Choose your technical stack of tools: domain, host, and builder.
The domain name
The first thing we need to do is secure your domain name. It doesn’t matter where you purchase the domain; it can be connected to any host you choose and doesn’t “do” anything until it’s connected to a host. I like to compare it to a house address. You can have an address, but it still needs a house (your website) built there for it to be useful. Purchasing your domain name can be done before working with a web designer, or during the process. This is a step I like to help my clients with, as part of the done-for-you process, to eliminate confusion and headaches for them.
The host and builder
In a lot of cases, the hosting and building happen on one platform. Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, and Webflow are examples of platforms that host your website and provide the interface for designing and building it, too. (Some also sell domain names, if you want a one-stop shop.) Each of these has varying levels of complexity and some are better for DIY, like Squarespace, while others are better for custom builds, like Webflow.
A good designer will be able to help determine the best platform to build your site on based on your business and audience needs as well as how you intend to use the site long term and what your level of editing involvement will be.
Content comes before design.
Determine your goals
This is the most important step you can take for the success of your website! I can’t stress it enough. So much time, effort, and other resources get wasted when you don’t begin with a clear idea of what should be accomplished on your site. With my clients, I take a look at their business and brand strategy before designing anything.
When creating your website goals, make sure you know the following:
- How to categorize and explain your services and/or processes clearly and simply
- What your primary message to the consumer should be
- The main action the site visitor should take (Call To Action or CTA)
Next, we’ll need to determine the kind of website needed, along with any additional features to support the business goals. For example, if you are selling products on your website, are they strictly physical or digital, or a mix of both? Will you have a membership area? Are you planning to set up a blog or run email marketing campaigns?
If you are a service provider, how will you set up your warm-up offer or lead magnet? Are you going to need a calendar where you or your team can regularly update events?
Answers to these types of questions are ones that can be drawn out quickly during a strategy meeting with my clients, so I can make the best recommendation and provide an accurate road map to get there.
Use a content checklist
Gathering content for your website is a part of the process that can sneak up on you and stall out the entire process if you’re not prepared. If you’ve never built a website, you won’t know what you need until you get there. Usually, my clients don’t know what’s important to provide, so I have a handy content checklist to get things started. (You can grab it at the end of this article!)
Visual and written content are crucial to the website’s design and message becoming an accurate reflection of the business. We’ll combine these elements with good design to drive user engagement and target the needs of the audience.
Determine the website structure
There are a few ways to go about this. Professional web designers use something called a wireframe, which is basically a rough outline of the site’s structure. This shows where the information will “live” on each page and how it all flows together. Think of this as the blueprint before the house gets built. It wouldn’t make much sense to begin any interior design before addressing the structure.
If we are using a platform like Squarespace, this structure is already created for you in the form of a template, but this isn’t always wise to rely on. Where I see people get hung up is when they find a template they like, and try to fit their business information to the template. For example, they may find the template images aren’t relevant to their business, but changing them completely kills the visual impact of the template. Or they might discover that there are too many pages and sections, or not enough, and begin to restructure a template without knowing how to do it properly. This can cause a lot of frustration and overwhelm.
I use a wireframe to organize the flow of content for custom sites and semi-custom (templated) sites alike. It’s a crucial step to getting a site that truly supports your business goals. This can be as simple as sketching one out for yourself with pencil and paper. Getting ideas down on paper helps you focus and come up with solutions.
Write your website messaging
Copywriting sounds a bit scary to non-writers, but it’s really not so bad when you have help from a copywriting pro and understand how important it is to the success of your site. An ugly site that’s written to convert will perform better than a site that is visually beautiful without a clear message. Everything from your headings to your buttons can (and should) be written with conversion in mind.
Complete the visual design.
Good web design is more than an appealing look
Good design is a combination of elements that come together to deliver a message to the human brain with clarity, speed, and ease. We use the fundamentals of graphic design (such as balance, contrast, proximity, and symmetry) as well as the right typographic system and color palette to create a consistent visual language. This combined with the written message creates what the brain recognizes in an instant as “good design.”
Template or custom?
Whether using a template or building from scratch, the principles of design remain the same and should be applied in either case. Again, a website might look nice, but how do you know if it’s really doing anything for your business? If it’s designed well, it will work hard for you on whatever goals you gave it to solve.
Final design checks
These should include proofreading all your content, optimizing images, and ensuring all links and connections are working. I always walk through a completed site as I would a visitor who knows nothing about the business to see what makes sense and what might need a bit more finessing.
Your pre-launch checklist:
Before launching the website to the public, we’ll want to go through some final technical checks, even if your site was built with a template. Here’s an example of a pre-launch checklist I use:
- Complete an SEO checklist (This includes a list of items covering everything from mobile usability to optimized performance settings like image sizes, keywords in the page copy, and URL structures.)
- Test on major browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox)
- Test email connections and all third party connections
- Test forms
- Time zone and language is set
- All business settings in the platform have been set
- Site search is allowed on all relevant pages
- Site favicon, webclip or icon, and open graph content (social sharing images and titles) are set
- Site security certificate is included and activated
- All unused images and plugins have been deleted
- Blog settings are checked and accurate
- 404 page and 301 redirects are set
- 3rd party taglines or embedded marketing is removed
- Analytics are connected or set up
- Sitemap is ready to submit to search engines
- Legal pages and compliancy notices are set up
- Backup plan in place
- Site owner’s information in place
Ready to go!
Once you launch, it’s time to turn on your marketing machine. Whether that means driving traffic to your site from social media ads or using your blog content to fuel your email campaigns, your site can be a powerful home base for your business’s online presence.