How to Design a Website: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners
Woman sitting outside on stairs working on a computer

How to Design a Website: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Web Design

Kristin Pruis

BY

5/04/22

Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of designing your own website? You don’t have to be! With a clear plan, you can set your website (and your business) up for success. I’ve spent over 15 years designing websites and have learned the important things to consider when building a website and how to make the process run smoothly. Here are the best tips I’ve learned along the way…

(This article contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission for purchases made through links in this post. Read the Privacy Policy for details.)

1. Determine your website goals

Designing your website is so much more than picking some fonts and colors and calling it a day. Actually, before you even get to the “fun” part of designing your website, there are some important steps you need to take first.

The worst thing you can do when creating your website is to just “wing it”, without a plan. If you fail to nail down a clear vision of what your website goals are and what you actually want to accomplish with your website – you are going to set yourself up for a huge headache. Not only will your decision-making throughout the website design process be more complicated, but you might find it also more difficult to measure the positive impact of your website once you’re done.

That’s why the first step in creating an effective website is to set some goals! Don’t skip this step just because you’re too antsy to get your website up or too lazy to get a little introspective. Typically, goals for your website fall into one of two categories: quantitative and qualitative.

hand clicking a mouse

Qualitative Website Goals

Qualitative goals aren’t exactly measurable, but they are important because they give your website its personality and identity. These goals will influence everything from the content you share, to the layout and design, and will be impacted by the type of website you are planning to create.

For instance, an e-commerce website will have different goals than a content-driven media site for a well-known influencer. The goals you might want to include here could be:

  • Providing information about products and services
  • Creating credibility and establishing industry expertise through blogging
  • Becoming a go-to resource for helpful tools and insights
  • Showcasing your community involvement
  • Answering customer’s questions so they don’t need to contact you
  • Having an easy way for customers to contact you with questions

Quantitative Website Goals

Quantitive goals are aspects of your website’s performance that you can measure. To define these goals, they need to be:  

  1. Specific AND measurable
  2. Attached to a timeframe

If you aren’t sure where to start, take your best realistic guess, closely monitor your metrics and then revise, if needed.

Here are some examples of quantifiable data you can/should monitor on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually are typical evaluation periods), constantly striving for notable gains in each:

  • Visitor traffic to website
  • Contact form submissions
  • Search engine ranking
  • E-commerce sales amounts
  • Conversion rates
  • Lead magnet sign-ups or freebie downloads

2. Plan your website’s content

After setting your goals, you will need to determine what content and elements your website needs to reach those goals and integrate them into your website. To do this, first, create a site map that outlines all the pages on your website and what critical content will go on them.

Types of pages on your website

The types of website pages you can include are going to be different based on what goals you have, but here are some suggestions:

  • Services page
  • Blog page
  • Products page
  • Resources page

You may also want to create a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy and a blogging schedule; These are all action items you can complete that are directly influenced by the website goals you created.

Showit website platform

3. Choose a website platform

There are many platforms you can choose from to build your own website. Some of the most popular options out there Squarespace, Wix, WordPress, Shopify, and my personal favorite, Showit*. There is no one size fits all answer to choosing a website platform. Different websites with different goals will have different requirements, however here are several questions that can help you determine which website platform is best for you:

  • Is your style more free-flowing and organic or do you like design that is orderly and neat?
  • Are you savvy with technology and design?
  • Will you be able to, or want to, easily update the website yourself? 
  • Will you have a web developer or web designer manage it for you?
  • Does your website need a blog?
  • Will you need an e-commerce platform with the ability to sell hundreds of products?
  • Will you need a database or membership capabilities?

These are just some of the questions you will want to ask yourself before you fully commit to a website platform. It can also help to find examples of websites that you like and then research what website platform that it was built on. You can use a tool like BuiltWith Technology Lookup to figure this out.

Want help deciding on the right website builder or platform right now? Take my free Perfect Match Website Quiz to help you narrow it down!

4. Decide on website hosting.

Your website host is where your site will “live” on the Internet in terms of data storage. Size, functionality, and cost should all play a key role in determining where you will host your website.

Depending on the platform you use for your site, website hosting may come built-in, such as with Showit websites, Shopify, Wix or Squarespace sites. Or you may have to search for hosting from another provider if you are using a website platform like WordPress.

Some popular hosting sites for WordPress:

Keep in mind that if you work with a web designer, developer, or agency, they will often help you make hosting decisions by determining what option best suits your individual needs.

 4. Explore your website design options

The design of your website (or website layout) is going to be determined by a few different factors:

  • who is designing your website
  • what you need your website to do
  • what your overall budget is for your website
  • what platform your website is being designed/built on

Who should design your website?

When it comes to figuring out who should design your website, there are really three main options:

  • large marketing firm or design agency
  • local or online freelance web designer
  • do it yourself website templates

If you can’t afford to hire a large marketing firm or design agency, try researching local freelance web designers that will offer services at a more affordable rate or searching on websites like Upwork.

The third option, online DIY website platform services (e.g. Showit, WordPress, Squarespace), will give you the freedom to take your website’s creation fully into your own hands if you have a little bit of computer savvy. Just be prepared to educate yourself on whichever platform you choose. Even if you choose to DIY your website design, you can usually benefit from the expertise of a professional designer to help you fine-tune some of the more technical aspects. A professional perspective can also help you ensure your website is targeted toward your business goals and consistent with your brand.

Interested to go the DIY route? I’ve got some gorgeous Showit website templates with your name on them that will cut your website launch time in half. Or you might want to check out my DIY Website Workbook to get my best tips, resources, and worksheets to help plan and build your website to get it launched.

Apart from deciding what functionality and elements you want to include on your website (e.g. image sliders, blog feeds, pricing), you will also need to have a firm grasp on the visual aspects of your brand and business. Failure to do so runs the risk of not distinguishing yourself from your competitors and not standing out in the market. Starting with a unique brand identity, will set you apart visually and guide messaging-related decisions. If you are interested in learning more about brand identity development, check out these 5 smart tips for branding your startup business.

5. Write your website’s content

Copywriting and brand messaging is one of the most overlooked aspects of the web development process. In order to truly resonate with your audience, it’s crucial to give due diligence to the content on your site. A common mistake I see on websites is when copy, aka the text of the website, is centered around the products/services and spoken from a perspective of “We do…, “We offer…,” or “Our product does…”

This is the online brochure, or car salesman, approach and while there are appropriate places to list facts, figures, features, and benefits, this is typically not a successful way to hook your visitor.

Many human decisions are largely influenced by emotional triggers. Why not appeal to what’s really driving the force behind your prospects’ decision-making process? Avoid using generic “boilerplate” copy. Instead, tell a story with your messaging. To get your brainstorming started, ask yourself these questions:

  • How are others’ lives made better by what you’re offering?
  • What insights do you know about your audience that you can relate to?
  • What is the “Why?” behind your business?
  • What is unique about what you do?

Copywriting inspiration (my favorite website copywriters)

After you’ve had a chance to do a little introspection on your brand, it might also help to gather a little inspiration from other professionals who have a little copywriting savvy. Here are some of my all-time favorite copywriters who will point you in the right direction:

Now that you’ve gotten some fresh inspiration, it’s time to write your website copy. Each page of your website will require a slightly different approach, but it can be easiest to start with your homepage first.

Content you can include on your homepage (and website)

  • Who you are
  • Your mission or I help statement
  • An image of yourself, products, or your team
  • A sampling of your services/products
  • Testimonials
  • A call-to-action (what you want your visitor to do next)

If you’re using a website template to help you create your website, you can also use the template’s existing layout to help you gauge what kind of content and how much content to write, but don’t be afraid to break out of the box. You may want to add more content than the placeholders show in your template, and that’s OK! Just be sure you are crystal clear on the limitations and capabilities of your website template. Once you’ve got your homepage copy in a good spot, you can move on to the rest of the site pages that you outlined in your site map and keep going until you have a full draft of each site page.

Need a website template that is super flexible and allows you to easily rearrange your website layout to match your content perfectly? Check out my Showit website templates.

6. Launch your website

After you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s it’s time to see your website come together and get it launched! Layout your website’s content inside of your website builder. Then make sure to proofread all of your site pages, and test all of your links, forms, and interactive elements to be sure they function properly.

This will also be the stage of the website design process you will want to consider SEO aspects of your website such as meta descriptions, page titles, and alt text.

Once you are ready to launch, you can connect your custom domain to your website to make it official. This process varies depending on your host, but it is usually just a matter of copying and pasting a few records given to you by your website host, inside of your DNS settings panel from the place where you purchased your domain.

7. Measure & optimize your website’s performance

Measuring your website performance against the goals you established, in the beginning, should be an ongoing part of maintaining your website. Today, this is made very easy to do with analytics tools offered from sites like Google Analytics, Hotjar, or HubSpot. If you aren’t stacking up against your goals then you may need to reevaluate your marketing strategy or consider A/B testing for different aspects of your website to optimize your pages.

Converting your website visitors

One of the most popular metrics website owners likes to keep track of is conversions because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many followers or downloads you have if it doesn’t equate to sales. #AmIRight?

Website conversion rates can vary by industry, but you can start with a goal somewhere between 2-5% as a baseline. Using Google Analytics will actually tell you what your website conversion rate is based on goals you can set up. The conversion rate is calculated using the equation below:

(conversions (goals) / # of website sessions = % conversion rate)

Create an excel spreadsheet to record your monthly website performance on the metrics that are important to you. This will help you see the bigger picture of how your efforts are working (or not working). You may see that you aren’t ranking for the keywords you’ve targeted or that your blog subscriptions have gone down. Adjust and focus your efforts where they require the most attention and repeat the processes that return results.

Want to know more about how to design a website or get a custom website design of your own? K Design Co. can help get you started or check out my DIY Website Planning Workbook to walk you through A-Z of creating your website to get it launched faster.

This post was originally written on June 2, 2014 and recently updated with more helpful and timely information. Cheers!

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