There are some things you should learn before building a website. Let’s start with the basics. Who are you building the website for? Unless you’re building the website for yourself – literally – chances are, you’re building it for potential customers or users. You are NOT building it for yourself. (Admittedly, you may have selfish reasons for creating a website, but those reasons should come later.) While you may think that building a website for customers or users is obvious, trust me – it isn’t. Many entrepreneurs and business managers forget this basic fact. They put the cart before the horse and start evaluating content management systems like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace to see which offers the best deal. If this sounds like you, stop!

Do your homework first

Before building a website, do some research. Understand who your customer or user is; this will help you understand who to target, the messaging to use, and the type of information to include on your website. Next, investigate competitor websites to see what customer expectations are with respect to features; this will help ensure repeat visitors and positive word-of-mouth. Finally, visit industry or complementary websites for ideas and new features to incorporate.

1. Develop a Customer or User Profile

If you haven’t done so already, find a piece a paper, your laptop, or mobile device, and jot down all the aspects of who you think your customer or website user is. In other words, create a customer profile for your website.  Once you know who your customer/user is – their attributes, purchasing habits, and product preferences – you’ll know who you’re designing the website for and what their expectations may be. Consider developing personas to help refine the process. With personas representing who your typical customer is, you can better define motivations and emotional triggers that help explain actions they will take – or not – while visiting your website.


Create personas to help refine messaging.

2. Examine Competitor Websites

First, conduct a search online for competitors. If you’re not sure who your competitors are, use keywords or phrases your customers might use to find a business like yours. Depending upon what you offer, customers typically search by product type, location, feature, brand, or a combination there of.

Next, select the top 5 to 7 websites you see and start surfing their webpages. Grab that piece of paper, laptop, or mobile device again because you’ll want to write down what you like and don’t like about your competitors’ websites.  What type of things should you look for?

Evaluate Look at the implementation…
  • Are pictures in color or black and white?
  • What message, emotion, or tone do they convey?
  • Do they look professional and with a purpose, or do they look like something your toddler accidentally took while playing with your smartphone?
  • Are graphs, infographics, or icons used?
  • If people are presented in the pictures, do they have a particular emotion?
  • Do the pictures have a theme?  For example, vistas are common or products are shown with a white background.
Features These can vary by website, but look for things like search capability, call-out boxes, headers on images, sliders, videos, appointment setting functionality, e-commerce, favicon, and breadcrumbs. Do they have unusual features? For example, is there a special disclaimer, very little content, link colors that are hard to distinguish from regular text or other features that stand out as something you like or don’t like?
  • Is the navigation intuitive and easy-to-use?
  • What are the primary and secondary navigation topics?
  • Are unusual subject matters or specialties covered?
  • Make note of aspects that stand out as different or unusual.
  • What unique messaging is used?
  • Is the font casual, professional, whimsical, etc.?
  • Is the copy easy to read or scan?
  • Does the layout or format appear professional?
  • Are font colors easy-to-read or distinguish from links?
  • How would you describe the tone? Is it friendly, professional, authentic, funny, serious, or other?
  • Is the text grammatically correct or are there sloppy errors?
Branding Take note of the website color tones, logo, layout (responsive design, navigation style -top, side, expanding to more subjects) to see what’s standard among them and where the website’s branding is different or stands out from the rest.
General business practices
Are they following industry-standard practices? For instance, does the website have a privacy policy, copyright information, or information about the company/founder?
  • How narrow and deep versus wide and flat is their product or service offering?
  • How does your offering compare?
  • Do they have testimonials or other company logos supporting their claims or offering?
  • Does it look like a fly-by-night operation or well-established business?
  • What does the ‘Company’ or ‘About Us’ convey?
  • Are they interested in recruiting partners or do they support partners on their website and if so, to what degree?

3. Explore Industry Websites

Now that you have an idea of who your customer or user is and what your competitors are doing online, look for companies who are not in direct competition to you, but may offer a complementary product or service line. For instance, if you make organic almond butter that you’d like to sell online, try looking at restaurants or retailers specializing in nutrition. The more websites you look at, the more ideas you’ll have for features, copy, layout, requirements, and branding.

‘Wow’ website users

If you want to ‘wow’ users or customers, do your homework first. With more shoppers going online, now is the time to make sure your business is there too. Your research will tell you the features and messaging to include on the website, which will help you select the right content management system for building the website. After all, you don’t want to waste money on features you don’t need or make your website stand out for the wrong reasons. You want to ‘wow’ them! With your homework done, you’re ready to move on to building the website.

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