How to design a website — step-by-step tutorial

Woman looking at laptop

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

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, portfolio sites, business websites, event pages, blogs icons

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:

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.

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 graphic

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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.

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.

Single-page layout, Multi-page structure, Grid-based design icons

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

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 graphic

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:

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.

Add pages

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Experience A, Experience B graphic

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.