Do your potential web design clients understand how the website design process works? Educating clients on your web design process is a great chance to demonstrate your expertise, credibility, and authority in providing websites that get results. In this post, we’ll break down the website design process into 6 steps.
With all of the user-friendly website-building tools available in today’s market, almost anybody who wants to build a website can do so with relative ease. But a quality website design process involves a lot more than just building a website.
Professional website designers know that it’s important to have a step-by-step approach to their web design projects. After all, all of the website-building skills and effort in the world won’t matter if the process isn’t streamlined, efficient, and effective.
Perhaps you haven’t yet thought about your personal approach to the web design process in these terms. If you’re like a lot of other business and website owners, you may not take the web design process as seriously as your other business practices.
Now is the time to change that, and we’re about to show you exactly how.
How Proper Planning Builds A Better Website
If you’re a commercial or freelance web designer, consider creating a stand-alone page on your portfolio website and direct new clients to your personal web design process (the one we’re about to show you). Most clients prefer a clear, actionable plan for their web design project, and that’s exactly what you should give them.
When you fully clarify your design process and communicate well throughout the entire project, you’ll end up with more satisfied clients, less work, and far fewer headaches as the project progresses. You’ll also end up with a much better website. And isn’t that what we all want?
Now, let’s look at the six key steps to a professional website design process that will lead to the best possible end results every single time.
The 6 Steps of the Website Design Process
Quality web design is much more than building a website, and having a step-by-step approach to web design projects shows all the work and skill involved in developing a successful online presence. Maybe you’ve never thought about your approach to the web design process in these terms, but maybe the outline in this post can help shape your own.
Take these 6 steps, create a special page on your freelance website, and point new clients to your web design process. Most clients will prefer a clear, actionable plan for their web design project, and clarifying your website design process will help with communication throughout the project, ultimately leading to happier clients–and less work (and headaches) for you.
Step 1: Discovery Phase
It’s impossible to complete a successful website design process without first knowing what the goals of the project are.
If the project is for your own website, take some time to write down researched information on:
- The business or industry that your website will live in
- Your target market and the details of who you customers are and will be
- The ultimate aim and goal of building the website
When you write down the specifics of your project goals, you automatically make them more tangible and actionable.
Don’t just allow your goals to float around in your head.
If you’re a professional website designer that works with clients, the Discovery Phase of the web design process is all about information-gathering. This step is also very important for you to understand more about your client’s business and industry, their target market and customers, and the ultimate goal/aim for the website.
While it’s tempting to skip the discovery and planning phases and jump right into the design, these first two steps are critical to building the correct website for a client’s needs.
During the discovery phases, ask yourself or your client the following series of questions. The answers will quickly begin to direct the flow of the upcoming project:
- What does your business or organization do?
- What sets your business or organization apart from your competition?
- Who are your competitors?
- Who is your ideal customer?
- Describe the concept, project or service this site is intended to provide or promote.
- What is the goal of your website?
- Who is coming to your website?
- What is your dream for this website?
- Is there a strict budget involved in getting a solid web presence, or is there some monetary freedom to work with?
In addition to these questions, take a few minutes to read the article titled 65 Questions to Ask During Your Next Freelance Client Meeting. The suggested questions in this article are divided into seven main groups:
- Features and scope
- Time and budget
Each group offers important areas of potential information that will help shape the overall web design project.
Using the approach included in the 65 Questions post, the Discover step of the web design process is really more like an initial consultation meeting with a potential client. During the Discovery phase, you can better gauge the chemistry between you and the potential client, investigate the working conditions you will have with the potential client, and estimate the scope of the project.
This meeting is also when you can inform the potential client about your process of web development that you’re about to learn in this guide, and suggest additional features that can meet the client’s goals.
This is also a good time to educate the potential client on the importance of your ongoing services for website maintenance.
Of course, if you’re building a site for your own purposes, answering the questions presented in the 65 Questions post will show you how to streamline the process and keep you on track to meet your goals.
Step 2: Planning
Just like information-gathering, the planning step of website design is a critical part of launching a new website.
If you doubt the need to spend time in the planning phases of the website design process, think about any other non-web-related project you’ve ever done, whether personal or for business.
Chances are if you start to build a new shed, for example, without first planning out how the process will be completed from beginning to end, your end result probably won’t end up standing up for very long.
As a business owner or website designer, it’s extremely tempting to want to jump right into the design step of building a website. This is mainly because the design phase is obviously the most creative (and enjoyable) part of a project (for most people). However, proper research and planning will help clarify your objectives for the website and guide your design.
Because of this, spending a generous amount of time in this stage of the process is critical to the success of the project.
Have you ever heard the old saying, “measure twice, cut once?” This concept also holds true for designing websites. Spending time on website planning is a good investment that will ultimately save you time and even money in the long run.
During the planning phase, you’ll want to review or create an SEO strategy for the website. Since websites often organize a lot of information into a user-friendly format, this is also a good time to get an idea of missing content before you start designing anything.
The planning phase also helps clients understand their role in meeting deadlines with content, so the launch process isn’t held up. And if you’ve ever designed a website for a client, you already know that chasing client content can be the one key (and often frustrating) factor that keeps projects from being completed on schedule.
The planning phase of website design includes 3 basic tasks, which we’ll cover here in more detail.
- Create or review a strategy for SEO
- Create the website sitemap
- Content review and development
Let’s take a close look at each.
Create or Review a Strategy for SEO
In its simplest form, SEO is:
“The practice of increasing the quality and quantity of website traffic to your site through organic search engine results.”
While most people today are at least somewhat familiar with the concepts of SEO, what’s often forgotten is that SEO best practices aren’t a static set of rules.
In fact, they are ever-changing.
So what goes into SEO that brings the best possible results in 2021 and beyond? To fully understand the meaning of search engine optimization, we need to break down the above definition into three individual parts.
Quality of site traffic: Sure, you can bring in thousands of random site visitors every single day through a variety of different strategies. But if a user lands on your site because Google showed them that you’re a resource for buying Apple iPhones when your site actually sells farm-fresh apples, you haven’t brought in a quality visitor.
Rather, it’s important to know how to attract visitors that are genuinely interested in what your website has to offer.
Quantity of site traffic: After you’ve determined exactly how to get the right users to click through to your site from the search engine results pages, or SERPs, it’s time to bring in more of them. After all, the more quality visitors you bring in, the more qualified leads you’ll uncover.
Organic search results: Any time you run a Google search, you’ll notice that all of the top results are populated with ads that appear to be organic search results. The truth is that these ads make up a significant portion of any website’s SERPs.
But organic traffic is what we’re after with SEO. This is the traffic that comes in constantly and repeatedly every single day without ever paying Google to place an ad.
And it is possible to do.
Here’s how to get started:
- If you’re building your own website, research specific search terms for your business or industry. If you’re working with a client, talk to them about the same
- Research and review keyword volumes
- Create a spreadsheet of keywords/keyphrases
- Audit existing website content for SEO focus
- Make a list of SEO content needs to fill in gaps
- Map keywords/keyphrases to existing or future content
You can also check out the SEO Summit for 9 hours of intensive SEO training.
Create the Website Sitemap
After working on an SEO strategy during your Planning Phase, next, it’s time to build the website sitemap.
A sitemap is essentially an outline of the structure of the pages that will comprise the website. Planning the sitemap prior to working on any website design has several key benefits that can’t be overlooked.
For example, you can:
- Build your design around the most important pages
- Plan the website navigation more efficiently
- Get an overall idea of the content that still needs to be written
Using your SEO Strategy, build a sitemap with appropriate page hierarchies and content silos.
Create a dedicated document for your sitemap and site outline.
You can use the sitemap as a checklist to guide the progress of your project.
Include basic website pages (About, Contact, etc.) plus additional keyword/keyphrase pages.
For WordPress site owners, consider using the Google XML Sitemaps plugin to help you.
Content Review and Development
The last part of the website planning process includes an in-depth review of the website content.
To get started, you’ll want to take an audit of existing content (if there is already an existing website that’s being replaced or re-worked) and make a plan for producing new content that will help the website perform better.
Clients can be responsible for creating new content, but that often presents otherwise-avoidable problems. Most often, clients who agree to write content for their own site have a lot of other things going on in their businesses and lives. Even if you set strict deadlines for content delivery,
The reality is that most people simply don’t enjoy, or don’t know the right way, to write content for websites.
If you’re considering putting yourself in charge of writing content for a website but aren’t thrilled with the idea, it’s often extremely helpful to contract with a freelance writer to satisfy your content needs.
There are some inexpensive content houses, such as TextBroker, Scripted, The Hoth, and many others that can help you with the content process.
During the content review and development process, you’ll want to:
- Review existing web content
- Ask for non-web content such as brochures, business cards or flyers
- Hire or assign writers for content needs
- Put deadlines on content completion
A website will not succeed without great content. Therefore, it’s important to put a lot of time and energy into ensuring that the content of your project is ready to perform.
Step 3: Design
The third step of the web design process is to design how the website will look. In this step, a website wireframe is created with basic web page elements such as the header, navigation, widgets, and so forth.
The wireframe can then be moved into a more realistic mockup using a program such as Photoshop.
The challenge of good web design, like all designs, is balancing form and function. Use the information you gathered in the Discovery and Planning phases to shape your design.
Good web designers have the intention behind every design decision.
For WordPress designers and developers, the design of your site will all begin with choosing the best theme to build around. If you’ve never heard of the Kadence Theme, now is the time to check it out.
It may quickly end up being your go-to theme for every new WordPress project.
Kadence Theme works with the WordPress block editor in a unique way that makes designing websites fun again. It’s a free theme with all of the bells and whistles of some of the top premium themes, and really does pack next-level features that will make any site both beautiful and effective.
To take full advantage of Kadence Theme and take it to the next level, you’ll also want to use Kadence Blocks. This tool will give you 100% professional design results without needing to know how to code.
But remember, design should always accommodate content.
Read that one more time and let it sink in.Design should always accommodate content.
The problem is that content often accommodates design instead, with content receiving very little attention. Your website content is, far and away, the number one thing you want viewers to notice.
As such, for each one of your page designs, stop and ask yourself these three questions:
- What is the main goal of the page?
- Is it clear to users what action they need to take?
- How does the design encourage users to take action?
A professional and effective web designer will also pay close attention to how a design will translate to code. Even if you aren’t doing the development yourself, as a designer, it’s a good idea to invest in your coding skills.
And always make sure to have a developer review a design before it goes to the client.
Finally, use the Design Phase to finalize the overall look of the website with the client and discuss decisions for:
Confirm the design with the client before moving on to the development stage.
Step 4: Development
In the Development Phase, the website design is translated to actual code that makes the website work. This stage can be the most lengthy, so keep clients informed on the status of the project.
During the Development Phase, regular 3-sentence emails like the one below are great for maintaining client communication:
“This is what we did this week (past). This is where things are (present). This is what’s next (future).”
After all, if you go silent for a period of time during Development, many clients will assume the worst and you may lose the project.
For WordPress designers and developers, the basic steps of website development include:
- Install WordPress on a localhost or testing server.
- Install a starter WordPress theme.
- Install a WordPress backup plugin, preferably BackupBuddy. Running BackupBuddy during development makes it easy to 1) revert file changes and 2) move the site to the live domain or server for launch.
- Using the mockup, translate the design to the live site.
- Test and optimize along the way.
Step 5: Launching the Website
At long last, it’s finally time to launch the website!
Since there are so many steps involved in launching a website, it’s a good idea to use a checklist to make sure you haven’t missed a step.
Make sure to utilize the checklists in these articles to make sure your website launch goes smoothly:
- The Complete WordPress Launch Checklist for Developers
- The Essential WordPress Website Launch Checklist
- The Ultimate WordPress Checklist: 80+ Tasks for Every WordPress Website Owner
They will definitely make the process of launching your website much more efficient.
Step 6: Maintenance
This last and final step of web design is often overlooked by freelancers. However, website maintenance is important for the long-term health and success of a website, as well as a source of potential recurring revenue.
Before a new website project even begins, educate potential clients on the long-term responsibilities of owning a website. Just like owning a car or house, a website will need upkeep and maintenance. Offer a monthly WordPress maintenance service to take website maintenance tasks off your clients.
On a basic level, a WordPress maintenance service includes the following necessary actions to keep a WordPress site running smoothly:
- WordPress updates
- Theme and plugin updates
- WordPress backups
- WordPress Security Plugin, namely iThemes Security Pro
- Analytics tracking and reporting
- WordPress hosting
WordPress maintenance can also extend into other areas of website upkeep such as SEO, adding new content or updating existing content, comment approval/replies, spam cleanup, and more.
If you manage multiple WordPress sites, use a service like iThemes Sync to manage WordPress updates and more from one dashboard.
When discussing ongoing site maintenance, ask your clients:
- Is there a long-term strategy to edit, update, and promote your website?
- Who will be in charge of maintaining the website?
Be ready to offer your monthly maintenance rate and inform clients about hourly rates if they need you to fix website problems, make changes to content, and so forth.
Cheers to a Smooth Website Design Process
By following the six-step process we’ve just outlined, the website design process will go more smoothly and remain on target. And with a little research and planning, your website design will be more informed.
By following a checklist for development and launch, you won’t miss any crucial steps. And finally, maintaining a website protects the investment made in building the website.
Ultimately, clients will be more satisfied with their experience and see the value in their website.
Kristen has been writing tutorials to help WordPress users since 2011. You can usually find her working on new articles for the iThemes blog or developing resources for #WPprosper. Outside of work, Kristen enjoys journaling (she’s written two books!), hiking and camping, cooking, and daily adventures with her family, hoping to live a more present life.