This post was originally published on June 15, 2016, and was updated on Sept. 14, 2017, and June 5, 2019.
In today’s information age, every successful business needs a website — even small, independent ventures. But a great-looking website doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars. With the right tools and some helpful tips, even a website DIYer can create a great basic site. If you’re wondering how to design a website when you’re not a website designer, these ideas can keep you from making some common mistakes.
One of the easiest ways for a non-developer to learn how to design a website that’s fully customizable is to use a content management system (CMS) like WordPress.
A CMS takes care of how the site is displayed and allows you to focus only on what you want to display. Nearly one-third of all websites hosted on the internet use WordPress so that will be the focus of this article. However, all of these tips and best practices can apply to just about any type of website you create.
How to get a WordPress website
If you are just getting started and want some of the heavy lifting done for you, check out GoDaddy Managed WordPress Hosting. It features a Quick Start Wizard to get your new site up and running fast. Answer some basic questions about your business, and the Quick Start Wizard will use the data to help you select a theme and begin populating data on your site. With GoDaddy Managed WordPress Hosting, you also receive core software updates, daily backups and 24/7 support.
If you’re feeling more adventurous or want more control, you can purchase a reliable hosting package and install WordPress yourself. The CMS is available for free from WordPress.org and is fairly easy to set up if you’ve got some tech chops. Check out “How to install WordPress on cPanel” for the detailed process.
Once you have decided which route is right for you, it’s time to get started building your site. A little planning and attention to detail here will help you design a website that looks and functions great, even if you’re not a professional website designer.
How to design a website using basics and best practices
Your website should be an extension of your branding, and is often the first place potential customers will go to get more information about your services.
By following some basics and best practices for your website design — and avoiding common pitfalls — you can make that impression a good one.
When deciding how to design your website, keep the following tips in mind:
- Start with five core pages.
- Keep it clean and simple.
- Your content matters … a lot.
- Plan for SEO.
- Don’t ignore mobile users (responsiveness).
- Make sure it works (cross-browser compatibility).
Let’s get started learning how to design a website.
1. Start with five core pages
Every business will have different informational needs when it comes to their website content. However, there are also some “core” pages most sites should always include, and these are a great place to start.
Your goals might vary slightly depending on the type of products or services you offer, but your goal is to drive users to become customers with these five pages.
Related: How to plan a website
This is the first thing visitors see when they land on your website, so make it count.
You’ll want to include the most important information at the top, or “above the fold.” This area typically includes your company’s logo and navigation bar, and a quick paragraph or tagline that describes who you are and what you have to offer.
A call-to-action (or CTA) is a great tool to include on your home page.
Consider the most important thing you want a user to do before they leave your site — contact you, complete a form, make a purchase — and then create a CTA that makes that action very easy.
Other important items to consider including on your home page:
- Primary contact information: Make it easy for visitors to reach you.
- Sign-up/subscribe form: Encourage users to sign up for news and information from your website.
- Testimonials/trust badges: Include reviews from previous customers or any badges/ratings you have (e.g. Better Business Bureau, Google Reviews) to show customers you offer quality services and build trust.
Here is where you’ll break out your products or services. Potential customers will visit this page to look for information about what you provide, so you want it to be detailed.
Depending on your type of business, a video might be a good idea on this page.
In addition to pricing information, this is where you would include payment options, shipping information, your return policy, booking requirements, or any other information customers might need about your services.
Keep in mind that if you are selling products directly from your website, you’ll need to install an eCommerce plugin such as Woocommerce. These plugins make the process of entering, managing and displaying products much easier. They also provide options for sending shipping notices, tracking inventory levels and providing order management options.
Who are you? How did you get started? What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Putting a human face on your company can help visitors get a better sense of who you are and provide a feeling of familiarity that many customers like.
Include photos of yourself, your team in action, your storefront, or a short video highlighting your company. You can create a “team” section showing your employees with titles, contact information and a short bio for each.
This page is also a great place to include any product or company awards, certifications, and a standout customer testimonial or two. Speaking of testimonials …
Nothing inspires confidence like good testimonials from other satisfied customers.
Make use of positive reviews left on places like Google Review, or ask past customers directly to provide a review you can use.
Want to encourage more participation? This is also a good page to set up a form for customers to leave you a testimonial. There are several plugins for WordPress that will allow visitors to submit a testimonial that you can then review and approve before it appears on your website.
The contact page is arguably one of the most important pages on your website.
Potential customers need an easy way to reach you, and your contact information should be clear and easy to find.
You want to make it as simple as possible for users to contact your team, so make sure this page is a priority. If you aren’t inspired, here’s some advice to revamp your website’s contact page.
Just remember that no matter what products or services you offer, the ultimate goal is to encourage visitors to contact you. Make that process as painless as possible.
Include as many contact options as you are willing/able to provide. These typically include some combination of email address, telephone number and mailing/physical address. If you do have a physical location for your business, including a map or directions can be a nice touch.
Other common items that can be included on your contact page include hours of service, holiday hours/office closings, and a contact form for users to send a direct message to you.
2. Keep it clean and simple
The best websites are those that are clear, sharp and easy to navigate. While themes and designs vary greatly, it’s still best to remember the old adage “less is more.”
Too much text, busy content or conflicting, bright images make a site difficult to view and even harder to easily grasp your main points.
Whether you’re selecting a theme in WordPress or building your site a different way, keep the overall look clean and simple.
Decide what information is the most important to your visitors and focus on highlighting that data.
Your website shouldn’t be too confusing or busy at first glance. You want users to understand your message within the first 10 seconds of visiting your website.
You also want your navigation menu to be prominent, with wording that makes it apparent what information is included under each option. If needed, use submenus to gather similar pages into one category without cluttering or overwhelming your main navigation bar.
3. Your content matters … a lot
When speaking in terms of websites, “content” refers not only to your written text, or copy, but also your images and videos. There are differing guidelines for text and images, but you should pay careful attention to both.
Written text or copy
This is the “meat and potatoes” of your website, and it should be well-written and highly relevant for your target audience.
Copy should represent your current practices, policies and prices — and still be helpful to your clients.
Avoid text that sounds like “spam” or that feels like it was written for search engines and not real people. Your content should be written in natural language that’s easy to understand. It should provide a good level of detail without being overwhelming and be free of typographical errors and mistakes.
This will not only keep users from being annoyed, but will help boost your search engine rankings as well (more on that later).
Review your content periodically and revise as needed to ensure it stays up to date. Adding new copy regularly, such as blog posts or news items, also can be a great way to keep your visitors engaged with your company.
Humans are visual beings, and images can greatly enhance your website and make it more appealing. However, there are some key factors to keep in mind here as well.
Images should always be relevant and used to complement your copy.
Forcing a very large number of images onto a page can cause users to leave your site by increasing your page load time, so be strategic in what images you choose.
You also do not want to use images that are print quality for display on your website. The file sizes are much larger and don’t offer any benefit over smaller files. Here are some additional tips for working with images in WordPress.
But overall, just remember our previous tip — keep it simple and clean — and select images wisely.
4. Plan for SEO
When you’re figuring out how to design a website, it’s important to keep SEO — shorthand for “search engine optimization” — in mind.
A website with good SEO scores will show up higher on the list of results from search engines like Google and Bing.
Many small businesses rely on word of mouth, but improving your SEO can be a good way to increase your organic search traffic.
The full range of factors that go into calculating SEO scores can be quite complex, and there are companies (including GoDaddy’s SEO Services) that specialize in only this optimization. However, there are some basic steps you can take when designing a website to improve its SEO.
Before you create the copy for your website, take the time to figure out what words and phrases your target user would enter into a search engine like Google to find the products or services you offer. Including these keywords and keyphrases naturally throughout your website — in page headlines, body copy, CTAs, etc. — can attract the attention of search engines.
Tools such as Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends and SEMrush can help you with this keyword research.
The most basic SEO task you should perform is to set meta title and meta descriptions for each of your pages.
These items, referred to as “meta tags,” provide hidden information to search engines that describe what your page is about. These are the heading and description snippets used in search results by engines like Google.
Fortunately, a CMS like WordPress makes these tags easy to add and edit using a plugin such as Yoast SEO. Install the plugin and once you read how to use the Yoast interface, setting your meta tags is easy. Create at least a title and description for each page on your website, although including keywords is a good idea as well.
Another useful tip for enhancing your SEO is to provide your contact information using Schema Markup. This doesn’t really matter to your users, but search engines use this information to locate your business in local search results.
Not a coder? Not to worry! There are schema generators to create the code for you.
Include this generated code on your site, and search engines will be able to provide your contact information in their search results.
What about the non-text elements on your pages, such as images?
Search engines like to have information about them, too.
When you add images to the WordPress Media Library, you can set a couple of values that will help these search engines. Providing both a title and alt text for your images can help improve your SEO scores. You also can include image descriptions, which are good for screen readers and other devices.
5. Don’t ignore mobile users (responsiveness)
In 2018, 58% of website visits were made from some sort of mobile device. This means your site can’t only be presentable on a desktop monitor.
The ability of a website design to adjust content automatically to fill different devices/screen sizes is known as “responsiveness.”
Your site needs to look equally good on a mobile phone, tablet, laptop or widescreen monitor.
Once again, however, WordPress makes this simple.
Many WordPress themes are already responsive and will require very little, if any, tweaking. Responsiveness allows you to present a professional website to all of your visitors, regardless of the device they use.
6. Make sure it works (cross-browser compatibility)
Along with responsive considerations, remember that not all of your visitors will use the same browser to view your website.
Most of the time, this will not be a problem, but you should check your website from multiple browsers.
You don’t need to try every possible browser option, but your site should work well on the five most popular: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge and Opera (Microsoft has discontinued support for Internet Explorer).
If you’re using WordPress and a responsive theme, you should see approximately the same image across any browser you try.
That’s a wrap
In today’s fast-paced and information-driven world, every business needs a website. With these tips on how to design a website, your venture can enjoy that benefit as well. A little time and planning can provide you with a well-designed site that will enhance your company’s image, even if you’re not a website designer.