How to design a website — step-by-step tutorial
Designing a website is a complex process and it can be hard to know where to begin. But in today’s digital age, a well-designed website is crucial for growing your business or brand.
Your website serves as the online representation of your business. A thoughtful, user-friendly website engages your audience and guides them towards your desired goal. This post will help guide you by outlining the basic, necessary steps to design your own website.
Here are the steps for designing a website:
- Define your website’s purpose
- Choose a platform
- Pick a layout
- Create and gather content
- Design the website elements
- Add pages
- Optimize the experience
- Test your website
- Get started with your own website
Define your website’s purpose
The first step to creating a website is to decide what your website is about. Your website’s purpose will determine which platform and layout will work best for you, what content you need, and how to optimize your site to accomplish your goal.
Start by defining why you’re creating a website. Are you creating a site for your business, a portfolio to display your work, promoting an event, or publishing blog posts?
Next, consider who your target audience is. Your website should speak directly to your target audience — so you’ll need to determine what they need to know and answer the questions that matter most to them. Conduct thorough research into your audience’s preferences, interests, and pain points.
Once you have a better understanding of your audience, you’ll need to define the key objectives you aim to accomplish through your website. This could be providing information, selling goods or services, building a community, or driving engagement. Consider the unique value you offer and how it can solve problems or meet the needs of your target audience. Think of your purpose as your website’s mission statement. As you change and refine your purpose, periodically review it to make sure it is still aligned with your users’ needs and current market trends. To determine the success of your website, you should measure how well you’re achieving your purpose of having visitors take a specific action.
Let’s look at the purpose of a few different kind of websites:
- Online stores, also called ecommerce sites, are sites used to sell products or services online. These sites provide a digital storefront where customers can browse and purchase items conveniently from wherever they are. An effective online store will have an easy-to-use interface that allows customers to find the products they are looking for, product information, and content related to the products sold on the site. The main purpose of an online store is to encourage visitors to make a purchase.
- Portfolio sites showcase work projects, skills, or achievements. These sites serve as a digital portfolio for visitors to explore and evaluate the showcased work. The purpose of these sites is to present work in a way that is easy for users to understand and engage with.
- Business websites act as an online representation of a company. These sites act as a central hub where users can learn about the company, the products or services it offers, and engage with its offering. The primary purpose of a business website is to educate potential customers and encourage them to make a purchase.
- Event pages are websites intended to promote upcoming events — like conferences or festivals — and give potential visitors the information they need to attend. These sites may give visitors a schedule of the event, a page to purchase tickets, or information about places to stay near the venue. The purpose of these pages is to inform visitors or encourage users to buy tickets to the event.
- Blogs are generally websites that publish new articles or content regularly to inform or entertain visitors. The purpose of a blog could be to sell products, share information, or encourage engagement from readers.
Once you’ve decided on your website’s purpose and how you’ll achieve that goal, you’ll need to identify a platform for building and hosting your site.
Choose a platform
When choosing a platform to create your website, you’ll need to consider which features and capabilities are required to achieve your site’s goal. Website builders and content management systems (CMS) are tools that can help you design, publish, and customize your website — without having to code the entire website from scratch. Using a website builder or CMS speeds up the development process because they offer prebuilt solutions and templates that streamline the development and design process.
If you’re new to building websites, you may want to opt for a simpler, easier to use builder that handles more of the process for you. If you’re more experienced, have some coding knowledge, and need a more advanced website, you may want a more capable platform to host your site.
Selecting the right platform or CMS is a critical step in website design. If you choose the wrong tool you may need to learn new technologies or struggle to integrate your website with your existing systems. You should evaluate each platform based on factors like ease of use, customization options, scalability, and available templates.
When selecting a platform to build your site here are a few features you should look for:
- Quick site creation. If your goal is to get a site designed and launched, your platform should allow you to accomplish that quickly. Most website builders should allow you to get a fully functional website ready to go in just a couple of hours.
- Responsive web design. Since visitors to your site will be using all different types of devices and operating systems, you’ll need a website that is easy to use on both mobile and desktop devices, and that can load quickly on cellular data connections.
- Project workflows. If you plan on having multiple users editing and publishing on your website, you’ll want a content management system that allows you to build a common shared environment with grouped resources and shared assets.
- Content insights. Part of growing and improving your website is optimizing your pages as you collect feedback. The best website platforms will include analytics and insights about where your visitors are going on your site and which pages need to be improved.
- Pricing options. If you’re launching a new business that isn’t generating revenue yet, you probably can’t justify spending thousands of dollars on your website. However, you don’t want to limit yourself by using a tool that can’t scale with you as you grow. Find a website builder or CMS that aligns with your budget, but also leaves room for you to grow should your needs change in the future.
- Versatility. Most website builders will have support for multiple types of websites. The best tools will allow you to build whatever you need, whether you’re building an ecommerce store with thousands of products or publishing your first post on your blog.
Some of the most popular website builders are WordPress, Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly. WordPress is by far the most popular with over 37% of all sites running on its platform. Shopify has also become a major player as ecommerce sites of all sizes use it to host their online stores.
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Pick a layout
Now that you’ve selected a platform for building your site, you need to decide what your site will look like and how your content will be arranged on the page. Depending on which platform you’re using to build your site, you'll usually have the option to use a drag-and-drop editor to lay out your site or select from prebuilt templates. Some platforms like WordPress allow you to upload third-party templates, so you can consider looking for options in other theme libraries.
Your site’s layout will also depend on what makes the most sense for your goal. You should make it easy for users to quickly find the most important information on the page. If you’re a restaurant, that might be your hours and information about how to book a reservation. But if you’re a graphic designer laying out your portfolio site, the most important info may be which projects you’ve worked on or the type of work you’re looking to do.
Here’s a closer look at how you would lay out the sites we looked at earlier.
- Online stores. An online store could have a homepage featuring products that visitors may be interested in — similar to Amazon.com. Or you could use a page that mixes products with editorial content — similar to Nike.com.
- Portfolio sites. Professionals in areas like photography, graphic design, and marketing often create portfolio sites to showcase their work. These sites are highly visual and display content in a way that highlights the best work the individual or business has done. A photographer’s portfolio site might just be a gallery of images, while a marketing agency might share case studies with a mix of text and images.
- Business websites. Business sites should be organized in a way that clearly communicates the value that the business provides — whether that’s a product or a service. Businesses also need to consider how to encourage users who visit the site to make a purchase or fill out a lead capture form.
- Event pages. Event pages should clearly communicate the important information that most people are looking for. For example, a music festival needs to share the date and location of the festival, the schedule or lineup, and relevant travel information.
- Blogs. Blogs need to be organized in a way that users can find the newest or most popular content on site quickly while also communicating what the site is about to new readers.
Whether you opt for a single-page layout, multi-page structure, or a grid-based design the most important consideration should be seamless and intuitive navigation. As we mentioned before, you need to make sure your site is responsive so that users on different screen sizes and device types can easily navigate your site.
Create and gather content
The next step after laying out your website is to source or create the content your site will display. The specific content types you’ll need — and how much of it — will depend on your site’s purpose. Your content could include images, text, logos, videos, and more. Whatever you publish should help you get users closer to taking the desired action on your pages.
One way to set your site apart is to use unique and branded content whenever possible. It can be tempting to use stock photos on a new website — especially if you don’t have images of your own — but this makes your site less likely to engage your audience. When selecting design elements for your site keep your brand identity in mind so that your site feels cohesive and professional.
Quality over quantity
When selecting content for your site you should seek to make the most important information and content stand out. For example, using a few high-quality, impactful images will be better than packing the page with confusing or low-quality content.
Here’s what content might look like depending on the type of website you’re building
- Online stores. For ecommerce sites, it’s important to give users plenty of product info and high-quality images and other visual content because they can’t see and feel your products in person.
- Portfolio sites. A portfolio site will likely present a mix of visual media and text content that explains projects or shares your background.
- Business websites. Business websites will use a range of content types to explain the value that the company provides for its customers. The business may share testimonials, product information, or blog posts about their specific industry.
- Event pages. Event websites might use their website to share photo galleries from past events, promotional graphics, or text content about the history of the event.
- Blogs. Blogs can post a wide range of topics. Traditionally blogs were a text-based platform, but today blogs share photo and video content, animations, infographics, and more.
Compelling content is the main component of any successful website. Craft original and engaging content that communicates your message clearly. Your content should be relevant, concise, and easy to read quickly. You should also keep the tone and style consistent throughout all of your content to maintain a professional and polished look.
Design the website elements
Now that you understand your site’s layout and which content you need to publish, let’s look at the other visual elements of your website. While every website is different, here are some elements you need to consider as you create a positive user experience on your website:
- Site architecture. To make your site easy to navigate, your pages should be organized and linked in an intuitive way. Visitors should be able to find the most important pages on your site quickly in the navigation bar or through links on your site pages.
- Navigation menu. Your navigation menu should include links to the most important pages on your site organized in a logical hierarchy. Consider using categories or groups to avoid your menu getting cluttered with too many pages. Your menu also needs to be responsive so that it works properly on all devices.
- Colors. The colors you use on your website should align with your brand guidelines so that you don’t have clashing colors. You can use a color wheel to create a harmonious color palette to use on your website. As a rule, you should limit your color scheme to three colors — a primary that you use 60% of the time, a secondary that you use 30% of the time, and a tertiary color that you use 10% of the time.
- Fonts. Like colors, you should select fonts that align with your brand guidelines. You also need to prioritize fonts that are legible — even on small screens. While there are endless font options available, it’s best to use web safe fonts that load consistently from one device to another.
- Header and footer. Your header should help users clearly identify your website with your logo. It should also include the navigation where users can find links to the important pages on your site. Your footer should include contact information, social media links, and a way for users to sign-up for your email list.
- Motion. While animations and other moving elements on your page can be engaging and help keep users on your site longer, you should use animation sparingly. Too much movement on your site can cause slow load times or distract users from the content that matters.
The visual design choices you make on your site play a significant role in shaping visitors’ impressions about your brand. Having a clean, polished aesthetic will portray your brand as professional and trustworthy, while a cluttered, inconsistent look could cause users to look elsewhere.
Now that we’ve sorted out what your website will look like, it’s time to start tying everything together and make sure that the website’s structure is functional and user-friendly. Here are some basic pages that almost every website needs to have:
- Homepage. Your homepage is likely the most important page on your website. This is the first thing users will see when they land on your website, so you need to clearly express the unique value proposition or main message of your site. You should also include a prominent call to action (CTA) on your homepage that encourages users to make a purchase, fill out a lead form, or engage with other content on your site. Your homepage could also include a description of your core features or services, customer testimonials, and contact information.
- About. The about page on your site should share your company’s mission, background, team members, and unique value proposition. This page is an opportunity to introduce your brand, organization, or yourself to site visitors.
- Contact. This page should provide visitors the information they need to get in touch with you or your customer service team. You can include your email address, phone number, and mailing address — or embed a form that allows users to contact you directly on your website.
- Product page. A product page provides detailed information about an individual product or service being offered. This page showcases and describes the features, specifications, benefits, and pricing for a product. The goal of a product page is to convince potential customers to make a purchase.
- Blog. Your blog page will typically display a list or grid of your latest blog articles published on your site. A blog is useful for sharing information that your customers may be interested in. You can share educational content that explains how to get the most out of your product or service, or informational content that explains how your product works.
- FAQ. As you start to get more visitors to your website and they reach out to you, your sales team, or customer service reps you’ll likely see similar questions arise repeatedly. Rather than having your team answer the same question multiple times, you can publish an FAQ page to answer your customers’ questions. This page is useful because it takes the demands off you and your team members.
When structuring your website, start by creating pages that cater to your users’ needs. The first pages you create will typically be the pages we discussed above. However, as you grow as a business or discover new customer needs, you can publish more pages to answer new questions or provide more information.
Optimize the experience
Now that you’ve published your primary pages on your website and you have a functional website up and running, it’s time to make sure your site is having as much of an impact as possible.
Optimizing the user experience is key to keeping visitors engaged with your site and moving towards becoming customers. One of the best things you can do is make sure your website is loading quickly, as slow-loading pages can push users away. You also should embrace responsive design. If a user is browsing on a mobile device and finds your site difficult to navigate, they will likely exit your site and seek an alternative.
Test your website
Just because you’ve published your website doesn’t mean that your work is done. It’s important to thoroughly test your website regularly to make sure no pages or elements have broken. Server issues can cause some pages or resources on your site to load slowly or fail completely. You should also take care to test your site on different devices, operating systems, and browsers so you can make sure users are experiencing your site as you intended.
For example, if a user visits your site and finds that half of the links on your homepage are broken, or that your contact form doesn’t actually work, you could lose a potential customer that otherwise would have been a revenue generator for your business.
Along with testing for functionality, you should also run tests to determine which pages or versions of pages are the best for driving conversions. You can use A/B testing to test new pages or designs so you can continuously improve the results you get from your website.
Get started with your own website
Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge and guidance provided in this article, it’s time to embark on your website design journey. Take inspiration from successful websites, but let your creativity shine through.
Be patient and persistent as designing a website is an iterative process. Using the tools and resources you have available — including website builders, design software, and online tutorials — you can build an engaging and effective website on your own. With dedication and attention to detail, you’ll create a website that leaves a lasting impression on your visitors.
Adobe Experience Manager helps you create and manage your own websites so you can keep your audience engaged with personalized web experiences. Create experiences for multiple channels, customize templates, and update content all from a single platform.
Get a product demo to find out more about how Experience Manager can help you create your own site for your business.