Website strategy, planning and creation resources: The definitive list

The definitive guide for web designers, developers and entrepreneurs who want a website that converts

I wish I had this list when I started out in web design more than 20 years ago.

Most resource pages for web designers and digital marketers concentrate either on web design tools or content creation techniques.

There isn’t a single resource list that covers the complete process of building a website from start to finish.

This is what this list is about: Starting with your business and target audience, moving on to website content and design, and finally on website performance, analytics and conversion optimisation.

I have read, used, tried and tested each tool and resource in this list – there is no filler content here. Just what works. If some sections have sparse resources, it’s because I never needed others (or I couldn’t afford them).

If you’re not sure where to start, read my article on website strategy. It will explain how each of these resources can be used to your benefit.

This list will be continuously updated.

Website creation Resources by section

You may have already mastered some of the steps in the website building process. Feel free to skip them and jump right into what you need the most right now:

  1. Your purpose and business
  2. Niches, industries and market segments
  3. Persona (target audience)
  4. Service or product features and benefits
  5. Website structure
  6. Content and SEO (search engine optimisation)
  7. Website design, UI/UX
  8. Website performance, analytics and conversion rate optimisation

Dive in!

1. Your purpose and business

direction - where to go?What is your purpose?

Why do you do what you do?

Not everyone finds these questions easy to answer. This requires thinking and maybe some soul-searching too. There is no tool or web app that will help you. However, this brilliant presentation may serve you as a signpost and inspiration:

  • Simon Sinek – The Golden Circle presentation (start with why)
  • Also, check out my questionnaire:

Website strategy template

I have refined it over the years. If you are building the website for your business, I recommend that someone else takes you through it. Because oftentimes we may be too subjective when answering these questions by ourselves.

  • Book:

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

If you’re struggling with your purpose, this is the book that you want to read.

2. Niches, industries and market segments

market segmentTo see the websites of other people in your niche/sector, do the following:

  • Top 10 competitors

Google them like this:

[your service or product] [your area]

For example, if you are offering roof repair services in London, google:

roof repair london

Click on each of the first ten organic results. This means results in Google which are not paid advertisements. Check out their websites, look for any similarities and things that stand out.

What makes you unique? What can you do differently?

  • What do customers think of your competitors and your sector?

To see people’s opinions, Google:

[competitor company name] +reviews

The + sign before the word “reviews” tells Google that this term must be included in results (there must be no space between + and the search term that follows).

Also make sure to check out forums – either specialized ones that deal with your industry or niche, or general ones where people express their opinions or seek out recommendations:

[your service or product keyword] +forum

Bookmark anything that stands out or copy and paste the website URLs and opinions into a spreadsheet file.

  • So, what makes your business stand out?

Here is a great article:

Unique selling proposition

Keep in mind that your values and purpose is what makes you authentic. Originality is good, but authenticity is who you (or your client) are. Infuse your website with your values and no one can beat you, ever. Because there is only one you.

3. Persona – your Target audience

Persona for websiteThe persona you will create represents your target audience. Keep it around at all times during your website creation process.

Here is a great template with each characteristic explained in detail (DOCX download included):

Customer persona template

This one is not so detailed, but you can edit it directly online, and it doesn’t require any registration:

Persona generator

4. Service or product features and benefits

stacking featuresYour product or service can either:

  • Solve a problem
  • Make a wish come true

Here is how to communicate the benefits to your customers (and avoid mistaking a feature for a benefit):

101 examples of features vs. benefits

5. Website structure

website structure sections diagram

Before you start to sketch out the website’s structure, make sure to download Jesse James Garrett’s diagram:

The elements of user experience (PDF)

Technologies come and go, but the principles that he defined years ago are timeless.

Website structure tools and templates

GlooMaps – online visual website structure builder

Website structure templates from TemplateLab (Word, Excel, Powerpoint)

Books

The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett

6. Content and SEO (search engine optimisation)

SEOWriting for the Web

Websites and blogs

How to write a service page that converts by Joel from Business Casual Copywriting
An amazing, concise 5-step tutorial with a real example. Read it!

7 Tips for Writing an Effective Services/Product Page by Content Snare
Simple, standard tips for creating good service/product pages.

How to write content for the Web by Enchanting Marketing
Pay attention – this article explains why you must write for scanning, not reading!

How to write great blog content by Problogger
Problogger is one of the oldest and best blogs with tips and advice on successful blogging. They have published a book, but everything can be found on their blog. Be patient, search their blog, read and apply their blogging techniques.

22 Ways to Create Compelling Content When You Don’t Have a Clue [Infographic] by Copyblogger
Same as above – a veteran in the “how to blog” field.

Books

Content Machine: Use Content Marketing to Build a 7-figure Business With Zero Advertising by Dan Norris
“One spectacularly successful piece of content was infinitely more valuable than 100 pieces of content that go unnoticed.”

Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business by Ann Handley, C. C. Chapman
“Done right, the content you create will position your company not as just a seller of stuff, but as a reliable source of information.”

SEO

Websites and blogs

If you are new to SEO, you should read and apply the techniques in the following order:

  1. A primer on SEO by Mangools
  2. Technical SEO checklist by BigCommerce
  3. On-page SEO: The Definitive guide by Backlinko
  4. Off-page SEO introduction by MOZ
  5. How to build backlinks (the most important element of off-page SEO ) by Backlinko

Online tools – keyword research

Free Keyword Planner by Google Ads

KWFinder by Mangools
This is a commercial solution – the best I have come across  in terms of quality/price ratio. Subscribe only if you have at least intermediate SEO knowledge. You don’t need any commercial SEO tool until you get more experience in this field. Learn, apply and get results and then invest your money.

Ubersuggest by Neil Patel

Books

3 Months to No.1: The 2020 “No-Nonsense” SEO Playbook for Getting Your Website Found on Google by Will Coombe
This is the only book on SEO that you’ll ever need, period.

7. Website Design, UI/UX

ui design prototypingWebsites and blogs

Top 10 mistakes in web design – by Jakob Nielsen
Jakob Nielsen is a usability pioneer. Any article written by him is worth your time.

10 principles of good website design by Vitaly Friedman (Smashing Magazine)
This article was written more than 10 years ago. Everything still applies.

9 general principles for good website design by Tanu N Prabhu
The same principles, but goes into more visual and technical side of things.

10 essential web design usability statistics [infographic] by Assad Ali
A visual checklist of what makes websites fail.

I have omitted “web design inspiration” and “web design award” websites on purpose. Because these websites more often than not look interesting, artsy and whatnot, but they are not designed for usability and conversion! Remember: If your website doesn’t make you any money, it’s just a liability.

Web-based UI/UX design tools

Both Figma and Mockflow require registration, but you get the free versions to work with, which are great! They have more than enough options if you are just starting out or need a great tool for custom design.

Figma

Mockflow

Photos and graphics

Pixabay – every photo, image and graphic is completely free here. You don’t even have to credit the author/source.

Pexels – another free stock photo and video resource.

Freepik – commercial stock photo website. The best one in terms of quality/price ratio.

WordPress themes

There is no need to reinvent the wheel or hire a designer if you want to save money. Just pick a good theme that loads fast and is simple to use. With that being said, the fastest free theme on the market is…

GeneratePress

…and it works great with:

Elementor visual page builder

Both links above point to the free versions, which have enough options to get you started.

If you want a plug-and-play theme that works out of the box, find a good one on:

ThemeForest

Books

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited by Steve Krug
This book is an absolute must-read if you want to create usable websites that convert visitors into customers.

8. Website performance, analytics and conversion rate optimisation

website conversion optimisation brings in more customersWebsite loading speed

PageSpeed Insights by Google
This is an excellent free tool which shows you how to improve the loading speed of your web pages. A word of caution: Look only at what you can improve and not the loading time itself. Why? Because the loading time may vary, depending on a myriad of factors. The best speed test is done by loading a web page by yourself on your smartphone (just make sure that it’s not in your browser’s cache already).

WebPageTest – this one is more objective with page loading times. Also, you can choose browsers on servers in different countries to see the differences in loading speed.

Website Analytics

To be able to effectively track your website visitors, you must connect it with these 3 free tools from Google (you must have a Gmail account to be able to access them):

Google Analytics is a must for website analytics and any serious digital marketing work. But, without connecting it with Google Tag Manager, you won’t be able to set more detailed goals, events, tracking, etc.

And Google Search Console shows you your website’s SEO performance, by pointing out any errors it may have.

Here are some tutorials that will get you started:

A great short introduction to Google Analytics by Tom Bennet
This tutorial explains basic things like account structure, property, views and filters which are often overlooked elsewhere. Great to begin with!

The Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics for WordPress – by Anya Skrba
Amazing tutorial filled with screenshots – great if you are building your website on WordPress.

Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager tutorials for beginners – a huge collection of tutorials by Optimize Smart
It says “for beginners”, but there is more intermediate to advanced stuff here.

Google Search Console: The Definitive guide by Backlinko
Everything you need to know about GSC. Every single option explained with images.

Heatmaps and visitor behaviour tracking

Hotjar – the best heatmap and visitor recording tool out there. Register and you can track one website for free. It gives you great insights into your visitors’ behaviour. It’s amazingly easy and intuitive to use, just paste their code into your HTML pages. Their WordPress plugin is not free, so there is:

Smartlook – easy to install and use for your WordPress website.

Conversion rate optimisation

Google Optimize – free tool which offers A/B testing, split testing and multivariate testing.

Making Websites Win by Karl Blanks, Ben Jesson
This books shows you hundreds of ways to ramp up your website’s conversion rate. Written by the guys who coined the term conversion rate optimisation (CRO). Here’s their blog:

Conversion Rate Experts

Conclusion

You have at your disposal all the resources to build a great website that makes you money. Most of them are free. Now go and apply them. Don’t get lost in reading and clicking around. Take one step at a time and implement the techniques!