Good topic JamesR.
In the research phase I take a strong look at the industry itself. What does the industry itself have to offer? This includes associations, portals, newsletters and such. What are others, not just the direct competitors, but also others in the industry doing to develop and then promote their sites? In this portion of the research I often find a great deal of linking potential and future promotional ideas.
I then look at what it will take to make my site sticky and get folks to return. I know not every site should be sticky but generally speaking I like the idea of folks returning so I like to figure out how best to do that.
The design I leave to experts although I have no problem suggesting they follow at least the basics of what Brett presented in Successful Site in 12 Months with Google Alone [webmasterworld.com] or of course my own personal version ;)
Other points based on experience:
Note that I prefer keywords and hyphens in the URL.
The code has to be clean.
Navigation and internal linking are developed by the SEO expert and not the designer. Argue that if you will but it impacts optimization more I believe than it impacts the design.
Again, a good SEO expert will more effectively develop the structure of a site than a designer. Oh yes, those may be fighting words but I believe they speak the truth. Isnít the goal to maximize every effort?
On promotion Ė client dependent of course but I find a bit of PPC goes along way to keep the client interested those first three months until the other promotional activities really kick in and start drawing traffic.
Iím also working on Ďalternativeí sources of promotion and traffic building including advertising, articles, and of course more of what Iím trying to draw out of the current discussion on ďLinking Outside the Box ď [webmasterworld.com]
The refining portion depends so much on proper log analysis tools and data. Itís especially important to see the process a visitor follows through the site, how much time spent on each page and which pages they actually visit. Am I getting them to the sale and if so whatís the best route.
Not to be undervalued is the content and the copywriting including the sales copywriting content. You can have a great site, drawing great traffic but how does it convert.
My 2 bits.