The ultimate guide to planning your website (with a free workbook)

Your website is your virtual storefront (whether you sell products or services). Often times it is the first thing your customers will be judging. If you don’t effectively guide them through your website, or communicate what you do and how you can benefit them, then they’re out the door and onto the next tab. 

Planning your website (whether it’s your first or just a spruce up) is so overwhelming. Where do you start? The copy, images or design? Should you switch platforms, or stick with what you’ve got?

Today I’ve got you covered with the ultimate guide to planning your website (with a free workbook to help you out). There is a ton of work that goes into setting up a website. Today we’re going step by step through all the areas you need to consider when planning yours. 

The ultimate guide to planning your website (with a FREE workbook)

1. Decide what your goals are.

This should be the very first thing you do. Ask yourself what do you want people to do when they’re on your site? Is it to buy your product, sign up for your email list, contact you about a service?

Your website should have a few overarching goals that help you achieve your bigger business goals. You can then break it down and determine the goals of each individual page. Just make sure that they play into your bigger, overarching goals.

Each page should have one call to action telling the reader what to do next. It could be directing them to another page with more information or to the product or contact page to make a sale. 

Without goals and call to actions telling people what to do, your website won’t be effective and users won’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. 

Action step:

  • Determine your overarching big goals for your website.
  • Now determine one goal for each individual page on your website. (there's worksheets for that in the FREE workbook, download it below)

2. Pick your platform

Often times people think that picking the platform is the first step. But if you don’t clearly define what your goals for the website are (both long term and short term) you can’t effectively pick the best platform for your business. 

There’s been a long-time debate about what platforms are best, and if you ask 10 different business owners what they use, they will give you varying answers. In the end, you need to pick one, and just go for it.

If you’re spending all your time weighing the pros and cons of each platform, instead of actually doing the work to get the website up and running, you’re doing it wrong. 

Determining your goals first will help you pick a platform. Depending on your business goals for the next 3 years, your ideal platform may be different than others. If a membership element is part of your plan you will need to do some research on the best platform to use for that. If you want to teach courses you will need to decide if you want that included in your website or a third party host like teachable. 

I use and love Squarespace for my website. I believe it’s the best option for a creative business owners because:

  • It is easy to use and simple enough to update yourself
  • Has enough functionality for a basic business (including e-commerce options!)
  • Amazing support if anything goes wrong

One thing I really want to point out is that there’s no right or wrong platform. Pick the one best for your business and your goals. Like I said above, if you’re spending all your time trying to decide on a platform, you’re doing it wrong. Spend that time actually writing your content and getting your website together instead.

Action step:

Determine what platform is best for you based on your goals for the next 1-2 years. Some great options to explore are Squarespace, Wordpress and ShowIt.


3. Determine your audience

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in business for a little bit, you need to know your audience inside and out. You’re not going to get very far if you don’t know who you’re selling to, what their pinpoints are, what guides their decisions, and what they need help with.

Try and be as specific as you possibly can. Who are they? What do they wear? What do they struggle with? What do their homes look like? Do they have a family? Etc. (Bonus, there’s a worksheet for this in the website planner)

Understanding your audience will help you determine what information you need to include, what kinds of pictures to use, what your colours will be and every other decision from here on out. When you’re making decisions, you need to envision this person in your head and make the choice from their perspective. 

Action Step: 

Define who your audience is. Write down the answers to every questions above and embrace this person as you make your decisions. I have a special section for this in the workbook. 


4. Decide what pages need to be included.

What pages or information needs to be included on your site? Start by grabbing a stack of post-it notes or a piece of paper. Write down every single page you are going to include (One per sticky note). We’re going to organize them into buckets once they’re all written down. An example of what I use is:

Site Map Example

You might have additional pages like testimonials, praise or happy clients, or maybe media or as seen on. 

After every single page is written down, you’re going to want to organize them into buckets. My favorite way to do this is using post-it notes and sticking them on a wall in your house, or even a large table if you don’t have a clear wall.

This is a great way to visualize your information and organize it in an easy way. Post it notes allow you to move stuff around and change it up if needed. 

Start by picking your top buckets. These will be the items that appear in your navigation and should be no more than 9 items. A best practice for how many items to include in your main navigation can be pulled from Millar’s Law:

It is often interpreted to argue that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 ± 2.  

This is frequently referred to as Miller's Law

Your navigation should be no larger than 9 items (and in my opinion, that’s probably too many) but can be as few as 5 items. 

  • Start by picking your top 7 categories that will act as the main buckets. Stick these at the top of your wall.
  • Now start organizing the rest of the content so that it fits under these buckets. 
  • (Some of mine don’t appear in any of the top buckets, and instead live in the footer of the page).
  • You’re finished when all the post-it notes have been categorized. 

Action step:

Do the exercise above. Write down all your pages and start categorizing them.


5. Writing content

Writing effective copy is very important for communicating what you do, and how you can help your audience. If your budget allows for it, hire a copywriter to do this for you. But if you aren’t able to do that, I have a few resources you can use to DIY it.

Start by creating a new Evernote notebook (or something similar) and create a note for every page you listed on a sticky note in the previous step.

Take look at these resources to help you write your most important pages.

Action step:

Book off a day in your schedule and use it to write all of your copy. Make it fun by making a date out of it at a local coffee shop. 


6. Setting up folders on your computer

Once you start the design or development of your website, you’re going to want everything organized and ready for you to pull into the website.

Start by organizing all of your files, graphics, photos or copy into the right folders. You can do this through dropbox or google drive if you have a designer working on your website, or even just your computer if you’re doing it yourself.

If you’re working with a  designer, this step is a must. It keeps everything super organized, and cuts down on back and forth emails asking where is this image, or where is this copy going. 

How to set up folders on your computer: (just be sure to have a folder for each page)

File set-up example

Action Step:

Set up folders on your computer to make it easier for you or your designer to set up your site. Start moving all the content and images into the correct folders. 


7. Finding photos

Photos are SO IMPORTANT for having an effective website. It can make or break your website. Poor photography is just like bad design, and can hurt your credibility or make your website look horrible (even if your branding is on point). Good photography however, can make your website shine and help boost your appearance, credibility and keep your readers on the site longer. 

Hiring a photographer is my recommendation for getting amazing, crisp, branded photos or at the very least, a professional headshot. If you can’t afford that, then DIYing your own photos would be the next option. Think Creative Collective has some great blog posts about how to DIY it here and here. 

The last option is to find some stunning stock photos. This would be a last resort if you can’t hire someone, and don’t want to DIY it. There are some great stock photo options for creative business owners, both paid and free. 

Paid:

Haute Chocolate

Creative Convex

Design Love Shop

Rosemary Watson

Action step:

Book a photoshoot with a local photographer for some headshot and/or custom photos. 

Or browse through some of the sites above and start gathering your photos. Make sure to have a least one photo per page. 


8. Make your design Style Guide

One of the last steps for creating your website is determining your design style. This step might look a little different for everyone.

If you’ve worked with a designer for your branding, you will likely be able to fill all of this in without even thinking about it. If you’re working with a designer on your website, then you can skip this step completely because they will take care of this for you.

If you’re doing it all yourself, this might take a little more time. I have a few posts that will help you out with that here and here.

Your style guide should include the following:

Heading one (font, size, spacing and colour)

Heading two

Heading three

paragraph text

Button colours

Colours in hex #s for you to easily reference

Action Step:

Determine what your visual style will be. Write down all the specifics so you can easily reference is when you start building your website.  


Building your website requires a lot of moving parts and a lot of steps to make it happen. It can be overwhelming when you’re starting the project, but with a little organization and planning, it can go smoothly! Lucky for you, I made a workbook guiding you through all of these steps complete with worksheets you can save and use over and over. 

Happy planning and don't forget to download your free workbook:

Megan Powell

Specializing in clean, simple brand design for creative small business owners.