Designing your own website seems pretty daunting, doesn’t it? Navigating all the right tools and being a whizz with layout and positioning. You want the good news? That’s total garbage.
In fact, you don’t need to be a genius at all in order to get around designing a website, and that’s exactly what we’re going to help you out with in this easy-to-follow guide. Web design is all about creative freedom, so let’s take you through:
- Defining your site’s purpose and strategy
- Researching the latest web design trends
- Choosing your platform
- Deciding on your branding
- Adding in and optimizing content
- Publishing your site
- Analyzing and improving along the way
So let’s get those creative juices flowing!
Want to know how to build a website?
This guide focuses on how to design a website. If you want to know how to build a website, head over to our step-by-step manual.
It sounds like such a simple point to make, but before you jump head-first into designing your website, you first need to be clear on its purpose.
Beyond simply knowing your industry and defining a content strategy, you need to think about what your USP (unique selling point) is, and how you want to come across.
People aren’t stupid. If you put yourself out there just to make a profit or raise your own profile, people will see through it. Your website’s design is directly linked to your brand, and it needs to come across as authentic and engaging.
“An organization’s ‘culture of purpose’ answers the critical questions of who it is and why it exists. They have a culture of purpose beyond making a profit.”
Punit Renjen, Deloitte
What are you trying to achieve?
Once your purpose is clear, the focus shifts towards what action you want visitors to take when they land on your website. Is your site there just to display information? To sell products? To get sign-ups?
The answer to this will ultimately dictate how your website looks and feels. Using ecommerce as an example, one crucial element of your design is your landing page.
Taking this one step further, we caught up with Wolfgang Bruns, a conversion rate expert at a global tech company. We asked him about the importance of having separate landing pages for different visitors, in order to individually tailor offers and products – a process known as customer segmentation. Here’s what he had to say:
Advice from the Experts
“Understanding your users is essential to the success of any business. It means you can customize and improve the experience you deliver and better serve their needs. Doing that has a direct impact on the bottom line.
“Segmenting your traffic to provide a more relevant experience is your first step on the journey to a personalized user experience, and the business success that comes with it.”
Wolfgang Bruns, CRO Manager
Web design evolves quickly, but there are some more prevalent trends you can learn from. At this point, it’s important to note that just because a web trend is current, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for you.
48% of people cite design as the most important factor of a website, so it’s important to take your time and look at what competitors are doing. Each sector will have different styles, so it’s vital you know whether you want to fit into your industry, or disrupt it.
Alex Vasili – a leading brand expert – believes you should always research by industry, rather than age or gender. When speaking to us about web design, he said:
Advice from the Experts
“There’s a whole load of stuff in terms of color theory – which colors suggest certain emotions, and how they place you in a sort of feeling. I think it depends on whether you’re trying to disrupt or trying to fit in.
“If you’re trying to disrupt, then you want something completely different to what the sector is offering. But if you’re trying to fit in, there are clear patterns.
“If you’re a tech company, you’ll probably have some blue in there, whereas if you’re a start-up, you might have a really vibrant, hot color in there. The same goes for your font. You’ll want a really clean, simple design, and a lot of whitespace.”
Alex Vasili, Brand Manager
This goes to show the importance of knowing what you want before diving into the physical design itself. We’ll come back to color in the ‘Branding’ section, but to help you out, here are some current trends that are taking the internet by storm.
Micro-interactions are small animations which takes place when a user engages with a website. For example, if you ‘react’ to a post on Facebook, it will pop up with the relevant, animated emoji.
Micro-interactions are there to inject a website with some personality. Micro-interactions create a human touch point that actively makes your visitors feel like they are communicating with your website.
Micro-interactions can take many forms – clicking, hovering, scrolling etc. – and are important in building a relationship with users. They might not suit serious white-collar businesses, but most sites could benefit from a little interaction.
If you thought you wouldn’t be learning about architecture in this guide, we’re afraid you’re sadly mistaken. Brutalist web design takes its inspiration from mid-twentieth century building construction, and although many people see it as ugly, it just works.
Spanish fashion house Balenciaga was one of the first major companies to adopt a brutalist website back in 2016. And much like its seasonal trends, brutalism has quickly caught on.
Brutalism derives from the French word ‘brut’, meaning ‘raw’, and offers a basic, bold and striking approach to web design. It’s not for everyone, but those looking to disrupt their industry will certainly want to take note.
Here’s a stat for you: businesses spend nearly $1.3 trillion every year on customer service requests. It’s estimated that chatbots could reduce this by 30%.
Gone are the days when chatbots were mere gimmicks – now, they’re becoming ever more essential to customer-facing services.
The major draws of chatbots are time-efficiency and cost-effectiveness. They work 24/7, which frees up your time to get on with other matters. They also save you the expense of employing staff to work as customer service representatives.
Sure, chatbots aren’t perfect, but their emotional intelligence and ability to provide tailored support is improving by the day. There’s never been a better time to install one.
The first thing that springs to mind when you think of quality web design is a professional agency, right? And while top companies largely do a great job, they can be eye-wateringly expensive.
Luckily, there is another way: website builders and ecommerce platforms. These are DIY online tools that allow you to create and design your own website – without needing to know a single line of code!
Naturally, there are tons of options out there – of varying quality – but we’ve put in the legwork and researched the best on the market. Through a combination of expert research and thorough testing, we can now reveal the best options for designing your very own site.
Website Builder Comparison Chart – Take a side-by-side look to compare key areas.
7 Best Ecommerce Platforms – Check out our mini reviews of each.
Ecommerce Platforms Comparison Chart – Easily identify which platform works for you.
Below, we’ll run through the top three options for both regular websites and online stores. First, though, let’s address the elephant in the room: WordPress.
What about WordPress?
WordPress.org is a self-hosted, open-source CMS (content management system) – but all you really need to know is that it’s the most popular platform for designing a website.
WordPress gives you total control over the look and feel of your website, and is technically free to use. We say this because, in order to get your website live, you’ll actually need to pay for web hosting, security, a domain name, and any additional plugins or themes you need.
The biggest issue with WordPress, though, is that it’s not really suitable for the average Joe. Unless you’re comfortable with code – or have the budget to hire a professional developer – WordPress will prove near-impossible to use.
For this reason, we’d recommend that people who are building their own site stick to website builders and ecommerce platforms.
WordPress.com vs WordPress.org – Find out the difference between the two.
Designing Websites: Website Builders
Unless you’re looking to sell online, website builders are the most effective way for non-tech whizzes to create their own website. If an online store is what you’re after, skip to our ecommerce platforms section.
From our expert research, we’ve been able to establish the 10 best website builders available to you today. All cater to different needs, but for a general overview, take a look at our quality scale below:
|Wix Pros||Wix Cons|
|Highly intuitive and easy-to-use editor||Can’t switch templates after your website goes live|
|Great value for money||May have to spend more on third party apps to scale your website|
|Strong help and support features||The sheer choice and amount of customizable options can be overwhelming|
|The builder our users were most likely to recommend|
Wix is generally regarded as the best website builder on the market. Its easy to use drag-and-drop editor gives you total creative control, allowing you to add in all your content and position it wherever you see fit.
There’s also a choice of 510 professionally designed templates, a bunch of amazing features which come built-in, and a huge app store where you can install any extras you may need.
From thoroughly testing the platform ourselves, we can confirm Wix lives up to the hype. Have a look at our final research scores and see for yourself:
We also arranged for regular people, just like you, to sit down with Wix and attempt to design their own website. These volunteers were blown away by just how quick and easy Wix was to use, as well as the sheer choice of features on display. Here’s what they had to say:
“I was genuinely surprised that it was that quick [to design a website]. I didn’t think that it would all get done in an hour.”
“I like the side menu where you can add images and apps etc. because it was simple and easy to navigate.”
Wix Pricing – An overview of Wix’s pricing plans.
How to use Wix – A step-by-step guide for beginners.
Wix Editor vs Wix ADI – Learn about the different ways you can create a Wix website.
|Squarespace Pros||Squarespace Cons|
|Best quality templates in terms of design and flexibility||Limited number of price plans|
|Best quality features of any builder on the market||Not totally beginner friendly|
|Full customization control without the need for coding|
Squarespace is a website builder that oozes class, and comes with a glossy, premium feel.
Squarespace prides itself on its templates. Their cutting-edge designs make them perfect for anyone in a creative field, such as photographers, artists, or graphic designers.
Squarespace also comes with an array of quality features. Here you can see how it scored in our research for all the major categories:
Squarespace proved a real hit with our users, too. Here’s just a couple of their thoughts:
“My website looks really clean and fresh. I think a lot of that is down to how well the template I chose is designed.”
“It’s a huge challenge to create a site by yourself unless you’re a designer, so the fact that the templates have industry-specific features is a huge benefit. I’d say that’s one of the most important factors [when designing a website].”
How to use Squarespace – Our simple handbook for using Squarespace.
Squarespace Pricing Review – Which plans offer real value for money?
|Weebly Pros||Weebly Cons|
|Best for small businesses, with all the basic tools you need to build a great business site||Drag-and-drop customization is limited – unless you’re confident with code|
|Cool customizable templates||No personal restore option, so if your site goes down, you’re totally reliant on the Weebly support team|
|Really helpful SEO guides in Weebly’s help and support center||No ADI option (short for Artificial Design Intelligence, this is where a website builder uses information you provide to automatically create a site for you)|
Weebly is marketed as a website builder for all, but really, it specializes in small business websites. It has a great range of templates to choose from, and a drag-and-drop editor that’s pretty easy to get to grips with.
Weebly really comes into its own when you start looking at its features – there’s hundreds to choose from, and most of them are brilliant! For a closer look at where Weebly’s strengths lie, take a look at our scores:
Our users who tested Weebly really liked how it helped them structure their site, and how it showed them that anyone really can build their own website:
“I think Weebly’s templates are a good way of introducing you to the structure and presentation of a website.”
“Overall, it was really easy to use, and kind of debunks the myth that it’s really, really difficult [to build a website].”
How to use Weebly – 7 steps to getting your Weebly site online.
Wix vs Weebly vs Squarespace – The ultimate comparison.
Designing Websites: Ecommerce Platforms
Ecommerce platforms work in a very similar way to website builders, but they’re specifically designed to help you set up an online store. Some are purpose-built just for ecommerce, while others (like Wix) are website builders that have ecommerce functionalities.
|Shopify Pros||Shopify Cons|
|Sell across multiple channels, including Facebook, Instagram, Amazon and eBay||You have to create your storefront between the editor and dashboard, meaning you’ll have to flick between the two|
|Brilliant inventory system which helps you manage your store||Only platform to enforce its own transaction fee with Shopify Payments|
|Came first in our research for sales features and customer score||Content doesn’t automatically reformat if you switch to a different theme|
Shopify stands head and shoulders above its peers as the best ecommerce platform. It has a range of themes which are all designed with your products in mind, and more sales features than you can shake a stick at.
Where Shopify really excels, though, is away from your website. The platform allows you to broaden your online store’s reach by tapping into different channels, and by selling across various marketplaces and social media networks.
Here you can see how Shopify performed in our ecommerce platform testing:
Shopify is slightly different to website builders in that you predominantly work from a dashboard, rather than an editor.
Because there is so much more to consider with online stores – like marketing, inventory, and shipping – it makes sense that you have a hub to manage everything from, including your website’s design.
How Does Shopify Work? – Our 9-step guide covers all the basics.
Shopify Pricing Review – Is Shopify worth the investment?
|Wix eCommerce Pros||Wix eCommerce Cons|
|Eye-catching designs – add product videos to give customers a better shopping experience||No social media integration – doesn’t let you sell across multiple channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest|
|Advanced ecommerce tools, including abandoned cart recovery to catch customers who have left items at the checkout||Too much creative freedom, which can get in the way of ecommerce design best practices|
|Multilingual sites – grow your business globally by creating multiple sites for different countries|
“But haven’t you already covered Wix?” Well, yes – but building an online store with Wix is a whole other ball game!
Although Wix can’t rival Shopify when building a ‘pure’ online store, it’s perfect for people who just want to have a store section on their website.
Anyone who sells products on the side could benefit from Wix. If you’re in a band, for example, the main purpose of your site will probably be to provide fans with tour information and take bookings for gigs.
However, you may also want to sell merchandise, such as tour tops, albums, and branded instruments. Wix makes it easy to either build an online store from the off, or add in a store section further down the line.
Here are Wix’s ecommerce-specific scores from our research:
Squarespace and Weebly also offer online store pricing plans, so if you just want the option to sell online, it’s worth having a look around.
Wix vs Shopify – Learn more about the difference between the two platforms.
|BigCommerce Pros||BigCommerce Cons|
|Most scalable ecommerce platform||Hard for ecommerce beginners to get to grips with|
|More built-in features than any competitor||No mobile app to run your store on the go|
|Lets you sell across multiple channels, including Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest|
|Fantastic SEO tools|
Between Shopify and Wix, BigCommerce is far more similar to the former. It’s designed solely for selling online, and is widely regarded as one of the best platforms to create an online store with.
One thing BigCommerce has over Shopify is the amount of built-in features it has. With Shopify, you may end up spending far more than just the standard monthly fee to install a whole bunch of apps – many of which are free to use with BigCommerce.
On the flip-side, BigCommerce is undoubtedly harder to use than Shopify. Some of the terms it uses are quite technical, and the actual design of your site can get quite complex – meaning it’s not exactly a beginner-friendly platform.
Still, BigCommerce more than held its own through our research testing:
We’d see BigCommerce as a platform for those who are both more technically skilled and budget-conscious. It’s really designed for SMEs, so anyone just looking to sell a few products a month will be better off with a website builder that has ecommerce functionality.
Now you’re clear on your site’s purpose, clued up on the latest web design trends, and have a platform in mind, you should have a much better idea of what you need from a template.
A template, sometimes referred to as a theme, is the layout of your site. Think of a template like the structure of your house – it forms its basic appearance, before you fill it with all your belongings.
Most platforms will offer you a range of templates to choose from, which come pre-filled with example content.
Templates are usually divided into industry categories, making it super simple to sift through them and find ones that are relevant to you. Each category will have templates with built-in features that are relevant to that industry, saving you the time and effort of adding them in later.
For example, if you wanted a website for your new coffee shop, you may browse the templates listed under ‘cafe’. Most of these will already have a contact form, menu page, and contact details built into the template, as they are all related to what a cafe website would require.
All templates can be previewed before you begin editing, so you can get a clear idea of what it looks like – and, more importantly, whether it fits your needs.
Rolling with the example of a coffee shop, it’s worth checking out what other cafes are doing.
Research suggests that website users find information faster by scrolling, rather than by flicking across different pages. So, if your website just needs some basic information, it may be worth considering a one-page template.
Wix Templates Review – Learn what we really think of Wix’s templates.
Squarespace Templates Review – Just how good is Squarespace’s design?
The time has come to start designing your website! Now, let’s put what we’ve learned into practice.
When designing your site, you should think about how everything you do relates to your overall brand. Everything from the color scheme to font style and imagery play a part in telling your brand’s story. It’s important they’re all sending the same message.
Color is one of a brand’s biggest communication tools. In fact, according to Color Matters, a signature color can boost brand recognition by 80%.
There’s a lot of psychology behind people’s perception of color, so it’s important to understand how it’s used in relation to your industry. To help you out, here’s an infographic we’ve put together that helps explain what different colors mean and how they’re used.
Most brands have one dominant color, then two or three secondary colors. Blue is the most popular color, with one third of the top 100 brands using it in their logo.
If you want your site to be in-keeping with modern trends, then vibrant colors are the way to go. Color experts, Pantone, recently voted ‘Living Coral’ as color of the year for 2019:
Similar to color, the font you opt for has a big impact on what people think about your website. The average website user will read about 20% of the text on any given page, so it’s crucial to entice them with an appropriate vibe.
Naturally, white-collar businesses will want to use classic styles of font. Fonts like Arial and Helvetica are synonymous with professionalism, and therefore make sense when discussing serious matters.
A more fun or playful brand, however, may wish to explore more abstract fonts. It’s important to strike a balance between interesting and readable, though – the last thing you want to do is alienate your readership.
As a general rule of thumb, you should avoid using Comic Sans font. That is, unless you’re planning a kids birthday party!
Images are how you turn a modest website into a visual feast.
Visual content is useful for increasing clicks and engagement, but on a more basic level, images simply stick in the mind. According to one study, if we hear a piece of information, we’ll only remember 10% of it – but if you add a picture, you’ll remember an incredible 65%.
That said, be careful not to overload your site with images. Lots of high-quality images might look great, but they can slow your site down. Web users are impatient, and will vote with their keyboards if your site doesn’t load quickly.
So, now you know what you want to add to your website, there are two things you need to think about: positioning and optimization.
Positioning refers to where your content sits on each page, and how it’s laid out. Optimization, meanwhile, is the process of tweaking content to help it rank higher on search engines, such as Google or Bing.
Below, we’ll discuss the technicalities of both, and explain why they’re important.
Research into reading patterns teaches us that people commonly consume content in an ‘F’ format. In simple terms, this means that website users will scan a page in a shape that resembles an F.
This picture is taken from a Neilson study, where the group tracked the eye movement of readers on a web page.
This is why navigation bars on websites are nearly always displayed across the top of the page. It’s the first thing people are drawn to when landing on the site.
It’s good practice to lay out your content with this in mind, so as many people as possible see the important stuff.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO, for short) is when you make changes to your website in order to increase the quality or quantity of people landing on your pages. Think of SEO like this:
If you own a racing car, the aim is to win a race. You can have the fanciest looking car, but it’s what’s under the hood that’s going to make a difference.
When you make tweaks to the engine, replace the tyres, or lighten the chassis, what you’re doing is optimizing your car. It may look the same, but you now stand a far better chance of winning the race!
SEO is much the same. Your site may not look any different, but making tweaks to content, images, and responsiveness can have a huge effect on how highly it ranks in a search engine’s results.
Here are just a few of the most important things you can do when designing an optimized website:
Beyond your actual content, page titles and descriptions – known as metadata – are the easiest way of telling Google what your site’s all about. Metadata appears in the search results, and allows users to discover what’s on your webpage before they click on it.
Images are typically quite large files. This means that having a lot of imagery can slow your site down, leading to people becoming impatient and leaving it before it’s even fully loaded. This is known as ‘bouncing’ off the page.
To put that into some context:
Webpages that have a loading time of two seconds or less have a bounce rate of 9%, compared to those which take five seconds, which have a 38% bounce rate.
So, what can you do about it? Why image compression, of course!
There are tons of free online compression tools that will reduce the number of pixels in your images. And while it’s important not to distort the quality of imagery, compressing pictures can have a big impact on page loading speeds.
Image Alt Text
Alongside compressing images, another important part of SEO is to tell Google what an image represents. Unlike text, search engines can’t ‘read’ images, so by adding alt text to an image, you are effectively helping them understand what it being depicted.
Alt text doesn’t appear directly on your website – it’s added in when you’re editing – so you don’t need to worry too much about making it your most inspiring work (as long as it’s representative of the image.)
This is a big one. In 2018, 58% of all internet browsing took place on mobile devices. That’s why Google favors websites that format properly on mobile. If yours doesn’t, you’ve got a serious problem.
Most templates these days are mobile responsive, and will automatically reformat your content to fit various screen sizes. It is, however, worth thinking about if you want anything to appear differently to mobile users.
Nailing this will improve your users’ experience, and earn you some serious SEO brownie points. Plus, it’s also a great way of making your website more accessible to a wider audience.
Internal linking is where you direct users to another webpage on your site via a hyperlink. This is generally done when you mention something that you have related content on. This tells Google and co. that you are an authority on the subject, since you have multiple articles about it.
‘E.A.T’ stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. By writing in-depth about a subject and internally linking to more content related to it, you are showing search engines that you really know your stuff, which should in turn help you rank highly.
At this point, let’s have a quick recap of what you should have done by now:
- Established your website’s purpose
- Researched the latest web design trends and done some competitor analysis
- Settled on a platform and theme to build your website with
- Decided on your branding (color scheme, font style etc.)
- Created your website and optimized its content
Now, it’s time to check everything works before you go live!
Ask your family, friends, and colleagues to test the site in preview mode (all website builders and ecommerce platforms will have this), and see if they find anything wrong. You can even get members of the general public to test it too, and to offer their thoughts.
Some common things you want to check for are:
- All your links work properly, and they direct users to the right page
- All your content is readable and easy to find
- You are never more than three clicks away from the homepage
- Your site looks great across desktop, mobile, and tablet
- Loading speeds are no more than 5 seconds on any page (use a free site speed tester to check this)
For more details, you can find loads of UX (user experience) checklists online. It’s important to be as thorough as possible before you go live. Think of it like a restaurant’s opening night:
Your restaurant interior, menu, chefs, and entertainment could all be spot on, but if you’re understaffed, it will leave a bad first impression on many customers – something that’s hard to recover from.
Always take the time to properly check your website before it goes live – first impressions count. After that, you’re ready: publish your site, and send it out into the online world!
Congratulations! You’re now the proud owner of a live website. You can kick back and relax now, right? Well, not quite.
It’s important to keep track of how your website is performing. Without meaning to sound like a pushy personal trainer, you have to keep working and improving!
Most platforms have their own built-in analytics, or at least have an app you can install. Alternatively, you can connect your site to Google Analytics, so you can track things like:
- How many page views you’re getting
- The amount of time users are spending on each page
- What your bounce rate is
- Conversion rate (for ecommerce)
These stats, known as behavioral metrics, help give you an idea of which web pages need some attention. They also help you spot where you need to improve your SEO.
The truth is, a web designer’s job is never truly done. If you just sit back and admire your work, others will overtake you.
We’re not suggesting you need to be making by-the-minute changes, but keeping on top of your site’s performance and shifts in web design trends will go a long way.
And… there you have it. You’re now armed with the essentials for designing a website. Let’s look at those steps one more time.
Designing Websites: The 8 Steps
- Define your site’s purpose and strategy
- Research the latest web design trends
- Choose your platform
- Select a template and start customizing
- Decide on your branding
- Add in and optimize your content
- Publish your website
- Analyze and improve
Bookmark this guide as your website design manual. That way, you can always revisit it if you’re unsure about best practice, or basic design ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’.
Remember: keep an artistic eye on your competitors, and don’t be afraid to learn from the best. Follow the steps in our guide, and you’ll be turning dull design into delightful browsing in no time.
Oh, and if you ever get stuck, drop a comment below – we’ll try to help you as best we can!
The truth is, a web designer’s job is never truly done. If you just sit back and admire your work, others will overtake you.
We’re not suggesting you need to be making by-the-minute changes, but keeping on top of your site’s performance and shifts in web design trends will go a long way.
How much does it cost to design a website?
Many website builders offer free plans. That said, it will still cost you a little bit if you’re serious about your site. For example, a domain name costs around $10-15/year. If you’re on a tight budget, we’d recommend using a cheap website builder plan, which costs around $5-15/month.
Should I hire a web designer, or do it myself?
It really comes down to three things: your skill level, your budget, and your requirements. Most people can design a website on a DIY platform for next to nothing without much hassle, but if your site is complex, it’s best to seek a professional’s help. If that’s you, why not check out Hibu?
What is the best platform to design a website on?
From our independent research, Wix came out as the best DIY website builder to use. It’s ideal for personal sites, small businesses, and those looking to sell a few products online. Meanwhile, Shopify is the best platform for full-blown ecommerce sites, with a stunning range of themes and features.
Should I use WordPress or a website builder?
Again, it’s a question of your technical ability. WordPress is more advanced and creatively freeing than a website builder, but you’ll need a solid knowledge of coding to design a website. You’ll also need to think about web hosting and security. Website builders are the simpler, beginner-friendly option.
How can you make money from a website?
From simple things like selling products, to more advanced concepts like lead generation, anyone can make money online these days. To read about the different ways you can turn a profit, see our guide on the 8 ways to make money from a website.