the webpage and interact with it. A site that consists of a pictures and written content, that tends to be informational, is a good choice for responsive design. Alternatively, a site that requires a lot of button pushing and form filling, lends itself to having a dedicated mobile version of the site where ease of navigation is paramount (there are those that will disagree with this).

Why do You have a Website?

The answer to this question is of utmost importance at the very beginning.

Non-marketing website: I have clients that do not care about traffic, they get all their customers through trade shows and salespeople. Their clients access their website directly, usually to download a manual, or order refill supplies; their clients are not normally “shopping around” for something. In this example, marketing on the website is not really a concern, ease of navigation and a structured layout is more important. Normally these sites are not accessed from a mobile device.

Marketing websites: I have other clients that need to drive customers to their website either to sell a product, or pique interest and gain a sales lead. These clients require that their webpages surface in search, moreover, once there, the website must give the searcher a reason to stay, the website must be a marketing tool enticing searchers to buy or request more information, thus creating a sales lead. This is traditionally done by creating a sales funnel, where, in exchange for contact information the searcher receives something of value for free. Once the contact information is given, they receive emails with inducements to purchase or just further contact and a deepening of relationship that could lead to future sales.

Soft-Marketing websites: Most of my clients fall into this category, they want a website that surfaces in search, but is really a brochure for their services. Often trades people fall into this category. They wish to showcase their work, post glowing testimonials, let potential clients know what other services they offer, and how to contact them for a quote. There are no email captures and follow ups are done personally.

SEO is Marketing

Search engine optimization – SEO – is still often thought of as a technical skill, and there are technical aspects to it, such as structure, the proper use of headers, micro-format markup, W3C compliance, linking, adherence to accessibility guidelines and ensuring alt tags are filled; but once we cross the line into keyword research and analytics, I would argue, we are now in the land of Marketing. Furthermore, just surfacing to page #1 of search is really not enough. Once on page #1 of we must entice searchers to click our link, and then we must entice prospects to stay on our websites and take further action.

Personalized Search

Personalized search is the process that Google uses to present links that are personal to you using an algorithm that considers some 200 factors that include, geographic location, previous search history, who you have interacted with on social media, and online purchases. This means that page #1 of search differs from user to user. If you wish to understand how the Google search engine works a little better you can read Eric Enge’s article here http://goo.gl/Sb46Cy . My blog post Semantic Search Explained offers some insight into what is happening in search these days and how it has changed.

What About Social Media?

I have helped a number of clients understand the goals of their social media participation. Many clients come to me and say they want to sell their product on social media, and my response is, “You can’t sell anything on social media.” This is true – the purpose of social media is to be social, just like in real life. This did not happen all of a sudden, it has been happening for many decades now. I owned a retail store for 25 years and my family for 60 years. I remember in the ’70s salespeople would come around and write orders with my parents. This happened to a lesser extent in the ’80s. By the late ’80s salespeople only came around to take orders at very specific times of year for very specific products. The rest of the time salespeople would make appointments and we would sit around, drinking coffee, and talking about the industry and life in general. I may be left with a flyer for some current specials, but for the most part the sales call was about relationship building. This process continues today in many industries. Buying is done at tradeshows and regularly through web portals, the salesperson’s job today is to keep his company in the top of your mind and deal with any problems that may arise.

It is likened to the evolution of man from hunter/gatherer to agrarian sowers/cultivators/reapers social media is just another tool to do relationship building with. It allows us to reach people we may not otherwise meet and lets them know that we are here.

Social Media Marketing

So when we couple social media with marketing we have to determine where our audience is, what they like, or want to see from us, and pepper our posts with calls to action, that when the time is right, a prospect might click on. And just like the new styled salesperson, the conversation is 2 way, prospects want to know a bit about you, they want to tell you a bit about themselves, so social media must be monitored and responded to, otherwise you might as well spend your money on a billboard.


“Authenticity is the ‘secret sauce’ the one thing I actually consciously focused on which made all other things happen.”
Quote from: David Amerland, How I Dominated Google Search (and How You Can Too)

Always remember, odds are, somebody, somewhere, knows more than you do, so don’t lie! I really mean it! Don’t tell people you can do something you can’t. The old adage of “Under promise – Over Deliver” is key. Whether you are active in social media or not, your clients are and if you mess them about, they will tell others – a lot of others! It is way easier to step around a well than to crawl out of it, bruised and bloodied, after falling in. Semantic Search, the knowledge graph, and the interconnectedness of people on the web, make it much harder to con prospects. You cannot just go out there and tell people, “I am the best!” You have to be real, you have to be authentic – and if you are, your proponents will yell it from the mountaintops, “They are the best!” for you.

Coming Back to Web Design and Web Development

So what do we have to keep in mind when creating a website.

  • You have to know why you want a website
  • You have to understand, that in most cases, some type of marketing is needed to make your website successful
  • You have to keep in mind that search is becoming more personalized
  • You have to accept that social media will play a role in your website’s success whether you participate or not
  • You really have to be authentic

So our websites must tell people who we are and what we do. We must do it in a graphically pleasing way and we must somehow address the growing usage of portable devices. We must offer value to the customer, and sometimes all that is, is being local, showing up on time, and doing a good job. We must be mindful of social media, and if we participate, we must understand that it is all about planting seeds and nurturing relationships not tracking prey and going for the kill. Being authentic is of paramount importance, because there is no packing up and moving to the next town – the next town is now Alpha Centauri.

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