Building a website

The magical world of the internet evolves constantly – however, the principles remain the same, while the technicalities will keep changing.

Critical points

Before you begin:

  • Know who your audience is
  • Define the main message or purpose of your site
  • Keep it simple.

Find out:

  • Does your university/institution have a protocol for providing subdomain names for research projects?
  • Does your university/institution have a protocol for hosting research projects’ websites?
  • Make sure you have funding for external web hosting & management if needed.
  • Make sure you have funding and time to update the site regularly.
  • Make sure you have people to provide content – new content helps to generate interest and keeps visitors returning.
  • Bear in mind the principles of good web design and writing. If you can, employ an experienced web editor, at least to help with the home page and top level pages.
  • There are a number of well-supported open source Content Management Systems (CMS) to build a website with. Again, take advice from your IT department as they may have a preferred system.

Responsive design

The number of people accessing websites via tablets and phones is increasing rapidly. New websites must make the most of this trend and be a ‘responsive’ design. In practice, a scalable version of the desktop site is probably all you need to work on a tablet, but a phone version needs careful consideration. You may not need all information to be accessible from a phone – for example, images or interactive content may not be needed – but the navigation and body text should be easily read in a single column.

Also be aware that certain types of content do not play on all mobile operating systems, e.g. Flash movies don’t work on IOS.


Please bear in mind that some web features are difficult to use for visually or physically impaired users.

Type must be scalable and images have accurate alt (alternate) descriptions for screen-reader users.

Navigation must be as simple as possible so users with limited motor control can find their way round the site.

Any video or audio tracks must be supplied with a transcript for hard of hearing users.

In theory, you should also ensure your site works well in all of the most commonly used browsers, and in as many versions as possible. This is often very tricky and time-consuming – some government agencies and local authorities are still using outdated operating systems and software (even thought the software companies themselves no longer support them). At a minimum, the site should work in:

  • Internet Explorer 11, 10, 9 and 8
  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Safari

Safari & Chrome are particularly important as they run on the majority of tablets and mobile phones.


Google Analytics is free, easy to use and generates a wealth of data that can be useful metrics for reporting to funders. Most useful data includes:

  • Visitor numbers
  • Top content
  • Referring sites
  • Number of pages per visit
  • Routes through the site – are people finding what you want them to, and using the routes you expected?

Take care not to read too much into the statistics – for example, ‘time on page’ data can be skewed by someone opening a page then going to make tea while it is still open…