As a web designer, there’s nothing like designing your own website to get you thinking about the design process. Going through the different phases from start to finish helped me clarify what works. And it deepened my belief that this process is the way to go. I hope by discussing it, you’ll be able to tackle your website design with confidence, and have a clear and straightforward path to success.
Lesson One: Clarifying your brand and business goals at the very beginning gets a better result
So often people don’t put much thought into why they want a website in the first place. Pretty much every business has a website. It’s just one of the boxes on the ‘starting a business’ checklist that you have to tick off. Everyone needs a website right?
While I agree that nearly all businesses can benefit from a one, different businesses use theirs in different ways. And how should you use your website? To meet your wider business goals.
If you know your business goals, you can make sure your website helps you meet them. If your main goal is to sell more products, here’s what your website could help you with:
- You could have an e-commerce shop where people can buy your product directly through your website.
- Have a newsletter sign up box so you can send out details of new products to interested customers.
- Display positive reviews proudly throughout your website to gain your customers’ trust.
- Have a variety of payment methods to make it easy for customers to buy your products.
If your goal is to get people to sign up for your new online course, you website could solve a different set of problems:
- You could host your videos with logins for your students to watch them.
- Tell your potential customers all about it on a compelling sales page.
- Have testimonials from people who loved it last year sprinkled throughout your web pages.
- Have a blog where you write relevant blog posts for the kind of people who would benefit from your course.
See how that works? Once you’re clear of your goals, you can use them to set the focus and direction of your website. For me, one of my business goals was to streamline my client onboarding process. So I knew I needed the new website to filter out potential clients who aren’t the right fit for my business. I did this by having clear pricing on my services page, having FAQs to answer common questions, and including a detailed design process so clients know what to expect.
Lesson Two: Having a clear idea about your business branding helps make sure your website reflects your business identity
If you’re not completely sure about your brand and its identity, put some time and effort into defining it. Before I started my redesign, I made a set of brand guidelines which I used to influence my decisions. The guidelines include the foundations of my business such as the mission statement and core values. It has a set of ten words that describe my brand. I compare everything I produce to my brand keywords to make sure it reflects my branding. The guidelines also outline things like my primary and secondary logo, brand colours and typography. All useful to help you throughout the web design process.
It’s easy to make design decisions based on what you feel like on the day, or what the current trends are. But these will change in a year, or a month, or a week. It’s much more beneficial to make sure your website is in keeping with the style and message you want to put across to your customers. And ensure your website is recognisable to people who know and love your brand.
Lesson Three: Having client personas helps you appeal to your ideal customer
I created a client persona to represent my typical client. It describes a specific person. I’ve given them a name, age and gender, written a description, and chosen a photo so I can visualise them. This really helped me to make decisions about the design as I didn’t have to go back and forth on what I like the most. Instead I can think, ‘Would Sophie like this? Is it going to benefit her and her business?’
When I wrote my website body copy, I made sure it’s something that would appeal to this person. I made sure it helps them solve their problems and answers their questions. When writing blog posts, I write as if I was talking directly to them. I can imagine I’m having a conversation with them.
Lesson Four: Planning the overall structure of the pages before you start writing them saves time
When I started my website redesign, I sat down and had a think about what pages I wanted to include. I had a rough idea, but writing it down helped me clarify what I wanted to include. I used this list to create a sitemap of my website pages, so I could see the whole picture.
Once you’ve written a list of pages, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there anything I’ve missed?
- Do my competitors have any pages that I don’t have, that might be useful to my clients/customers?
- Can I combine any of the pages that have similar information?
- How can I simplify this?
- What page names best suit my brand voice? Should it be ‘about’, ‘about me’, ‘about us’, ‘my story’ or ‘our story’?
By answering these questions, I structured all the information I wanted my clients to have in a clear and coherent way. It was a lot easier to decide on the pages at this stage, rather than having to add, delete, combine and edit pages once I’d written the content. And design-wise, I knew what was going to be in my navigation bar, whether I needed secondary navigation and what links would go in the footer.
Lesson Five: Writing the content before you design the website means you can design it to emphasise what you want to say
I really had to rein myself back from rushing into the design. I had a beautiful set of brand guidelines which I was excited about and I wanted to use my creativity to create something that looked attractive to my clients.
But writing the content helped me to clarify my vision for the website and prioritise what information should be on each page. It helped me to create a website that delivered my message to my ideal clients. And it made the design emphasise the things I wanted to say.
Lesson Six: Your own photos are better than stock photos
Stock photos are getting better. There are now lots of places that you can buy photos that are high-quality and a lot less cheesy than they used to be. But the nature of stock photography is that it’s not personalised to your business.
Using my own photographs throughout the website gave me complete confidence that they were unique and wouldn’t be used by anyone else’s brand. And I love the personal items I included, like the notepad I have on my desk and the corsage that my husband wore at our wedding. These personal touches help your brand to feel like your own.
Lesson Seven: The website doesn’t need to be completely finished to make it live.
If I’d waited until every single thing was perfect, my website might never have gone live. I made sure I’d finished all my pages, but launched the website with only two case studies in my portfolio. I put the ones that I was most proud of on there first, knowing that I could add some more at a later date.
I left off some features such as comments and search. These weren’t paramount for launch, and needed some more design work. And even though I knew the blog would be super important, I didn’t add any blog posts for the initial launch. I put friendly note saying to ‘check back soon for new posts’ and added my first one when I’d set up my editorial calendar. These little changes and emissions meant I could start getting the word out there about my business earlier.
Lesson Eight: Enjoy the process and don’t rush it
As keen as I was to get my website live and show it to the world, I made sure I had laid firm foundations first. That took a lot of patience at the beginning of the process but made the rest of the process much smoother. At every stage I wanted to rush forward to the next phase. But doing everything in order saved time and made the end result so much more coherent. And it meant I wasn’t stuck in a cycle of never-ending changes. Each stage has its merits, and deepens your knowledge of your business and what you want to achieve.