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Step-by-step guide on building website design: design a website in 2023

Bogdan StepanenkoWritten byBogdan Stepanenko
Updated on
Step-by-step guide on building website design: design a website in 2023

Having a custom designed website is invaluable for any business today. But for many small business owners, the idea of actually designing a website from scratch seems daunting. Where do you even start? What's involved in the process? Can you really do it yourself?

As the owner of a web design agency who has helped dozens of small business owners create beautiful, effective websites over the last 7 years, I'm here to tell you that you absolutely can design your own website from the ground up if you follow the right steps.

In this beginner's guide, I'll walk you through the key phases of designing a website from initial planning to launch. I'll also share plenty of tips, tools, and resources so you can confidently build a website you'll be proud of without needing to code or break the bank.

Whether you want to create a simple website for your small business, build an online portfolio to showcase your work, or open up an ecommerce online store, the process is within your reach. So grab a cup of coffee and let's get started building your web presence!

Determine the Purpose and Goals for Your Website Design

Before you start choosing color schemes and website templates, it's important to take a step back and clearly define the purpose and goals for your website. This will guide all your design decisions down the line.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself:

  1. Who is your target audience? Get very specific - define their demographics, interests, pain points and goals. Create fictional personas if helpful.

  2. What do you want visitors to do on your site? Some examples - make a purchase, sign up for your newsletter, learn about your products, contact you for a quote.

  3. What metrics will determine success? Increased traffic, more sales leads, newsletter sign ups, time on site? Define your key performance indicators.

For example, let's say you're creating a website for your new life coaching business. Your audience is stressed out millennial professionals who want to find more work-life balance. Your goals are to establish your expertise, generate leads through a contact form, and encourage sign-ups for a free intro coaching call. And you'll know the site is working if you get 10 leads and 5 appointments booked each month.

With your goals clarified, you can ensure every design choice ladders up to achieving them. This focus will make building your website infinitely easier.

So take some time upfront to get clear on who you want to reach and what you want them to do. It will pay dividends throughout the design process.

Website Builder or Professional Web Designer_.png

Comparing Your Options: Template or Professional Web Designer?

Now that you know what you want your website to accomplish, it's time to choose the right tools and template to bring your vision to life. Here are the main elements to consider:

Website Builders

Popular user-friendly options like Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress make launching a site easy without needing to code. I recommend WordPress for its flexibility, extensive template and plugin ecosystem, and SEO capabilities. Squarespace is also great for beautiful design.

Design Templates

Most website builders offer professionally designed templates to start from rather than a blank canvas. Browse templates aligned to your industry and aesthetic. Look for mobile responsiveness, intuitive navigation and ample space for customization.

Customization Options

How easily can you modify the template design - add/remove sections, colors, fonts, layout? Prioritize builders with drag and drop editors and ample customization settings.


Website builder plans range from free to $30+/month. Factor in domain registration, hosting, premium templates and extensions. For advanced features, higher-tier plans or hiring a designer may be worth the investment.

Skill Level

Make sure to choose a website builder and template suite appropriate for your current skill level. Most are user-friendly for beginners, but offer deep customization for more experienced users.

Let's say you're eyeing Webflow because of their insane customization potential. I get it, I totally do. But here's the thing - their learning platform has a ton, and I mean a ton, of tutorials you gotta get through just to figure things out. We're talking hundreds, maybe thousands of videos to watch. It's powerful but complicated, so you really gotta put in the time to learn it.

Take your time browsing templates on a few different platforms to find the best fit. Using the right starting point will make designing your website much easier.

Hiring a Web Designer

I know DIY website builders make it stupid easy to launch your own site. But hang on a second, don't stop reading yet! There are definitely times when you got to call in the web design pros, for example:

  1. You want some next level custom functionality those basic templates just don't have
  2. You need some strategic help with upfront strategy, content creation, SEO
  3. You want to focus on your bisiness, not struggle with web design
  4. You need an ecommerce site with complex requirements
  5. You have a sizable budget ($5,000+) for a more polished result

Pros of Hiring a Professional Designer:

  1. They'll customize a web pages perfect for your brand and goals
  2. Handles all technical aspects - hosting, security, speed optimization
  3. More polished, custom design and development work
  4. Provide ongoing support after launch so you don't get stuck

Cons of Hiring a Professional Designer

  1. Much higher costs, starting around $3,000 - $15,000+
  2. Loss of control - communicates vision clearly
  3. Limits future flexibility to edit site yourself

When vetting web design firms or freelancers, look for their portfolio of past work, reviews, years in business, service offerings, and pricing transparency. Share your budget, timeline, vision and goals upfront to assess fit.

While hiring a pro takes more investment, it saves time and can pay off exponentially if it achieves your website goals better. Evaluate whether the benefits outweigh the higher costs for your needs.

DIY Website Builder

Hiring Web Design Pro


- Limited advanced functionality

- Requires DIY effort

- More basic templates

- Limited design customization

- SEO and security expertise needed


- Much higher cost

- Project timelines

- Communicating vision clearly

- Less flexibility to edit later

- Locked into one vendor


- Limited advanced functionality

- Requires DIY effort

- More basic templates

- Limited design customization

- SEO and security expertise needed


- Much higher cost

- Project timelines

- Communicating vision clearly

- Less flexibility to edit later

- Locked into one vendor

As you can see, DIY website builders offer an affordable starting point for basic sites, while hiring a professional can provide huge value for complex projects if it fits your budget. Assess your needs, skills and resources to pick the best path for make a website

Getting to Know Your Dream Customers

If you want to design an effective website, it's crucial to understand your ideal customers first.

Too often we make assumptions about what visitors want without actually talking to them. Avoid that pitfall.

Here are some smart ways to get to know your audience before designing anything:

Interview Current and Potencial Clients

Reach out to 5-10 people in your target audience. Have real conversations to learn about their pain points and website dislikes. Ask thoughtful follow-up questions and listen closely.

Send Out Surveys

Create a short online survey asking key questions about what users want from your type of site. Email it to current customers or post in relevant communities. SurveyMonkey makes this really easy.

Review Analytics on Existing Site

If improving a current site, dig into Google Analytics to see what's resonating with website visitors. Find out which pages people bounce from.

Define User Personas

Combine everything you learned to create little profiles of your key audience segments. Give them names and details to make them real.

For example, a user persona for a real estate site could be:

Name: Sara Thompson

Age: 38

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Occupation: Accountant

Income: $92,000/year

Goals: Looking to buy first home in LA after promotion. Wants to research neighborhoods and prices.

Map the User Journey

Outline the step-by-step journey a user goes through to accomplish key goals on your site. Look for pain points to target.

Investing in UX research will pay off immensely in the website design process. You’ll avoid making assumptions and create the experience your users actually want, not just design trends.

Step-by-Step Guide to the Layout and Structure to Design a Website

Now that you understand your users' needs, it's time to plan out how you'll structure your website's layout and organize information in a way that makes sense. This involves defining:

Website Architecture

How will you categorize and group related content across your site? A clear, intuitive site architecture helps users find what they need quickly.

  • Organize pages into logical hierarchies flowing from most general (homepage) to most detailed.
  • Create main site sections based on key audience goals and the products/services you offer.
  • Use descriptive headers and navigation labeling so categories are obvious.

For example, an effective site architecture for an ecommerce store could be:

  • Home
  • Shop by Category
    • Category 1
      • Subcategory
      • Subcategory
    • Category 2
  • Shop by Brand
  • New Arrivals
  • Sale
  • Contact

Page Layout

Plan the structure and sections for key pages. This establishes the user flow.

  1. Homepage or Landing Page - Hero image, featured products, services overview, testimonials, call to action.
  2. Product/Service Pages - Title, images, description, pricing, specifications, FAQs.
  3. Blog - Featured post preview, list of category archives.
  4. Contact - Form with name, email, message field + submission button.

Mobile First Design

Mobile optimization is extremely important - not just a trendy buzzword. Recent Google research confirms 63% of all traffic now comes from smartphones.

That means if your site isn't designed mobile-first, you're missing out on providing a good experience to the majority of your visitors.

Here's the key - take time upfront to plan your site's layout and flow with the mobile user as the priority. Think bite-sized content in a step-by-step journey optimized for small screens.

Do this effectively, and your mobile visitors will appreciate the intuitive experience that makes their lives easier. They'll stick around instead of clicking away from a frustrating site.

Craft the Visual Design Elements for Effective Website Design

With your site's structure and content mapped out, it's time to bring it to life visually. Follow these tips:

  1. Pick a color palette - Limit to 2-3 complementary colors. Consider emotions and meanings associated with colors.
  2. Select typography - Limit font families. Use one for headlines and another for body text. Ensure good readability.
  3. Incorporate branded graphics - Logo, icons, illustrations consistent with your brand style. Creates cohesion.
  4. Use high-quality images - Relevant photos grab attention. Ensure they load fast. Compress large files.
  5. Apply design principles - Use contrast strategically. Repeat colors, fonts, layouts. Establish visual hierarchy through size, color, placement.
  6. Adhere to brand style - Elements should work together to support brand personality and recognition.

Thoughtfully combining these elements creates an immersive, engaging visual experience aligned to your brand.

Optimize for a Responsive Design

With mobile usage continuing to rise, having a responsive design is critical. This means site layout seamlessly adapts across devices. To achieve this:

  1. Use a flexible grid system for layout - columns resize based on screen width.
  2. Make images and media flexible - define max widths as percentages vs fixed pixels.
  3. Employ responsive CSS media queries - adjust font sizes, paddings, layout based on breakpoints.
  4. Test site on all devices - desktop, tablet, mobile. Identify and resolve responsiveness issues.
  5. Compress images - optimize graphic file sizes for fast loading on mobile.

Do this, and your site will treat all visitors like VIPs no matter how they prefer to browse: desktop, phablet, tablet or fridge screen.


Designing a custom website from scratch for your small business doesn't have to be overwhelming when you follow the right process.

Here are the key steps we covered to help guide you:

  1. Define your goals and target audience upfront
  2. Pick the right website builder or professional designer
  3. Conduct UX research to understand users
  4. Plan site architecture and page structure
  5. Craft engaging visual design elements
  6. Optimize for responsive mobile-friendly design

Execute these steps methodically to craft a site tailored to your business goals and audience needs.

Once your initial website is live, continue optimizing it:

  1. Set up analytics to monitor site traffic and conversions
  2. Run A/B tests to see which versions perform best
  3. Keep refining design and content based on feedback
  4. Update the site at least annually to meet evolving needs

While you can absolutely design your own website as a beginner, know that hiring a professional web design agency brings immense strategic and technical value if it fits your budget.

Here at Mile High Willow Web Agency, we specialize in crafting custom websites optimized to grow small businesses like yours. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your goals and get the process started. With over 7 years of experience, we use proven strategies tailored to your needs. Let's chat!

What is the best way to design a website for a small business?
The best approach is to follow a step-by-step guide that takes you through key phases like defining goals, choosing a website builder, selecting a template, planning site architecture, crafting visual elements, and optimizing for responsive design. This ensures you cover all aspects of effective website design.
What website builder is best for beginners?
Popular drag-and-drop website builders like Wix, Squarespace and WordPress are great for beginners. They provide intuitive design interfaces, professional templates and easy customization. WordPress offers the most design freedom and customization potential.
How do I make my website look professional?
Follow design best practices like using a limited color palette, clean typography, high-quality graphics, strategic white space and a mobile-friendly responsive interface. Adhere to branding guidelines and design principles. Hiring a professional web designer can take your site to the next level of polish.
What should I include on every page of my website?
Essential elements for every page are a consistent header and navigation menu, page title, well-organized content, relevant visuals, clear calls-to-action and properly formatted text. Maintain cohesion across pages through branding, color schemes and interface.
How do I create a website for free?
You can create a basic free website using services like Wix, Weebly or WordPress. However, options are more limited. For full design freedom and features, invest in a low-cost paid website builder plan or hire a web designer.
What makes an effective website design?
An effective design clearly communicates your brand identity through visual elements, provides an intuitive user experience that meets audience needs, optimizes website performance, and ultimately accomplishes your business goals.
How can I learn how to design a website?
Useful resources include online tutorials, website builder support centers, web design courses, books and blogs. Learn by examining examples of well-designed websites. Start simple and seek feedback to improve over time. Consider hiring a web designer mentor.
What should I keep in mind when designing my website?
Focus on your target audience and business goals. Follow design best practices and trends. Ensure an intuitive navigation system and seamless user experience across devices. Optimize visually and technically for conversions and ROI.
How do I create a website from scratch?
Plan your site architecture, wireframe key pages, choose a website builder platform, select a template, customize layouts and content, incorporate visual elements, ensure responsiveness, write compelling copy, publish and test your site. Refine based on feedback.
Bogdan StepanenkoWritten byBogdan Stepanenko

I've been working in this field 7+ years, staying tuned to the latest trends in website development, ux/ui design and marketing. Every week, I explore the ever-evolving landscape to keep you updated. Whether it's about picking the right tools or navigating the dynamic world of online presence, I've got you covered.

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