As a beginner, there are many reasons to learn how to plan a website.
I am sure you have thought about the process and have done your research.
Are your notes scattered all over your desk?
That may not be a bad thing, as you have already started your site from scratch on paper.
The steps I outline below are not just for people using WordPress to make a site but everyone that plans on building one.
Download this beginners tutorial as a pdf and use it as a checklist for your planning process.
Why is it Important to Plan a Website
Some years ago, you could throw a website up on the internet and have it found by the search engines and visitors.
That is not the case anymore.
There is fierce competition online.
Even though the process of actually creating a website is not difficult. But if you don’t have a good plan in place, you may be wasting your time in the building process.
This step by step guide helps keep you on track before, during and after launching a new website.
How to Plan a Website
1. Define Your Website’s Purpose
- Do you have an existing small business and want to bring in more local traffic?
- Already sell a product and want to sell it to a broader audience?
- Looking to make extra money online?
- A freelancer and need an online presence?
You need to define the purpose for your website to help define your target audience. Defining your target audience can help you decide if your site will be a simple one or a larger one. It can also help with deciding what type of content you will need.
2. Set a Budget and Launch Date
Setting a realistic budget will help while you are planning a website. The three tools you need are:
- Domain Name,
- Site creation software
The domain name and hosting can be free or you can pay for it.
I don’t recommend free and in a moment I will explain why.
You can use free software, like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal or you can buy software to create a site (Dreamweaver).
Also, there are WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) builders. By using a website builder, you can create a site with the domain name, hosting, and software all wrapped into one package.
Extra expenses you may want is an e-mail service and an e-commerce shopping cart.
Many sites capture e-mails for newsletters and/or to keep in touch with their visitors. Aweber.com and Mailchimp are two companies that are very affordable.
If you are wanting to sell products on your website, you will need to buy a SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) for your site.
If you don’t want the added SSL expense, use a third-party to sell your products. They take care of capturing your customers information.
NOTE: In 2020, Google is starting to flag websites that do not have an SSL on their domain name.
There may be other people helping you build the site. By setting a launch date, it will keep you and your team members focused on getting the site completed on time.
Even if you are making this site on your own, a launch date is a great motivator.
3. Look at Your Competitors
- Is their website user friendly?
- How would you improve the design?
- Are you able to navigate the site?
- How is their site design? – is it difficult to read? a large amount of graphics?
- Do they have an e-mail sign-up?
- Which social media are they using? Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin?
- How many backlinks do they have?
- How old is their website?
- What type of marketing are they doing?
Finding out as much information about your competitors right off the bat is a must-do.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
Use the information you get from your competitors to help you design your site’s navigation, content, marketing, and layout.
Use a free tool called SEOquake.com to help you get information on your competitors.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not talking about copying your competitor’s work. But use the information to your benefit when setting up a website.
4. Your Website Structure
A website’s structure refers to how the website is actually set up.
Example: how the homepage is linked to the subpages and individual sub-pages are linked to one another.
Make all the sub-pages easily found by visitors and search engine bots.
Create your structure so it is beneficial for your visitors by having the pages laid out in a logical way. This could keep your customers/visitors on your site longer.
A logical way to set up the navigation is to keep all relevant content under the main topic.
Example: I have all of my “how to’s” under a tutorial category.
A good site structure helps search engine bots quickly and easily find all your subpages. Which in turn can help with search engine optimization.
5. Decide on Website Content
Web content is the textual, visual, or hearing information seen or heard by visitors on websites.
It may include text, images, sounds, videos, and animations.
When a visitor comes to your site, you have seconds to capture their attention.
How will you engage your audience to stay on your site?
Article writing, videos, or infographics?
If you will be writing articles, what will be the tone of your writing: formal or casual.
Using videos, will you be creating them or use others?
People have a short attention span on the internet. Infographics give information quickly to people.
Take a look at your competitors, look, and see how they have their site content set up.
There is not a right or wrong way for your content. Just remember – Create whatever content that will engage your visitors.
6. Create an Outline of Your Website
Yea, does it feel like you are back in school again?
But this outline will not be graded and you can set it up however you want. The best (and easiest) way I have found is to write it down on a piece of paper.
Start at your homepage – put down how you would like to set up your sub-pages. If using WordPress, show the different categories that you need to create.
Remember – your homepage may not be the only landing page on your site. Each page you create needs to be able to captivate your reader within a few seconds.
By using an outline, you will be able to see a visual of your websites’ structure.
7. Decide on Website Software
I know you have already been thinking (and maybe already decided), which software you will use. There are a lot of choices out there. I recommend using self-hosted WordPress to create your site.
Here are 21 reasons why WordPress is a great fit for a business, personal, a simple site or to make money online.
You may feel that WordPress does not fit your business plans. Go with the best software that fits your needs.
8. Buy Domain Name and Hosting
It is time to decide if you will use a free domain name and hosting plan or buy them for your new website.
Most people want to go the route of a free domain name and hosting plan. I don’t recommend this option at all. Having a free domain and hosting not only looks unprofessional but you are limited.
I would hate to see you put time into building your site using a free service to find out down the road that you can not grow.
Disadvantages of Free Hosting:
- Ads on your web pages
- Not search engine friendly (most free hosting websites do not make it to page 1 in Google)
- Lack of support
- Very little bandwidth
- Many do not let you sell any advertising space, use Google Adsense or affiliate marketing
- URL’s are long and difficult to remember (http://www.mygreatsite.freewebs.com)
- Limited web pages to build
The great thing is that a domain name and hosting are extremely affordable nowadays. You can get a free domain name with Bluehost.com when you buy one of their hosting plans.
They are cheaper than most hosting plans, they won’t leave you stranded, they work with you to help build your site.
9. Start Designing
Finally! You have gone through all the planning steps and it is time to start designing your site.
Take your time creating your pages, working on the navigation and the content.
When you start the design process, always keep your future visitors in mind. Make it easy for them to find the information they are looking for.
Your visitors should never be more than 2 clicks away from the home page. You can also use breadcrumbs to help site navigation.
If you are using WordPress, check out these essential things to do after installing.
10. Pre-Launch of Your Site
Ask friends and/or family for input on the design, structure, navigation, and content.
When I am creating a site, I like to have someone else look at it to see if there is anything I missed or does not flow right.
Also, 50% of surfing online is on cell phones, make sure your site is mobile friendly.
Head on over to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Page and check out your site.
Checking the speed and any coding issues with your new site is also something you should do. I like using GTMetrix.com (it’s free) to check page speed and coding issues. If there are problems found, they give you suggestions to help you fix them.
11. Launching Your New Site
The day you have been waiting for!
You made your site from scratch, put a lot of planning and work into your first website so take a moment to smile at your accomplishment.
It may take time for the search engines and visitors to find you but use that time to keep working on it.
12. Maintain Your Site
Keeping your site updated with current revisions is essential.
Add fresh high-quality content.
Update older pages and posts to reflect newer trends.
If using WordPress, install a security and spam plugin.
13. Set up Google Search Console and Analytics
These two free tools will help you learn a lot about your site and its visitors. From any errors, Googles finds while crawling to how your visitors found your site.
Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) is free to sign-up.
Google Analytics is another great free tool to use.
Both of these tools will give you instructions on how to add your site.
As a beginner, you may not have thought about the planning process as being important. I know I didn’t when I started creating sites years ago.
But as time went by and my sites were not giving me the output I wanted. I took a step back and realized, “I never planned”.
Sure I did research and had papers scattered all over my desk with notes, but it was not efficient, to say the least.
As I found out, the planning process is the difference between a successful site or a failure.
This beginners step by step checklist has given you the information on learning how to plan a website.
Did I leave any steps out? Leave a comment and let me know what helped you when you were creating your website.
Create Yours: Step by Step,