Is it taking longer than you thought?

Are you redoing sections over and over?

Have you heard of SEO but don’t know what it means?

Are you confused by the number of layouts available?

Don’t worry! I’ve got you covered.

It may surprise you to learn that the key to a great website (and a smoother building process) is planning it out in advance!

So to help you to stop struggling AND create a much more effective website, I’m sharing with you the steps I take BEFORE I even start building a website, including:

Let’s get started!

Does this sound like you? You decided your small business needs a website, so you signed up for Squarespace or Wix thinking that would make it easy. You picked a template that you liked, started plugging information into the spaces, and THEN- you got stuck… or questioned what to put where… or got completely lost…

Now what?

As a website designer and long-time marketing professional, people often come to me for help when they become frustrated with building their own website. Almost always, I find they forgot some critical steps in the design process.

These tasks involve planning and ultimately make building a website dramatically easier. They make your website more effective and should be done BEFORE you start actually building the website.

You might think, “this sounds like it will add a lot of time, and I don’t want to start all over again!”, but for the higher quality website you get at the end, I think it’s worth it.

The following checklist is my website planning process. I built the list in this order because I found it makes logistical sense for some steps to come first. Now, download the simple guide, and let’s dive in!

Steps to Planning a Website

1. Conduct keyword research to establish search engine optimization (SEO)

When you discover what words people use to search for products and services like yours, you can use them effectively to drive visitors to your site. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but it’s critical if you’re expecting to get customers through your website. How you use these words in your website is important. We’ll cover that a little more later. Compass Digital Strategies has some free instructions on keyword research.

2. Develop your brand message

When people arrive at your website, they’ll immediately want to know they’ve found what they’re looking for, or they’ll hit the back button. By clarifying exactly who your ideal customers are and why they’re looking for your products or services, you can speak their language. It will help you to keep them on your website and ultimately take the steps you want them to. I love how Donald Miller recommends making your customer the hero in his book Building a Storybrand.

3. Check out your competitors’ websites

Why should you check out what your competitors are doing? Well, it’s helpful to know how other people market similar products. Look at their website like a customer and you may even find content their website is missing. You can also determine what your business does better than your competition and include it in your brand message.

4. Choose a great domain

You thought this would have been the first step, didn’t you? But it can benefit your search engine optimization and customer experience if you know what words your visitors are using to find your website and put them in your domain. You may even find inspiration while creating your brand strategy.

5. Establish the goals of your website

Your website design should flow and direct consumers to the pages, products, and services you want them to experience. So, it’s important to decide what you want potential customers to get from your site. If you have multiple goals, it is important to keep them concise and avoid confusing visitors. Having a priority list for your website helps to avoid overlap.

6. Determine the pages you need

Review your keyword worksheet, and determine one key phrase for each page. You may find that you need specific pages based on your worksheet. It can be helpful for SEO to put each type of service you offer on its own page, and I highly recommend it if you have enough information for each one.

Google favors websites that are easy to understand, and it likes to see traditional pages like About and Contact. I recommend keeping those page titles just as they are and making the others short and simple. People will quickly scan the menu, and you want it as easy to understand and navigate as possible.

7. Choose specific functionality based on your goals

Think through the actions you want visitors to take so that you can do it right the first time. For example, if your main goal is for someone to make a consultation appointment on your calendar, you’ll want to have a good scheduling system in place. If your goal is for someone to purchase a product, your website should direct people to the shopping cart. Knowing what each page’s function is helps you design the website’s flow.

A tip: I find it rare for people to sign up for a mailing list on a website unless there’s an incentive. Giving away a free product in exchange for being added to a mailing list requires that you develop this giveaway, and have an email marketing system in place.

8. Develop the flow of your website

There are several books on this subject, but, as I said earlier, I’m a fan of Donald Miller’s Building a Storybrand. This process goes through connecting with the customer and empathizing with their needs. They’ll want to know why you’re the best one to help them. End with a compelling and easy to find call-to-action.

9. Plan out exactly what information and functionality goes on each page

Create some documents (Google docs are great for teams) with the layout of each page where you can insert text and image names. Sometimes I go totally old school and draw these by hand, but digital documents are easier for revising and rearranging.

10. Choose imagery and photography for each page

Often real photos of your business are better than stock photography, keeping your website unique and more friendly. It may be time to hire a photographer for a brand session before you go any further. If you’re using stock photography, you can create a folder with all of your ideas from a stock photography website. I like to download the watermarked versions and try them out before buying the real thing. Try to pick photos that have the same feel so that your website will look cohesive and professional.

In summary

Building an effective website can be a lot of work! However, in my experience, the planning can take more time and thought than actually building the website. After you’ve done all the research and layout drafts, building it should be just plugging in the pieces and finding the right software. I hope this helps not only ease your website development, but to establish a powerful foundation for your marketing efforts.

If you get stuck in this process or any other aspect of your website, reach out to us for full-service website design and development or consulting.