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Brewing up a Website

If I told you that brewing beer and building a website were two very similar things, you would probably look at me like I was crazy. How could the website development process be at all similar to brewing beer (other than the fact that they’re both a mystery to most people)?

I’ve broken it down below into the 10 ways that building a website is just like brewing beer. Hopefully you’ll learn a little bit about both!

1) A process that takes time

To produce beer, you have to brew it, let it ferment, chill it, and carbonate it, all before it can be served. This process takes anywhere from a few weeks to over a year from some styles.

At Newfangled, our average website development process takes about four months from kickoff to launch. We start with planning and prototyping, then move into design and development, and finally end with content entry and quality assurance testing. Just like brewing beer, each step is important and helps to result in a great finished product.

2) Requires some upfront investment

If you’re going to brew your own beer, you’ll probably have to buy some ingredients as well as a few specialty pieces of equipment like food grade buckets to ferment the beer in. While this investment can be minimal, some folks spend thousands on big, electric, automatic and computer-controlled brewing systems, in hopes of making better beer.

The same is true for your website. At the most basic level, you will need to purchase a domain name and hosting. This can be done for about $10 a month. You can install a free content management system such as WordPress or Drupal, and find a free design. Alternatively, you could hire a web development company to build a custom site for you with all sorts of unique and custom elements. Obviously this solution is more expensive, and it is up to you to decide where the best balance lies.

3) Equal parts art and science

In brewing beer there is an art in developing a recipe and mastering the aromas and flavors that you want to incorporate into your brew. But there is also a lot of science – from the biology of growing yeast to the chemistry of adjusting the properties of your brewing water and the pH of your grain. Exact measurements of volumes, temperature and pressure are also required.

With a website, the design is very much an art. Justin, our designer, does a great job at making sites visually appealing and interesting. But there is also a lot of science that goes into the web development process. Not only is there the coding, but also studies on usability and information architecture are also considered throughout the process.

4) The biggest companies don’t always get it right

While more people drink beer produced by Budweiser, Miller and Coors than any other brewery, it doesn’t necessarially mean that their beer is better. In fact, your favorite brewery may be a tiny little micro-brewery down the street that makes artisan Belgian ales. Doing something different than the “big guys” can often be a good thing. And most importantly, you want beer that fits your tastes and style.

While many large corporations have very nice websites, examples abound of large corporation sites that are not user friendly or engaging, not to mention visually appealing. While we can learn a lot from some of these big company sites, it is also great to consider what you need in your site and what will work best for your users.

5) Must balance many elements to be successful

When brewing a beer, you have to balance the ingredients to produce a tasty drink. Too many hops will make it too bitter, and too much malt can make it too sweet and syrupy.

When developing a new website, you must balance many factors as well. Oftentimes it is balancing the pros and cons of different decisions. While you want the site to be search engine friendly, you also want a good user experience. And while you want to collect information from your users, you don’t want them to leave the site due to too many forms and hurdles.

6) New technology

People have been brewing since the dawn of civilization, but only with the industrial revolution and the rise of modern machinery have we been able to mass produce consistent quality beer. And even now, there are more new technologies being applied to quality control and testing all the time.

The web hasn’t been around since the dawn of civilization; the technology surrounding it is relatively new and growing rapidly. When building a new site, you have to consider this so that the site won’t be obsolete a year after it is built. Getting familiar with things such as HTML5 and javascript, and the latest in handling fonts on the web. Don’t make the mistake of relying on yesterday’s already obsolete technologies, such as sIFR or Flash elements, to produce tomorrow’s websites.

7) You have to wait for the magic to happen

When you brew up a batch of beer, it is not ready to drink immediately. You have to put it in the right conditions and wait for it to ferment and turn all of the sugar into alcohol and carbonation.  Only after the appropriate amount of time will a beer be drinkable – you have to be patient.

When your new website launches, you are not going to see big results overnight. Things like content strategy and SEO take time to prove results. It can sometimes take several months before the search engines start rewarding you for your hard work on your meta data or all of your new content. So don’t expect a new site to instantly build traffic, but make sure you are providing the right conditions for your site’s success, and you will see the results.

8) Expiration date

I just cracked open a Hefeweizen (German wheat beer) that I brewed over a year ago. And it tasted like wet cardboard. While some beer ages better than others, all beer is going to go bad eventually, and it will let you know when it does!

Your website also has an expiration date. As technology (not to mention your business) continues to change over time, your website will begin to show its age. Web developers can’t predict the future, and often the future is not nice to old websites, so be prepared to rebuild your site every few years to make sure that it will work on the newer modern browsers and is taking advantage of the new technologies that arise.

9) Multi-sensual experience

A good beer is not only about the flavor, but also about the aroma, the color and how it feels in your mouth – the carbonation, the warming sensation from the alcohol, etc.  You have to think about all of these different aspects as you design a recipe.

Websites are also multi-sensual in a different sense (well, you can now smell the internet). When a user visits a site, the design can elicit different emotions based on color, organization, texture, etc. You are setting the mood for your user through what the site looks like, but also what it feels like, and you want to be sure you are setting the right tone.

10) Keep it simple, stupid

Homebrewers often want to throw all sorts of things into their beer (and I’ve been guilty of this too) – from fruit to coffee, chocolate, spices, herbs, veggies, etc. Sometimes this can make for a really great drink, but more often than not, it can result in failure. Keeping your recipe simple is a tried and true way to make a great beer.

Likewise, there are many bells and whistles that can be added to a website, but you should only add the functionality that truly has a purpose on your site. Adding things on just because you can is not going to result in a user-friendly, functional site. It’s a website, not a buffet, so be selective about what you put in your website recipe and as long as everything has a purpose, and that purpose helps your site achieve its goals, then you are on the path to success.

Now I want to go grab a beer – cheers!

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