If you’re getting ready to start a new website project, or redesign your existing website, you may be wondering where to begin. Should you contact a web design agency first? Should you brainstorm some website design ideas? Should you buy your domain name? We’ve helped countless clients take their websites from idea to reality, and we’ve got the website design process down to a science.
We’ll walk you through the steps you should take before you ever contact an agency with our website project checklist. It covers everything you should try to have ready, including your thoughts on content and functionality.
Pre-Project Checklist for Website Design
Before you ever contact a web design agency, there are a handful of items you can get in order first. Checking these items off the list early will help you present a full scope of work to an agency, so you’ll be more confident that their website design quote is accurate. Not to mention, all of the confusing moving parts will be completed and over with, so you and the website design agency that you choose can focus on the fun stuff: Designing your beautiful website.
If you already have a website and are just hoping to redesign it, then you already have your domain name in place. If this is a new website design project, you’ll want to start with securing your domain name. We often advise clients to purchase a handful of domain names that are different iterations of their company name—but use one primary domain that all others simply point to. This not only helps with SEO, but it helps ensure your brand name is only being used by your company.
- Compile a list of all relevant domain names
- Write down how many domains will point to the website
- Take note of the domain registration information
- Think through what you want your company email to be (i.e. email@example.com)
- If you already have a website, also make sure you have all of your hosting information handy
A Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is essential for protecting your website, even if your website isn’t handling any secure data like credit card information, HIPAA-related details, etc. An SSL gives your website privacy and data integrity and helps protect the user’s personal information.
Note: Google is making changes to its user experience and will be placing priority on sites that have an SSL in place. If your website is available over HTTP but not HTTPS, you may see a loss in traffic, user trust, and a drop in conversion rates. This isn’t a step you want to skip moving forward.
- Note if you want a SSL for your website (highly recommended)
- Jot down any secure data your site may require (i.e. credit card information, patient records)
- Note if there is an area of the website that should be password protected, such as a patient portal, a bank customer login, or a retail customer account
Domain, hosting, and site security information are the small details that every website designer and developer will need. But just as important is the information about who your audience is and what your overall goals for the website are.
Informing your agency of who your target audience is will tell them a lot about the decisions they’ll need to make early on in the website design process. For example, if your website will be reaching older folks or individuals with disabilities, your website designer will want to make sure that the website is ADA compliant, which will affect their font, color, and design choices. Or, if your audience is primarily Gen Z, your website designer will know they can push the boundaries in terms of formatting, content placement, and design. It will also help them understand what content should be a focal point or priority, so they can begin thinking through page structure and hierarchy.
- List what you know of your target audience (age, interests, motivations)
- Write down what information they will be looking for that will ultimately lead them to your website
- List any actions you want them to take on your website
- If you already have Google Analytics or any usage data available on your current/older site, download critical reports for your website design agency.
Search Engine Optimization
Your web agency should help you with your SEO strategy, but it will be helpful to come to the conversation prepared with a few key details. You know your customer and audience better than anyone, and chances are you have a decent idea of what their user behavior may be when they’re searching for you or a business like you.
- Compile a list of keywords or keyphrases that your prospects might search when trying to find what you offer
- Analyze that list and determine if there is any “industry lingo” present that your customers may not be familiar with—make some user-friendly adjustments
Audit Existing Content
If you already have a website, you already have content on your website. This could be a great place to start—or it could make you realize just how long it’s been since you’ve updated your content. Either way, a website content audit could be really helpful in helping you understand what you want to see on your website moving forward.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How much content is staying?
- How much needs to be removed?
- How much needs minor editing?
- How much needs either a complete overhaul or new content altogether?
- Who do you want to be responsible for that content overhaul, your team or your agency?
Consider logos, images, and videos in this audit process too. You’d be surprised how many times an audit has helped a customer realize that they have multiple versions or outdated versions of their logo on their site!
Your website content audit is a natural segue into thinking through your website structure. If you’ve spotted content that needs to be removed or added, take note of that as part of your ideal sitemap. You don’t have to think through the intricacies of how the page content and navigation will link with itself—that’s for a great web design agency to do!—but take some notes on what pages you want to see with this new website.
- If there is already a sitemap (if you already have a website), note how you would like that sitemap to change.
- If there isn’t already a sitemap, make a bulleted list of what your ideal pages will be.
This may be the trickiest part of the checklist for clients. We get it! If you’re not a website developer, it’s hard to know what functionality to ask for and what just isn’t possible within budget. But that’s okay! Start with your ideal wishlist and that will be a great starting point for conversations with your agency.
- Is there any new functionality that the site should be capable of?
- Does the website need to communicate with any other systems (for example, a third-party login or an MLS listing)?
- If there will be eCommerce on your website, what platform will you use to process those transactions and monitor your inventory?
- Who should receive web form submissions and notifications?
This one is important! If you’re hinging any other marketing campaigns or materials on the launch of your new website, understanding those timelines is really important to an agency. They want to make sure that your website launch and marketing campaigns work seamlessly and successfully. Share with them your timelines or any campaign calendars you may have that would be impacted by a website launch.
- Note the time frame that a new website should launch (Tip: Try not to launch a website on a Friday or a weekend, as your agency will want to be available for any launch-day tech support)
- There may be delays, especially if you have to submit designs or content to multiple members of your team for review. Think through a contingency plan if there are delays keeping you from your website launch day.
Equally as important, especially when thinking through all of the functionality we mentioned above. Even just a rough idea of what your budget is will be helpful in navigating expectations and what is possible for your website design project.
- Note the budget for the project
- Also highlight the features or functionalities that are non-negotiables, and those that can be removed if there isn’t an adequate budget for the full scope of the project.
Getting Started with Your Website Design Project
You’re all set and ready to get started with your website design project! This checklist will set you up for success when having conversations with prospective web design agencies, and it’ll get you well on your way at the start of the project.