How to design a website — 12 easy steps
To compete in today’s market, an informative, easy-to-use, and visually appealing website is essential for any business. However, paying someone to design a website can be expensive, and doing it yourself may seem daunting if you don’t have a technical background in coding, SEO, or design. But learning how to design a website could be easier than you think.
This article provides a comprehensive, 12-step guide to designing and publishing a website for a variety of business types. You’ll learn what should be considered to create an engaging website that attracts customers and boosts sales.
How to design a website in 12 steps
The process of designing your own website starts with setting clear goals and choosing the right tools. From there, you’ll create and optimize your website. Once it’s published, you’ll use data to continually improve and maintain it as you engage with customers.
This process can be easily broken down into these 12 steps:
- Establish the scope and goals of your website
- Choose your platform
- Claim your domain
- Decide on your branding
- Map out your site
- Create your content
- Optimize for mobile
- Make your site accessible
- Focus on search engine optimization (SEO)
- Test and publish your website
- Analyze, scale, and maintain
- Engage with visitors
1. Establish the scope and goals of your website
Before you start creating your website, it’s important to determine what you want it to accomplish. Knowing what your goals are and what success looks like will help ensure that your website delivers exactly what you need. Remember that different goals and scopes require different design choices, and a clear purpose statement will help guide your decisions.
Here are three questions to consider:
- What is the purpose of the website? Different types of websites serve different needs. For example, selling products differs from selling services, and displaying your creative work for potential employers differs from both of those. Alternatively, you may want to share information about an event, such as a wedding, or write about your ideas for an audience.
- What should the website achieve? To use some of the same examples from the previous point, if you’re building an ecommerce website, it should attract and foster sales. If you’re selling services online, your goal might be for customers to schedule an appointment or request more information. A portfolio website would be a good choice to showcase your best work.
- What design elements will serve your purpose and goals? Your goals should guide your design choices. If the purpose of your website is to sell products, you’ll probably need a shopping cart and a secure checkout process. Selling services might involve a contact form or a calendar where people can easily schedule appointments. If you’re showcasing a portfolio, you can skip those elements and lean more toward a visual design that highlights your work.
2. Choose your platform
There are two primary routes for building a website — create it from scratch or use a website-building platform.
Create it from scratch
The advantage of designing a website from scratch is that you can have complete creative control over the look and feel. You’ll get a website that’s 100% unique and incorporates creative branding elements into the design. The downside, however, is that you’ll need to learn HTML and CSS coding — or pay a hefty price to hire a website designer.
Use a website-building platform
Using a website-building platform allows you to create a website yourself without any knowledge of coding. You can choose from a gallery of templates designed specifically for different purposes. Most building platforms also help you register domain names. You won’t have quite the flexibility compared to building a site from scratch, but you’ll save money and benefit from the research that has gone into designing the available templates.
There are dozens of services that can help you design a website. Here are the pros and cons of some of the leading platforms:
- WordPress. WordPress is one of the most popular platforms for designing a website because of its flexibility in allowing you to customize your website. It’s easy to use if you stick to the basic elements, but if you want to take advantage of all the options available, you’ll need to know how to code or hire a developer.
- Wix. Wix is known for being intuitive and easy to use with a drag-and-drop interface. It offers an extensive library of templates, along with a built-in SEO feature and helpful support options. However, many features are available only with more expensive plans, and you can’t switch templates once your site is live.
- Squarespace. A favorite among people in creative fields, Squarespace is known for its high-quality, award-winning templates. The editor is a cross between a drag-and-drop and a point-and-click editor, so it may take some time to learn. Squarespace also offers a limited number of price plans.
- Adobe Creative Cloud. Creative Cloud provides a free website builder, Adobe Express, which allows you to create a single web page quickly and easily. It doesn’t help you register a domain or run an online store, but it does include dozens of free fonts, a library of templates, and high-quality, searchable images without investing in an ongoing price plan.
- Shopify. For those running an online store, Shopify helps you build an ecommerce website with extensive sales features that let you tap into different channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, and eBay. It also helps you manage inventory. However, Shopify charges a transaction fee with Shopify Payments, the number of free templates is limited, and the editor requires a bit of a learning curve.
- Adobe Commerce. Also focused on the online shopping experience, Adobe Commerce uses artificial intelligence (AI) and integrations with other Adobe products to help you build highly personalized customer experiences. The drag-and-drop interface is easy to use, and Commerce supports managing multiple channels, brands, and geographic locations. However, you’ll need to provide your own server and secure a domain.
3. Claim your domain
A domain name, also known as a web address, is a unique identifier for your website. It consists of both a name and a domain name extension — such as .com or .org. The more memorable your domain name, the easier your website will be for customers to find and recall.
A customized domain name helps your business show professionalism and credibility, and it boosts traffic from search engines. It also creates an impression with potential customers, so choosing a good domain name is an essential part of your online branding strategy.
When selecting a domain name, try to keep it short and simple. This will make it easier for people to remember and harder for them to misspell. Include your business name if possible, and avoid symbols, numbers, or any other characters that could be confusing. It’s also important to choose the right extension, which you should base on your type of organization or location.
4. Decide on your branding
It’s important for customers to have a seamless experience across your new website and your company’s other channels, including your offline presence. If you already have a branding strategy and guidelines, be sure to consult them as you design your business website. If you need to develop your branding from scratch, consider the following elements — just be sure your branding is consistent across all channels and products.
Color is a powerful tool for brand recognition. A product’s color can influence as much as 80% of a customer’s purchasing decision, and studies on color psychology show that certain emotions are primed by different colors. For example, red creates energy and excitement while blue is associated with trust and security.
Consider what you want to communicate to your audience, then choose a primary color and some secondary, complementary colors for your brand. Use the primary color for the most prominent elements of your web page design and the secondary colors for highlights and less important information.
Typography — the way you arrange text and select typefaces and fonts — can send a subtle but powerful message to site visitors. There are two basic types of fonts: serif, which has tiny lines extending from the letters, and sans serif, which does not have those extra strokes.
Serif fonts are usually perceived as more traditional and dependable, while sans serif fonts are more modern and creative. Others, like script fonts or display fonts, should be reserved for headings and images that make a statement.
Imagery includes photographs, illustrations, animations, and any other visual elements that bring your site to life. Images capture your customers’ attention and communicate feelings and ideas in ways words can’t do alone. Choose images that are relevant and support your product messaging, and select stock photographs carefully so they don’t come across as inauthentic or generic.
Image quality also matters. High-quality images suggest professionalism, while pixelated images can create doubt about your brand. But be sure to optimize the resolution of your images so they don’t slow down your site.
Voice and tone
Your brand voice reflects the personality of your company. It could be technical and formal, or laid-back and relatable — or you could take some other approach to communicating your message. What’s most important is that your voice is consistent and connected to your mission and values.
Tone, on the other hand, can change based on context. For example, you might use humor in your social media channels but be more serious when explaining technical compliances on your website.
5. Map out your site
The next step in designing your website is to create a map of all the pages you need to build. This could be in the form of a list, or it could be a visual depiction of the pages with lines to indicate how they are connected to each other.
Mapping out your website ensures that you include all the important pages and information — and that they work together to move your visitors to take the action you want. This is a good time to review your goals and apply them to specific pages in your map.
Start with a home page that includes your business name, logo, and clear navigation links to other pages, including an About page that tells your company story and introduces your team. It’s also important to create a Contact page with your email address, physical address, phone number, and social media channels where people can connect with you.
Beyond that, the pages you include will depend on your purpose. For example, if you’re selling products or services, you’ll need an online store with product pages, a shopping cart, and a confirmation page. If you want to establish your expertise or provide ongoing information, a blog might work well for your site. You could also consider an FAQ page or a creative 404 error page.
6. Create your content
Now that you have the foundations and structure of your website in place, you can start filling the pages with content. Using your site map, take your pages one at a time and think about what information potential customers are seeking when they visit.
Each page should have a specific goal, such as educating visitors about something or guiding them to make a purchase. Use text and images to drive toward that goal, but don’t go overboard — the best websites don’t overwhelm customers with information but focus instead on quality over quantity of content.
This is also a good time to utilize your brand guidelines and make sure your voice and images are consistent with your brand. Consider ways you can streamline and connect content across channels, including your website, social media, email, and print communications.
7. Optimize for mobile
With so many people accessing content on their phones and tablets, it’s crucial to make sure your site is mobile-friendly. A website designed to be viewed on a computer won’t fit properly on a smaller screen, and it will be difficult for mobile users to navigate unless you optimize your site for mobile devices.
Thankfully, most templates today offer mobile options and allow you to see how your design will look on a variety of devices. But keep in mind that a mobile site should be stripped down from the version designed for a desktop or laptop computer to be more user-friendly.
As you decide what to include in a mobile design, make sure you prioritize the most important page elements and include critical information “above the fold” — that is, make it visible to users without having to scroll. It’s also a good idea to resize images and interactive elements like buttons.
8. Make your site accessible
Designing for everyone, regardless of their abilities, is vital for websites today. Making your website accessible to people with visual, hearing, and motor impairments and other differences helps you better serve more potential customers — and it shows that inclusivity is important to your business.
To ensure that screen readers are able to describe your site, make sure to organize information in a hierarchy, using descriptive headers to indicate levels of information. Write alt text that clearly describes all images, and make sure your site is functional for someone using only a keyboard.
It’s also important to pay attention to color and use high-contrast colors for text and backgrounds. But don’t use color alone to communicate things — always have text that spells out what you need people to know.
9. Focus on search engine optimization (SEO)
Small tweaks to your text, images, and site loading speed can help you rank higher in search engine results. It’s well worth taking the time to make these refinements because high search engine rankings can drive traffic to your website and help your content reach more people.
Here are a few best practices to help you gain an SEO advantage:
A variety of SEO tools can help you find and analyze the search terms people are most likely to enter into search engines. It’s best to look for keywords that are not only frequently searched but also drive traffic. Test a variety of terms and perform your own searches to see what kind of content comes up, which pages currently rank highest, where keyword gaps or opportunities exist, and what other search terms are recommended.
On-page SEO refers to all the tweaks you make to a page to optimize it, while off-page SEO involves raising the profile of your content in other ways. After you identify top keywords, choose a few that are most relevant to your business. Strategically work those keywords into content across your website, especially headers, taking care to make the text sound natural and organic. Other aspects of on-page SEO include metadata, alt text, and internal linking.
Metadata includes the page URL, the SEO page title, and the SEO description — which appear when your site shows up in search results. Use your top keywords in each of these places to let search engines know what your site is about. Visitors will only see this text in search results, not once they’re on your site, but it’s important for your overall SEO ranking.
The alt text descriptions of images on your website aren’t just for accessibility. They also help search engines know what’s in a picture and how it relates to specific searches. This gives you another opportunity to insert keywords and improve your SEO ranking.
Linking pages on your website to each other makes it easier for search engines to read and index your website. It also keeps people on your website, improving session duration, and facilitates conversions. Internal links can include navigation links, footer links, in-text links, and image links. Refer back to your site map and be strategic about how you prompt visitors to move from page to page within your website.
10. Test and publish your website
You’re almost ready to publish your website — but before you do, it’s a good idea to make sure everything works and makes sense to users. Ask friends, colleagues, and members of your target audience to test a preview version of the website and offer feedback on both design and functionality. This is the time to make sure all the links work, the site works on multiple browsers and operating systems, and the colors, text, and images display correctly.
First impressions are key, and you don’t want first-time visitors to your website to have a poor experience because the site wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Take the time to be thorough with your testing and use the feedback you gather as an opportunity to take your website to the next level. Once you’ve made the final corrections and updates, you’re ready to hit the publish button.
11. Analyze, scale, and maintain
Once your website is live, you can begin reaping all the benefits, including the opportunity to collect information about how it’s performing. That information is precious, and you’ll need it to continually optimize and maintain your website.
Most platforms have built-in analytics to measure the performance of your websites, and you also have the option to connect your site to Google Analytics to track specific metrics like page views, the time users spend on each page, conversion rates, and bounce rates.
This data can help you know how people are moving through your website and which pages need to be improved, including those that could use better on-page SEO. The more attention you pay to your analytics, the more you’ll learn about your audience and what works for them.
Maintenance is also an important part of designing a website. Links and keywords change over time and design trends do too, so you can’t simply create a website once and let it run without regular upkeep. Checking links and images, updating keywords, monitoring your site’s loading speed, and adding or removing content on a regular basis will keep your site feeling fresh and relevant.
Analytics and maintenance practices are powerful tools that allow you to not only troubleshoot but also improve and scale your website as demand requires. Staying on top of your website performance will help keep you in tune with your audience and position you to make smart, agile business moves when the time is right.
12. Engage with visitors
Today’s customers expect to engage with your business when they come to your website. Whether they have questions or feedback or want to share your content with others, you should make it easy for them to feel like you’re listening and responding.
There are four main ways to facilitate engagement through the design of your website.
- Chat box. Whether you’re offering live support or a chatbot, adding a chat box signals that you’re available to answer questions and point people in the right direction. It’s also another way to collect more information about what is and isn’t working on your site.
- Social media. Your website and your social media channels should work together by driving traffic between them and giving customers opportunities to interact with you in a variety of ways. Make links to your social accounts easily visible, and consider social media promotions to drive people from those channels to your website.
- Newsletters. Email newsletters allow you to cultivate an audience and help them feel a special connection to your brand. You can offer exclusive deals or promotions, celebrate milestones, or share your latest blog posts. Make it easy for customers to sign up for your newsletter with a prominent box on your website.
- Forms or feedback. Offering customers a way to share their impressions of your brand can help you build relationships and gather useful information. This could be a survey with closed-ended questions or an open-ended text box where customers can provide feedback or testimonials.
Great websites rely on powerful tools
A well-designed website is not a luxury — it’s an absolute necessity for any business that wants to be competitive in today’s marketplace.
When you’re ready to get started designing your website, begin by identifying your purpose and the goals you want the website to accomplish. Evaluate whether your current software and tools can handle creating and maintaining the type of website you want to design.
Adobe Experience Manager Sites makes it easy for you to design high-quality websites with flexible frameworks and customizable layouts so you can get content into the market faster.