You want your new website to look good and be completed within your time frame and budget, but what other factors should you consider when creating your site? Whether you are building your own site or working with a developer, here are 10 major categories that need your attention.
Content Management System (CMS) and Host
Before you begin to create your new site, one of your first decisions will be which platform to build it on. Your choices include creating it with plain html/CSS or using a CMS like WordPress, Webflow, Shopify, or Squarespace. WordPress is just a CMS, whereas the others listed above are both CMS and host. If you choose WordPress, you need to choose a site host where you will install your free copy of WordPress. Although WordPress itself is free, the host will have an annual fee, and you will likely need to purchase a few plugins to use with WordPress. If you choose a service like Shopify or Webflow, the host and CMS are provided together with various pricing plan options. Most hosts offer email accounts with your site, or you can choose to set up your business email account through a professional email provider.
CMS Comparisons: WordPress is powerful, flexible, and has a fully customizable shopping cart option through WooCommerce. Webflow allows for a lot of creativity and is an ecosystem unto itself, but it is not currently a good choice for e-commerce sites because it lacks functionality in that area. Shopify is nice for small business owners who want a very simple shopping cart site that they can maintain on their own, but businesses can outgrow what Shopify has to offer. Squarespace is similar to Shopify but with less e-commerce flexibility. Many more options are sprouting up. All of these options offer templates that can provide starting points for your site layout. Some CMS options only allow partial tweaking of the templates, whereas others, like WordPress and Webflow, are completely customizable.
WordPress Themes, Blocks, and Builders: If you use WordPress, you will need to choose a theme from the confusingly large number of choices that exist. The current trend is to choose a very lightweight theme that helps to build fast websites. Two good lightweight themes are Kadence WP and Generate Press. These themes both have associated block plugins, Kadence Blocks and Generate Blocks, that work alongside the native Gutenberg block editor to make it more powerful and far easier to use. These new theme/block combinations are replacing the older WordPress page builders like Elementor that tend to produce slow sites because of bloat in the page builder code.
The most obvious aspect of website creation is the visible design, which ideally should be both beautiful and easy to use. Design includes the layout, colors, fonts, imagery, and user interface. You’ll want to follow good design principles of consistency, white space, balance, scale, hierarchy, and contrast to create a pleasing and functional site. Readability is crucial; many sites have background images or colors that don’t provide enough contrast with overlying text, making the content hard to read. You also don’t want text that is too small or too huge and clunky. Choose two fonts, or three if really needed, and be consistent with their usage. Choose colors and fonts that are consistent with your brand, and incorporate your brand’s imagery and patterns. Try to add some features that engage visitors and make the site fun to use; being creative can give your site more appeal than just using a boring standard template.
Your site needs to be coded to work on mobile and tablet sizes as well as on desktop. Responsive design means that the layout changes as the screen size changes. Current website development tools offer ways to view your design in different device sizes, making adjustments to the design straightforward to accomplish.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is a whole field in itself. You can hire a specialist for a deep dive, but your site should be built with basic SEO strategies in mind. The headline structure should be well constructed with one H1 header per page and with organized descending headers from H2 to H3 in each section. You can use keywords as long as the text is written more for humans than for search engines. Your images should have ALT meta text, which is used by search engines. You can use a lightweight plugin to help optimize your SEO.
This is another whole field to consider. You want your site to have good enough contrast to be readable by those with visual impairments. Also, some people use screen readers that can have trouble with your site if it is not designed to be friendly to them. Sites exist that can help you test your site’s accessibility. To learn more, you can visit the Website Accessibility Initiative.
If you are using WordPress, you’ll need to keep WordPress and your plugins updated to the latest versions. If you are not comfortable with these tasks or don’t want to spend time on them, many website developers have very reasonable monthly plans to take care of the updates for you. Don’t let things get too outdated because that is a security risk for your site. If you hope to do these tasks yourself, ask your developer to set things up in a way that you can easily take over, and ask for some training.
Depending on your site’s platform, you might need to install security software to keep your site secure from hacks. If you have a WordPress site, security plugins can help, and your site’s host probably has security plugins for you as well. If you use something like Webflow instead of WordPress, your environment will be more closed and more secure without the need for additional plugins.
Whether you use Google Analytics or something else, you’ll likely want a way to collect some information about who is visiting your site. Some privacy concerns have been raised about Google Analytics. You can read more about these issues and read about some alternative analytics options at Fathom and Plausible.
With so much to think about, it can be very helpful to hire a website developer to guide you through the process. If you are the DIY type, you can find lots of information about website development on YouTube and in Facebook groups. Although the content and layout are the heart of your site, much more goes into the design of a good website.