Website Design and Website Development: What’s the Difference?

You are on the verge of launching a brand-new startup. You know you need a website, so you start shopping around for an agency that can do the job at a reasonable cost. Before long, you realize that some agencies advertise website design while others focus on website development. What is the difference?

While some may see it as mere semantics, there is a significant difference between design and development. Design is short term. Development is long term. Design is a one-off proposition while development is ongoing. The difference is as plain as night and day.

Don’t Just Assume

The unfortunate truth is that web professionals use the terms interchangeably despite different meanings. So just because an agency markets itself as a web design firm doesn’t mean they don’t handle ongoing development. The same is true in the other direction. Do not ever assume anything. Instead, ask.

Webtek Digital Marketing, based in Salt Lake City, offers a rather extensive menu of digital marketing, SEO, and web development services. They can design a new website from the ground up, publish it, and then turn it over to you. They can also handle ongoing development alongside SEO and marketing.

As a business owner, it is up to you to decide how much work you want to leave to your partner agency. Do you want that agency to handle everything having to do with your website? Or would you prefer to let them design the initial website before turning it over to your in-house team?

Website Design Is More Aesthetic

Another key difference between website design and development is scope. Though the two disciplines overlap, design is more about aesthetics. It is about what a website looks like, how easy it is to navigate, whether it makes use of scripts, and so forth.

Don’t assume that design is little more than eye candy, though. It is a lot more than that. For instance, consider navigation. It plays a crucial role in whether visitors hang around long enough to do anything productive.

How Many Clicks Does It Take?

A good measure of navigation ease is the number of clicks a visitor needs to endure to find what they are looking for. Forcing a visitor to click through one menu after another is a good way to scare that person away. Likewise, presenting a complicated menu system that requires a college degree to follow virtually guarantees it will not be followed.

A standard rule of thumb (it is not written in stone) is to design a website so that it never takes users more than three clicks to get where they are going. You do that through a menu tree and strategically placed links throughout the site.

How Fast Is the Site?

These days, one of the most critical aspects of website design is speed. Given Google’s emphasis on mobile, they expect sites to load as quickly as possible. They also expect sites to be responsive, which is to say they work equally well regardless of the screen size.

Getting back to the speed issue, poor aesthetic design can slow down page loading. Uncompressed graphics are usually the culprit here. The solution is to size graphics according to the space they will fill and then compress them before uploading. They will load faster as a result.

Website Development Is More Technical

By its very nature, website development is more technical. It addresses things like search engine optimization, metadata, embedded code, scripting, and so forth. Development is essentially the practice of building all the code that makes a site work under the hood.

Website developers go beyond just one-off design. They continually modify and update a site to ensure that it stays relevant. They continually adjust SEO to maintain high search rankings. Website developers also develop on- and off-site content for marketing purposes.

How Does the Site Perform?

In the web development arena, analytics play a vital role. They tell developers how a site is performing across several metrics. Analytics can measure:

  • traffic volume
  • visitor behavior
  • conversion rates
  • referring links.

A well-conceived analytics strategy can tell a website developer exactly how visitors landed on a page, what they did while they were there, how long they hung around, and where they went after. All that information that can be utilized to improve the site’s performance.

How Often Is the Site Updated?

Because website development is an ongoing process, it requires regular updates. The frequency of those updates depends on the developer strategy. Some sites can get away with monthly or semimonthly updates applied for maintenance and security purposes. But if the developer’s strategy is to stay on top of SEO, updates need to be much more frequent.

Google algorithms pay attention to updates. An updated website is more likely to be a relevant website, and that makes Google users happy. This is why SEO experts recommend adding or modifying content at least once or twice per week. Every such action constitutes an update.

They Don’t Have to Be Separate

Now that you know the difference between website design and website development, know that they do not have to be separate. Perhaps they shouldn’t be. The same people responsible for a website’s initial design should probably also handle ongoing development. That ensures consistency and a single vision.

Hiring a single firm to handle both also makes good sense for startups. Outsourcing web design and development frees up the team to devote their intentions to other things.

The one caveat here is finding a web design firm that lives up to your expectations. It is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Given the importance of your startup’s online presence, take the time to investigate various firms. Interview staff and ask questions.

Website design and development are two separate disciplines within the same general field. They work together to give business owners websites that are both aesthetically pleasing and productive. And given the state of the modern internet, both are best left to the experts.

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