How to plan and design a website

What’s a website strategy?

Well, I’m glad you asked! It’s a few key things. Mainly, it’s working out:

  • WHO you are targeting
  • WHAT you are selling
  • HOW you’re going to make those sales

Those are the key areas are where you need to focus right now. And I’m going to help you work out how to do it! I’ve broken it down into 5 parts to make it easy to digest. A word of warning though – this isn’t a short blog post. But it is PACKED with useful information to help you get going. Right, let’s dig in.

Step 1: Your Ideal Customer

Before doing any sort of marketing, you need to know who you’re marketing to. You need to find your target audience. Sounds obvious, right? But have you actually spent the time to work out your ideal customer properly? This is the step that most of us skip in the beginning (I totally skipped this step when I was first starting out). And I’m not just talking about a vague idea of who you think they might be.

You need to create a fictional character – your ideal customer as a single person
You should give this person a name, and possibly find a photograph to represent them. Sounds silly? It might make you feel a bit daft doing this exercise, but the results and impact on your business growth will be anything but silly. You see, when you know who it is you’re marketing towards, all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place much more easily.

How does it work?

When you start to create your brand, you think about what this ideal customer likes and would respond to.
When you’re deciding which products or services you can sell, you think about what this ideal customer would buy from you.
When you’re ready to start marketing your products and services…that’s right…you think about where your ideal customer is hanging out online, and how you can make and nurture connections with them.
OK, so here are the things you need to do:

Step 1: Your Ideal Customer

Before doing any sort of marketing, you need to know who you’re marketing to. You need to find your target audience. Sounds obvious, right? But have you actually spent the time to work out your ideal customer properly? This is the step that most of us skip in the beginning (I totally skipped this step when I was first starting out). And I’m not just talking about a vague idea of who you think they might be.


Step 1: List all the demographic characteristics of people who you would love to work with

Step 2: Flesh out your ideal customer by digging into their personality – what they believe in, their values, and what they have in common with you

Step 3: Work out where they hang out – what blog posts they read, Facebook groups, who they follow on social media, webinars they listen to

Step 4: Write a diary entry from their point of view
The end result? A well-rounded ‘person’ that you can direct all your marketing efforts towards.

Step 2: Stalk Your Competition

I know you’re feeling pretty excited and pumped right now. A new business venture is exciting, and you’re probably going down this path because you’re bursting full of ideas, and want to start implementing them yesterday! I know it’s hard to hear this, but you need to step back for a moment. Some of your ideas are awesome, and some probably aren’t. That’s all part of this process. And that’s fine. It’s more than fine – it’s a vital part of the journey of being a business owner. You can take some shortcuts though, and learn from what others are doing already. I’m not talking about stealing other people’s ideas or content. This is all about gathering and saving research. You’ll end up with a big inspiration file that you can dip into as you’re building your own website.

How to find websites in your industry

There are a few techniques you can use, beyond just Googling blindly and hoping for the best. One of my favourites is the Google Keyword Planner tool. It’s free, it’s easy to use and you can access tonnes of really useful information. Here’s what you do:

Create a Google Adwords account

  • Find out what are some top search terms in your industry
  • Google those terms
  • Make a list of websites that are on page 1 for those terms (they’re on Page 1 of Google because they’re doing something right)

Group your research into categories

When you’re searching for websites in your industry, just bookmarking them isn’t really going to be enough. You’ll end up with a massive pile of websites with no idea why you bookmarked them in the first place. So, here’s a trick. Come up with categories that you’re looking for while discovering those websites that inspire you. And group the links you save into those categories. You’ll end up with an filing system that is WAY easier to come back to for useful and inspirational information.

Some ideas for categories and what to look for are:

  • Design elements – colours, font and photography
  • User experience – how the website is laid out, and how easy is it to navigate
  • Calls to Action – where are they placed, what do they look like, what is the path through the site
  • Specific page designs – create a category for Home Pages, another for About pages, etc
  • Products/services
  • Prices
  • What online marketing are they using (for example, are they gathering email subscribers)

How to save your research

There are plenty of tools to help you with you, and different approaches. It really depends on how you like to work. Some ideas are:

  • Create a spreadsheet
  • Bookmarks on your browser with subfolders
  • My favourite: Use Evernote.

If you want to find out more about Evernote, and how you can use it to make this research phase a breeze, I go into more detail inside The Website Strategy Blueprint.

Step 3: Find your brand identity

Now you’re ready to start having some fun, and building up some ideas around your business and brand.

What is your brand identity?

I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not a logo. Logos are and should be an integral part of your overall brand, but it’s certainly not where it begins and ends. Your brand identity is:

  • Design elements: logo, colour palette, photography style, font choice
  • The content on your website: what information you share
  • Your ‘voice’: how you share your content, and what that sounds like
  • How you interact with your clients or customers
  • What products and services you offer

As you can see, your brand is a holistic overview of lots of different elements of your business. So, how to narrow all this down?

Your brand adjectives

Coming up with some descriptive words for your brand is a quick and easy exercise to do. You then get more clarity around what your business looks like, and how you want it to be perceived. Do some brainstorming and come up with 5 adjectives that really describe the heart and soul of your business.

Step 4: Create a website style guide

A website style guide is a 1 page document where you narrow down the design elements of your website. So when you’re ready to dive into designing your site for real, you’ve got solid ideas to guide you. A website style guide will include:

  • A colour palette
  • Photography examples
  • Button design and colours
  • Icon ideas
  • Font decisions
  • A place for your brand adjectives to sit as a reminder

Step 5: Create your site architecture

It’s a bit of a process, isn’t it? But just imagine trying to build your site from scratch without any of this preliminary work. You would get stumped over and over again, wasting hours and days switching fonts out, changing your mind about colours, and not even really knowing what you’re trying to achieve with the final product. A quick definition. Site architecture is an approach to the design and planning of your website that focuses on the user and user requirements. It’s how you layout your pages, how they link to each other, and what content you include.

Step 1: List out your goals

Your website goals are the marketing reasons that you’re creating this website in the first place. I can’t emphasis enough how important this it is that you get really clear on this. A business website should be built to help bring in leads, and support your business growth. Some ideas for your website goals are:

  • Sell a service directly online
  • Sell products directly online
  • Generate leads – eg. Get prospects to call you or send through an online enquiry
  • Get subscribers on an email list – an amazing way to generate trust and loyalty
  • Build a community – a great tactic if you want to build a membership site, for example
  • You can (and probably will) have more than 1 goal for your site. But methodically think through each goal, and design and layout the pages so that your goal is supported.

Step 2: Create an Excel spreadsheet

Set up 3 columns – one for goals, one for pages, and one for content For example, if you want to get subscribers for your email list you will need:

  • A Landing Page (the page where you collect the email addresses)
  • A Thank You page to send subscribers to after they’ve given you their email address

Your content would then be:

  • Opt-in lead magnet
  • Some text for the pages
  • Imagery
  • A Call to Action for the Thank You page

In addition, all websites will also need

  • A Home Page
  • About Page – describe how your business can help your clients, and a little bit of personal information about who you are
  • Contact Page – if you’re a local business, it’s really important to have your physical address on the website
  • Products/Services page – depending on your business this will vary, but at least 1 page, and probably more than one, describing and outlining what you do and what you’re selling

Step 3: Lay it out online

Now, you just know I have a great tool to help you out with this! Jumpchart is an online site map creator, and it’s absolutely free.

Set up a new account and then:

  • Create each page of your proposed site
  • Add the content you’ll need on each page – not the actual content, but an outline of what you need to put there
  • Check how it all links together by looking at your site as a wireframe (the content) and the sitemap (flow chart of the pages)
  • Once you’ve pulled everything together as a first draft, ask yourself whether the layout and content support the goal(s) of your website.
  • If not, move things around and keep tweaking. In the Website Strategy Blueprint, I go into a bit more detail about how to use Jumpchart for your site architecture and layout