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Website Planning

How to Design A Website: A Complete Guide

October 3, 2018

Table of Contents

  1. What’s the sitch’?
  2. All about the people.
  3. How are you going to build?
  4. Let’s lay the groundwork.
  5. Time to talk content.
  6. Plan out your content.
    1. Dont rule out existing content.
  7. Gather and create content.
  8. Design website SEO strategy.
  9. Frame it all.
  10. How does it look?
  11. Make it come to life.
  12. Prepare to measure the results.
  13. Test drive your creation.
  14. Include privacy options.
  15. Secure and backup your site.
  16. Share it with the world.
  17. Optimize the experience.
    1. Once they arrive…
    2. Before they arrive…
    3. After they’ve left…

Are you ready to design a website that solves a particular problem? You’ll need it to be highly usable, and you’ll need to do some preparations first. In fact, you should start your “design website plans” way sooner than you actually begin designing it. This is because the process behind how to design a website is as involved as the process of designing it.

This guide will walk you through how to get started, from constructing the idea to marketing the finished result. When you design a website with a plan in mind, you do more than design website experiences, you start to design website solutions.

What’s the Sitch’?

How to Design a Website. Step one; figure out what you are doing.

Websites that solve problems can be beneficial to organizations of all types. When you are looking to design website solutions, the first step is having a full understanding of what you are going to say, why you are going to say it, how you are going to say it, and most importantly – how long you have to put it together. Without this basic understanding of ‘the situation,’ you are likely to disappoint your stakeholders in more ways than one.

Information gathering is a fundamental step when you design a website, and it begins by first identifying what content you’d like to include on your site. While this may seem like a straightforward process, it isn’t always. You’ll need to be able to clearly answer the questions of:

  • Why am I building this website?
  • How will I build this website?
  • Who am I building this website for?
  • When do I need to have it completed?

But sometimes, a single person doesn’t have all the answers, making the first step in the “how to design a website” process time-consuming and painstaking. Often an individual web designer is asked to design a website with little information about why it is being built or who it is being built for. In this situation, asking the right questions, creating personas with business decision makers and creating project briefs can help smooth out this process.

In a team environment, the information gathering portion of “why am I building this website” or “who am I building this website for” may be more organized, but it is often the how question that requires the most effort. When a large team is asked to design website solutions, collaboration is critical. The first important step, in that case, is identifying the key players and setting goals for the team. You’ll need to get everyone on the same page so that the project takes shape quickly and is completed efficiently.

Once you’ve gathered all the required information (and assembled your team if necessary), you can begin to design website building strategies by creating a timeline for the project. Remember to identify any potential constraints that the project might face. Perhaps, some of the data for the site will not be ready in time, or maybe a critical team member is on vacation when you’ll need them. Make a note of these constraints and plan for them before you begin to design a website.

Having a full understanding of the situation first can save you time, money, and frustration but it’s only the beginning. When creating a website, you’ll need to do more than plan your approach, you will also need to plan and design a website for those that will use it.

All about the people.

Websites are built for people, so it makes sense that when considering how to design a website, you’d first focus on obtaining a full understanding of the target audience. This is important when you sell (and many sites are built for sales-related purposes), but it is also highly relevant if you design website solutions.

The best way to design website experiences for the end user is with personas. Personas are representations of the people you are building for. They are the consumers, brand ambassadors, and followers.

The process of creating a persona builds upon the question of “why am I building this website” and “who am I building this website for.” Persona creation is especially helpful in a team environment that needs to know how to design a website for a specific audience without having access to a full project brief. Personas are especially helpful when outside designers are brought in to design website experiences but due to security, do not gain access to marketing specifics. However, even if you are creating a website by yourself, personas can help you focus better on the needs of the user, enabling you to better design website solutions with higher usability and an overall improved user experience.

Personas are extremely valuable for every type of website, and not just because they make designing easier. They can also help align the needs, wants, goals, and pains of the target audience with the elements used to create the site. This is beneficial for not only the user but the business as well since a website that aligns with the user is likely to convert well.

To create personas, you’ll need to start by doing some user research. This helps give you an understanding of the user through scientific methods. From there, you can use that information to create a deeper connection with empathy maps. These visualizations can help you design website solutions from the point of view of the user based on the knowledge obtained about them. You can design a website that creates solutions to the problems they’d likely face.

empathy map

Personas and empathy maps give website designers almost predictive abilities into the habits of their users. With that superpower, they can design website solutions that are firmly rooted in the needs of the user while staying focused on the goals of the organization. Personas and empathy maps are literally the foundational step for how to design a website that serves the user.

As great of a tool as they are, personas and empathy maps are only useful when they are utilized. Everyone must be on board to design website solutions; therefore, once you’ve created them, it is important to share them with as many members of the web design team as needed. This includes designers, content creators, marketers and any other business decision makers. When everyone involved understands who the site is being created for, it will make a significant impact on the results of any website design project.

How are you going to build?

Remember those original questions that you answered when you first started planning your project – the who, what, and why’s? Well, now it’s time to focus on the how, specifically, what technology will you use to build your website project.

This question isn’t as complicated as it sounds. There are actually only a few options when it comes to basic website technology. You could design website solutions from scratch — writing code and uploading files, or you could use a content management system. How do you know which option is best for you? Well, it depends on client needs, budget, technical requirements, and developer expertise. Content management systems make it easier to quickly design website solutions because they feature a WYSIWYG interface, have plugins that expand functionality, are typically lower cost, and allow you to create and utilize themes.

However, the cons are just as compelling. Content management systems have their drawbacks including:

  • Security vulnerabilities
  • Customization limitations
  • Limited SEO (without the use of plugins)
  • Longer page loads and slower performance

There may also be licensing fees — especially if you don’t use open source platforms such as Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress. You’ll need to stay vigilant regarding security if you design a website that uses these options. If you use a proprietary CMS, however, you lower your risk of security vulnerabilities because updates and upgrades are typically managed by the company owning the software.

If you design website pages ‘from scratch’, without templates and prebuilt options, you have less to worry about. Plus, it will be easier to complete redesigns and customize. For many designers, the decision over how to build their website comes back to the original question of “why am I building this website.” If the goal is creating serialized or regularly updated content, you should opt for a content management system. If the goal is showcasing highly customized designs and there isn’t a plan for regularly updated content, designing a website from scratch is probably the better choice.

Once you’ve decided on your approach, remember to check your internal systems for compatibility. Some web designs, coding, and CMSs don’t play as nicely with certain browsers, such as an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Before you design a website, make sure that you have the most up-to-date operating system (whether Windows or Mac) and that your browsers are the most recent version.

Let’s lay the groundwork.

With everything now planned, you can begin designing website solutions by creating an architecture for the entire site. Site architecture helps organize the information on a website so that it is accessible for users. The best way to create an effective site architecture is by building sitemaps. Easy online tools such as Slickplan’s Sitemap Builder can help you, colleagues, and even the end user visualize how a site will be laid out and what you’ll need, to pull it together. When it’s time to design a website, a sitemap is an essential tool.

sitemap builder

Your site architecture provides an overview of how a site will function and your sitemap makes all of that information easy to read. On your sitemap, you’ll create categories and navigation strategies that illustrate how a user will interact with the site. You’ll then be able to use what you’ve created, to design website elements and plan content. When combined with personas, this practice will improve the user experience through its positive effects on usability.

Before you start strategizing your architecture and creating your sitemap, consider a few tips:

  • Do keyword research to ensure you use terms that your target audience will relate to. Tools such as Moz, Google Keywords, or even a Google search can reveal frequently searched queries, potential keywords, and popular phrases.
  • Avoid vague labels or industry jargon. Be transparent about the places you want users to travel.
  • Avoid overlapping categories, or your users may hopscotch across the site to find what they need.

Believe it or not, the creation of your information architecture is one of the most impactful steps you can take when considering how to design a website. Poor information architecture leads to poorly performing websites. Everything from the structure to category names, matters when you seek to design website solutions. For more help with this step, read this Nielsen-Norman Group article.

Once you’ve created your sitemap, test it. Gather your users, hold focus groups or use online testing. You want feedback from real users about how easy it is to complete tasks while on your site — that is, if your goal is to design website solutions that people will actually use. Their insight can help you adjust the architecture and ultimately design a website that they love.

Time to talk content.

Now that you’ve identified your categories and planned your general site structure based on the personas and information gathering that you did at the beginning, you can start thinking about content. When you design a website, the first task is identifying the types of content you will have. Will your content be text or video? Will you need forms? Are you using pictures? All of these basic questions can help you define your content needs.

Once you know the type of content you will have, you can begin associating it with the categories and pages that you’ve previously laid out. Will you have an ‘About Us’ page? Will there be product pages? These specific questions help you dial further into your needs so that now, you don’t just have a definition but you also have a clear solution.

The purpose of content is to support the mission of the site, so remembering why the site is being built is vital as you design website pages. Your initial answer to the question “Why am I building this site?”, should help you determine both the type of content and the specific categories that you will use. You should also use information gathered from empathy maps, as well as any personas, to visualize and design website content around what your target audience would like to see.

Plan out your content.

With a general idea of what should go on the website, the next big question is how.

  • How will it be placed on the website? (More specifically, who will do it?)
  • How will it be organized?
  • How can we save money on it?

A sitemap, created when planning the information architecture, can be a great help during this step. You can use the tool to visualize and decide which pages you want to include on the site. With this graphical representation, you can shift pages around to organize potential content, selecting the best setup for your target audience.

Once the content is organized, it is easy to take a bird’s eye view and grab a glimpse of how much is needed. Perhaps it’s more than you were expecting. Surely, there is another option…

Don’t rule out existing content.

If building a website for an existing business or brand, the chances are good that there is already some content to work with. If you have existing content from a previous website, or offline content about the brand, product, or services, you already have a head start. If the idea of gathering all of that content seems daunting, use a site crawler, such as Slickplan’s Site Crawler, to perform a content inventory. It can help you locate and categorize all of the current pages, documents, images, and files.

site crawler

Using existing content instead of creating new content can help save money. Not sure if what you have can be used to design website pages? Use the ROT method to gauge if what you currently have will be appropriate for your new site. It looks for signs of redundancy, expiration, or irrelevance. Read this article to learn about the ROT method and for more tips on migrating content.

Once you know exactly how much content you will need, it is easy to create a plan for how it will be placed (and by how, we mean who). Update your sitemap to include your content needs and share it internally with your team or add tasks to your to-do list if it’s a solo project. If it’s more content than you can create, consider hiring a freelancer to fill in the gaps and add that to your project budget, if you hadn’t already. Planning for your content as you design a website is just as crucial as planning all other aspects of your site. Eventually the designing can begin, but for now, it’s all in the prep work.

Gather and create content.

The last step of the content planning process is visualizing how the site will present itself. If you created categories during the initial planning stages, you probably already have somewhat of an idea about how you’d like the website to look. However, if you haven’t, or if you are still open to possibilities, now is the time to do it.

There are multiple ways to present content on a website, and you can use content structures to illustrate how you intend to design website pages that do so. The three most popular structures are:

  • Hierarchical — where pages have a clear parent and child relationship
  • Sequential — where users follow a predefined path to navigate through content
  • Matrix — where content is organized in data sets, and users determine their path

Once you decide which type of structure you intend to use, add them to your existing sitemap, building out your information architecture further. As it gets closer to when you can begin building your site, this detailed architecture will help everyone involved stay informed and within the intended guidelines of the project. Create and use a style guide for all content on the site. This will help present a uniformed voice on every page.

style guide

While you are creating your content structures, you should also gather your content for when the site is complete. Gathering your content ahead of time is an ideal approach to how to design a website because it ensures you aren’t waiting for content after the design process is done. It also gives you more time to plan for SEO by optimizing your content pre-launch.

Content creation is an important consideration when you design a website. If you are writing the content yourself, remember these best practices:

  • Use bulleted lists. They make it easier for both readers and search engines to scan.
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs for easier use on mobile devices.
  • Write to the user, not at them. Be truthful, transparent, and clear.
  • Talk to your audience, not over them, by avoiding industry jargon whenever possible.
  • Look for opportunities to crosslink with other pages on your site.
  • Work with a designer to develop appropriate images for your content, or find stock images.

Add everything you’ve created so far to your architecture, including page names, page titles, and any URL redirects from your old site. If the content is complete, consider adding a call-to-action to each page of your sitemap as well. As you design website pages, this information will be built upon, theoretically passing the baton for the next step.

Design website SEO strategy.

Search engine optimization is essential for any type of website. There is just too much online content for users to find your site without using a search engine of some sort, and SEO helps users discover it.

When you think about how to design a website, you should also think about how users will find it. So, start the process by first outlining your SEO needs. Create keyword portfolios and do the necessary research to identify any gaps in content. Keyword portfolios can help you understand which terms your users rely on when searching for sites like yours.

You’ll then need to prepare a structure for page titles and meta descriptions. Use your keyword research to identify ideal terms to use in your page titles. Your choice of terms in the page titles will impact how your pages are indexed, which ultimately affects your SEO. You’ll also need to set your URL slugs and check and see if you’ll need canonical URLs. Short, but clear URLs are ideal in any situation, and canonical URLs help search engines know what to do if multiple pages cover similar topics. You’ll also want to avoid repeating terms within your URL, for example, don’t use domain.com/products/product-name, instead use domain.com/products/name. It will only “confuse” crawlers and damage your SEO.

The information gathered from strategizing your SEO should then be added to your sitemap pages. Add meta descriptions to each page and list relevant keywords. This is also an ideal place to include your new URLs or any canonical URLs and create schema markup. By including your SEO research on your sitemap, you shorten the amount of time (and effort) needed to optimize the site once it is live. You could design a website that is built turn-key and ready to attract visitors.

Frame it all.

wireframe

The groundwork for your website needs some sort of framework for designers to work from, and the wireframe is just that. Wireframes provide simplified outlines of the end product and are more detailed than a sitemap. In web design, wireframes outline blocks of content, headlines, images, interactive elements, calls-to-action, and more.

When creating wireframes, it’s important to remember that wireframes are less design and more skeleton. They are most useful for obtaining the necessary approvals from stakeholders before the design team starts investing money and time. With these frames, everyone can quickly see the direction and scope of a project before too much time is invested in its live development.

Wireframes are a backbone for UX design and are especially useful for responsive design where it can help developers understand where images, content, and other elements will fall on smaller screens, such as tablets and smartphones. After the creation (and approval) of a wireframe, website developers can design website mockups and prototypes, which build upon the original wireframe. Read this UX Pin article for a detailed overview of wireframes.

While wireframes primarily help with planning out content, they are also useful for ensuring that a mobile experience fits the essential elements of the site architecture and page structure. On a smaller screen, this can be challenging, as you need to ensure that the experience is not getting in the way of what your users want. While creating wireframes, build mobile design concepts that outline how content will appear on smaller devices. For example, navigation should be easily accessible at the top of the screen, while the content follows a consistent flow to the bottom. This includes banner images, calls-to-action, body text, and associated elements and/or promotional items.

Slickplan’s Diagram Maker will also be a helpful addition to your wireframes. These diagrams will force you to consider the look and content of the site, think about how users will interact with the functionality and elements of the site (ie.. when they click a landing page, what happens? If they choose to complete a form, what is that experience like?). A diagram is a transparent way to plan for the user journey correctly before you get down the path of building it.

How does it look?

With all the content and elements planned out, it’s time to determine a color scheme or branding approach. Branded logos and colors, if not already established, should be created at this time. They will be essential to tying in the “feel” of your organization.

You’ll also want to extend this branding to offline collateral, such as brochures and billboards. These assets, although not digital, should align with the color scheme used to design website pages to create a unified experience.

Using the branded design, create graphics and visual elements that compliment or match. This includes working palettes and any logos if they have not already been established. You’ll also need to choose colors. Both primary and secondary colors are useful when you design a website color scheme or accent colors; however, use colors sparingly. Too much color can be jarring and confusing to process. White space can be beneficial when you design website pages — especially on smaller devices.

Once you’ve planned out the branded look of the site, you’ll need to get some feedback from those involved. Stakeholder feedback can ensure that the look and feel are appropriate for the goals of the organization. Your team can also help ensure your colors are suitable for the web and meet WCAG contrast ratios. Be open to feedback during both branding and wireframe discussions. These moments are a great chance to get feedback and make pivots or adjustments before investing further into the concept and development.

Make it come to life.

With all of the planning completed, it’s time to begin creating the final graphics and visual elements that will go on the site. After the time spent creating wireframes and planning out branding, this step should flow smoothly. However, it is important to not overlook accessibility. Use WCAG guidelines on features such as contrast ratios and font enlargers to ensure your designs meet the needs and abilities of all users. For the best experience for your users, work with designers and developers who understand accessibility.

Finished designs mean the website is nearly ready, and you can once again review your architecture. Remember the groundwork you set down many steps ago? Now it is time to review that sitemap and ‘connect the dots.’ Link the main, secondary, footer or other tertiary navigation that was created in the development.

Create your landing page. Every item in the visible navigation should appear on a landing page. If other design elements were outlined during the planning process, such as drop-down menus, video backgrounds, or other user-friendly elements, ensure they meet the appropriate “breakpoints” for small-screen devices, such as smartphones.

Add in your content, proofread and check all of the links. You can use a site crawler to check for broken links. Your website is nearly formed, but there are still plenty more steps to take before it should go live.

Prepare to measure the results.

GA audience overview

Your site may not be launched yet, but it’s not too early to think about whether it will be successful. Analytics are the best way to know, which is yet another reason why installing tracking on your websites when you design website pages is a good idea. Both Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager can help monitor the ROI of your website. You can even set specific parameters on Google Analytics to track specific goals.

Tracking specific data is not as hard as it may seem. Using Google, for example, you track blog categories or tags to see which topics gain the most traction. Once you have that information, use it to create more content that resonates with your users, increasing the overall value of your site. If you are selling products or services, you can create parameters around the product catalog to see what is driving the most interest. In the immediate, your results can lead to some highly useful data, but in the long-run, it can demonstrate value to key stakeholders.

While the data from website analytics are fundamental to measuring the results of your website, they aren’t everything that goes into determining the ROI of a website. Stakeholders want to know that you know how to design a website that can make money, and a popular page doesn’t always equate to profit.

For a revenue-generating website like one designed for e-commerce, it is easy to measure its value. You simply divide the gross profit by the expenses, and you’re left with a ratio that equals your return on investment. However, if your website is not designed for e-commerce, and is geared more as a solution, then this equation is a little less straightforward. How do you show the income portion necessary for determining the profit? Here are some ways to demonstrate value for a non-income generating website:

  • Calculate the value of a new customer. If your website is lead-generating, measuring conversion can show value. Prepare your site so that it will track users and measure the number of conversions.
  • Include the site in the sales funnel. Value-adding websites are a part of the sales process and assist by helping other methods make money. When you design website sitemaps, share them with other teams to ensure the website’s role is clear within the funnel.
  • Define rules for conversions. If the website is part of a multi-channel marketing effort, sometimes it can be hard to identify which actions made the difference. Use attribution modeling to ensure a site gets the credit it deserves.

With the right analytics in place, you can demonstrate the value of any site. When combined with careful planning that considered who the website was for and why it was being created, a successful website is not too far out of reach.

Test drive your creation

Your site may look ready, but it’s not quite there yet. You’ll want to perform another round of checks before you allow it to go live. Although you’ve already spent plenty of time planning the site, there’s a good chance that some problems may have slipped through the cracks. Doing a thorough last-minute check can ensure that your website is ready.

There are many things that you could look for in a final review, but here are a few that you should pay attention to:

  • Functionality: Do all the interactive and functional elements of your site work?
  • Links: Are any of the links broken? Do the links describe where they’re going?
  • Mobile: Does the site work well on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets?
  • Content: Is the content accurate and complete? Does it add value?
  • Conversions: Do all conversion points, such as online forms or shopping carts, work as expected?
  • Social Media: Are social media accounts accessible and connected?

Many of these steps will require some manual effort, but much of it can be completed online. For example, some tools check for broken links, 400-level page errors, accessibility standards, or missing redirects. Software development firm, Walling Info Systems, lists a few online-based website testing tools on their blog.

If possible, you’ll also want to consider involving your stakeholders again. Now that everything is all together, it is a great time to ask for another review. Showcase your design internally for “buy-in.” Share the project with other members of your organization to seek out any missing brand opportunities. Look for any unfulfilled needs of the target audience.

Don’t just ask, “what do you think?”. To ensure the best user experience, give stakeholders tasks to complete or information to find. Measure how easy (or how difficult) it is to complete the assigned tasks. With their feedback, you can ensure you design website solutions to their problems while also putting the final touches on the site.

Include privacy options.

Your site is nearly complete, and by now you should have clear privacy policies drafted, (possibly with help from your legal team). Ideally, you’d want to follow GDPR requirements, which were instituted for the European Union but are applicable worldwide. Write the privacy policies in plain language and give users the ability to delete or adjust their permissions.

GDPR

If your site uses cookies to track website users, make this fact clear and visible to first-time users. Design website pages that give users the option to acknowledge that they’ve read the notice. Privacy policies can be placed anywhere on the website, but they need to be well-labeled and easily accessible. Often, the footer is the best place for it.

Secure and backup your site.

Now that you’ve built your website, you need to make sure you won’t lose it. Securing and backing up your site is critical if you don’t want to risk having your work completely wasted. It starts with the hosting provider, so before you even begin to design a website, research your hosting options. Typically, there are four types to choose from: shared, VPS, dedicated and cloud. Within those options, there will likely be many to select from; so, it’s a good idea to shop around.

Many factors go into choosing a hosting provider. Besides being a great value, choose one that provides security of its own and can also monitor your site’s uptime and defend it from potential attacks or malicious access. Some features to look for in a secure hosting provider include:

  • Datacenter Security. The stability of the building that houses the servers hosting your websites should be a consideration. A facility that is ruined due to a natural disaster is unable to host your site, putting your business at risk.
  • RAID. This feature helps to protect data in the event of server crashes. Although backups can help you recreate the site in an emergency, if you haven’t created one and the server crashes, there is nothing to recreate. RAID ensures you can still access your data even when the website is down.
  • Backup. Many hosting providers offer manual or automated backups of your website. When comparing options, consider the allotted backup space and the ability to conduct manual backups.

When using WordPress or Drupal, check for plugins and modules (such as Wordfence for WordPress) that can monitor your site and alert your team of potential risks. Once you’ve decided on a hosting provider, you should think about increasing the security of your site. Even with the best backup in place, you don’t want to be an easy target for hackers. There are many things that you can do to improve site security, but these practices are generally recommended:

  • Keep your software up to date. This includes your server operating system, content management system, forums, and any plugins. Security holes in these places are easy backdoors to hackers.
  • Add code to defend against XSS attacks and SQL injections. Practices such as using parameterized queries and content security policy can protect sites against malicious attacks.
  • Keep error messages brief. Do not reveal more information than necessary to website users. Make sure detailed errors remain in the server logs; not open for hackers to manipulate.
  • Enforce password requirements. If your website lets users create passwords, make strong passwords a condition of entry. Each user account is a potential gateway into your server, making a weak password a security risk.
  • Use HTTPS. The “S” means secure and opting for this protocol means your content stays encrypted and less likely to be stolen while traveling across the net. It also could help your website rank higher, at least with Google.

Security continues after your site goes live as well. In addition to choosing a secure hosting provider and taking steps to reduce your risk, you should also continue to monitor for security problems. As you submit your site to Google Search Console, look for any errors, no-index pages, or suspicious activity. Continuously monitor your site using free website security tools such as OpenVAS, SecurityHeaders.io, or Netsparker.

Share it with the world.

share it

You’ve worked hard and are now ready to share your website. After you click submit, immediately plan to:

  • Submit your XML sitemap to Google so that it can read and index your pages and site architecture.
  • Watch the traffic for any dips. If your website is a migration, allow a few weeks for it to go back to normal.
  • Promote your new launch on social media. Give users a taste for any new functionality or content. Drive traffic to your site with video tours.
  • Invest in SEO or PPC campaigns, if you haven’t already. Now is the time to begin marketing.

Optimize the experience.

All done, right? Not quite. Even if you already know how to design a website, the best site could often use a little help, especially when it comes to attracting users and creating an experience they enjoy. If you build it, does not necessarily mean they will come, so plan on utilizing a few optimizations after the site goes live.

Once they arrive…

The first thing to look for is potential missed opportunities. Remember the four questions you started with — the who, why, how, and when — they can provide some insight into what you could add to improve the experience.

Perhaps you discover that some areas of your site could better support why you are building it. Look for places where you could better advertise a product or service. Ensure your content is effectively crosslinked, connecting related content for ease of use. Add an option for newsletter sign-up so users can learn more. These little things can easily be overlooked when you plan and design website pages, and they are often hard to identify until the end.

Before they arrive…

Perhaps the optimizations that you need are off-site. Maybe it is less about improving the experience and more about attracting the right users to experience it. If this is the case, you may want to consider revisiting your code.

Back when you were planning your SEO, you may have included schema markup in the process you took to design a website page; but if you didn’t, now is the time to do so. By using schema markup, you can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your search results. While search engine optimization focuses on appearing in search results, schema focuses on ensuring the correct information is there to show. Users that land on your site are more likely to have a better experience if where they ended up matches their expectations.

Schema markup uses a standardized vocabulary that has been agreed upon by the major search engines. It doesn’t require any additional coding knowledge – everything is written in HTML. You can view a full glossary on Schema.org.

After they’ve left…

The experience of one user, provides useful data on how to improve the experience of the next so it is imperative that you use website tracking to measure the results. Before the site goes live, (as you design website pages) install tracking opportunities such as Google Analytics to monitor the user experience.

Use the “site search” option to see which pages (or other types of content) users are seeking. Depending on how hard you look, you may be able to discover much more than the most popular content. Sometimes it is what users aren’t finding that deserves most of your attention.

Based on the information gathered from Google Analytics, you may discover that you need to adjust your page titles or site structure, or you may even need to add more crosslinking or calls-to-action. By looking at the paths taken by previous users, it is easier to predict and plan for the paths they’ll take next.

When it is time to design a website that provides a solution to a customer problem, you want to ensure that it is firmly rooted in the needs of the customer. When you focus on usability, you do just that. By carefully planning how you design website structures, from the architecture and pages, to the branding and SEO, you can create experiences that not only entertain your users, but also serve them. Best of all, with a plan, it is a lot easier than other options.

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