Starting a website needs a well-thought-out website design process. It’s more than stringing some slick visuals together. I have been designing websites for more than 15 years now to support my work as a digital marketer. And I’ve managed to work out a pretty effective website design process checklist to start any website.
Now, my way of website design is about creating a website to achieve my overall digital marketing goals, support the client’s expectations (requirements), while still accomplishing an aesthetically pleasing website. It is much beyond source codes, media queries, visuals, and content management.
Keeping this in mind, let’s get started with my 10-point website design process checklist..
1. Requirements and Scope of Work
Gathering information about the project begins from the moment I connect with the client. This step is crucial in aligning myself with the client’s understanding of this project, just so we both are on the same page.
Usually I am in contact with the business owner directly because she’s probably the one who has hired me. But I have also worked with larger organisations where I need to put in a Skype appearance every once in a while with the one(s) who hired me. I work with a liaison instead.
If my contact (business owner or liaison) finds I need to speak to someone else on the team to get a better understanding of what needs to be achieved, I get to speak to them too.
Bottom line is the more information you can get out of the client about their brand and their requirements, the better to work on that brand. So this step is all about questions and finding the answers that will help me work in an effective and efficient manner.
a. Brand audit
Once my calls are done, I work on a deep-dive brand audit to find what is present online. This lets me figure out if the client’s expectations from her brand are in line with the brand performance online.
E.g. what type of audience is the brand attracting to their website vs. what audience are they trying to attract – Google Analytics can give me the answer. This comparison lets me know if their buyer persona is accurate or not. And that in turn, helps me design a more refined buyer persona for them which can be eventually used for their website.
If the brand is new and has no online presence, it’s still a good idea to perform a brand audit to see what’s online. There have been instances in the past where I’ve discovered negative publicity online, which had to be addressed immediately before engaging into a full-scale website design process.
b. Competition analysis
Next up, I do a brand audit on the competitors. I ask the client team for a list of 5 competitors. This list is compared to the list of competitors I have found online in the previous step. If it’s the same, I go ahead with these 5. If not, I do the competition analysis for up to 6 competitors. The amount of data from 5-6 competitors is a LOT, so I have never ventured beyond these numbers.
c. Team discussions
My reports from the brand audit and competition analysis are delivered to the client. If she chooses for me to be present for the team discussions, I am all for it. But sometimes I am not required. In either case, my findings are discussed with key personnel and a list of requirements along with scope of work are defined.
I refine the list of requirements and scope of work further.
2. Setting goals
I love working with S.M.A.R.T. technique for setting goals. Sometimes even in my personal chores. So this is my obvious choice when it comes to setting goals in this website design process checklist.
In brief, create goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. E.g. lowering Bounce Rate of the website by 15% within 3 months can be a S.M.A.R.T. goal. On the other hand, a goal listed as “get #1 spot on Google” is not.
A website is the ultimate destination for all my digital marketing efforts, whether blogging, social media, advertising. We all direct our audience from all those other places to come to our website and use our products or services. So planning the website strategy, especially based on visitor type, is a must. Formulating the navigation paths and enriching the user experience at each junction of these paths is integral to website strategy.
The website strategy is set. Now is the time to define a time period for each of the tasks that will fulfil the list of requirements, scope of work and strategy. And yes, the client has a major say on this, mainly due to budget constraints. You have to discuss and refine the timeline (or project schedule) with the client till she agrees, before you can even choose which CMS to use for your website.
Once the timeline is approved, the roadmap is simultaneously created from it to support the project. This showcases the list of tasks by deadlines.
A copy of this roadmap is sent to the client so she can stay acquainted with what’s happening in the project.
Here’s a roadmap on how to create a digital marketing strategy for a brand
3. Finalise list of deliverables by phases
The roadmap is essentially the list of deliverables I confirm with the client. But when larger projects come into play, the list of deliverables get divided up into phases.
Plus here are the extras I add on to the list of deliverables:
a. Expectations from the Client
Access rights, my list of contacts within the client company, emergency contact numbers are some of my requirements to fulfil any project. I customise this list based on what I want from the client.
b. Expectations from the Developer
I provide a clause in my contract that I wouldn’t work with a similar brand for up to 3 months after project completion. Some brands have told me to extend this time period to up to 6 months in the past. And I am happy to comply.
Plus I add any other expectations the client company has listed out for me in any of our discussions till this point. Like some brands had asked me to be on-call during my off hours because their working hours are on a different timezone.
In the first few years of my career, I never paid attention to such details because I assumed such things are implicitly understood. But I’ve noticed that printing these out in the contract really helps to maintain the trust of the client. Not just for the existing project, but for future ones as well.
This is the point where contracts are refined and signed, and commercials are finalised in writing, if not done earlier.
Now begins my actual work..
4. Site development
I am a WordPress gal. So I am not going to add a special point on how I choose the site architecture for a project. It’s all understood that I work in WordPress only.
The aesthetics of a website are important. Using a striking design with clear layout and high-quality media is my go-to formula for the visual appeal of any website.
If the client’s brand kit is available, those brand colours and typography is used. Otherwise, I make sure those are already defined in the roadmap step earlier.
A great user experience is based on optimised source code, high-quality content and clear navigation. The responsiveness of the website across different browsers and devices is the extra cherry on top.
My point is if you are starting a website on your own, be sure to have some technical background in coding. It really helps!
Hosting is something I rarely get to choose. But at times when I do get to recommend, my choice is GoDaddy. I have been using GoDaddy for over a decade now and it’s been great. Their customer service (US and India) is amazing.
Point to note – a bit of experience in phpmyadmin, cPanel, and Linux commands helps a lot in managing the back-end tasks of a website.
d. Digital marketing strategies
There are scores of digital marketing strategies to choose from. Like social media, blogging, thought-leadership blogging, guest blogging, SEM, SEO, SMM, the list can go on. But not all strategies need to be utilised by a brand to get maximum traffic to their website.
If the chosen strategies are all listed in the roadmap, it’s easier to design the website. E.g. if I know guest blogging is accepted by the website, I’d design a landing page with a contact form for prospective guest bloggers to submit their articles (or at least their contact information) for further talks.
As a given, social media icons are integrated into the website. It’s a best practice followed by most WordPress themes. But I only integrate those social media icons that are actually being used by the brand.
Once I had a client who wanted to add “all” social media icons because they wanted to show they are everywhere. But in truth they were not, and that’s just wrong.
I argued a lot and finally the client agreed to have only Facebook listed on their website because that’s the only place they were active on. More importantly, Facebook was the only place their audience was active on.
So fight for what you believe in. If you can make some good points, the client is bound to agree.
5. Site testing
There are many website graders and testing tools online which can test your website for speed, keyword optimisation, updated source codes, sitemap accuracy, mobile-friendliness, and so on. My favourite ones are listed below:
Copyscape Plagiarism Checker
Mobile-Friendly Test by Google Search Console
Cross Browser Testing Tool
Sitemap Test | Seomator
W3C Link Checker
W3C Feed Validation Service, for Atom and RSS
Before getting to launch the website online, be sure to use some of the tools above to make sure your work is on-point. Plus manual reviewing always helps.
I have worked with soft launches, grand relaunches, and full-scale website launches so far.
Soft launches are quiet events where audience are emailed that the new website is ready. A good email marketing drip campaign can do wonders for this.
Grand relaunches are online events or online and physical events to announce that their website has been revamped. Most coincide with a product launch, and those turn into networking events. Email marketing and tweet storms are a must here.
Full-scale website launches can grow into huge physical events. I’ve worked on projects that required me to design special invitation letters to patrons for such events. Food and drinks are usually done with a F&B partner.
But whichever launch is listed in that roadmap, the ground work needs to be laid down at least 3 months in advance. This is why the timeline and roadmap are so integral in this website design process checklist. Because you are not just designing a website, you are creating an opportunity in the form of a website for the brand to drive the business forward.
7. Site maintenance
WordPress releases software updates regularly. And that triggers the updates from themes and plugins. So checking the website to perform these updates is a monthly task.
Site maintenance tasks may include requesting your hosting provider to update their hardware, like updating the PHP version.
Other maintenance tasks may include security checks, database optimisation, broken links’ check, etc. Google Search Console is a great tool to use for troubleshooting any errors your website might be throwing.
8. Site performance
The goals in the roadmap also holds the metrics you can check on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis to keep track of your site performance. When launching a new website, or relaunching an old one, give it at least 3 months time to gather the right analytics data.
There are many tools to track and analyse site performance like Google Analytics, Alexa, SEMrush, Adobe Analytics. Picking one or a couple of these tools is a good practice. Trying all these tools will only drive one crazy. I’ve had that particular experience!
So, the website is ready, launched and being tracked. Client is happy. But I can’t be the website support forever. Which means, I have to train the client’s team to be able to handle the website on their own.
For this, I prepare some short videos and Word documents on how to navigate to the right paths in the WordPress admin dashboard to perform particular tasks. I tend to offer email support for at least 1 month after project completion. So by the time the team is trained and start managing the website on their own, I am just an email away for any type of support.
10. Analytics and Reporting
A website should be working for the brand and business, even while you, the business owner, is sleeping. And to make that happen, it’s essential to set up a system of business intelligence reporting that tracks and analyses the goals set up in the roadmap.
A set of monthly, quarterly and annual reports are set up to activate the analytics process, and each key personnel on the client’s team should receive a copy for analysis. Based on these reports, better business decisions are taken and changes to the website are proposed.
If there are more changes to the website than what can be handled by the inhouse team, then I am called up again for another project. And I get to look back at this website design process checklist again.
My website design process checklist can be used for any website. It’s been formulated from my years of experience, and continuously reviewed and refined till date. It helps me ensure I handle all aspects of website design, and fulfil the client requirements in an effective and efficient manner.
Do you have anything to add to my website design process checklist?
Let me know in the comments below.