The purpose of this guide is to help people who are looking to launch a new website or begin a redesign by helping them to create a website project plan.
As someone who has built hundreds of websites and worked with clients all over the world, I’m not too humble to say that I have a lot of experience and I also have skin in the game.
It helps me greatly when the website plan is well formulated and the content is prepared and organized, so it pays me to help clients and readers with their pre-production phase.
Whether you are going to hire a web designer or want to build it yourself, this process will help you work out what is going to be required.
If you have an existing website you might also want to read our guide on finding out whether your website needs a redesign first.
Prepare a Website Project Plan
Creating a project brief to share with your designer or developer will help speed things along and make it easier for you to get quotes without having to answer the same questions over and over.
A brief is even useful if you plan on building the website yourself because you can outline your aims and ambitions and get a holistic view of what you need to do. If you have a team you are working with or some entrepreneurial comrades, then you can also share it with them to see if they have any feedback and ideas to throw into the mix.
Ideally, you would create this document as a Word doc, that way anybody you share it with is going to be able to open it, but if you and your web designer prefer to use an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planner) then migrate the plan to that once you have created it in MS Word or an open-source alternative (Google Drive, Libre Open Office etc).
Personally, I like to use Asana as my ERP and project management tool and recommend anybody who isn’t using a tool like this to check it out. There is a free version that is suitable for most people’s needs.
In your brief you should aim to include the following:
Aims and Ambitions
What do you plan to achieve with this website? What is the end goal? If you have an existing website, where is it falling short? Not ranking on Google? Slow? Poor user experience? Offputting design? Or all of the above?
Design requirements including examples
If you have seen some websites you like the look of that are either in your market or in an unrelated market, it’s a good idea to list them out so they can be referred to later and used for inspiration. It’s worth noting that if your website is for a local business offering services, you want to look at other service providers rather than eCommerce website examples if that’s not obvious (Unfortunately I have clients who share websites that don’t tick the necessary boxes for their business type).
Your branding and brand guidelines
If you have branding guidelines on how your logo and color scheme should be adhered to then provide these to the designer along with the brief.
This may be part of your branding guidelines but if you don’t yet have any branding let alone the guidelines, thinking about your color scheme and talking to your designer will always be helpful.
Does your website just need to be purely informational? with no bespoke functionality, or does it need to include additional features like eCommerce, Membership, Learning management, or something else?
A breakdown of the pages, blog posts, and any other content types the website will need.
Create Buyer Personas
Personas are fictional characters you create that represent your best customers. Give your personas names and then list out their characteristics including demographics, pain points, their needs, and so on. You and the designer need to put yourselves in their shoes when planning and building the website.
Providing the above to your web designer or developer will save a lot of back and forth emails and help them to get you a proposal and estimate costs a lot quicker.
Create Two Plans
If your project is fairly complex it might be worth creating two briefs, with the second brief being aimed at covering the MVP (minimum viable product). Then you have your ultimate website plan and your absolute essentials plan.
This is a strategy you should use for business plans and because a website is essential for your success online it doesn’t hurt to extend that strategy to your website plan.
Gall’s Law states that A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.
So for that reason, there’s a good argument to focus on launching your minimum viable product first before you over-complicate things with moving parts that aren’t necessary when you are starting out.
This can help you hit the ground running faster while you save money in both the short and long term as it will cost you less to launch and you lose less if it doesn’t work out.
When I am working with new clients I will often work with them to create a plan that allows for the project to be broken up into two phases.
Phase 1 is building and designing the minimum viable product needed to launch and test your idea.
Phase 2 is adding additional functionality, design elements, and content once the website and business idea has been validated.
I also highly encourage creating a development roadmap plan to include ideas that you might want to explore in the next year that aren’t necessarily immediately.
Analyze Your Current Website
If the project is a redesign of an existing website, you will want to read this section, if you are planning a brand new website then you can skip this part.
The first thing to do if you have an existing website is to evaluate what has worked and what hasn’t so you can ensure these things are considered with the new site.
I would hope you have both Google Analytics and Google Search Console installed on your website and if you haven’t you should install them and then wait a few weeks until there’s enough data for you to at least get some insight into how your current website has been performing.
Google Analytics tells you about your visitor’s behavior on your website and looks at all traffic sources. You can find out your bounce rate, the average time on site per visitor, and lots of other metrics to see what was working and what wasn’t.
Google Search Console focusses on different areas.
It tells you a lot about your performance in Google Search specifically. You can see where you are ranking for the different keywords that are sending you traffic, how much traffic you are getting from search, and if you are getting traffic from Google’s Discover feature.
You can submit your sitemap and give Google the blueprints to your website content, allowing it to more easily index and understand the structure of your website.
It also allows you to look at your website health, both in terms of security and core web vitals like speed and mobile-friendliness.
If your website is infected with malware, then this tool can notify you so you can do something about it.
Gathering data from these tools can make a big difference in the success of your new website. Share this information with your designer or developer so they are aware by adding it to your website project plan document.
Website Project Plan Questions
When I am working with a new website client I will generally ask the following questions?
New Website or Redesign?
Is this a redesign of an existing website or a brand new website?
Brand Name and Domain
Do you have a domain name ready for this project? Do you have something in mind? See our guide to choosing the best domain name.
I typically recommend GoDaddy or Namecheap for domains unless you already have a domain name provider. I don’t recommend hosting your domains with a domain provider as they are really not specialists in hosting.
Do you have branding and a logo? If so I would ask for the master files to be sent to me in either EPS, AI or PSD format with the layers intact and not rasterized. This allows maximum flexibility for the design and ensures I have a large and clean copy of the logo with a transparent background.
If the client doesn’t have those files we might be able to get away with using a PNG file provided it’s large enough and has a transparent background though we won’t have as much flexibility as if you had the master design files.
So I always encourage people to get those from the designer.
Do you already have hosting set up for the new website? If yes, is it up to the job? Bad hosting can lead to lots of problems like poor user experience and Google not favoring your website in the search results due to how slow it is.
My recommended hosting solution for starter websites is Siteground and their GrowBig package which is both affordable but still performs well. If you have a bigger budget and want premium web hosting then the three options I recommend are WPXHosting, Kinsta, and WPEngine.
If the website is brand new then I will request the content is sent to me in Word documents. Ideally, batch-processed so everything is attached to one email as individual documents or compressed in a zip file.
If the website is a redesign and you plan to use all of the current content and maybe some new content in addition then I would take the content directly from the current website and ask that any new pages and content changes be sent in Word document format.
I would also ask that a guide document is provided to note down which content we are keeping from the existing website and what can be removed or replaced.
Recommended Pages & Content for Most Websites
Here are three example page structures for websites I typically build and the pages I recommend including and planning for in each case.
General Informational Website
This is your typical website that is purely informational and non-transactional with the aim of marketing your products and services.
- Home – The homepage should ideally be a microcosm of the entire website and feature sections with calls to action to lead your visitor deeper into the website. See our guide on creating the perfect homepage.
- About – Your origin story, this is your chance to cover the who, what, where, when, why, and how of you and/or your business.
- Products/Services – This page will introduce your offerings and list out the services you offer. If you have enough content then they can also link to service subpages.
- – Product or Service Subpages – Not always necessary but definitely recommended if you can produce the content.
- FAQ page – A page that helps to answer your customer’s main questions when buying the type of product or service you offer.
- Testimonials – Having a testimonials page is essential for social proof and building trust. We would also want to add 3 testimonials to the homepage.
- Resources – A page you can use to include useful resources from other websites or that you have created yourself to help your target audience. Optional for some websites but it is recommended and useful.
- Blog/News – A page that lists the latest published articles on your website. One of your best tools for content marketing and demonstrating your authority and expertise.
- Contact – A page with contact details, social media buttons, and a contact form. May contain a map if you are serving a local audience, doesn’t require much content but a short intro is nice giving your visitors example reasons why they might want to get in touch.
The blog will display all of your blog posts and act as an index and archive page. If you plan to publish your website with the blog or news section then you will want to create at least 3 blog articles in preparation.
Some companies offer products, others offer services and some even offer both. Depending on which box your business falls into you may have to make some adjustments here and you may also have sub-pages for each of your products or services if you have the content to justify it.
The last thing you want is 10 service pages where each page has less than 300-500 words as they would be seen as weak or thin content, something Google doesn’t take too kindly to.
If you are running an eCommerce website then you will have a few additional pages, some of which are automatically generated.
- Shop – A shop page instead of a services or products page that serves as an index page displaying all of the products you have available.
- – Shop Category pages – Similar to the shop page but these archive pages just show products from specific categories.
- FAQ page
- My Account – This page is automatically generated and allows customers to manage their accounts.
- Cart – Also automatically generated and doesn’t require any custom content.
- Checkout – Same as with the cart.
- Terms and Conditions of Sale – An additional legal page that is recommended for any transactional websites like eCommerce stores.
Learning Management Website (LMS)
If you are planning to build an educational website in WordPress using LearnDash then you will have a slightly different structure again.
- Courses – A page that lists out your courses, if you only have one course then you can bypass this page and just link to your single course.
- – Course Category pages – If you are selling multiple courses
- – Course Pages – This is the single course page, this should contain sales copy about your course which shows when logged out and then once users purchase the content will show a short intro and then list out your lessons.
- – Lesson Pages – These are the individual lessons pages for your course, each should contain your lesson content and/or video.
- FAQ page
- Members Area – A members area can be a useful page to share resources with your paying students and customers.
- My Account
Before beginning a new website for a client I will request the following deliverables. I’m pretty strict on ensuring we have actual content to work with before we commence work because using filler content or Lorum Ipsum Latin never leads to the best results. It’s far more efficient to design with the content and message in mind.
If your domain is registered with GoDaddy I would ask you to go to Account Settings and then Delegate Access. From here you can invite me using my email and then I can access your domains from my own GoDaddy account.
For other domain providers, you may need to set a non-sensitive but secure password and share it with me. I always ask for passwords to be shared through an encrypted message and separately from other details like the email address or username.
When the project is complete you can change your password back to something private.
I typically build new websites in a staging area of the clients hosting environment, then when we are ready to launch the new website the process is fast and seamless.
Some hosting companies will allow a delegate access option where you can invite me but most require you to share your login details.
For a new website, it’s best to collect all of your content and put it into Word documents. I ask my clients to create a single word document per web page to keep things organized and to minimize the chance of confusion.
I would always recommend having at least 300-500 words on each page as the bare minimum but hopefully, most people can produce more than that, at least for the important pages where SEO matters.
If you are loading up an eCommerce website with lots of products then you probably want to create a spreadsheet with Microsoft Excel or Google sheets to map all of the product data that is needed. This gives us a good overview and allows us to automate the import process.
You will undoubtedly also want to include some media on your website. Certainly some photos but potentially video and other embeddable formats like Podcast players.
All websites benefit from having some great images. I encourage websites to include photos of the people who do the work to help humanize the website and make it more personable.
I would also recommend looking on stock photo websites to get some good images that can be used for hero area backgrounds and different pages throughout your website.
It’s common for new clients to send over very small photos and I recommend sending the largest you have as us designers can always make them smaller but we can’t stretch them to make them larger as they will become pixellated.
I will optimize all images for the web before I upload them to the development site.
If you are sending a lot of images, consider zipping them all together and if they are under 20mb send via email, if larger send using a service like WeTransfer, Dropbox or Google Drive.
If you plan to use videos on your website, you want to find a video host first. Web servers and WordPress hosting isn’t built for hosting videos, so instead of sending your web designer the MP4 video files, it’s best to upload them to YouTube and then send them the YouTube links so they can be embedded from there.
If your videos need to be private and not easily found on YouTube, set them to “Unlisted” and then they will only appear on your website. Don’t set them to private because if you do, you won’t be able to embed them on your website.
If you want to embed other media types like interviews, podcasts or gifs all I need is for the link to the page where I can get the embed code to place on your website.
Website Project Plan Conclusion
There you have it, not a short read but a very important one if you want to get off to the best possible start with your new website in 2021.
It all begins with a plan, but it helps if you have a framework of what to focus on and measure so you don’t just end up building a new website for the sake of it and wasting your precious marketing budget.
It will also help the web designer or developer to properly understand what you need from the get-go which will make the whole process far less stressful for all parties involved.