You need a website.
If you have a business (or are thinking of starting one), a website is an absolute necessity for customers to find you and for you to show your legitimacy. And if you have art or content you want to share with the world, a website is the easiest path to getting your stuff in front of other people.
Building a website used to be something that felt out of reach to a lot of people.
Learning to code and design a website from scratch is a big job that requires time and skill that most people just don’t have. But even if you can’t afford to hire a web designer or devote time to learning how to code, you can create a website.
DIY website building is now accessible to just about anyone – no coding required.
With the right tools, you can build your own website within hours. But if you’re not careful, you can still fall prey to mistakes.
Keep reading to learn more about how to do DIY website building right, and which DIY website design mistakes to avoid.
How DIY Website Building Works
You may be wondering, “What is a website builder?” and “How can I use it?” DIY website building is all about using the right tools. The main thing you need is a good website builder that has features that match your needs and an intuitive editor you can learn to use without much effort.
Most website builders come with a number of website builder themes that give you a template to start from. Once you select your template, you use the editor to change out all the elements and details you want in order to make the website fully yours. With a good editor, you can easily:
- Change the colors of each part of the page
- Sub in new backgrounds
- Upload new images
- Add media like videos or music
- Change out the text for your own
- Add buttons and forms
- Drag and drop different elements of a page to where you want them
- Add a map of your store location
- Add a shopping cart and check-out features for an ecommerce business
The more you customize the template you start with, the more your website turns into something that’s uniquely yours.
The right website builder makes designing a website for your business or personal project a fast and easy process. You can go from zero to a finished website in a matter of hours.
Website Design Mistakes to Avoid
Website builders make DIY website building possible, but they don’t come with automatic knowledge of web design best practices. If you create your website without doing some basic research, you may find yourself guilty of one of the common website design mistakes to avoid.
To help you steer clear of that fate, here are a few of the most important website mistakes to watch out for when building your first website.
Mistake #1: Building your website without clear goals
Every website has a purpose. If you’re designing a small business website, building an eCommerce store, or starting a blog or podcast for fun – there’s a reason (or several) you’re putting time and money into creating something other people will see. Before you really get into building out your site, take time to work out what those reasons are.
Write down what goals you want your website to accomplish. Do you want the website to drum up business for your online store? Do you want to build a community of followers who love teapots as much as you? Do you want to gain enough traffic blogging about something you love to start making money from ads or affiliate marketing links?
In addition to defining the main goal(s) of your website, you’ll also want to clarify the primary goal of each page you add to the website. Most websites shouldn’t have the same goal for every page. For example, an eCommerce business website will have some pages where the main goal is getting customers to make a purchase, but may have others focused on building trust in the brand or getting new email subscribers.
Having clear goals in mind as you design your website will ensure you build each page to better meet those goals.
Mistake #2: Focusing exclusively on the desktop experience
Users now spend more time browsing the internet on mobile devices than they do on desktop. If you build a website only works well on a desktop, a significant number of your visitors will have a bad experience and leave.
Making your website mobile-friendly isn’t optional – at least not if you want visitors to show up and stick around.
When using a website builder, one of the easiest ways to create a mobile-friendly site is by starting with a responsive template. Responsive websites provide all the same information and visuals on any device you use, but rearrange how it all shows up to ensure the page looks good no matter the size of your screen.
Responsive website templates are already set up to work on any device your visitors come from. All you have to do from there is test out your final design on mobile devices to check that all the changes you made to the template still work well on all device types.
Your mobile visitors should have no problem reading the text or clicking on a link. Testing gives you a chance to confirm that all your buttons and text are big enough.
Mistake #3: Not making your website your own
The great thing about starting with a template is that a good amount of the initial work is done for you. The not-so-great thing about it is the possibility that hundreds of other websites out there could be using the same theme you are.
But that’s only a problem if the end result of your DIY web design (and theirs) still looks a lot like the template you started with. If you take advantage of all the customization options a website builder makes available, you can create a website that’s truly unique.
Be willing to switch up colors and move things around. Load original images and media, and fill in all the text with writing that tells visitors who you are and what you do (more on that part later).
Even if you’re starting with someone else’s design, by the time you finish, you want it to be yours.
Mistake #4: Designing the website for yourself
This could be confusing when paired with the last mistake on the list. We just told you to make it your own, but that doesn’t mean to design the website as though you’re the target audience. Chances are, you’re not.
Your goal isn’t to build a website that you think looks nice. You want a website that your visitors will like. And more specifically, you need your target audience – the visitors that you most want to find the site and stick around – to like it.
Before you start designing your website, take some time to think about who your ideal visitors are. Do they have some general interests in common? Do they fit into any specific demographic categories? When you can picture who you’re designing your website for, you’ll do a better job creating something that will appeal to them.
Mistake #5: Organizing it in a confusing way
You want every visitor to your website to have an easy time finding whatever they’re looking for. Consider website organization best practices that requires organizing all your website pages in a clear and intuitive way. If your website will be fairly small and simple (say, 10 pages or less), creating a clear organization for the pages you create may be pretty easy.
If you’ll have a larger website with a lot of different pages, then you need to figure out a few top-level categories to sort them into that will be useful for your visitors.
For example, if you run a business that sells board games, then your top level categories could be something like genre (Trivia Games, Adventure Games, Horror Games, Fantasy Games, etc.) or something practical like number of players or the age group the games are for. These categories would help your visitors jump more quickly to a choice that suits their preferences.
Think about what your visitors will be looking for when they come to your site and figure out categories and menu items that help them quickly and easily find it.
Mistake #6: Not designing with a visual hierarchy
Remember the goals you defined for each page of your website? As you design each page, the main thing you want your visitors to do or see should be near the top of the page. The less important information that you still want to include can go further down.
The reason to organize each page with your most important information up top is because some of your visitors won’t bother scrolling down, so you want to capture their attention as quickly as possible. This is even more important for your mobile visitors. They see even less of the page on their devices and have to do more scrolling to get to the information further down on the page.
Mistake #7: Having an inconsistent style
If you spend some time browsing other websites, you’ll notice that different pages of the same website will be recognizably connected by a visual style. This provides a visual signal to visitors that you’re still in the same place. Even as you jump to a new page, you’re experiencing the same brand.
If you click on a link and find yourself on a page with an entirely different color scheme or menu, then you’ll assume you’ve left the website you’re on, right?
To keep your website experience consistent and avoid that kind of confusion, make sure that each page you design on your website looks similar to the others.
You want a consistent color scheme, a matching menu and footer, similar images or illustrations, and consistent fonts and formatting. If you have a logo, putting it in the top left corner of each page is another good way to ensure your visitors always know where they are.
Create a basic style guide for yourself before you start and stick with it. In a website builder, if you start working on each page by copying one you’ve already created, keeping the same visual style should be pretty easy to accomplish.
Mistake #8: Using stock photography
You need images for your website and stock photography is the easiest and most affordable option. But stock photography has some real downsides.
It looks generic. You could end up using the same photographs your visitors recognize from other sites. And a number of research studies have found that original photography simply gets better results. You should consider using professional photos for your business website if you want to develop memorable and original website content.
If you need to use some stock photographs to get started in order to get your website out there, that’s better than not having a website at all.
But make a plan to create original photographs or images to replace the stock images when you can. Your website experience will be better for it.
Mistake #9: Not optimizing your images
Speaking of images, every one you add to your website provides some good SEO opportunities. Take a few seconds each time you add an image to make sure:
- The image is sized well (if it’s too big it could slow down your page loading time, if it’s too small it could look fuzzy and make the page look bad)
- Your image filename includes your target keywords
- You add image alt text that includes your target keywords
It doesn’t take long, but it makes your images optimized for SEO.
Mistake #10: Rushing the copy
If you’re in a hurry to get your website out, then you may be tempted to just throw some words together that tell your visitors the basics of what your website is. This is a mistake.
You don’t just need placeholder text that tells visitors the basics of what you do – you need copy that will convince them to care and take action. If you’re creating a business website that will help you make money, hiring someone with expertise in website copywriting is likely well worth the cost.
If that’s out of your budget or you’re building a website for a personal project where bringing a professional in doesn’t make sense, then do some research into copywriting best practices. Some website writing tips to keep in mind:
- Clarify your unique value proposition. The most important thing your copy needs to do is communicate to your visitors what you do and what makes you different from similar websites. This information needs to go high up on your home page and shape the messaging you provide throughout the rest of your website.
- Focus on benefits you offer the visitor (rather than features). When you put a lot of work into developing a product or project, you tend to think of it in terms of what you did. Your copy needs to shift the focus away from what you did and toward what you can do for your visitors. For example, if you sell a reading light, talking about its brightness is a feature. Saying it makes it easier to read in bed without waking up your partner is a benefit because it solves a common problem your target audience has.
- Keep your language simple and clear. If I weren’t taking my own advice here, I could have said “don’t use multisyllabic flowery language needlessly when there are more conversational words that work.” Same sentiment, but with more (and longer) words than needed to get the point across. Don’t use more words than you need and try to use language all your visitors will understand.
- Use CTAs. You want your visitors to take some kind of action, so tell them to. Calls to action are the phrases you use to get visitors to act, like “click here” or “learn more” or “sign up today.” Make sure that every page on your website explicitly tells your visitors what you want them to do.
- Proofread! Don’t let embarrassing types typos through. It makes you look sloppy and creates confusion for your visitors. Always read over your copy at least twice before publishing.
Mistake #11: Improper formatting
Part of writing well for the web is getting the formatting right. People skim when they read online. Good formatting makes it easy for them to find the information they need as they quickly skim through your pages.
Good formatting for the web includes:
- Dividing your writing into sections with clear headings and subheadings
- Using numbered lists and bullets where appropriate (kinda like we’ve done here. Meta, huh?)
- Using bolds and italics for emphasis
This will make your copy easier to read, gives you more opportunities to optimize your pages for SEO, and makes it easy to draw attention to the information you most want your visitors to notice.
Mistake #12: Not enough white space
Nobody online wants to encounter a wall of text – your website isn’t a novel. White space makes your website look cleaner and less cluttered. It gives the words and images more room to breathe.
Provide plenty of spacing between paragraphs and sections on your page. Some of the formatting options just shared will help with this, but just following those tips may not be enough. As you’re designing each page and deciding what will go where, make sure you leave space between different elements on the page.
And “white space” doesn’t always literally mean the color white – if you have a green background, leaving space between the text, images, and other elements of the page still counts even if it looks more like “green space” to you.
Mistake #13: Forgetting on-site optimization
You’re primarily designing your website for humans (and the humans in your target audience, more specifically). But for those humans to find your website, you need to incorporate design best practices for SEO.
Do keyword research to learn the language your target audience is using when they search for what you provide. Choose a primary keyword and some secondary keywords for each page, and incorporate them into a few main parts of the page:
- The URL
- The title tag
- The headings
- The image alt text
- The meta description
On-site optimization is just one part of doing SEO, but it’s the main part that’s in your control. It doesn’t take that long to make updates to each page that give it an edge in the search results.
Mistake #14: Skipping user testing
You can try really hard to get inside the head of your target audience and create a website just for them. But you can’t know how they’ll respond to it without putting it to the test. The best way to find out if your website is intuitive and useful is to have some people test it out through usability testing.
Try and find someone in your target audience if possible, whether they’re a current customer or a friend that fits the demographics. Ask them to browse the website for you and try out some of the actions you want visitors to take – filling out a form, making a purchase, looking for a specific page. Their experience will show you if there’s anything that isn’t quite working with the way the site looks now.
And be sure your user testing includes different devices and browser types. If everything looks great in Chrome, but something doesn’t load right in Firefox, you want to know about it.
Mistake #15: Showing no personality
Your website will be your main face for your online presence. It should represent you. Don’t create something that’s dry and business like. Find ways to let some of your personality shine through on your personal or eCommerce website. It could be in the colors you choose, the media you add, or by including jokes or casual language in your copy.
Don’t think that people will only take your website seriously if you make it bland. Being professional and having a unique personality aren’t mutually exclusive. Figure out how to let some of your more fun and human side through.
DIY Your Website – The Right Way
DIY website building doesn’t have to be a lot of work, but that doesn’t mean you should be lazy about it.
A website builder makes it easy to look good, but take some time to make sure your website will also work to achieve your goals and resonate with your audience. Doing the work to avoid these web design mistakes is a good start.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.