A funny thing happened to me this week: a long-standing client asked how I had designed my website.
She didn’t mean the technical stuff, which was a relief. (I’m not sure I could have answered that question without writing a lengthy novel).
Instead, she was asking for direction on how to plan her website. What did she want her home page to look like? How could she be sure her website would grab visitors’ attention long enough for them to understand what she does?
As I replied to her email, I realized that a huge part of what I do for my clients is to walk them through how to think about creating an awesome website. There are a million ways to build, organize, and decorate a website. What makes them awesome is how you choose to assemble those elements.
So, I’ve written down my quick, 4-step process for planning your own awesome website. No tech skills or geek speak here – just set aside a couple of hours to do some brainstorming, and you’re off and running!
Start With What You Like
Step one is to figure out what you do and don’t like in a website. Think of this as test-driving your very first car: you’re trying to figure out what model you want and how many “added features” you really need.
Start your test-drive by putting your fancy analyzer glasses on and go to 5 – 10 of your favorite business websites. (Sorry, but your best friend’s crazy cat blog is probably not going to be very helpful here).
What do you like about these sites? Look for answers to these questions:
- Does the home page tell you what this business does?
- Is it clear how you can keep in touch with this business – email sign-up, social media sites?
- How does the site display “social proof” – testimonials, client feedback, interviews or media coverage
- If you had to describe how the site makes you feel, what 2-3 words (not sentences), would you use?
- What makes you go “oh, I love that and I want one just like it on my website!”
These are all things that people will be looking for on your website, whether they’re aware of it or not (except maybe the last one). Start a list of these answers, and any other brilliant ideas that come to you as you’re exploring and analyzing.
Your list may seem chaotic at first, but by the time you’re onto website #4 or #5, you’ll start to develop definite preferences about what you do and don’t like. Then, it’s time to organize your list into some sort of action plan.
Organize & Prioritize Your List
You now have a jumbled list of ideas about what you like in a website. The next step is to figure out what, on that list, is most important to you.
Easier said than done, right? I recommend separating your list into three categories: essential, ideal, and future.
Essential elements are something that you must have in order to feel comfortable inviting strangers to come check out your website. They can range from how you want the website to look and feel (simple, professional, organized, sassy, elegant, vibrant) to how you want to ask your visitors to sign-up for your email list. Whatever is on this list has a must-have, can’t-live-without feeling about it.
Anything that isn’t essential, but is desirable, goes into the ideal category. For example, it might be essential to have a testimonial on your sidebar, but it may be ideal to also have a short “about me” video. Or, it may be ideal to have a picture slideshow on your home page, but not essential.
Whatever is left over goes into the future column. This is a catch-all bucket of ideas that aren’t right for your website now, but that may be right in the future.
Create an Action Plan – Draw a Picture
So you’ve got this great list of essential, ideal, and future elements for your website. Now what?
Grab a blank sheet of paper and a pen, and sketch out what you want your home page & inside pages to look like. If you’re planning to blog on your site, draw out what the blog page and blog posts should look like as well.
The point of this exercise is not to test your artistic talents. The point is that your website is a visual product, and this is how you can make the leap between a list of words and an actual design.
You will probably go through several drafts of a page design before you create one that you like. As you can see in the pictures below, it took me seven drafts to find a design I liked for my new home page, and I had a very substantial list before I started!
Go Forth and Conquer!
Armed with your list and your designs, your next step is to approach a website designer (who will LOVE you for your organization, design, and forethought) or start looking for a WordPress theme that you can modify to match your designs.
Whichever option you choose, you have just made your website design process a million times easier. And see – no techie skills or geek speak required!
Stay tuned for next Thursday, when I’ll be answering another reader Q & A right here on this blog!
P.S. If you have a question about online marketing (websites, email lists, Facebook, Twitter, or social media), shoot me an email – I’d love to hear from you!
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