Building a website for your business is an investment, and it’s only natural for a small business owner to wonder exactly what you get from a custom WordPress website. For many of my clients, designing and building a site is a new process full of unknowns. If you’re wondering how your business could benefit from a new website, this guide will help you understand what goes in to creating a custom WordPress website and what you can expect to get from your investment.

First, why a custom WordPress website? There are dozens of services out there that make promises of amazing websites in minutes, so why am I focusing on WordPress sites? I’ve written an entire article dedicated to answering that question, but here are the highlights:

  • WordPress is powerful and flexible which means it can do whatever your business needs from a website
  • WordPress is Open Source which means it’s not controlled by a company and can only disappear if people stop using and developing it
  • WordPress puts you in complete control of your company’s site and all the data in it

If you want to get into all the details, take a moment to read my article “Why You Should Use WordPress for Your Website”. Otherwise, read on to find out how a custom WordPress website can help your business.

Building a Custom WordPress Website Step 1: Branding & Visual Identity

Some small businesses come to me with established, well-thought-out branding and visual identity. That means that they have a clear Brand Identity, a logo, and a Style Guide. But sometimes businesses only have a logo, or a name, or sometimes none of the above! So let’s step through what each one means:

Your Brand Identity

The way I see your business’s Brand Identity is that it comes from the answers to three questions:

  1. Why did you start your business?
  2. What do you offer that nobody else does?
  3. Where do you want to take your business in the future?

The answers to these three questions tell me more about your business than any mission statement can.

I review this with all of my clients, even ones with an established Brand Identity. Hearing a client answer those questions in their own words helps me get a clearer understanding of their business than any mission statement can, and it helps my clients by reminding them of their business’ core values.

A final, crucial question to answer is who your business’ ideal customer is. It often helps to develop Marketing Personas that put a name and a face to an imaginary person with the characteristics of your business’ core customers. What’s their name? Where do they live? What do they do for fun? Where do they look for information about the type of product or service your business provides?

Free Worksheet: Defining Your Brand Identity

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Your Logo

For a new business there is a lot of pressure to have a flashy logo—too much pressure. A logo sourced from Fiverr or Upwork is worse than no logo at all if it isn’t rooted in your Brand Identity and compatible with the Visual Identity described in your Style Guide.

It’s much better to go without a logo until you have the knowledge and resources you need to get one that is right for your business. When a client comes to me without a logo they are happy with, we work together to develop one that is truly representative of their business’ unique identity and works together with their brand standards.

Four Different Iterations of a Logo
Four Different Iterations of a Logo
Developing a Logo’s Underlying Geometry
Developing a Logo’s Underlying Geometry

Your Style Guide

A Style Guide describes the colors, fonts, and typographic standards for all of the printed and online materials produced by your business. It also describes how the logo, and any variants of it, should be used online and in print. In short, it documents how your business represents itself visually so that you are always speaking with a unique, identifiable visual language.

Color definitions in a Style Guide
Color definitions in a Style Guide
Example of how Typography is defined in a Style Guide
Example of how Typography is defined in a Style Guide.

Together, your business’ Brand Identity, Logo, and Style Guide make up your business’ Visual Identity. Your Visual Identity is your business’ visual DNA, and we’ll use it to create the visual design of your custom WordPress website as well as other elements from business cards to brochures to letterhead to email templates. But before we dive in to defining how the website should look, we need to define what it will contain.

Building a Custom WordPress Website Step 2: Content Information Architecture

Information Architecture is the structure, the bones, of your site. It defines what content should go on the site, where the content will be located, and how each piece of content relates to the others. We also start outlining the content that needs to be written in this stage, and perform SEO research to determine what keywords we will be targeting for the new site.

The Information Architecture of your site has another important job. It should be designed to get your site’s visitors where you want them to go on your site: your Goal. Do you have an eBook you want them to download? An email list for them to join? Products to purchase?  Those are all examples of site Goals.

How your site is structured can help create a Funnel that uses content to convince your visitors to take the action you want them to take at the Goal, and structures that content so it’s easy for them to figure out how to take that action.

Information Architecture starts out as diagrams of how your site works together. Sometimes it’s a tree that looks like an organizational chart; sometimes it’s a circle showing all the interconnections between content:

A Network Diagram showing Relationships Between Pages
A Network Diagram showing Relationships Between Pages
Part of an Information Architecture Tree Chart
Part of an Information Architecture Tree Chart

Next we start developing wireframes. Wireframes are diagrams showing how content is organized on a page. They help answer questions about how the content will affect the page design.

Wireframes help us answer questions like what content should be given the most visual importance, whether a sidebar is necessary on every page, what content needs to be in the footer, and what type of interactive animations or tools are necessary to make the site easy to use.

Depending on the project, we may invest in extensive usability tests of crucial features, or we may just perform some simple survey-based testing to validate our design choices.

Finally, wireframes help us decide how the layout of the site will adapt to different sized screens, which makes the design responsive to how it’s being viewed by the visitor and ensures that it will be equally usable to everybody.

Wireframes can be sketches on paper, black-and-white diagrams, or color block diagrams:

Hand-Sketched Wireframes with Notes
Hand-Sketched Wireframes with Notes
A Color Block Wireframe
A Color Block Wireframe

Building a Custom WordPress Website Step 3: Visual Design

Finally we get to the part of the process that most people think of when they think about designing a custom WordPress website. In fact, everything we’ve done so far has been building the foundation to this point. This is where the Visual Identity, Information Architecture, and Content come together to create the website’s visual design and user experience.

The visual design starts with more detailed and elaborate wireframes and then makes the jump to the web as we start the actual construction of the code and graphics that will make the site look and behave like we designed it to.

Design is an iterative process, and I often find that as we begin to interact with designs in “real life” we circle back to revisit some of the decisions made in earlier stages. This can be confusing and frustrating for clients the first time because it feels like re-doing work that has already been done. But the revisions are always made to make the site better as we learn more about how the end result will come together.

Finally, the visual design is complete, the code is built and tested, the content is uploaded, and your new custom WordPress website is ready to meet the world. The end? Not by a long shot!

Building a Custom WordPress Website Step 4: Putting Your Website to Work

As I said at the beginning, a custom WordPress website is an investment, and you and your business should expect a healthy return on your investment. Throughout steps 1 through 3 we worked to define the business needs that your site would serve. Then we designed the content, structure, and user experience to support those needs by making the site as effective, and productive, as possible.

As much as we learned during design, it’s inevitable that once the site is visited by actual people there will be surprises. Things we thought would be obvious will be missed, people will pop out of the Funnel and fail to reach the Goal, or we might find that our keyword mix isn’t performing as expected.

That’s why I spend the first month after launch monitoring the performance of every new custom WordPress website that I build. At the end of that month I present my clients with a report on what’s going well, what needs attention, and my recommendations for making changes.

After that first round of changes is made, I highly recommend that my clients continue to monitor, test, and adjust their site every month. As we all know, nothing on the internet remains the same for long, and for a site to continue providing a return on its initial investment it must adapt as things change.

If you’ve been wondering whether a custom WordPress website or Woocommerce online store would benefit your business, I hope that this article has given you a clearer idea of what goes in to the process of building a site, and what benefits you can expect from all that hard work. A custom website is an investment in your business’ time and investment your business’ money, but it’s an investment that will provide continuing rewards in the form of more traffic, more customers, and more sales.

Still have questions? Want to talk about your business’ specific needs? I’m always available to talk. Send me a message via my contact form, or sign up for an Office Hours session for the opportunity to ask me anything you want—I love hearing about people’s businesses and what their goals and dreams for them are. Don’t be a stranger!