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Web design checklist: 15 steps to creating an amazing site
With so many different stages to go through when building and launching a website, it’s easy for teams to get overwhelmed.
By using a flexible checklist adapted to your unique business and customer needs, you’ll streamline your design process and make sure you don’t miss any key steps in creating a website your users love.
Last updated29 May 2022
Our comprehensive 15-task web design checklist will help you tick off essential website design and creation phases to pave the way for a smooth and successful launch.
Launch a user-centric site with Hotjar
Use our checklist to bring your site to life, then use Hotjar tools to make sure it’s performing as it should be.
A flexible 15-step web design checklist
Our checklist is designed to be adaptable—so tailor it to your specific business and user needs. You can follow the list chronologically and check the points off as you go, or just use the steps most relevant to you at the time.
We’ll talk you through the most important research, design, technical, content, marketing, and compliance steps so you can be sure you’ve got all the bases covered to build an effective site for your users.
Prioritize research before you begin working on your site design. Strong research helps you understand your users and make sure you’re creating a product that’ll satisfy their wants and needs.
1. Carry out user research
Use qualitative and quantitative user research methods to understand customer problems and create a site that helps solve them.
Once you’ve understood your users, continue doing research to validate early-stage ideas with your target audience. They’ll provide you with invaluable user insights on the right design to move forward with.
Collect insights from your current or test users with Hotjar Surveys. You can also run diary studies, interviews, and focus groups to better understand your users—and whether your design meets their specific needs.
2. Do market & competitor research
Market and competitor research teach you how your site will fit into an existing market and what you can do to stand out from your competitors.
Market research: understand the market for your website, determine its viability, and narrow down your target audience by spending time reading industry reports, creating user personas, conducting interviews, and analyzing market data
Competitor research: there’s a lot you can learn from the competition—pinpoint your key competitors and run competitor analysis to identify their strengths and weaknesses
To create a website that’s visually appealing and functional, you’ll need to prioritize navigation and branding elements that contribute to a great user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).
3. Plan your site layout (and make it responsive)
Start with the big picture and get more granular as you go. Here’s how:
Your web design software will likely provide you with access to website templates. Start by deciding whether you can customize a template or if you need to start from scratch. Browse the templates available to you to assess their quality and see how well they align with the vision for your site.
Decide which pages need to be included on your site with your team: this could include your homepage, your 'About Us' page, your product or service pages, and any checkout pages
Get ideas from inspirational website designs and research common design patterns to decide what works well and what you want to emulate on your site
Sketch out roughly how you want each page to be organized, making sure elements like headers, navigation menus, call-out sections, buttons, forms, and footers are clear, easily navigable, and follow familiar design patterns
Pro tip: to create a responsive site that looks and works well on different devices, start planning your mobile interface at this stage. To optimize for mobile, you’ll need to modify elements like CTAs, images, and navigation menu placements so they’re easy for users to engage with on smaller screens.
Planning different interfaces early in the design process means more time to test them out with different users—and, ultimately, a successful website.
4. Use wireframes to test your layout
Once you have a sense of how your site should be laid out for users, put it to the test with wireframes.
Wireframes are two-dimensional illustrations or ‘website blueprints’. Use them to outline:
Web page structure and layout
Desired user flows
Don’t include branding elements or graphics at the wireframing stage. Instead, use wireframes to validate and test basic interfaces in the design process so you can identify usability problems early on—before you invest too much time and money into your website.
These popular tools can help you create and test wireframes:
5. Establish your branding
Your website is your company’s ‘home’ online—so it needs to reflect your product vision. Use consistent branding so that when customers land on your homepage, they immediately understand your site’s feel and function.
Make these important site branding decisions early on so you can test them with users:
Typography: select the fonts you want to use across your site, but keep things simple. Choose a maximum of three and stick with web-safe fonts like Arial, Verdana, and Tahoma. This way, your website will be easily readable and you’ll avoid pesky display flaws and glitches.
Color palette: you’ve likely already decided on some brand colors when designing your logo. Use the principles of color theory and investigate your competitors’ branding to help decide which other colors to use on your site. Then, take note of their HEX codes, decide on your final palette, and use it consistently. Ideally, your website shouldn’t include more than three or four colors.
Technical tasks are crucial in making sure your site runs smoothly. Follow these three steps to design a high-performing site and avoid technical issues, providing your users with a seamless product experience.
6. Register your domain name
Register your domain name early in the process—domain names can be competitive and you don’t want someone else to snatch up your idea before you make it official. But don’t rush into it either: it’s important to take the time to choose the right domain name. A good domain name builds credibility, raises brand awareness and marketability, and helps with SEO rankings.
Here’s how to choose a great domain name:
Avoid anything that’s confusing or hard to remember
Keep it brief: your domain name should ideally be between 6-10 letters so it’s easy for users to type out
Make it the same or as similar as possible to your brand name
Don’t use hyphens or slashes
Stick with .com, .net, .org, or a country-specific extension for more visibility
7. Find a reliable web hosting service
Choosing a reputable web hosting service has a major impact on the quality of your site. Your hosting affects everything from security to speed to downtime to SEO rankings.
Try a popular, trusted web hosting service like:
8. Set up your SSL certificate
SSL certificates are tiny data files that create secure connections between browsers and servers so any information entered into a website is safely encrypted. SSL certificates keep data secure, prevent cybercrime, and verify website ownership but, most importantly, they make users feel safe when navigating your site.
When users visit a website and see ‘https://’ rather than ‘http://’ or see a lock symbol in the upper left-hand corner, they feel secure that the site has their SSL certificates set up correctly.
"Consumers demand data security in the form of an SSL—that lock symbol on their address bar boosts your credibility and gives users peace of mind as they browse."
Strong content helps you share key information, elevate your brand identity, make a good impression, and encourage users to convert into paying customers. Here's how to strategically optimize both copy and images on your site:
9. Source and optimize your images
One of the most common web design mistakes is including bad quality, redundant, or poorly sized images that bore, confuse, and even irritate customers. Your website's images need to capture users’ attention, bring your brand to life, and create a lasting impression.
Use these best practices to make sure you’re choosing—and optimizing—the right photos for your site:
Create your own images: don’t use stock photos or repurpose visuals from elsewhere. You’ll have better results if you take your own photographs or commission illustrations that truly represent your brand.
Be intentional: don’t plaster images all over your site for no reason. Only include visuals that are relevant, meaningful, and deliver value to your customers.
Size images correctly: giant photo files are a major culprit behind slow website loading speeds, which damages UX and drives up bounce rates. Tools like JPEG Optimizer, Kraken, and Compressor.io can help you get your photos website-ready.
10. Create engaging, on-brand copy
Writing the perfect website copy can be a tricky balancing act: great content should be detailed enough to address specific user needs and communicate your brand identity—but not so long that it seems boring, long-winded, or irrelevant.
Great copy keeps customers informed on your products and helps them form deeper connections with your brand, so it’s essential to get it right.
The best way to create great website copy is by getting to know your customers. Build empathy with your users so you can address their specific problems and pain points in your writing.
Other web design best practices that can help you produce great copy:
Talk to your customers to create a tone of voice (TOV) guide and use it to write consistent, user-centered copy
Write with purpose: don’t include any fluff and make sure every sentence is valuable or useful to your customers
Break up your text into headings, subheadings, quotes, lists, and short paragraphs so it’s easy to scan
Proofread and edit all copy before it goes live
Track content with tools like Hotjar's Heatmaps once your site is live to better understand what copy is engaging users and getting them to convert, and what’s getting ignored.
You’ll implement much of your marketing strategy after your site goes live. But taking some key marketing steps during the design process can help you get off on the right foot.
11. Make sure your tracking codes work
Pro tip: tracking codes provide quantitative data, but they don’t offer qualitative insights on how your users are acting and why they’re acting that way. Pair website analytics with Hotjar's Observe tools like Session Recordings and Heatmaps to get a deeper understanding of customer behavior on your site.
Hotjar Session Recordings let you see your user's product experience as you watch exactly how they navigate your website to improve the customer journey.
12. Connect third-party integrations and plug-ins
Integrations and plug-ins can add extra features and analytics to your site, but connecting too many at once can significantly slow down your loading time.
When deciding which integrations and plug-ins to include, prioritize those most aligned with your user and business goals, and the tools you know you’ll use on a regular basis.
Try these marketing plugins:
Yoast SEO for search engine optimization
Google Analytics by Yoast for installing GA the easy way
Optinmonster for lead generation
Uncanny Automator for no-code automations
WooCommerce for ecommerce
Hotjar for PX insights to understand how users are experiencing your site and why they’re converting—or failing to convert
Too many large integrations and plug-ins can cause slow page loading times. Be selective—and choose tools like Hotjar that are designed to minimize impact on site performance and speed.
Make sure your website abides by local legislation to build trust with users and avoid complaints or even fines.
13. Include site disclosures
Site disclosures, which are legally required in many countries worldwide like the United States, provide users with transparent information about your business and your website, helping you build customer trust. Make sure your disclosures are easily-accessible and are permanent features on your website.
Check whether you need to include these common disclosures on your site:
Affiliate links: tell your customers if you’re receiving commission by recommending any products or services to them
Advertisements: disclose any photos, articles, or videos you’re receiving compensation for on your website
Liability: if you provide professional advice, especially legal or medical, remind your users that your site content is purely informational and they should consult a professional before making any decisions
14. Consider data protection laws
Start by consulting the data protection laws that apply to you, like the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Californian Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and incorporate data protection into your web design from the start.
To design a site with compliance in mind:
Consult a compliance professional
Ask users to consent to non-necessary cookie collection—and make it easy for them to turn it down
Choose compliant third party tools like Hotjar
15. Test your website
Once you’ve designed a viable website, test it out with real users before sharing it with the world. Pre-launch testing lets you analyze how well your design is functioning, make last-minute adjustments, address bugs and glitches that come up, and make sure your customers have the best possible experience when it goes live.
"Take advantage of the various tools that exist—heatmaps, for example—and have people not involved in the website design process use it before it goes live. If you find that users are rage-clicking in some areas, or never visiting others, the web development team will gain valuable insight that will drive necessary course corrections before a site is live—significantly improving the user journey and user experience with a given site."
Conducting pre-launch testing with people who didn’t participate in the design process is the only way to eliminate bias and make sure you get genuine user feedback about how well your site is working.
Try these techniques:
Lab observation sessions: observe users as they engage with your site in-person. Then ask interview questions about their experience to get more context.
Remote observation: use Hotjar’s Observe tools like Heatmaps and Session Recordings to get a granular view into how research participants are navigating your site. Recordings show you every movement a user takes, so you can spot blockers, pinpoint areas for improvement and ask follow-up questions.
Surveys: have participants carry out certain actions on your site, then give them a survey to fill out based on their product experience. You can also include short onsite surveys to get feedback on important pages and website elements while users are engaging with them. Use Hotjar’s Ask tools to place non-intrusive Surveys or Feedback widgets at key points in the user journey.
Beta testing: soft-launch your website as a minimum viable product (MVP) to a limited group of users. Collect their feedback periodically and ask them to report bugs and problems as they arise.
You’ve launched your website, now what?
The web design process never really ends. Once your site goes live, make sure it’s performing well and serving user needs by proactively testing and collecting product experience insights.
Start by collecting and analyzing basic quantitative data using tools like Google Analytics. Then use Hotjar Observe and Ask products to uncover the how and the why behind the numbers.
Use our web design checklist to create a fantastic site
Use a flexible web design checklist to stay organized, user-centered, and aligned throughout the design process. Keeping users at the center of your web design will help you create a site your customers love using.
Launch a user-centric site with Hotjar
Use our checklist to bring your site to life—then use Hotjar's tools to make sure it’s satisfying users.