Simon Sterne.


Planning a new website can be exciting and — if you’re anything like me — a little daunting. Whether you’re an experienced freelancer, a team of hardened developers, or a small business owner, a well-structured plan is critical for success.

How to Plan Your First Successful Website.

In this post, I’ll give you the benefit of my experience, guiding you through the essential steps of planning a web design project and ensuring that you start off on the right foot and follow through to a successful end product.

Define Your Goals and Objectives

OK, first things first: before we dive into any design or development work, it’s absolutely essential that you have a clear understanding of what success means to you. Are you looking to increase sales, improve brand awareness, or provide information to your audience?

Set SMART Goals

I find it helpful to break down objectives into SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. This approach helps you stay focused rather than drift off on flights of fancy.

  • Specific: Define your goals with precision. For example, “increase online sales by 20% within the next year” or “reach page 1 on Google.”
  • Measurable: Ensure you can track your goals with metrics or data points. Website analytics can be used to monitor traffic, and internal sales tracking can be used to monitor revenue.
  • Achievable: There’s no point in saying, “We want to be Amazon by the end of the year.” Your goals should be realistic and attainable, given your resources and time frame.
  • Relevant: Make sure your goals are aligned with your overall business objectives and are essential to your success. A fabulous website is meaningless if it doesn’t support your growth.
  • Timely: Set deadlines for your goals to keep the project on track and maintain momentum.

Develop a Strategy and Stick to It.

Based on your SMART goals, outline the strategies and actions needed to achieve them. This could involve improving website navigation for better UX (user experience), optimizing for SEO to increase visibility, or creating compelling content to engage visitors. In reality, it probably means all that and more.

Monitor your project’s progress against your SMART goals. When you see yourself starting to diverge, it’s time to revisit the plan.

Understand Your Audience and Your Competitors

Understanding your audience is critical to designing a website that effectively meets their needs.

Identify Your Target Audience

Determine who your primary website users will be. Consider age, gender, location, interests, education, and specific needs.

Develop detailed personas for your typical users. Include information about their demographics, behaviors, motivations, and challenges. Personas should represent the different user types that will visit your website. Personas don’t replace testing with real users, but they’re an excellent place to start when you don’t have anything to test just yet.

Conduct Competitor Analysis

Studying successful businesses in your field can sometimes tell you more about the market and how to succeed in it, as analyzing your customers.

  • Research Competitors: Identify and review the websites of your direct competitors.
  • Analyze Their Websites: Note the strengths and weaknesses of these websites. What style have they adopted? What design elements do they use? What is the tone of voice of their content? What functionality do they have? What are your general impressions of the UX?
  • Identify Differentiation Opportunities: Determine how your website can stand out. Look for gaps in the market that your website can fill and unique value propositions you can offer.

Using insights from your audience and competitor analysis, decide on the key features and types of content your website will offer. Prioritize these based on what will most effectively meet your users’ needs and differentiate your site in the market.

Build Your Strategy

Compile your research and decisions into a strategy document. This document will serve as a reference throughout the design process, ensuring your website meets your target audience’s needs and stands out from the competition.

  • Create a Content Strategy: Plan what types of content you will need, such as text, images, videos, or infographics. Consider the tone of voice that will resonate with your audience and start outlining or drafting content for your key pages.
  • Plan for SEO: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) should be considered from the start. Use keyword research to guide your content creation and ensure your website’s structure and code are optimized for search engines. This will help your site rank higher in search results and attract more visitors.
  • Map Out Your Site Structure: Start by creating a sitemap that outlines all the pages you plan to include and how they will be structured. Think about the journey you want visitors to take and how you can make navigation intuitive.
  • Design for Usability and Accessibility: Ensure that your site is easy to navigate, works well on various devices and browsers, and meets accessibility standards so that it’s usable for people with disabilities.
  • Choose Your Technology Stack: Decide on the technologies that will power your website. This includes choosing a content management system (CMS), such as WordPress, Drupal, or a custom solution, and selecting the front-end and back-end programming languages and frameworks that best suit your project’s needs.

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, now is the time to seek professional help. Even if you’re an experienced designer, it doesn’t hurt to run your ideas past a developer — new tech hits the market all the time, and there may be a good solution that you weren’t aware of.

Set a Timeline and Budget

To streamline your project planning, ensure you’ve set a timeline and a budget.

Set realistic deadlines:

  • Break down the project into phases (e.g., design, development, content creation).
  • Assign a realistic deadline to each phase, considering the complexity and resources available.
  • Ensure each deadline aligns with your overall project goals for a cohesive timeline.

Create a detailed budget:

  • Itemize all project components, including design, development, content creation, and any necessary third-party services.
  • Estimate the cost for each element based on quotes, past projects, or industry standards.
  • Allocate funds for unexpected expenses to avoid budget overruns.
  • Review and adjust the budget as the project progresses to stay on track.

By focusing on these points, you’ll maintain control over your project’s timeline and finances, paving the way for a successful completion.


It’s easy to start a website, but starting a successful website that doesn’t chew through your budget is a little trickier. The process requires discipline to take the strategic steps necessary to create a website that aligns with your overall business goals.

Start with a clear definition of goals. Use the SMART goals approach to set a strong foundation. Although you may need some flexibility throughout the project, starting with a formal structure will get you on the right foot.

Understanding your audience and their needs is crucial in creating a website that they find helpful. Your site structure and technology stack should support delivering these insights. Get it right, and you’ll not only have new users but also retain old ones.

And, of course, meticulous planning around timelines and budgets ensures nothing gets out of hand.

This holistic approach ensures that your website looks appealing and effectively meets business goals and user needs.

Simon Sterne

Simon Sterne is a staff writer at WebdesignerDepot. He’s interested in technology, WordPress, and all things UX. In his spare time he enjoys photography.

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