Earlier this year, I set aside a few weeks solely to focus on planning and building my website, and it was essentially a full-time job. Every website is different and needs to highlight what we want to draw attention to, and spending time thinking about what goes in and how it flows is important.
I upgraded mine from an existing portfolio website I've had since 2015, and I had to think carefully about what I wanted to say and offer, and which parts were no longer relevant to the new direction I was taking with my work. I'm sure there are many resources offering guidance, but I wanted to feel my way through the process. It takes time, and can be quite confusing, so I thought I would share the various steps I took along the way.
1. EXPLORING SIMILAR WEBSITES
I spent a good while looking at websites I've grown to love over the years, mostly those created by small businesses. I soon realised that I needed more, however, so I searched for websites offering services similar to mine (podcasts are a great place to learn about businesses that resonate).
When I say "similar" websites, I mean this broadly; they don't have to be about exactly the same line of work. For instance, I looked at websites by photographers and designers as well as writers and editors, especially because the former usually have a great sense for aesthetics. And when I say "explore", I mean I closely studied the websites – observing how and where text, images and design elements are placed, the colours and tone, and which elements I might want to include.
This exercise gave me ideas I might have otherwise overlooked, and helped me understand what I wanted – and didn't want – from my own website. I believe this is an important step, which is why I include it in the questionnaires for my Website Content Services and Brainstorming Sessions.
2. POST-IT(S) ON A BLANK WALL
I came across this technique in a UX design course, and found it incredibly useful to visualise the structure of my website before I could get anywhere close to creating a wireframe (i.e. the blueprint or layout of the website accounting for each element).
Essentially, the course recommends writing down the name of each section of every page (for example: text, images, forms, videos, header, search box, menu, subscribe box, testimonials etc.) on a separate post-it note. The notes are then stuck on a blank wall or other flat surface under the relevant page and position. Using post-its made it easy to keep rearranging things as I thought them through, and this method helped me understand my goals for my website so much better.
I left my neon pink post-its on my bathroom door for weeks, tweaking, adding, combining and removing aspects until I was satisfied that everything I wanted to say had found a place. I also thought about how my website might grow and incorporate new elements, ensuring that it can be flexible. Once I was satisfied that this exercise was complete, creating the wireframe was a simple case of putting pen to paper. Definitely don't skip this step, but if it's still a struggle to figure out where things could go, perhaps I can help!
3. FINALISING THE CONTENT
The reason I ask my clients to have a wireframe in place before I begin creating content for them is because skipping this step makes it very challenging to anticipate each block or banner of content needed, even if it's just a few words. In fact, smaller pieces of text such as headers and banners can take much longer to create than paragraphs, because each word matters more and has to be chosen carefully for maximum impact.
Hurrying through the process and trying to create content first might lead to a situation where most of the copy needs to be rewritten because the layout can fit just so many words, or there are blank spaces that weren't anticipated. It's good to have notes beforehand, of course, and I did have a lot of material about each of my services. However, I spent a week putting together the writing for each page after creating my wireframe.
At this stage, I found that focusing only on the writing without images and distractions helps ensure that the copy actually makes sense to a reader; many websites fall prey to fluff. (Consider investing in one of my 4 website content packages for meaningful and impactful writing.)
4. CURATING IMAGES
Written and visual content goes hand-in-hand for a cohesive experience, and I spent a while thinking about the types of visuals I wanted to use, such as illustrations, clip art or stock photographs. I decided to use my own photographs, mostly of places I've travelled to in the last decade. I didn't go out and create new images because of the pandemic, but luckily I had lots to choose from.
I also tried to select photos that dialogued with and enhanced my writing, and, full disclosure, sometimes the image came first and I built the words around it. In fact, I hadn't really anticipated the role that nature would play in the story of my website, but during the selection process it emerged as a theme and I knew it was important to me. My husband also voted for the glorious mountains on the home page of my website, because the serenity and freedom they convey feels very apt for our times.
5. BUILDING THE WEBSITE
Once the written and visual content was ready to go, it was time to start creating the website. I built my website on Wix, but most platforms work in a similar manner. The first task is to explore what various platforms offer, and then select a template and create a new website (if updating an existing website, I recommend creating a duplicate draft website at first to play around).
Next, explore the possibilities of the platform – some aspects may not be possible exactly as we visualise, and will need some adjustment. For example, some text might need to be made crisper to fit a box, or an image might need to be cropped a certain way. Select fonts and colours with deliberation. If the platform allows, it's important to optimise the website for various devices including mobile and tablets, and I did this for each page after designing it for a desktop screen.
6. LAST STEPS
I shared my website with just a few people to begin with over a weekend (a "soft launch" of sorts), before starting the marketing process the following week. After working on a project for so long, having fresh pairs of eyes helps iron out any inconsistencies, typos or other errors we might miss. Make those final changes based on feedback, and it's launch time!
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