Website Design for Dummies – Warning, This is NON-TECHNICAL

DIY website design

Sorry, I did warn you. If you’re reading this hoping to learn how to code a website — you’re in the wrong place. But, if you want to learn how to create a website design that helps you reach your marketing goals — then read on.

Why you need a website

A website is the centerpiece for business online.

  • Maybe you think you don’t need a website since you are a small local business with a physical store. WRONG. Most purchases begin with an online search (as you can see in the image below), even if it’s just to see purchase options nearby or to get the address of a local business. Locals who already know your business may search for your business online to find your hours of operation or the phone number to reach you. You need a website.
  • Maybe you think you don’t need a website because you already have plenty of business. WRONG. Over time, your customers drift away either lured by competitors or moving out of the area. You must constantly replenish your customer base and add new customers if you wish to continue growing. You need a website.
  • Maybe you think you don’t need a website because you have a strong social media presence. WRONG. If you don’t have a website, social media users may question your credibility and fear falling for a scam (we all know there are tons of them on social media). Plus, running an e-commerce site saves you the fees charged by 3rd party providers such as Facebook Marketplace. Finally, you don’t OWN your social media profiles. They’re owned by the social media platform and they can make any changes they want to their algorithm (resulting in less exposure) or even delete your account leaving you little recourse. You need a website.
  • There’s no reason NOT to build a website. The cost is as low as $100 a year (and, if you can’t afford that, you shouldn’t be in business). You can easily build your own website (see instructions below) in just a few hours. You need a website.

Website design for dummies

I once went to a seminar entitled website design for beginners. I didn’t understand anything after the introduction. I promise this website design discussion won’t be like that. If you want to learn more about website design for dummies (and other aspects of digital media) grab our FREE ebook — 66 pages of website design goodness. The bood contains a bunch of images that walk you through the process of creating a website from start to finish. It also includes links to the tools I recommend and even some discounts offered by brand sponsors when you use the links.

DIY website design

Step 1: Set objectives

Trust me. Your website design (or re-design) will go much better if you establish clear objectives. Are you building an e-commerce site? a branding site? a community site? a membership site? You’ll save yourself a lot of problems and headaches if you are clear on your goals.

choosing the best CMS platform

Step 2: URL (Domain)

If you don’t already have 1, go to GoDaddy or Domains.com to buy a URL — basically an address where your website will live. DO NOT — I repeat DO NOT — accept the free URL offer from your hosting company (see next section). That’s because it’s a hassle to take the URL with you when changing hosts. Spend the extra $20 and get it through a domain registrar — by the way, I have discount codes. If you’re interested just click on the link above.

But, don’t just buy any old domain. Your domain is an important part of your SEO (Search Engine Optimization — basically getting found online) and your brand. So think about the things your target market might search for hoping to find you. In my case, my target audience is looking for marketing and social media advice — hence, Market Maven branding. Use Google’s Keyword tool (it’s FREE) to identify phrases that fit your target audience, account for a large # of searches, and don’t have high levels of competition.

Save these searches as you’ll use them later on when creating content and other elements of your website. The more you use your keywords (actually a keyword phrase) the better SEO value up to a point.

Buy a few domain names, such as the .org, .com, and .info to keep others from siphoning off some of your traffic as a porn site does using the domain Whitehouse.com when the government uses Whitehouse.gov. If your site is successful, you’ll thank me for this piece of advice and it only costs a few dollars a year.

Step 3: Hosting

Another major decision. Hosting is like building a house on your address. It holds all your content. Moving your content to a new hosting company isn’t hard but it’s time-consuming and may mean your sit is offline for a short period of time, so choose wisely.

Here you’re looking for a reasonable price, nearly perfect uptime, fast page loading, lots of space, the ability to grow as your business does, and good customer service. My recommendation for smaller websites is Bluehost and Siteground for larger sites (I use Siteground).

Don’t be fooled into using a website builder like Wix, Squarespace, or even WordPress.com for your website. These may seem easy and inexpensive but they come with a hefty pricetag when it comes to SEO and lock you in to make it hard to leave (especially if you accepted their offer for a free domain). If you Google it, you’ll find every reputaable SEO guru says the same thing.

website hosting

Step 4: Website design

I’d take a little time sketching out what you want your website to look like — the homepage, the menu, other pages, tools, etc. Think about how customers want to navigate through your site. Think about your goals.

Start by aligning your brand with your target market, and then layout your notion of what the website will look like when you finish. This saves a lot of time and money since you can simply move elements of your design around at will. I recommend designing using a tool like POP (prototype on paper). Using this app, you take pictures of your designed pages and identify hyperlinks as well as the destination of each hyperlink. You can now give the “working” website to prospective customers and others to get feedback before you commit to a design. Applying feedback to your design is as simple as cutting and pasting elements or drawing new ones.

If you use this tool through successive iterations with stakeholders, you’ll design the right website for your brand.

For instance, I recently redesigned my website – do you like it?

Originally, the website was mainly a blog designed to help visitors and build authority in the marketing and social media space. Recently, I’ve been trying to get more leads from the site. So, I redesigned the website as more of a corporate website with the home page stressing my products and services, and a blog still providing great content. That way I’m still meeting the goals of visitors looking for great tips on marketing and social media while giving businesses an easy way to learn about how I can help them make their marketing SIZZLE.

Other considerations include:

  1. Graphics and color scheme
  2. Branding
  3. Conversion
  4. Integration with social media
  5. Navigational links
  6. Legal disclosures

Step 5: Building the website

Website design is much easier now than even a few years ago when I first created Hausman Marketing Letter. And, you don’t need to learn to code (although a little HTML and CSS helps).

Today’s website designs are flexible — and be careful of hiring someone who is crafting a custom-designed website. While that might sound like a great idea, think about changes you’ll want to make to your website over time. A custom website requires you to hire a developer every time you want to make a change to the layout and that gets expensive and time-consuming.

I recommend WordPress. It’s a FREE CMS (content management system) and it’s the world leader in this software. Check out my YouTube channel for a video that shows you how to install WordPress on your site — it’s like magic and I’m truly amazed every time I do it. Or, download the free ebook.

You’ll also need a theme to add more features to your website. WordPress comes with the default theme, but it’s not that great. Plus, then you’ll look like every other website on the Internet. I use a theme from Genesis, which is fabulous. Another great place to get a theme is Themeforest.  It’s very stable and secure. It’s also very flexible.

You’ll find a bunch of free websites themes out there. I find them harder to use and they often don’t reproduce your vision of your website unless you can modify the code. Buying a theme (which costs less than $100 and usually involves a one time purchase) provides step-by-step directions to help you make your website resemble the theme example, including sample content. If you’re new to website design, I’d strongly recommend sticking with these options if you want to limit your frustration.

Step 6: Add plugins

Plugins are great for adding functionality to your website above and beyond what comes standard with your theme. You’ll want to add a few plugins but beware as some create a security threat for your website. Here are some plugins I recommend to my clients:

  • Jetpack, which is from WordPress and adds things like Spelling/grammar checking, an easy tool for creating image galleries, and a bunch of other functions
  • Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights, this is the best tool out there for tracking your performance (you’ll need to create a free Google Analytics account then follow the directions for linking the account to your website). Assessing your key metrics every day allows you to optimize your performance.
  • Yoast SEO, which helps bring more visitors to your site by helping you rank higher when users search for things related to your site. Although the plugin doesn’t DO anything, it offers insights for improving your content so it ranks better.
  • W3 Total Cache, this helps your site load faster. You don’t need to understand how it works, but it caches the website, so returning visitors don’t have to wait for it to load again
  • Social Profiles Sidebar Widget, which makes it easy to connect your social profiles to your website so visitors can find you there. It also makes sharing your posts easier for visitors.
  • Akismet, which helps protect your site from spam.

You might also want to add Elementor or Page Builder. These plugins replicate the drag-and-drop functionality that many novices enjoy without the SEO problems created by using Website Builders.

Step 7: Customize your website

All themes make it easy to customize your website with a few simple actions. For instance, you can add:

  • Your website name and logo
  • Decide the layout of your pages from among the options allowed by your theme. For instance, I use a home page that’s full screen and a blog page that has a sidebar.
  • Add background images
  • Determine the content for any widget areas designated by your theme (although you can choose to eliminate widgets by not adding content to a widget area)
  • Settings for your website

Some themes allow for greater customization than others.

In addition, most themes allow you to adjust the theme if you can write some simple code. For instance, on this site, the theme didn’t offer the color scheme I wanted to I wrote CSS (cascading style sheet) code to change the colors to match my brand. I also changed some spacing and the default font. If you’re not sure how to do what you want to modify your website, W3Schools has some great instructions and I often use their “try it now” option to write code and find errors before uploading it to my website. Don’t worry, if you mess up the coding on your website, you can edit it or even delete it altogther without messing up your website.

Website design: Designing the customer journey

Probably the most critical element of your website design involves navigation — helping folks discover all the great things on your site. Here we talk about the user experience and website design has a huge impact on whether your users have a good experience on your site or not.

Here are some tips for building a positive user experience into your website design from Google developers — and they should know what they’re talking about:

If you don’t have time to listen to the whole video, here’s a summary:

  1. Be fast – visitors don’t have much patience, so you need to ensure your pages load FAST. And use a plugin to check for broken links (I use a broken link checker) on your site as these are really annoying to visitors and make you look unprofessional.
  2. Make it easy for visitors to engage with the site – pre-fill forms, integrate with Facebook so users don’t have to register each time, only ask for the minimum amount of information you need.
  3. List items in a logical order. Think about how consumers will use your site and recognize that most visitors read from left to right, top to bottom. Try to put things consumers want where it’s easy for them to find. Google uses the example of putting a remember me box AFTER the login button.
  4. Let a little of the branding personality show through. Be a person. Relate to visitors as individuals. Be a little playful and make sure your site conveys trust and professionalism to visitors.
  5. Encourage conversation. Make them part of your team. The first step is listening about what folks are saying about you.
  6. Own your mistakes, don’t hide them. If folks are unhappy, apologize and give them a fix.
  7. Color, image, white space — use all these elements freely in your website design. Don’t try to cram your website full of text and ads. White space invite reading. Images convey a huge amount of information and are pleasing and inviting. The same is true for color. Just be careful to not make it too wild and stick to a particular branding. If you can’t afford to create all your images, there are lots of sites for buying or borrowing (legally) images from the web. I use 123rf.

Web design: Conversion

Unless this is just a vanity website, your web design is supposed to support your business. That means you want visitors to enjoy themselves, but you also want them to support you — buy products, make donations, use your services, etc. So, your web design needs to balance user experience with conversion. Here are some tips for navigating that balance:

  1. Landing pages: you need a landing page that matches your campaigns. Stats show a clear relationship between sites with 10-15 landing pages and conversion with sites having 40+ landing pages showing even higher conversion rates [source].
  2. Judicious use of ads. I personally avoid most advertising on this site and turn down people every week who want access to your dollars (you’re welcome). I only use 2 small ads, which are Google Adsense so they’re for a product you’re likely interested in already — at least in theory. Ads just clutter up your pages and make them look too commercial.
  3. Onpage SEO is important. Be sure to optimize your pages to bring as much traffic as possible to your website. The most impactful element of SEO is creating valuable content on a consistent basis. As you can see, SEO (ie. position in search) means a lot when it comes to organic traffic visiting your site. Since more than 50% of your traffic comes from organic search, if yours like most websites, SEO is important. Plan to publish on your website once a week, at a minimum.
organic traffic
Image courtesy of Backlinko
  • Make sharing easy. Include easy-to-use buttons to allow visitors to share your content on social networks and join your social networks. Great plugins like Social Profile Widget make this easy and professional. (Social media has an ever-increasing impact on SEO).
  • Entice visitors to subscribe to your newsletter by offering great, free content. I invite visitors to subscribe by offering an ebook to guide you in developing a website. Grab yours today. Of course, that also means you can’t spam newsletter subscribers with ads and pressure to join your coaching program. Newsletters must also provide value to subscribers. That way, newsletters provide another opportunity to deepen your relationship with website visitors and turn leads into sales.
  • Invite readers to enjoy other content. I use Outbrain to suggest additional posts related to the post visitors are reading. It’s a great plugin. I also share my best content — as assessed by visitors — on my homepage to steer readers to this great content. Not only does this help build your brand, it keeps visitors on your page longer, which helps your SEO.
  • Legal disclaimers. New federal regulations require websites to identify when they’re making money from the advice they’re giving. When I have a relationship with a company, I disclose that information. To cover other situations, such as affiliate links, I include a blanket statement indicating I make money (a VERY tiny amount) from links on the site, but that I would only recommend products I feel are good and appropriate for the reader. And, I’m just as likely to recommend products I make NO money from– including many of the links in this post.
  • You want to add pages like an About page, privacy statements, and other content to keep search engines happy. Many websites bury these pages or don’t add them to the navigation menu.
  • Conclusion

    You can do this! You can build your own website for much less than you might imaging and you don’t need any special skills or training. I can build the framework for a website in just a few hours and find it very rewarding. If you feel like it’s too challenging, reach out for pricing to have my team designs a website for you.

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    Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.