Creative Edge Consultants

Step-by-Step Guide to Designing and Testing a Website (2023)


Have you ever left an ecommerce store because its website was hard to navigate? Abandoned a purchase because you couldn’t find the Add to Cart button? Spent an hour curating the perfect order only to face persistent errors during the checkout process? You were probably frustrated, because consumers expect user-friendly web design and a seamless purchasing experience. 

This is why for ecommerce business owners, user-friendly web design is absolutely critical. If your site doesn’t deliver, your customers will go elsewhere. On the flip side, a robust web design can communicate your value to your target customers, encourage purchases, and increase repeat customer traffic. Here’s how to make a user-friendly website. 

What you need to design a website

All sites require at least three elements: web hosting, a domain name, and a website platform. You can purchase these separately from third-party providers or select a website platform (known as a website builder) that bundles multiple components. Shopify’s website builder, for example, offers a web platform, web hosting, and the option to purchase a custom domain name through Shopify or connect one purchased from a third-party provider.

Here’s an overview of crucial website components:

  • Web hosting. Your web host provides the infrastructure and technology to make your site accessible to web users. When you create a website, the files are stored on a server, typically owned and managed by a web hosting company.
  • Domain name. Domains are like street addresses for websites. Just like a street address identifies a physical location, a domain name is a unique identifier for a website on the internet. It typically consists of a name followed by a top-level domain like .com. 
  • Website platform. A website platform is the software that allows you to build your site. You can select a website builder or content management system (CMS). Although neither option typically requires coding knowledge, website builders generally require less technical knowledge than CMS platforms. Generally speaking, website builders also provide a more extensive scope of services: Many handle CMS and hosting functions, provide drag-and-drop design tools, and some offer integrated ecommerce functionalities. 

What you need to design an ecommerce store

Online store owners can also benefit from integrating additional ecommerce components, which can be purchased separately from third-party providers or come included with an ecommerce-specific website builder. Shopify’s website builder includes Shopify Payments, an in-house payment gateway, and a free SSL certificate:

  • Payment gateway. A payment gateway is an online service that securely processes transactions for ecommerce websites. Payment gateways, like Shopify Payments, allow businesses to receive funds for purchases via payment methods like major credit cards and digital wallets (such as Shop Pay). Think of a payment gateway as the bridge between your customer, your website, and the financial institutions involved; it encrypts and transfers payment information to facilitate smooth, reliable transactions.
  • Secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate. SSL certificates encrypt your website, verifying that it can protect business and user information. SSL certificates are particularly critical for online stores, which process sensitive customer data such as payment and shipping information. You can obtain an SSL certificate by purchasing one from a trusted certificate authority or get a free one from Let’s Encrypt, a non-profit certificate authority.

How to design a website

  1. Define your purpose and goals
  2. Conduct target audience and competitor research
  3. Build your sitemap
  4. Establish a visual concept
  5. Choose a website platform
  6. Optimize for SEO

Designing a website is a step-by-step process. Follow these six steps to create your own:  

1. Define your purpose and goals

Defining your website’s purpose and goals helps determine your site’s structure, content, and key functionalities. For example, the purpose of an online store is to sell products or services, and its goals might be to raise brand awareness, increase sales, and generate leads. In this case, you’ll need ecommerce functionalities, a navigational structure that drives users to product pages, and an outlet for content to attract and capture leads, such as a blog or resource library. 

2. Conduct target audience and competitor research

Conduct target audience research to learn more about your customers’ browsing habits, buying cycles, interests, and decision drivers. You can conduct research online or even elect to send out surveys to prospective customers. When you’re ready to create your own website, use this information to develop a design that will appeal to your target users. 

For example, if your customers frequently shop on mobile devices, you might consider a mobile-first design. If they conduct extensive research prior to making a purchase, you might include product comparison pages that highlight the strengths of your products over your competitors. You can also identify successful competitors in your space and differentiate your online store by building on their website strategies.

3. Build your sitemap

A sitemap is an overview of your website layout. Essentially, it’s an organized list of all of the webpages on your site, including your homepage, contact pages, product or service pages, About pages, and career pages. Creating a sitemap can improve visibility and accessibility for both website visitors and search engines, which use sitemaps to process and index content and determine which of a site’s pages are most important. 

Sitemaps can also help you optimize user experience (UX)—i.e., designing for user satisfaction—particularly if your site has many pages. By helping you visualize the structure and flow of your site and clarifying the relationships between pages, sitemaps allow you to organize your site around key user pathways. For example, if your objective is to sell products, you can structure your site to make it easy for users to find specific products. You might include a link to your online store in your main navigation and have sub-pages that lead to particular product categories, such as Apparel, Footwear, and Accessories.

If you need help designing your website, want more customization options, or have questions about it, Shopify can help. Shopify Experts are freelance web designers and agencies with extensive experience in design, development, and business and marketing strategy. 

4. Establish a visual concept

When creating a visual concept for your website, consult your existing brand guidelines to ensure that all visual elements are consistent with your brand identity. Consider design elements, color scheme, and typography, ensuring that all elements complement your identity and support your website’s goals. 

For example, if you want your website to project a calming, bright aura, you might choose a minimalist theme with lots of white space; if you’re going to have lots of text to educate your audiences about your very technical products, you might opt for a more traditional design that prioritizes readability.

Many website builders have built-in themes, prebuilt packages that determine a site’s page layouts, typography, color palettes, backgrounds, headers, and footers. Many also offer extensive customization options on these themes.

5. Choose a website platform 

Choose a website builder or CMS platform that is appropriate for your level of web design experience, meets your budget needs, and provides the security, flexibility, and scalability that you need.

If your website builder includes themes or a drag-and-drop editor, confirm that available customizations support your vision. For instance, if you need ecommerce capabilities or custom forms, ensure the website builder you’ve selected provides the tools to incorporate these functionalities seamlessly.

If you plan to work with a professional web designer, you can discuss which website builder options can best fit your vision. If you plan to retain ongoing web design services, confirm that you have the skills to update the platform after the initial design is complete. 

6. Optimize for SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to a set of tactics designed to increase traffic to a website by improving its performance in search engine rankings. A website SEO strategy should include both technical SEO and content SEO. 

  • Technical SEO. Technical SEO involves optimizing page speed and metadata (including headers, titles, and meta descriptions), creating alt tags for images, fixing broken links, and indexing your site by submitting a sitemap to popular search engines. 
  • Content SEO. Content SEO involves creating keyword-rich content around your target audience’s search behaviors. You can develop product pages, service pages, and blog pages around terms your target users are likely to query, such as “affordable Cuisinart alternative” or “best walking sandals.”

SEO tools can help you optimize your site’s content, structure, and performance, increasing the likelihood it appears in search results for your target audiences. They can evaluate page speed, identify broken links, and grade your content based on quality, structure, and effective keyword usage.

How to test your site

Once your design is complete, you’re ready to launch and test your site. Here are three steps to take after it goes live: 

1. Test your site

Test your site to ensure it displays correctly on multiple browsers. You can use a digital tool like BrowserStack to try this. You can also use SEO tools like Lighthouse and Screaming Frog to test page speed, correct broken links, and identify unlinked (or “orphan”) pages. 

2. Seek feedback

Ask trusted people in your network to spend some time navigating around your site or give them a particular task, like finding a specific product and placing it in a shopping cart. Then, get their feedback about their user experience and make any necessary adjustments to your design. 

Subjective feedback can complement technical testing by giving you additional insights into the user experience. (While an SEO tool can tell you if your online store link is broken, a family member can tell if they had difficulty locating it in your menu.) 

3. Analyze metrics and optimize performance

Use analytics tools like Google Analytics to monitor site performance. These tools can tell you how website visitors are finding your site and what they’re doing there, which can help increase traffic to your site and ensure that user activities align with your goals. 

For example, an analytics tool can measure bounce rate (or the percentage of users who leave your site after viewing only one page), helping you identify low-performing pages and adjust content to improve results. 

They can also tell you if a particular set of blogs is performing well in search engine rankings and leading to a high number of conversions, which can inform your content marketing strategy. In this case, you might create additional content to target the high-performing content’s keywords and related keywords and search intents.  

How to design a website FAQ

How do I choose the right content management system for my website?

When choosing a content management system or website builder, consider the following factors, and then choose a service that balances them:

  • Your website’s purpose and goals
  • Your level of web design experience
  • Your desired degree of design flexibility
  • Your available budget
  • Your site’s key functionalities

How can I create a user-friendly design for my website?

These best practices can help you create a user-friendly website design:

  • Create user flows based on your site’s intended purpose
  • Create a clear navigational structure
  • Build a sitemap and organize your pages
  • Use consistent page layouts and design elements
  • Seek feedback on your site prior to launch

How can I optimize my website for search engines?

These best practices can help improve your search engine rankings:

  • Create keyword-rich, user-friendly content
  • Optimize metadata and create alt tags for images
  • Use SEO tools to test page speed and identify broken links
  • Index your site with popular search engines by submitting a sitemap to key search engines

How important is responsive design for my website?

Over 50% of global web traffic comes from mobile devices, so mobile-optimized web design is critical to the success of your website. Responsive design can automatically adjust to the size of a viewer’s screen, ensuring optimal display on any device.


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