Planning your Site

Before you begin designing your web site there are a few things to think about. It is important to know ahead of time what you want your web site to accomplish and how you are going to do that. So, get out your word processor or an old fashioned paper and pen and answer these questions:

  1. What is your site about?

    For some this might be a rather obvious question but for others it may be less clear. Many people start out building a website just knowing that they want a site. But what is it about? Your site should have a well defined topic. It could be about your home business, a favourite hobby, or just you and your family.

    It is also important to make sure that your topic is narrowly defined. It can’t be all things to all people. In fact, when you’re starting out, it’s probably best if your site is only a few things to (relatively) few people. Trying to cover too many topics at once is only going to ensure that your project never gets finished. Keep it small and simple to start, especially with your first site!

  2. What are the site’s goals?

    Now that you have a topic you need to know what you want the site to accomplish. This could be a list of several items or a simple sentence. For example:

    • To share personal news and photos with family and friends
    • To share knowledge of herb gardening with other gardening enthusiasts
    • To provide customers with more information about my home business
    • To sell a product directly through the site
    • To earn a small residual income with low key advertising

    Having written goals will help you to stay on track while developing the site. Once you get going it will be easy to get distracted by all the things you can do with a web site. Before long, your site could be chock full of neat gadgets, affiliate ads, and content you never planned on writing. Having a written list of goals can help to save you from scope creep.

  3. Who is your target audience?

    As I mentioned above, your site cannot be all things to all people. We’ve already covered the “all things” bit in step 1, so let’s move on to “all people.”

    When designing your site you need to have a clear idea of who is going to visit it. Be specific. You can have a number of different target audiences. For each of them, think about who they are, what they like, and why they are visiting your site. You can even describe them as pretend people with names and a faces. What are they looking for? How can you help? How can you get them to take the next step and help you to accomplish your goals?

  4. Wait, what’s the next step?

    Even if you’ve got a small information based site, there has got to be something for people to do next. You don’t want them to just leave your site and never come back. The next step could be to:

    • Bookmark your site
    • Post a comment on your blog
    • Click on your ads
    • Buy the product you have for sale
    • Come and visit your real world store
  5. What is going to be on the site?

    Make a list o fall the content you want to include on the site. Be realistic! If the list is very long you’ll never get it done. Instead, plan for expansion by “penciling in” sections to be added later. Next, think about how the sections will fit together. How will a visitor navigate through the site? Websites usually have a hierarchical structure with pages branching out from the home page and cascading down from there.

    We will learn more about this in an upcoming chapter on information architecture and wiring. Sounds intimidating, doesn't it? Don't worry, it's really quite simple.

  6. What mood or image do you want the site to convey?

    Web design is all about creating what is called “look and feel.” This means that what you put on the screen should provide some sort of an emotional impression to the visitor. Think about what sort of feelings you want your visitors to get from your site. Write down any words that come to mind. They could be things like:

    • Friendly
    • Unique
    • Interesting
    • Businesslike
    • Calm
    • Upbeat
    • Modern
    • Tech-savvy

    When you begin designing your site you can use these words to help you choose the shapes, colours, and textures that will make up your design.

  7. What do I need to create this?

    Now it’s time to think about how you’re going to go about creating this site. As a beginner, it’s hard to know at first what all it takes to build a web site. A basic list includes:

    • HTML editor
    • Graphics editor
    • File transfer program
    • Domain name or website address and hosting

    Depending on the goals and content of your site, you may also need scripts to add enhanced functionality such as a blog, shopping cart, or advertising system. Future articles in this series will talk about web design software and the various technologies used to design web sites. We will learn more about all of these things later in the Basic Web Design series.


Once you have written all these things down you’ll have a good plan to base the development of your site on. As you go along, immersing yourself in HTML, graphic design, and search engine optimization you’ll always be able to go back to your plan and make sure you’re on track. When you come across something new that you want to add to your site, ask yourself: does this fit in with my plan? Is it compatible with the image I want to present? Will it be attractive to my target audience? Does it help me accomplish my goals? Wait, what were my goals again?


Megan McDermott's picture

About the Author

Megan is co-founder and editor of A Padded Cell and administrator at The Webmaster Forums. She has been designing websites since 1997, with expertise in design, information architecture, usability, HTML/CSS, Drupal theming, and more. Megan is also a partner and co-founder of Woolwich Web Works: A small team that can do big things!