Building a great website requires a seamless blend of graphic design, content, marketing strategy, and development. With the increased popularity of website builders like Wix and Squarespace, and the growing number of CMS platforms like WordPress, many businesses are unsure how to build the best site for their needs. These website building tips are designed to help your people think through the process, understand what each step entails, and choose the option that is right for you. Whether you want an enterprise grade e-commerce site built by developers in Magento or Shopify, or a simple informational site from a free site builder, all these tips will help you to create a site that has fast pagespeeds, great SEO, and converts visitors into customers.
1. Failing to plan is planning to fail
Website development projects live and die by the quality of the planning that happens up front. Well-thought-out architecture, easy navigation, and relevant content are the keys to great SEO, user conversion, budget control, and user satisfaction. By planning the sitemap, needed content, relevant deadlines, and required resources thoroughly ahead of time, you will save yourself countless hours and development costs down the road. This is also where you should be making decisions about hosting, required functionality, timeline constraints, and your capacity to handle building and maintaining the site yourself versus hiring an agency or freelancers.
2. Website form follows function, but developers aren’t designers
Design should not start before you’ve completed the planning. I can’t emphasize that enough. In good web development form follows function. A beautiful site that is difficult to navigate, slow to load, and emphasizes the wrong things will likely do more harm than good. Once a designer has a clear outline of the site, its content, your brand, and your customers, they are far better equipped to deliver something that is not only well designed but that also works for you and your users.
Bonus Website Building Tip:
Good developers are rarely good designers. I’ve met a few that can do both over the past 20 years, but it is extremely rare. In most cases, if you want a professional design you are going to need to find a professional designer.
3. Content is king (or queen) when building websites
Poor planning is second only to poor content in reasons why people struggle when building a website. If your copy is poorly written and off target you can’t build a great website. You won’t perform well on search engines and users will not stay on your site. Garbage in, garbage out. This is particularly true in e-commerce site platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce, where inaccurate or incomplete product information will make it nearly impossible to build a site that works well and filters products as intended. Investing time and energy into your content is often the difference between mediocre sites and great ones.
Consider hiring copywriters. This website building tip is generally inexpensive relative to value, and a massive time saver. I recommend creating your sitemap and then coming up with bullet points for what you want to say on each page. That combined with a list of target keywords is usually enough for most copywriters to get you site content that is 90% of the way complete. What remains is often just messaging revisions and making sure the voice represents your company.
Similarly, the best design in the world can’t overcome low-quality photography and bad stock images. Many photographers offer inexpensive half-day rates that are more than enough for most sites. These can be combined with licensing images from their library of past work. If you do need stock images to round things out, sites like Unsplash and Picjumbo offer a great alternative to the cheesy stock images found on many stock sites. As a bonus, these user-submitted images are generally free.
4. Beware of scope creep in development
The greatest danger in the coding phase of website development is scope creep. It is the killer of budgets and the destroyer of launch timelines. Once you’ve planned your site and gathered everything together, it’s time to step back and let the programmers do what they do. You will come up with changes and new ideas. That’s great. You need to save them for after launch. Trust me. Unless it’s something critical it’s not worth opening the Pandora’s Box that is change orders.
Bonus Website Building Tip
Other than that, don’t pay for everything upfront and avoid one-developer operations. Both are a recipe for long delays in getting your site launched.
5. Launch is just the beginning
The dirty secret of great websites is that they’re never really done. Even once you’ve built and launched a site and handled all the necessary SEO, DNS, and hosting issues, your work is just starting. While many people take a “set it and forget it” approach to their websites, the most successful sites receive regular content updates, usage reviews, and revisions to optimize performance. This is particularly true of sites that use PPC campaigns like Google AdWords. Depending on the platform there may also be a need for regular software updates and patching. Planning for life after launch and then sticking to the plan is what allows site longevity and success for years to come.