Planning a new website for your business can be a daunting and intimidating process, especially if you don’t know much about how the internet works. Web design is complex, constantly-changing, full of techie jargon and baffling to anyone who’s not familiar with it. Even those who are get quite confused.
You’re faced with a ton of options regarding website development platforms (Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Shopify, WordPress, themes, templates, plugins, what?) and the question of whether to find a designer or bravely go the DIY route (I salute you!). Not to mention sorting out your hosting and domain name. Then there’s the tricky issue of finding a designer who you trust with your beloved brand.
But, as with all challenges we must face in life, the best way forward is to start somewhere, and I think a good place for you to begin is by reading this guide to help gain some clarity and direction.
1. What is the purpose of your website?
Before you approach a designer or spend hours searching online for the perfect look and feel for your website, take a moment to really think about why you want a website and what you want it to achieve. Write those goals down.
Goals can be things like building brand awareness, increasing leads, building your email list, selling a physical or digital product, informing people about what you do, building a community, blogging, the list goes on…
During this process, it’s also important to start thinking about what you want people to do on your website. For example, sign-up to your mailing list, buy a product, fill in your contact form etc. Write those down too.
Once you’ve found a web designer you want to work with, you can then both go through these goals, with your designer using them to shape the flow of the website design.
Alternatively, if you’re going the DIY route, you can then use these goals to find a suitable theme or template design for your site that meets your goal requirements.
2. Define and understand your target customer
As with all marketing channels, knowing your target customers is essential to being able to communicate with them and attract them to your brand or product.
Depending on your business, you could have many target customers or just one. Spend time defining who exactly they are, including all the little details you can think of. I’ve found that a practical way to do this is to create 3 – 4 customer personas.
Name your customer persona, list their gender, age, job title, demographic, interests, hobbies, marital status. Get creative and have fun establishing who they are and what they’re passionate about. Get inside their head. Think about what problems they may have and how your business can solve them.
Your audience may change over time as your business evolves, and it’s important to be open to that process. So be sure to keep coming back and adjusting your ideal customer personas as your business matures.
The images, copy, layout and experience of your website (and brand) need to appeal to and resonate with your target audiences. So make sure your designer is also aware of who your customers are (every good designer should discuss this with you anyway).
3. To DIY or not?
If you’re on a tight budget, the thought of spending thousands on a website design is probably sickening considering all the seemingly-easy and cheap DIY options out there.
But be warned – designing your own website is not for the faint-hearted. It takes blood, sweat and tears. If you are thrilled by a challenge, love learning, like solving problems, have a lot of time to spend on it and don’t give up easily when stuck or frustrated, then design your own site. It is both empowering and difficult.
I do recommend designing your DIY website with WordPress. There are hundreds of amazing themes out there and excellent resources to help you, including YouTube videos plus free and paid online courses showing you step-by-step how to set up WordPress. Be prepared to learn a lot.
With a WordPress website, you will need to register your own domain name and organise your own web hosting. The benefits of this is that you then own all your site files and maintain complete control. With platforms such as Wix, Weebly and Squarespace, you don’t control your website files, meaning if something were to happen to those companies in the future, you would probably lose your website and all content.
4. Find a strategic web designer
A designer who will help you effectively communicate your brand online.
Web design is not about creating a pretty design. Yes, websites need to look great and function smoothly, but more importantly, they need to effectively market your business or product to your target audience.
A good web designer understands this and will expertly guide you through the process (if you need guidance). With the right web designer you won’t have to worry about any of the things I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
Spend time researching designers. Find websites that you like and then research who the designer is. Stalk potential designers on social media and look carefully at their previous work, plus their own websites. Phone, meet or Skype call them to see if you’d work well together and also to establish whether they are asking you the right questions.
They should be asking you all the things I’ve discussed in this post. They should explain things clearly in a way you understand – no jargon. And they should be listening, really listening to you, and not butting in with how great they are. Listen to your gut. Choosing the wrong designer can be a very costly and time-wasting mistake.
I hope this post has set you on the path of taking action, leading you to start thinking about your website as a strategic marketing tool. Yes, the web design planning process can seem intimidating and complicated at the beginning, but with the right expert guidance the final result will be a beautiful, on-brand website that grows your business.