7 Essential Steps on How to Build the Perfect Website
Starting with your needs in mind, create the perfect website for your organization with this proven and simple 7-step process.
Your website is your 24-hr on-call sales rep — it never sleeps, it’s always ready to share your message and, if done correctly, it can initiate an endless number of fructifying relationships with clients and potential collaborators.
The tricky part in this is the if-done-correctly-part. As a website designer and developer since 2006, I have seen (and still see today, unfortunately) so many mistakes that completely annihilate any opportunity for clear communication and positive connections.
In taking note of these frequent mistakes, I decided to write this “how-to” on building the perfect website that simply works by consistently converting visitors into clients. It is the exact approach I use with every single client I sign up. Hopefully, you find value in this step-by-step process and put it to use to build the perfect website… for you.
Let’s jump right into it and start building!
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1. Evaluate Your (Future) Needs
Even though I see a website as a ‘live’ entity that is constantly evolving, I always strongly suggest to clients that they evaluate their needs BEFORE we get to work — that is to say, what are their present needs and what do they THINK they will need in a somewhat near future.
Nothing is more frustrating than to build a website only to find out that there is an unaddressed need that you have to incorporate. This always results in busted budgets and deadlines. No bueno.
The idea here is to think of ALL possible options and features you could want on your site, put them on paper and then go through that list to decide what you really need. Usually, the first list — the wants — is much longer than the final needs one.
A quick reminder: although more features usually drive the cost of the website up, try not to think about it that way — it is much cheaper to set up more features upfront than to redesign the whole website down the line.
Once you have your absolute must needs list, you are ready for the second step.
2. Estimate Your (Conservative) Budget
“How much do you charge for a website?” I hear that question almost every day. And my answer is not sexy: “It depends.”
The list of factors that can influence the final cost of building a website is very long — from a simple number of pages to an exhaustive bank of possible features, every little aspect of the creation process influences the budget.
For the purpose of this article, and to limit the options, I will assume that you want to build and manage your own site.
Luckily for you, as I will cover in the next step, there are ways to create your own website on a very limited budget, even for free. I would like to point out that the more expensive website is not always the best — I hear examples of overcharged projects and busted budgets all the time. What I can confirm is that the cheapest way (aka free) is not always the best way to go either.
For now, take some time to evaluate your budget conservatively. If you had to set aside a fixed amount for the creation of your website right now — an amount that would not jeopardize the rest of your business, nor your personal life — how much would that be?
Whatever the answer you came up with, rest assured: your website dreams can come true within your budget, depending on how much time you are willing to invest into it.
Now that you have your budget confirmed, you can start shopping for what you need. But, before buying anything, go to step 3.
3. Choose Your (Right) Platform
For this step, you have two choices — paid or free. Before you jump on the obvious choice, consider the following. There are several free platforms to create a website, but they all come at a price. Wix and WordPress.com are probably the two most well-known free platforms on the market. If you decide to go for a free option, I would recommend the latter for the single idea that, when you decide to switch to a paid platform, it will be the simplest to switch away from.
Most of the free platforms have two major limitations: they offer very limited opportunities — if any — for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and eCommerce (online shopping). If you don’t plan on selling via your site, keep in mind that a solid SEO strategy will eventually bring you new visitors organically, something you would not be able to control and take advantage of on a free platform.
“How do the free platforms make money?” Good question. They put ads on your site. And no, you don’t have control on which ads show where. Another negative point, in my opinion.
For the various available paid platforms, the initial investment can be very small — you can set up a basic website with your own domain name (that is the address of your site) for as little as $100 per year.
I strongly recommend WordPress.org as a solid choice to create your site — this is the platform I use to create 99% of my clients’ websites. It is very user-friendly, completely customizable, and comes with tens of thousands of free themes and plugins.
Whichever platform you end up choosing, the idea will always be the same — the less skin in the game you have, the fewer opportunities you get. It is up to you to decide how much you are willing to invest to get the opportunities you need (and want).
What comes next depends heavily on what platform you end up choosing in this third step. How? Let’s find out in step 4.
4. Negociate Your (Steep) Learning Curve
Taking for granted that you chose the option of creating and managing your own website, the steepness of the learning curve you are facing will depend on two factors: how many resources you are willing to invest in this project, and how tech-y you are.
By resources, I mean time and money (even if you chose a free platform, the time you invest learning is costing you in revenues) — the time you are ready to invest in learning how your new platform works and, if you get too frustrated, the amount of money you are open to throw at the problem until it is resolved.
When I first started creating websites back in 2006, I had no money to pay someone else to do it so my only option was to create my own website from scratch, learning everything I could along the way. Obviously, it turned out great for me but I suspect not everyone reading this wants to launch their own website design agency.
My learning curve was steep and my first few attempts at creating a website were, how could I put this: terribly awful. So I had to put in the work — hours each day for months — to learn what I needed to learn to create my first passable website.
There is a LOT to learn. The good thing is that you don’t have to learn everything to create your perfect website. The tools available today are much more advanced and user-friendly than what was available back in the pre-Facebook era of 2006.
I come back to my #1 suggestion: the WordPress platform — whether free or paid — with which you could create a complete working website within a short weekend. It is THAT simple now.
You can easily find all the step-by-step tutorials you need online. WordPress has them, as will any other platform you may choose.
If you are ready to put in the time, you can save a round sum of money. If you have a heftier budget, you can save valuable time. You choose which one is more important for you.
Whatever you prefer — Do-It-Yourself or Pay-As-You-Go — I can reassure you that you don’t have to be a confirmed geek to build your own website. Many of my clients are comfortably managing their new site after a simple introduction to the main features of their platform (in these cases, I go with a paid WordPress one).
And, if you have a couple of years to spare, you can always launch your own web design agency along the way. 😉
But, for now, let’s jump on some quick branding tips in step 5.
5. Determine Your (Credible) Branding
I did not write this article to give you a crash course on branding and marketing, but I can definitely support your creative process with a few tips that might prove useful on your path to the perfect website.
A big part of your branding strategy should be supported by the theme you choose for your website. Ideally, you want this theme (or template, you might encounter both terms interchangeably) to have some — if not all — of the features you need already built-in. This saves you time on finding a plugin that does what you want, and money to get it done by a professional.
That is where going through the first few steps of this process becomes very useful — blindly choosing a theme without knowing what to look for to answer your needs can quickly become a nightmare when you are faced with the problem of a restart from scratch because the theme does not serve you well. Even as a professional designer and developer, I still make this mistake a couple of times per year, choosing a theme to only figure out that the project requires more flexibility down the line. That is why I have familiarized myself on a selected few themes and plugins that I know enable me to deliver any type of project.
Here again, you have two main options: a free theme or a paid one. There are some very good free themes… and some very bad ones. The same goes for the paid ones, ironically.
I suggest you always keep your needs list from step 1 in sight and search for whichever theme can accommodate that list of features. The main difference between a good free theme and a solid paid one will be the simplicity of customization — a free theme usually has less options and flexibility. Again, overpaying for a professional theme might prove quite overwhelming with too many opportunities to indefinitely tweak your site.
As branding goes, the theme you choose should be pleasing to the eye. Aesthetically, “you only got one chance at a first impression” so choose a theme that represents your brand. Go a bit funky for a socially alternative personality, professional and elegant for legal or consulting services, or dynamic for a creative endeavor.
Always keep in mind the experience your visitors will have — put the most important and relevant information and invitation at the top (aka above the fold), keeping navigation as simple as possible. Nothing says TMI like a website that screams all kinds of irrelevant information at you.
As you may have noticed, I am a bit impartial to using a paid WordPress platform. So if you decide to go this way, and you have the budget space to invest into a paid theme, I strongly suggest the Avada theme (get it here) — it is the one I use almost exclusively for my clients. It is very powerful, has several pre-built themes to choose from and to inspire your creativity, while staying very user-friendly.
Once you found a theme that answers your needs — and that you like — it is time to actually create your site in step 6.
6. Set Up Your (Perfect) Website
To simplify this step — I could explain in details how to set up your site on each available platform… but that would be a bit overkill — I will refer you to the relevant tutorials you can find online.
What I will share is the idea that the setup of your site should be straightforward and simple — if you come across some complicated and endless step-by-step procedures to get your site online, you might want to consider another platform. Usually, the simpler it is to set up, the easier it will be to manage. The last thing you want is to create a website on a platform that will require several hours of maintenance on a weekly basis.
I will mention this one last time — for simplicity’s sake, go with a WordPress platform, free or paid. You will not regret it. Supporting almost 30% of the entire world wide web, it is THE most chosen web design platform, for professional and personal use. Ever. Period.
If you found a theme that answers all your needs, then you are set and this step will be a breeze. If not, you will have to find plugins (also known as extensions) to complement your theme. Many of the free options are very good. There are also more advanced plugins that you can buy to push your website design and functionalities even further.
To be honest, I usually go for free plugins at first. Only if I cannot find the features I am looking for in a free plugin will I invest in a paid one. I tend to stick to the same handful of plugins that I know — they are the best in their respective categories because they get the job done without weighing (slowing) down websites. They are almost all free, too.
So don’t feel left behind by using free plugins — do your research to find what you need and simply stick to that. If need be, invest a few dollars into a solid paid straightforward option.
Now that your website is live and running, you have one last step to consider to push your new creation to its maximum — ongoing tweaking and tracking to boost performance and results. Let’s complete this process with step 7.
7. Track & Tweak Your (Live) Creation
As I shared at the beginning of this “how-to” article, I believe a website is a living creation — it should be in constant evolution.
You need to keep your site dynamic so your visitors will be eager to come back for more. A new blog post, an updated list of offers, a quiz to learn about themselves — anything goes. But how do you know what is working?
That is where tracking comes in. By tracking your visitors’ interactions with your site, you will understand why they visit it and what they want out of it. So you can give them more of what they want, in the ways they prefer to get it.
There are several tracking services — the most popular being Google Analytics — that give you insights on what happens on your site. With that helpful information, you can start to learn more about your visitors to keep serving them at a high level, eventually turning them into clients.
Finally, the last bit to consider is the performance of your site. Over time, your site will get slower — heavy from a lot of images and blog posts, with many links and features. It is important that you keep it at its peak so visitors always have a solid experience.
Here again, the strategic use of plugins is a good way to go. Some will lighten your images’ weight, others will compress your pages for faster browsing. I suggest you choose a handful of highly recommended, very focused plugins — one per feature, no ‘do-it-all-in-one’ kinda deal.
What you can do to keep your site’s performance up is to always update themes and plugins to their latest version, and to clean up your site by removing unused elements — old themes and plugins will slow your site and are a security vulnerability so get rid of them.
Remember that the speed of your site will affect the visitors’ experience. In an age where we expect to get everything yesterday, it only takes a few seconds for a visitor to confirm a first impression of your site (which ultimately reflects on your brand and business). By keeping your site roaring, you will serve your visitors in the best way possible.
Ok, that is a lot to take in and digest so I suggest you bookmark this blog article and come back to it as many times as you need to go through this process, one step at a time.
As I shared above via these seven steps, preparation is key. The more you plan it, the more your creation will be a simple success.
I invite you to share your thoughts and questions about these “7 Essential Steps on How To Build the Perfect Website” in the comments below and, if you feel you are ready to jump in and build your own website, check out our online course on How To Build Your Own Perfect WordPress Website!
Have fun with your project and let us know if we can help!
With Web Design Love,
Ian for Team VISHUDDHA