The First Six Things to Do When Designing a New Website

Whether you’re DIY-ing your own site, or trying to figure out a solid system for approaching client site design projects, it can be tough to know where to start. Of course, some site design projects will require a slightly different approach, but these six steps should generally be a solid starting point.

Whether you’re DIY-ing your own site, or trying to figure out a solid system for approaching client site design projects, it can be tough to know where to start. Of course, some site design projects will require a slightly different approach, but these six steps should generally be a solid starting point.

How to start designing your first website:

1. Delete Sample Pages

Most themes and templates come with sample pages that are pre-formatted with demo content. These pages allow you to get a feel for what your site will look like when you add in your content. However, if you don’t delete these pages, people can still access them via Google search – while it's unlikely this would happen, you don't want people ending up on a "sample" page, right? You’ll give people the best first impression and an optimized experience (because deleting these pages will also make your site load a bit faster) by trashing sample pages from the start.

2. Edit Permalinks

Permalinks show up in the address bar whenever someone is viewing a page on your site. For example, the permalink for my Hire Me page is jesscreatives.com/hire-me. Initially, your permalinks will be set to default (Plain) – in Wordpress, this means it will be something like yourdomain.com/p?123. I generally recommend that you change this setting to Post Name. You can do this by going to Settings > Permalinks, and selecting your preferred permalink format.

In Squarespace, there's not a list of permalink formats to choose from, but you can still edit the permalinks for your pages and posts. I change the blog permalinks for many of my clients, because the date info (2016/06/29/blog-name) in the permalink is unnecessary. You change this by going to Settings > Blogging. 

See more info on Squarespace permalinks right here.

To change the permalinks on a page, you'll select the gear icon next to the page, to see the Page settings, and edit right there. I always make sure the URL matches the page name, and the link isn't something like "/about-us-1".

This change benefits your site’s SEO, plus, it just looks cleaner and more professional. I make this one of my first steps to avoid having to spend hours upon hours changing individual permalinks for separate blog posts and links later down the road.

3. Update Site Title & Description

Take care of this right away and don’t think too much about it -- you can always change it later. This is one, small detail that so many people miss. It's so obvious when people skip this step because of what is displayed when they share their site on social media.

Example:

Notice how the top one is just all one word, while the bottom one has keywords, and the business name? Which one looks more professional to you?

The "Home" on the top one is acting as a page or site description, but it's also not very descriptive. Neither of these sites actually had a site description when posted on Facebook. 

Here’s what happens when I share my site:

If you're using Wordpress, you can do this within your SEO plug-in (like Yoast), and if you're using Squarespace, you can do this within Settings. Here's a step-by-step guide to fix those little errors, and get it to display correctly on Facebook. 

4. Update Footer with Copyright Info

This is another one to tackle right away while it’s top of mind. It’s easy to forget this step but it’s essential when it comes to protecting your site content. Even if you don’t have an actual registered copyright, adding “Copyright [your business name + the year]” in the footer of your site can deter many content copycats from stealing your work.

5. Add a Custom 404 Page

Your 404 page is the place where people are directed if they click a broken link or try navigating to a nonexistent page on your site. A custom 404 page that showcases a bit of your personality and gives people something to do can serve as a useful extension of your brand. It's a SMALL detail that will only take you a little time to set up. 

An example of a branded 404 page for a personal trainer:

Here is the best way to add some awesomeness to your 404 page:

Wordpress

  • Create a new page, and name it 404. Add your content to the page. I suggest a quick greeting, a search bar, and links to popular pages on your site. 
  • Download and install the 404 to 301 plugin.
  • Configure the plugin to redirect 404 errors to your newly created 404 page. 

Squarespace

  • Create a new page, and name it 404. Add your content to the page. I suggest a quick greeting, a search bar, and links to popular pages on your site. 
  • Go to Settings > Advanced > 404 Error. Select your new 404 page from the drop-down.

6. Add 301 Redirects

You only need to complete this step if you’re moving your site to a new URL. A 301 redirect is sort of like a "change of address form" you’d pick up at the post office if you moved. Basically, it’s a permanent redirect from one URL to another. So, anyone who clicks a link or tries to navigate to your old site will be automatically sent to your new site.

Earlier this year, a client of mine completely rebranded her logo and website. She kept her same name, but wanted to change her URL, to be shorter and to be a little more SEO-friendly.

Here’s how to make sure everyone ends up on your brand new, shiny site:

Wordpress: There are a number of great 301 re-direct plugins you can use, like Quick Page Redirect Plugin, or Redirection. (There are plenty more to choose from!)

Squarespace: There's a place right inside the Settings tab (within Advanced) to set-up 301 re-directs. You can find more step-by-step info with Squarespace's guide.


Still have questions about how to get started designing your new site? Let me know in the comments or check out Build and Thrive.

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