You may not be a web developer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build a professional website that serves as a marketing tool for your business with some simple web design principles. With a bit of patience, you can learn how to design a website by following our guidance in as little as seven steps.
Web design beginners: If you’re in the beginning stages of building a website, check out our comprehensive guide that gives you everything you need to know about building a small business website, including how to design, build, and launch your website.
How to Design a Website in 7 Steps
Web design may sound complicated (and it can be), but we’ll show you how to easily and strategically design a website that works as a marketing tool. To start, determine the goal of your site, or in other words, what you’re looking to accomplish with your site. Then, do your research on comparable sites and on your audience. Next, collect your branding assets (i.e., your logo and color scheme) and build a wireframe before choosing and customizing a theme.
1. Determine Your Site Goal
In short, start by asking why you need a site. The first thought for many might be as simple as “Well, I know every business needs to have a site these days” or to increase exposure, but if you dig deeper, you’ll most likely find reasons that better suit your business and its needs.
Examples of common site goals:
- To build awareness
- To generate leads
- To drive online sales (e.g., appointment booking, online orders, and so on)
- To drive offline sales
- To build customer loyalty
With a goal in mind, you can then consider how your site will provide value to visitors and with that, have a conversion point for visitors. For example, a site with the goal of driving offline sales might include a Google Maps integration to automatically provide directions from wherever a user is.
2. Explore Comparable Sites
Research other websites, such as competitors within your industry, to get a better understanding of what others are doing (and what your site visitors will be seeing). Take notes on what you like about other sites in regard to general layout, functionality, offers, and calls to action (CTAs). Also, look at what type of conversion points or call-to-action buttons comparable sites are using, and which best serve site visitors.
For example, say you’re building a site for a local landscaping company and you see that another site includes a virtual landscape design tool. Before jumping to use this same tool, determine if it’s worth investing in by researching how many visitors this page gets with a free keyword research tool, such as Ubersuggest. There, you can copy and paste any URL and see visitor stats. This type of research can help you discover what resonates with visitors.
3. Research Your Audience
In order to design a website that effectively speaks to your audience, you have to first understand your audience. For example, work to understand what language they prefer (more casual or more professional, descriptive vs plain, and so on). Consider where the majority of your audience is in the buyer decision-making stages, and what they need to take the next step toward achieving your site’s goal.
Example: A surf school is designing a website and through research, learns that what holds its audience back from booking lessons is fear of the unknown. To overcome this, it plans to include and highlight its rain check policy, a lesson itinerary to tell visitors what to expect, and a list of items to bring on lesson day. It also helps assure potential students by offering a stand-up guarantee, which will be promoted across its site.
4. Create or Collect Brand Identity Assets
If you don’t already have your business’ branding elements created, then you’ll need to get those. This includes your logo, fonts, color scheme, and with that, an idea of the style theme or template you’ll want to use for your site. When creating brand identity assets, consider brand ethos and how your collection of brand identity assets collectively communicates and reinforces what your brand represents.
Brand identity assets to create or collect include:
- Color scheme
- Theme and layout (how modern, traditional, and so on)
5. Build a Wireframe to Map Your User’s Journey
Next, map your user’s journey through your site by building a wireframe, or a mock-up of a site’s structure. This includes choosing which web page you need to include on your site and with that, consider how visitors will logically navigate through your site from page to page (ending with achieving your site goal).
As you build a wireframe, keep in mind user experience (UX) web design best practices, such as keeping the site clean and easy to use with navigation that makes sense and pages that lead with the most important information. Consider what type of information each web page should include based on the unique needs of the visitors who will be interested in reading that page.
Tip: Use a free wireframe tool, such as MockFlow, to easily build out your site’s user interface (UI).
Elements of a Website
Every website consists of certain elements. These include the homepage, supporting web pages, site navigation, a call to action, and a conversion point. Collectively, these elements make up a website and enable it to serve as a marketing tool that can effectively build brand awareness, generate leads, drive online sales, and drive offline sales.
- Web pages
- Call to action
- Conversion point
Tip: New to web design and want more information about the standard site elements? Get all the information you need about website basics.
6. Choose a Theme or Template That Best Matches Your Brand Identity
Next, take your time finding and choosing a website theme or template (depending on which site builder you plan to use) that matches your brand identity. In other words, choose a template that already looks and functions how you want your site to look and function. By doing so, you’ll reduce the amount of time it will take to build your site and it will help ensure that your site effectively works as a marketing tool for your business.
Example: A campground is designing a site to not only promote their services but to drive online bookings. Rather than finding a generic business theme, it finds an accommodation theme that has built-in booking tools for the travel and hospitality industry. This makes it easy to customize as it already includes everything the business needs for its site.
7. Customize Your Theme or Template
By now, you have everything you need to start building your site. Customize your theme or template using a site builder. Build out your web pages, customize your header with your logo, update for your footer, and configure navigation with your user journey in mind and while referring to your wireframe (mock-up).
In order for a site to be live, you’ll need to get a domain name (if you don’t already have one) and web hosting if you’re using WordPress. These two things will enable your business website to be live on the web.
Tip: Make a plan to optimize your site design and use insight and conversion rate optimization tools such as Crazy Egg and Yoast SEO. By building your site with these tools, you can later improve and optimize your site for better search rankings, user experience, and conversions.
Get the step-by-step instructions on how to build a website using the following platforms:
Web Design Best Practices
No matter what type of website you’re building, there are some web design best practices to follow to avoid wasting your time by creating a poor quality website. Doing things such as setting a goal for your site and understanding your audience, maintaining consistent style elements, and keeping copy direct and concise will be the difference between a well-designed site that serves as a marketing tool and a poorly designed site that discredits a business.
- Focus on your site goal: Well-designed websites serve more of a purpose than just getting found online and providing business information. Businesses should set goals and design their site to meet those goals. For example, common site goals include generating leads, acquiring online bookings, and making sales.
- Keep your audience in mind: In order for your site to achieve its goal, you’ll have to understand your audience, which will enable you to write copy that speaks to them and incites the desired outcome—whether that’s registering for a free trial or making a purchase.
- Make your site easy to use: Unless you’re a web design expert, you’ll want to keep the main elements of your site simple so that it’s easy for visitors to use it. A surefire way to ensure this is to refrain from reinventing the wheel. Instead, choose a layout and navigation that is commonly used and therefore familiar to users.
- Build for UX: Sites should be built for user experience (UX). This is an approach to web design that strategically melds the business’ needs and the audience’s needs so that both parties achieve their desired outcome. In short, it’s designing a website to provide a good user experience.
- Keep copy simple: Always be concise and direct with your copy. As a general rule of thumb, the more information you have, the less people will read. By being straightforward, you’re more likely to get your message across and resonate with your audience.
- Lead with key information: Websites are read from top to bottom, so it’s important to start with your most important information. Otherwise, it’s unlikely that visitors will scroll down to the bottom of the page if the top of the page doesn’t capture their interest with the information they’re looking for.
- Maintain a consistent design: Your site should have overall design elements that are consistent across all pages. For example, you shouldn’t have varying sizes of hero images and your fonts and color schemes shouldn’t vary by web page.
- Use high-quality media: The fastest way to make a website look amateur is to use low-quality images and videos. If you don’t have professional-quality photography available, use quality stock images from providers such as Pixabay and Shutterstock.
- Responsive and cross-browser compatibility: There are many different device types and browsers that visitors will be accessing your site from, so make sure that your site is 100% responsive and cross-browser compatible. While this sounds technical, an easy way to do this is by choosing a WordPress theme that is both, or by using a site builder.
A lot goes into designing a website, and though the majority of it may seem like common sense, those new to web design commonly overlook these basic best practices. One easy way to help ensure your site is well-designed is to choose a high-quality theme or template that requires little customization. If you’re building a WordPress site, check out these best WordPress themes.
Best Web Design Examples & Inspiration
A good way to familiarize yourself with great web design is to look at examples. Analyze sites to gain a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t, unique features, and smart conversion points. This will set you up to create a better design for your site.
Site goal: Generate leads through a demo request
Blueboard provides a good example of using a bold and contrasting color scheme that makes copy and CTAs pop. The site is designed to help educate visitors about what it offers and does this by including call-to-action buttons to request a demo. Between the CTAs, the live chat, and the supporting web pages, it meets the needs of visitors by providing different ways of providing the information they’re looking for.
Site goal: Promote tours
Admire New Orleans is a plantation and kayaking tour provider that has a simple, but effective web design that includes an eye-catching overhead video hero. It includes a front-and-center call-to-action button that leads visitors to view all tours. It also gives visitors a way of discovering its available tours by simply scrolling down on the homepage. Either way, the site leads with what visitors are coming to learn about: its tours.
Site goal: Drive offline sales (via store finder CTA)
Nulo, a pet food brand, provides a good example of how retailers can use their site to drive both online and offline sales. It achieves this by including two bright buttons, one at front and center over its auto-play video hero and the other in the upper right corner, where visitors can search for local supplies and where they can purchase products in-store.
Site goal: Generate leads
Radius at West Ashely, an apartment rental agency, takes a unique approach to marketing apartment units by selling a lifestyle rather than the actual spaces. It also provides an easy way of navigating to the main areas of visitors’ interest above the fold, such as the option to apply, to check unit availability, and a click-to-call CTA.
Site goal: Drive online appointment bookings
America’s Swimming Pool Co., or ASP, uses its homepage to illustrate its brand ethos by leading with bright colors, a headline that tells visitors what it does in a fun way, and a hero image to support its headline message. It includes the Home Depot Pro Partner badge for credibility and it uses two CTAs to request a service and book an appointment, as well as a click-to-call phone number for visitors who want immediate assistance.
Site goal: Promote local businesses and drive online sales
West Hollywood Eat + Drink Week is a local restaurant directory that celebrates West Hollywood restaurants. Its modern design skips the traditional navigation, creating a clean homepage that jumps directly to what readers are looking for: local restaurants. It effectively leads with what visitors are looking for and in return, provides a good user experience.
Site goal: Drive online bookings
Rush Creek Ranch utilizes a captivating video background that intelligently utilizes a small amount of space to display a wide array of views of Wyoming to strengthen a visitor’s interest in a trip. It also uses social proof in the bottom right-hand corner with awards from well-known companies such as Conde Nast Traveler to give visitors more confidence in the ranch and the quality of its offerings.
Site goal: Drive online orders
Settebello, an Italian restaurant, is a good example of how web design doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective. Settebello uses enticing hero images to drive interest in its offerings and gives visitors the ability to quickly place an order online for pickup or delivery from their fingertips, making it easy for visitors to place an order and achieving the site’s goal of generating orders.
Tip: Looking for additional examples? Get more web design inspiration.
Web Design Tools
When designing a website, it’s worth using tools that help you more strategically and effectively build a professional site, e.g., using tools such as Ubersuggest to find which keywords your audience is looking for or finding high-quality images on Pixabay to ensure your site looks professional and therefore trustworthy.
- Canva: A top alternative to Adobe InDesign or Illustrator for those with no graphic design experience. It makes it very easy to design brand identity elements, such as a logo, as well as design graphics that can be used on your site or even for your social media. It also has a free website color scheme generator.
- Ubersuggest: Use this free keyword research tool to find which keywords your audience is using to find sites like yours. With that, you can then build out a site that better speaks to your audience and better ranks in search results.
- Pixabay: In case you’re lacking professional photography for your site, you can find and downloads images for free on Pixabay.
- Creative Market: Here you can find and purchase anything from professionally designed WordPress themes to graphics, photography, fonts, and website icons. It’s generally an affordable way to source unique and high-quality creative content that can help make your site stand out and represent your brand ethos well.
- Marvel: This is a web design prototype tool that makes it easy to create wireframes, chose how your site will look and function, collaborate with teams, and mostly sort web design before actually building pages.
- Crazy Egg: A top heat map tool, CrazyEgg is used to track how site visitors use your site. While it won’t help during a new site build, it is good to use so that you can better understand how visitors interact with your site, which can help you to optimize it.
- YouTube: OK, YouTube isn’t exactly a traditional web design tool, but it is a great resource if you find yourself in need of some extra help. Nearly any web design question you could have is answered on YouTube, so it’s worth a try if you get stuck.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which site builders have the best web design?
The all-in-one site builder that’s best known for professional web design and high-quality templates is Squarespace. It’s a top-rated site builder that is highly regarded for well-designed templates that make it easy for anyone to design their own site in little time and at an affordable price. Learn more about what users think by checking out Squarespace reviews.
How do I get a domain name?
There are a couple of ways to get a domain name. First, buy one from a domain name registrar such as GoDaddy or Namecheap. You can also get one for free with most web hosting plans, such as through Bluehost or DreamHost, or with an all-in-one site builder plan such as with Squarespace or Wix. The difficulty is finding a domain name that’s available. To help, learn more about choosing a domain name.
How do I design an ecommerce website?
It’s easier than ever to design and build an online store. Whether you choose to build your site using WordPress or opt for an easy-to-use site builder such as Squarespace or Shopify, you’ll need to get a domain name, sign up for a plan (a web hosting plan for WordPress sites), choose an ecommerce theme or template, customize your site, add products, configure store settings, and launch your site. Get the step-by-step instructions on how to build an ecommerce website.
Good web design is actually pretty simple. It puts the reader at the core of everything to ensure a good user experience with straightforward navigation, concise language, and provide ways for a reader (and a business) to get what they want. Hopefully, this guide has taken some of the fear out of starting your web design project and has given you the tools you need to launch your new business website.
If you’re still hesitant to take on the job of designing your website, you may want to consider investing in professional web design. Companies like Lyfe Marketing make getting a professionally designed site more affordable than most imagine and can help you get your site up and running in no time.