A Comprehensive Website Planning Guide

Starting a website can be daunting. How can we be sure to accurately represent the companies and businesses we are designing for? A Comprehensive Website Guide (parts 1 and 2) offers many different ways to get to know the company you are designing for and its intended audience. After all, reaching the intended audience is the goal of a website. The first step to understanding exactly what the website you are designing needs to do is to begin with a needs assessment. 

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Needs Assessment and Intake Session

A needs assessment is the beginning of any website building project. This is, as Ben Seigal states, where you figure out where a business has been, where it’s going, and how you can get it there. This is where you begin to understand what a business needs in a website. From here, you can get into the intake session. An intake session is a lengthy meeting (Seigal states an intake session under 40 minutes is not sufficient enough) where you get into the nitty-gritty details of the company you are building a website for. In this session, you will discuss things like:

  • The core details and values of the company
  • Who the company is and what they do
  • Target Audience 
  • the intended purpose of the website 
  • How the company would like to be perceived based on their website

This is only the surface of the types of questions you should ask during an intake session. You want to be able to understand the ins and outs of the company so that you can represent them effectively on their website. Since you will be the one conducting the meeting, you can set the tone. It can be formal or informal, either way, be sure to have a list of questions ahead of time. 

Starting the Project:


After you have gotten all of the information you need to begin building your website, it’s time to start the project. Seigal states that one important step is to create milestones for the project. Milestones are dates you select to get things done by and the deliverables for each date. This can be applied to short-term and longer-term projects. Some examples of milestones would be 

  • Day 1: Begin initial research of the business
  • Day 7: Intake session
  • Day 14: Show business initial ideas for the website

Assign Roles

Once you have gotten to the stage where you can start your project, you can begin to assign roles. Each role is unique and therefore requires certain skills and requirements. There are many different roles, such as:

  • Project manager: this role is in charge of the entire project. They see to it that everyone else is doing their roles and that deadlines are being met. 
  • Content creator: this role is in charge of creating content for the website. This can be in the form of written content, visual content, etc.
  • Copywriter/editor: this role is responsible for writing copy that accurately reflects the company. The person doing this role may have to engage with the company further than just the intake session. They may have to interview key people within the company to create excellent written content for the website. 
  • Web Designer: this role is all about the design of the website and the design of the user interface. They design the website from top to bottom, mapping out where all the content will go. 
  • Coders (front end and back end): these are the people who are writing the code for the website and managing the content management system (CMS).


One of the essential parts of the website besides functionality is the actual content of the website. The most important thing to remember when creating content for a website is the audience. What do we want the content to encourage a user to do? To purchase something? To book an appointment? To make a donation? The first step to creating content for a website is to determine where the content is going to go.


A sitemap is a tool to organize all of the content that will go on a website. A sitemap is essentially a flowchart of all of the content on a webpage and can be created on software such as Microsoft Visio and Gliffy. Essentially, the sitemap acts as a visual representation of all the pages and how they connect. 

Example of sitemap from Brighton Library


A wireframe is the bare-bones layout of a website. It focuses solely on the content and how it will be arranged on the webpage. 

For more information on the difference between sitemaps and wireframes, check out this evolve article.

Example of wireframe from Visual Paradigm

Website Content

Website content is much more than just written content. For example, content can be:

  • Audio: such as podcasts, interviews, playlists
  • Visual: such as photography, videos, artwork 
  • Written: such as the copy written for the website, content from other sites such as twitter and facebook

Whatever the content, ensuring that it’s the highest quality the project can afford will only increase the overall quality of the website. Plus, the content of the website is what keeps the users engaged. If the website has bad photos, the chances of the user doing what the website creators want the user to do are much lower. 

Writing Content for Websites:

Much like what we’ve discussed in this class, website writing must be short, concise, and to the point. Seigal explains this process like this:

  • Write your first draft
  • Cut it in half
  • Cut it in half again
  • Now add bulleted and numbered lists where possible
  • Keep your sentences short
  • Use paragraph breaks whenever there’s a slight change of flow in the copy
  • Send it to the editor.
  • Create strong headlines
  • Frame everything in terms of your customer 

We don’t want to weigh the user down with large blocks of text when we know that the user will likely skim for the information that applies to them. By breaking the text up into short paragraphs or bullet points, we know that the information will be easily digestible and therefore more appealing to the user. 

University of Maryland Baltimore has a quick and easy to read Best Practices guide for Web Writing. This source has an excellent list of things to remember while writing content for the web. For example, making sure to write with common language within the field your website will help with search engine optimization (SEO), which will help users find your website when googling certain phrases. Another important thing to consider when writing content for websites is to remember tone. Write in an upbeat, optimistic style, keeping it lighthearted but still professional. Write in an active voice, using first or second person. This will help make the reader and user feel not so weighed down when they are reading on your website.

Designing the website

Keep the business or company in mind at all times when you are designing the website. Brand is everything. Branding is the first thing a user thinks of when they think of a company, so creating a strong sense of a brand in a website will make your site successful. When it comes to the aesthetics of the website, be sure to plan around the logo of the company. This could mean implementing a specific color scheme, font choice, writing style, domain name, photography, and much more. When designing a website, you are essentially designing a company’s online brand, so do so with care. 

Responsive design

An important thing to remember when designing your website is what device the user is most likely to view your site on. Therefore, your website should be responsive. It should look good on mobile devices as well as large viewports such as a desktop. Different devices allow for different viewing experiences. Because of this, consider cutting or adding content depending on the viewport (the viewport is the dimensions of the screen, it determines how the website knows whether or not to be ‘mobile’ view or ‘desktop’ view). An example of this would be only showing the essential information in the mobile viewport since we can assume that people who are viewing a website on mobile may want a quicker user experience. On desktop, we can assume that the user might have more time, and therefore we can provide them with more information. 

Photo Credit: Quinta Group

When creating a responsive design, consider:

  • The size of images and videos when moving between mobile and desktop
  • Size of links and buttons 
  • Size of charts

Essentially, make sure that when your content moves from desktop to mobile, an image doesn’t take up the user’s entire screen. It should look aesthetically pleasing but most of all be functional for the user. 


Whatever the scale of your website building project, these steps are vital to the overall success of your design. Organization is one of the most important things to remember while building a website, whether that be organization of content on a website or the organization of team members and deadlines. Perhaps the most important, though, is audience. Keeping our audience/user in mind at all parts of the design process is how we can be sure that we are building a website that, as Seigal says, suits their needs, fears, and desires.


The sources used to create this blog post were Ben Seigal’s A Comprehensive Website Planning Guide parts 1 and 2. University of Maryland Best Practices for Web Writing.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Hi Emma! This is a super interesting topic and you truly dove deep into the details of website planning, some of which we haven’t actually discussed in class yet. I particularly liked the part about sitemaps and wire frames because I learned something new. This was very informative. I found this article https://www.semrush.com/blog/website-sitemap/?kw=&cmp=US_SRCH_DSA_Blog_EN&label=dsa_pagefeed&Network=g&Device=c&utm_content=622080552651&kwid=dsa-1754723160393&cmpid=18348486859&agpid=145169431350&BU=Core&extid=54794694347&adpos=&gclid=Cj0KCQjwy5maBhDdARIsAMxrkw1ZyhIUEPZoda25bYAQICIg2UhfikKOBPNxbAMyQH50WHD48WQn4EkaAv4WEALw_wcB informational about sitemaps as well. This blog post was valuable because it not only outlines how to start your project, but also how to set up your website and how to write the content for it appropriately. I thought that cutting your draft in half, and then in half again was great advice because websites should be short and concise in order to maintain usability. I enjoyed reading your blog.

  2. Hey, Emma! This blog is great. I really like how you broke down the process of planning for creating a website along with the specific details of a website. This helped me better understand the process of website creation while also gaining information on what makes a website effective. The section, “Needs Assessment and Intake Session” was the most beneficial for me. This was good information to learn as it describes the initial steps of creating a website. A needs session is a great first step as it helps you understand the current state of a business and what its website should achieve. The intake session strengthens your understanding of the audience, the website, and other important details. Overall, I think your blog is something I could look back on when creating a website if I need help in a variety of different aspects of starting a blog. This blog from Upskillist also discussed website planning. It has a lot of similar information, but it raised good points that are worth reading. https://blog.upskillist.com/the-complete-guide-to-website-planning/

  3. Hi, I thought your breakdown of information on websites was really well done. This blog post covers a lot in a concise way. I especially found the section on writing content for a website to be interesting. The bullet points are a good format to convey the process in, and the steps themselves were helpful. It seems that concision and easy reading is always the top priority. This article goes into detail on writing content for the web as well, which may be helpful for students in this course. https://www.ionos.com/digitalguide/websites/website-creation/writing-content-for-websites/#:~:text=Quick%20guide%3A%20How%20to%20write%20quality%20content%20for,manner%20Prepare%20the%20text%20in%20a%20reader-friendly%20way.

  4. Hello! I found that this post does a great job in giving an understanding of website planning. With some stuff that we’ve already looked at (responsive design) and some stuff that I’ve never seen in class before. The site maps section was particularly fascinating. I like seeing how the smaller pieces come together under specific categories, and how those specific categories connect to the greater whole. Overall, really fantastic blog post!

  5. Hi Emma, what a great post! I think this blog will be super helpful to look back at when we start our project in class. I like how you brought up that before starting any website, you need to understand the goals of the organization to be able to have the message reach the targeted audience successfully. I think that sitemaps and wireframes are so important when planning a website because, without proactive planning, websites can be made for the taste of the creator, not the taste of the future user. I have written for websites in previous classes, and short text is so important in keeping users engaged, so I loved that you brought up cutting the text in half as many times as possible. This is another great resource as we start building and planning our websites.

  6. After reading your blog post I feel like I have a much better understanding of the steps and elements involved in creating a website. Of all of the topics you covered in your blog post I was most interested in the concept of responsive design, so I found this site from Google that helps web designers test whether or not their page is mobile friendly. https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly This site renders the chosen webpage with Googlebot smartphone, and if the page has been designed to be responsive (the CSS code will impact the layout, rendering the content differently based on screen size) the site will say that the page is usable on mobile.

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