Definitive guide on how to design a website
A comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to design a website that converts.
2 February 2021 · 12 min read
With all the tools and tutorials available today, anyone can design a website. The real challenge is designing a website that converts. That is, after all, the primary purpose of setting up a website for your business.
When it comes to web design, it’s easy to get hung up on how the website looks. However, a well-designed website delivers much more than just stunning aesthetics. Instead, it’s about implementing a website design process in which every element works towards a defined goal.
With that in mind, this article will walk you through a comprehensive step-by-step guide for how to design a website that converts. Let’s dive in.
What does “designing a website” mean to you?
Before we go any further, you should know that there are marked differences between “designing” a website and “developing” one. The two terms are often interchanged for one another — a mistake we’ve come across one too many times.
Anyway, the point is you need to be sure that when you say you want to design a website, you don’t mean you want to develop a website. They mean completely different things.
If you’re not sure about the distinctions, here’s a quick primer:
Designing a website is about transforming the brand’s idea or story into an attention-grabbing and user-engaging design. Your primary focus here is user experience (UX)— designing the website’s look and feel from a user standpoint.
On the other hand, website development is about actualizing the web designer’s concept. A web developer builds the framework that brings both design and functionality together. The web designer then uses this internal framework to implement their vision.
In this way, the web designer is like the architect of a building project. They draw up plans, create flow diagrams, and oversee the creation process. Conversely, the web developer is like the construction worker, working to bring life to the designer’s creative vision.
Who to call
Are you looking to design a new homepage layout? Call a web designer. Want to create a new contact form that captures visitor emails for your new blog section? Call a web developer.
Want to edit a photo or text placement on the website? That’s web design. Want to fix server issues or set up hosting for your website? That’s web development.
Most important website design considerations
1. Optimize user experience
Knowing your customers is always the first step in anything related to business. Understanding their needs, preferences, and buying behavior are the keys to a successful website design. You must tailor your business website based on your customers.
However, the phrase “knowing your customers” sounds too broad. That’s why you need to delve further and explore the demographics of your customers. You can start with the identification of customer segments. Divide your customers according to their personal preferences and group those that share the same characteristics.
Then, use these customer segments to determine the overall design of the website. Again, you need to match the website’s design with your customers’ preferences. Putting these in mind can help you gain focus on what visual elements to include in the website.
2. Optimize user experience
Optimizing user experience means carefully considering your website’s look and functionality. Here are some tips on how to go about it:
- Layout your website correctly — A good layout creates flow and harmony in your website. It also directs customers where to look and what to click. Additionally, it must be simple and interactive so that visitors can easily navigate to your website without feeling lost or confused regardless of their proficiency in browsing.
- Avoid clutter. A cluttered website is one with way too many flashy and gaudy elements begging for the user’s attention — think flashing red boxes, animated texts, and even large texts. When designing for user experience, less is often better. Clever use of negative space (white space) lets the content on the screen breathe and be noticeable. Also, it’s less confusing to the user.
- Use appropriate language — Sometimes, your customers might not understand terms that are common to you. In UX design, it’s important to utilize words that are understandable to everyone, even to a six-year-old. For example, some Americans may not understand the word “faucet.” Instead, you can use “tap” because it’s more understandable to everyone.
- Responsive design — By 2025, an estimated 72% of the world population will be accessing the internet on their mobile devices. Regardless of the device used, your website design must be able to adapt accordingly.
- Keep your color scheme simple — In UX design, you should often aim for fewer colors. This is not to say you should go for drab, dull tones, but the aim should be to create harmony with your color scheme. Sharp color contrasts can also work, especially where you’re trying to highlight specific areas on your website, but be careful as using too many colors will make your website flashy and distracting.
Any successful web design is big on accessibility. This just means it should be easy for people to reach you through your website. For instance, if your contact or order form on your online store is too hard for them to fill up, they might discontinue the purchase.
That’s why leaving phone numbers, email addresses and using live chat support can be a great advantage. Providing how-to-order guides is also a plus because it’ll guide customers in placing an order.
Aside from contact information, you can use call-to-action (CTA) to generate new leads. A call-to-action paragraph can encourage readers to try your product. By letting them interact with your product or service, there’s a big chance that they’ll become new customers in no time.
4. Design to impress
Your business website should have that “wow factor.” Ideally, you want to design the website so that when people land on it, they can see the quality of the design shining through. This is not just for bragging rights, it’s crucial to conversions too.
Did you know that over 50% of internet users say they won’t recommend a business with a shoddy web design? Furthermore, over 90% of negative website reviews revolve around the website design. Your website must contain appealing visual elements and interactive features that’ll give a good first impression of your products and services.
Just remember, even if you’re designing your own website, it’s still not about you or what you want. It’s always about what the user needs.
6 simple steps to designing your very own website
At this point, we assume you’ve already got your custom domain name and the website hosting all set up.
If not, well, the domain name is simply the name of your website. Depending on your line of business and personal preference, the domain extension could be .com. .org, .net, and so on. The important thing here is to choose a domain name that is catchy, unique, descriptive of your business, and easy to remember.
Check out our best tips for choosing a domain name that meets all these qualities.
On the other hand, web hosting is where your website is domiciled on the internet. Without hosting services, other people on the web will be unable to see or interact with your website. Obviously, we don’t want that to happen. Else why design the website in the first place, right?
If this is your first time designing a website, you might need to hire a freelance web developer to do the domain name registration and set up the web hosting. Both are pretty straightforward processes, but it’s okay to not want to mess things up and simply let a professional get it done.
In any case, once those two aspects are sorted out, the rest of the web design process can be summed up in these six simple steps:
1. Set your goal
Be crystal-clear about what you want to achieve with your new website. Remember you’re designing the website to capture the user journey and identify the simplest approach to get them to take a desired action. Defining your overall goal for the website will go a long way in determining how you design it.
Are you looking to set up an e-commerce website to sell your products? Perhaps a landing page to promote your latest marketing campaign? Or a simple blogging site to share your knowledge and establish your credibility? Whatever it is, you should design the website to meet that main goal and make sure all important elements in the design process serve that overarching purpose.
The key is to understand your users well enough so you can customize the experience you deliver with your website and serve their needs better.
Your website visitors — as well as search engine crawlers — want to understand what your business is all about within seconds. If you start your design with multiple main objectives, then you’re likely to get confused down the line and get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of design choices available.
2. Research the latest website design trends
Web design tends to evolve quickly, and it’s important to keep up with the trends lest your website be deemed outdated. However, you should note that just because a particular web design is trending, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to look around and get some inspiration from websites that have gotten it right with their UX design.
Fit in or disrupt?
Each industry has different styles when it comes to designing a website. For instance, e-commerce websites, such as Amazon, generally feature their product categories on their homepage. This is so that immediately a visitor lands on the website, they immediately know what it is about. This is the general layout for online stores in the e-commerce space.
Now it’s up to you to decide if you want to design your website to fit in with the prevalent design trends in its industry or disrupt it entirely to create a new, unique experience for visitors landing on your web page.
Related: Check out our guide on website design trends you should try in 2020.
3. Create the sitemap and layout
A well-designed website begins with a sitemap. It gives you a clear idea of how to design the website’s information architecture and bring together the important elements on the web pages into a cohesive, visually-appealing format.
Remember when we said the web designer is like an architect; well, the sitemap is your blueprint. You can try to design your website without one, but it will probably not end well and result in you wasting so much precious time.
To create your sitemap, start by listing all the different pages you want to include on the website. The standard format goes something like this:
- About page
- Services page
- Contact page
You can then add more pages as you see fit. For instance, if you’re looking to establish your business as an authority in its niche, then you could include a blog page, an FAQ section, a Testimonials page, and so on.
For an e-commerce website, the sitemap structure usually follows this format:
- Product pages
- About page
- Shipping and Delivery info page
- FAQ page
- Order tracking page
After identifying the pages to include in your site, the next step is to map the layout. Where will these pages be on the website? On the header navigation or footer navigation? Somewhere else?
The layout will also dictate where other important elements should go. For example, it is common practice to place the business logo at the top of the page, usually in the top left corner. By mapping out the website layout, you have an idea of how the site will ultimately look. Plus, it can help you identify any potential gaps or issues with the sitemap.
How to nail your website layout
The secret is to express your creativity without straying from a proven structure. Start by thinking through the user journey. You want your website visitors to be able to find whatever information they need quickly and in as few clicks as possible.
Think about your own experiences when you visit a website or a landing page. If you don’t find what you’re looking for after a few seconds of scrolling, you’ll likely exit the page and try elsewhere. One great way to go about this is to create a hierarchy that highlights the most important elements and places them where they are most easy to spot.
Another key aspect of a good website layout is navigation. The goal here is seamless usability. It won’t matter how captivating your website is if visitors cannot easily find their way around it. There are three main characteristics of good website navigation:
Simple language, clear and concise messaging, and consistency across all web pages make for a solid navigation structure.
Remember also to utilize intuitive design. Yes, it never hurts to try out fresh ideas, but your website design should follow established guidelines at its most basic level. For instance, the navigation options should always be at the top of the page. Additionally, other helpful links ( such as social media links) that can’t fit in the navigation should be included in the website’s footer section.
Lastly, set up the website layout based on natural eye-scanning patterns. Research by the Nielsen Norman Group showed that online users don’t read content word-for-word, they simply scan through the page.
4. Select your preferred content management system/website builder
There are so many to choose from — WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, Duda, GoDaddy — take your pick. Of course, take the time first to understand what each platform brings to the table and whether it brings you closer to your end goal.
Website builders can take the hassles out of designing a website, especially if you’re not familiar with HTML and CSS coding. Most of them come with easy to use templates and drag-and-drop functionality, so the only real work you’ll be doing is the customization.
Seeing as WordPress is the most popular option available today, let’s look at how to set it up for your website design.
Quick note: WordPress is a content management system, not a website builder. However, it provides a website building platform that works just as well or even better than popular website builders.
Read through our guide on how to choose the best website builder in 2020.
When designing a WordPress website, it’s a simple matter of picking out a template and transferring your sitemap and website layout onto it. There are loads of WordPress themes available, many of which are free to use.
Even if you wanted to design an online store, there are several plugins available that work with WordPress to transform it into a fully functional e-commerce website. Though, you’re probably better off using a dedicated e-commerce platform builder like Shopify. Wix, or BigCommerce.
5. Choose your preferred template and get it set up
The theme or template is like the skeletal layout of the site. You can customize it based on your original sitemap and layout structure from step 3 above. These templates are usually divided based on their respective industries, so it’s easy to just sift through them until you find the one that best captures how you envision your website.
Some templates come with pre-built pages — homepage, about page, and contact page are already set up, so you just need to add new pages as needed. It all comes down to your customization skills.
How to choose the right template
- Keep it simple — Some templates come with dozens of unnecessary stuff — complex layouts, flashy animations, fancy widgets, etc. At first glance, these features seem impressive, but in reality, they can be quite distracting and can slow your site’s load speed. Focus on simple features and functions first. You can always add the snazzy stuff later.
- Check out your competitors’ web design — Not necessarily to copy their web template, but to see what they’re doing right. At the very least, it can help narrow your options.
- Pay attention to font styles and highlight colors— Customization is always a possibility; if you find a template with the perfect layout but the font style seems off, or some of the colors appear dull and dreary, you could always go with it and edit those later. Still, that process can be time-consuming and it might be better to go for the one with spot-on fonts and colors.
- Check it out on mobile — For obvious reasons, you’ll want your template to look good both on desktop and mobile views.
Customizing your chosen template
This stage is all about your branding choices. The design of your business website is directly linked to your brand. This means you’re not just customizing for attractiveness but also authenticity and engagement,
Everything from the color scheme to the type of content used and the imagery must all come together to tell your brand story cohesively. Let’s take a closer look at these elements:
Color can express emotions and communicate your brand values in a way that mere words simply can’t. The key to color choices is understanding the psychology behind how people perceive different colors. For instance, people often associate the color blue with trust, yellow with optimism, green with growth, purple with creativity, and so on.
There are two main rules behind compelling web content:
- It must be easy to understand
- It must be broken into bite-sized paragraphs
The content is the vehicle that moves conversions on your website. Stick to simple wordings and never paste large blocks of text on a web page without anything to break them up. If chunky paragraphs are a turn off on desktop view, imagine how irritating and dreary they can be on mobile view.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Not actually a design element, but a worthy inclusion on this list, nonetheless. SEO is all about making your website searchable and visible on the internet through optimized content and other best practices. You’d be surprised how much traffic a great article can drive to your website.
There are specific tweaks you can make to your website to optimize for SEO. For instance, you could install the Yoast SEO plugin to analyze your site and recommend any necessary changes for better SEO performance.
This is where you direct users to other pages on your website. It’s generally part of the UX process. For instance, the CTA on your homepage could read something like “fill out our contact form….” the words “contact form” would then be linked to the contact page, so when the user clicks it, they are directed to the contact form on that page.
Imagery and animations
Visual content generates more engagement and clicks than ordinary text. If you don’t have high-quality images and gif animations, you can always use stock photos. Just make sure they are not too heavy in terms of file size to not impact the website speed.
Check out our guide on How and where to find high-quality stock images in 2020.
It’s better to have too much space between elements on your website than to have things crammed together and look clunky.
This is typically more of a web developer thing, but you still need to work out the design of how visitors interact with your website — clicking, scrolling, typing, etc. The best user-interaction designs are simple and allow the user to feel like they are in complete control.
In addition to being mobile responsive, your website must also look good and function properly on all browsers. And yes, including the infamous Internet Explorer. Thankfully, there are numerous free cross-browser testing tools available to simplify the process.
6. Add finishing touches and launch
Take a step back and check out your newly designed website. Were you able to capture your original sitemap and layout, or are there gaps? Go over everything you’ve put in to the site so far and make any adjustments as needed.
After that, you still need to add a few finishing touches before you’re ready to take the website live. These include:
- Optimizing for speed — Aim for around three seconds (or less) loading time for the website. Site speed is a huge ranking factor for SEO, plus no one likes a slow website. If you need to hire professional help, do so — it’s that important.
- Connecting Google Analytics — Tracking your website data is paramount. How else will you know if your website is performing as it should?
- Install any necessary plugins and widgets — Whether it’s for website security or chat support, your small business website will always need a couple of plugins and widgets to help it run as expected.
Do a thorough check once more and get feedback from your social circle. They may be able to spot things that you may have overlooked. As a rule of thumb, you should have a checklist that you can mark off one by one before launching your website. Here are some of the most important stuff to check off:
- All the content is easy to read
- The navigation is not cluttered
- The web design is clean with enough spacing between elements
- All the links work as they should
- The site loading speed is optimized
- The website looks great on all browsers and devices
After this check, the only thing left is to publish the website. There you have it! You’ve successfully designed your website and are ready to make your mark on the web.
The bottom line
Designing a website is a fantastic learning process. But if we’re being honest (we are), the chances of a total beginner successfully designing and launching a website are slim. Even if you did, it would probably take you a couple of weeks at best to get it all done.
If you’re interested to learn more, this guide will help small business owners like yourself develop a website that successfully converts visitors to customers.
There’s just way too much stuff going on when it comes to web design that hiring professional help is the best way to go.
At B12, we are redefining how websites get designed. Thanks to our AI website builder, you can get a draft of your new website within the next five minutes. The rest of the web design process will take about a week or two, and it’s ready to launch.
We also provide all the necessary stuff you need to announce your online presence and begin building a customer base. SEO, copywriting, blogging, social media feeds, dedicated support, monthly performance reports — we got you covered.
Sound nice? Check out our featured customers list to see samples of what an AI-built website with professional designs looks like.
Get started with B12 today.