Web Development Terminology Definitions

Basic Website Terminology

Last Updated: Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

The following terms are commonly used in website development and will be seen in the definitions of the development process as outlined below.

Content

Any information that you want to share over the web with the public, including news articles, important notices, descriptions of services and programs, documentation, pictures, audio and video clips, etc.

Content Management System (CMS)

A web application designed to hold and display an organization's content.  The CMS tries to make it easier for you to organize and maintain your content, and will display content to site visitors using a standard website theme, so that all pages in the site have a similar look and feel.

Landing Page

The front page of your website and possibly the main page of any major section of your site.  Landing pages are usually laid out more like newspaper front pages with multiple blocks of information, and may even draw information in from other parts of the website or outside sources.

Secondary Page

Most other pages on your website that are not landing pages.  Secondary pages are usually laid out in a more traditional document-like format and provide site visitors with specific information about a single topic related to your organization.


Website Development Process

When you want to have your unit's website rebuilt or have a new website built from scratch, there is a three-part process that is normally followed for developing your new site:

Design Phase

This is the initial phase of building or rebuilding a website, and involves working with you to define needs, expectations, and project scope.

From all of the input gathered, the developer(s) will create wireframes (simplistic models) of what the key landing pages of the site will look like. These models may then be drawn up in an image editing program like Adobe Photoshop to better show you how these pages will look on the finished site.

The developer(s) will also build a master site map, which shows where your existing pages will go in the new website, as well as where any new pages will be added.

Implementation Phase

This is a three-part process that involves:

  1. Taking the landing page wireframes and actually building them out in a copy of the chosen content management system (CMS).  For the Ivan Allen College, this is normally Drupal.
  2. Copying any existing content into the CMS, and then updating that content and adding new content that you want in the site before it goes live to the public.
  3. Writing any custom program code needed for special interactive parts of the sites.

Implementation is normally done in a web hosting space (referred to as the Development Site) that is completely separate from your current website (referred to as the Production Site), so that your current site is not impacted during the Design and Implementation phases. 

Implementation is a very iterative phase, with the developer(s) regularly asking you to review the work in progress and provide feedback until the new site is in a state that you deem acceptable to make live to the public.

Deployment Phase

This is the final step, where the copy of the CMS from the Development Site is moved to your Production Site hosting space to make the new site live to the public.  This involves archiving the old site in case you ever want to retrieve something from it, and then installing the new CMS system's files and database into the Production Site.  Once Deployment is done, your new site will be live for the world to see.


Design Elements

The following terms relate to how a website is visually and architecturally designed:

Website Theme

In simple terms, a website theme is the look-and-feel of the site, consisting of three key components:

  • Branding, Identification and Navigation - Components of the page that identify the site in question, the organization (Georgia Tech) that it belongs to, and how to move throughout the site.  These components usually appear on every page of a site and usually do not differ in appearance between pages.

  • Page Layouts - A predefined set of layouts for sections of a page, such as definitions for columns, blurbs, call-out boxes, tab panels, accordions, inline slide shows, etc.

  • Stylistic Definition - This includes the color scheme, typeface/fonts used for text, borders, shadows, spacing of page elements, etc.

Georgia Tech's Institute Communications has created a specification for the official Georgia Tech website theme and wants all major unit websites to make use of this theme.  To this end, they provide a pre-built package for the Drupal content management system that has all of the elements of the Georgia Tech theme.  It is possible to override some of the stylistic definitions in the theme, but you must still adhere to official institute guidelines on branding elements such as the color scheme (i.e. no use of the color red) and proper use of the official Georgia Tech logo (if you want a combined Georgia Tech/Unit Name logo, you must get Institute Communications to create one for your unit).

At the moment, it is not possible to override the page structure provided by the theme without significantly altering it, which would then make it much more difficult to apply future theme updates from Institute Communications to your website.  Since updates often fix bugs and provide useful new features, it is highly recommended that you only alter those elements of the theme that have been approved by Institute Communications.  More flexibility is coming in the version three theme that is being used by some Ivan Allen College websites running on Drupal 8, and which will be rolled out to many more sites over the 2018 calendar year.

Accessibility

A website or website page is accessible by definition when it is designed so that people with disabilities can properly perceive the information being presented.  The most commonly used set of accessibility guidelines are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which lay out specific rules that web developers and web content writers/creators should follow.  The WCAG guidelines may seem a little overly technical at first glance, but just reading through the table of contents will give you a good idea of what it's all about.  For those who will be creating and maintaining web content for their unit, the Ivan Allen College's web developer has put together an easy to read Accessibility Primer that explains the most important rules, and provides links to a number of other accessibility resources.

The federal government mandates accessibility compliance through Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for all websites run by the federal government or any entity that receives federal funding (which includes Georgia Tech and most other colleges and universities).  Section 508 requires compliance with level AA of the WCAG 2.0 specification as of February of 2018, so all newly created content should be in compliance with that specification.

Usability

A website or website page is usable when a site visitor can easily move through it and find the information they are seeking.  Usability relates to how content is laid out, particularly:

  • Logically ordering content
  • Providing recognizable section headings
  • Making links easy to identify
  • Being consistent with layouts and navigation across all pages of a site
  • Providing good navigation back and forth throughout a site

A simple rule of thumb for evaluating the usability of any part of a page is to ask yourself, "Would someone visiting this site for the first time be able to understand what I'm presenting and find their way to the information they are after?".  Put simply, you should not make the site visitor have to think too much about how to utilize your site.  It may seem old fashioned to use layouts and styles that many other sites use, but commonly used layouts and styles are often unwritten standards that provide comfort and familiarity to site visitors.  If you make the user have to learn a whole different approach to using your website, chances are s/he will simply leave and go somewhere else.

None of this is mandated by any laws or institute rules, but a site designed with usability in mind will be much easier and more enjoyable for site visitors to use, and good usability practices tend to automatically encourage doing many of the things that are required by accessibility law.


This set of definitions may be used by other Georgia Tech Units for their training and reference as long as Kevin Pittman and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts are credited as the original authors.