Starting a rebrand or designing a website from scratch is such an exciting time for both designer and client. I love getting to work through the entire design process with clients as they discover and develop their dreams into a visual identity. Being able to turn someone’s words and inspiration into a design that they are proud of is my passion, and it’s why I love doing what I do. But, all the excitement also means that sometimes clients jump into the process without being prepared.
It’s better to have all of your ideas thought out and narrowed down before you even start the design process, rather than realizing half way through that you didn’t really want what you thought you did. It’s okay to be unsure about how you want your website and brand to look (that’s the designer’s job) but you do need to know how you want your brand to feel, and you need to have some things ready to get you there. Here are all the things you should have prepared to give to your designer by the first day of your design process, and at the end of this post there is a free printable PDF worksheet to help you keep track of all your information as you gather it.
Your site name is probably the single most important piece of information of the whole site. Without a blog name, you really can’t start at all. The designer needs to know your blog name so they can draw inspiration from it, especially if they are designing you a logo or header to go along with your site. You also need to know your site name so that you purchase a domain and set up hosting. This means that the site literally can’t move forward at all, without a name. If you have a few options you can’t decide between, your designer will probably be happy to tell you which one they think is best, but not on day one when you should be starting the design. If you need help deciding on a name, let your designer know before hand so they can work it into the schedule.
Tagline – Along with a blog or site name comes the tagline. The tagline will appear in the bar at the top of the screen when you’re on the homepage, and on social media sites when you share a link to your blog. It should be short, to the point, and explain what it is you do, while still keeping things interesting. You also need to decide whether this is just a tagline to add into the meta date of your site, or whether you want it to appear in your design, usually in the header image at the top of the page.
There are a few vital things you need to decide to get your site up and running before the design process can begin. You need a domain name, and hosting, and you need to know whether you are expected to set that up yourself, or whether it is included in your design package. Your designer likely has some recommendations on reliable companies they use to purchase these services, so don’t be afraid to ask. If domain and hosting setup isn’t included in your package, or you want to try it yourself for educational sake, you can check out my post here on How to Get Hosting and Set Up Your Site.
You also need to decide what platform you want to use on your site. You can just use standard HTML – does anyone really do that anymore? But most people use a Content Management System like WordPress. I’m exclusively a WordPress designer, so I recommend WordPress all the way. You can read my post here on the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org for some more information on the platform. But, I still understand that it doesn’t work for some people. There are other options like Squarespace and Blogger, and you need to decide on one before starting the design process.
If you’ve thought at all about designing or redesigning your brand or website, it’s likely that you have at least a vague idea of what you want it to look like. Whether you find another site inspiring or you love the colour palette of a particular image, your designer would love to know about it. Though you may not be able to explain what it is you want, sending your designer visuals that inspire you will likely give them a good idea of how to design something you’ll love. A few things to consider giving your designer are:
Links – If you’ve come across a site or two that you really love and want to draw from, send it to your designer. Obviously they aren’t going to copy the site directly, so drawing inspiration from it is fine! You can also send your designer links to sites that you like certain elements of. Giving them a link to a site that you love the pop up on, or that the about page really speaks to you, is a great way to show your designer what you want in your own site.
Images – If you’re browsing Pinterest and you come across an image that you absolutely love – send it to your designer. Believe it or not, that image can be the centrepiece to your whole site (even if you don’t use the image on the site). Your designer can draw the colours and even the essence from an image that really speaks to you. IF you find more than one, that’s even better – as those images will likely have something in common that your designer can draw out.
Words – It sounds a little strange, but you should have adjectives to describe your brand and visual identity. Think about what those are before starting a redesign, and tell them to your designer. Do you want to be clean and modern like Apple, or colourful and family friendly like McDonalds? How do you want people to feel when interacting with your site and brand? Think of your brand as a person, as your best friend – what words would you want to use to describe them?
Colour – If you know who you are and what you want, coming up with a colour scheme on your own is great. If you come across one on Pinterest that you love and want to use exactly as is, send it to your designer. You can even use Adobe Kuler to create your own if you really want to. Your designer might tell you that it’s awful and won’t work for web design, but atleast then they’ll have an idea of what you want and be able to build from it.
You don’t need to have all your blog posts written by day one, but rather focus on your static content. Blog posts are styled so that every one looks the same, but static pages can be styled so that the content looks the best it can. The best way to accomplish this is to have your static content written and complete before you start, so that you can give it all to your designer on day one. Some examples of static content you might need is:
About page – Write your content and choose an image of yourself to put on the page. Maybe even think about how you want the page to look visually, should it have a sidebar like all your other pages, or be full width to focus all the reader’s attention on the content? Here is a post I wrote on 8 Things Your About Page Needs to Tell Your Readers
Contact page – Write your contact blurb and think about what kind of visual you’d like to include on that page. A blank page with just your email is likely boring, so spice it up a bit with a picture. Typical contact pages include a name, an email, a contact form, and maybe your phone number and address if you’re a physical business. Here’s how to add your email address to your contact page while Avoiding Email Spam (something you might want to mention you’re designer because not everyone knows about it).
Business page – If your blog is a part of an overall business website, then you need to have a page dedicated to your business and the things you are selling. Whether this means a virtual shop to showcase and sell your items, or just a page listing your services and prices, a business page is vital if you want to make money, and it’s definitely something you need to decide about before starting the design process.
Landing page – The landing page is super important, because first you need to decide whether you want one or not. A landing page is where people land when they arrive at your site. If your site is purely a blog, then the blog roll (a list of all your latest blog posts) is a great place for them to land. But, if you’re a blog and a business, you might want to build a custom landing page telling people that. I have a custom landing page on my site to give people a quick insight into what I do, and send them in the right direction.
If you can’t have this content ready before your redesign, that is okay. But just know that the content will then not be customized, it will just appear as any other page does. However, you should know what static pages you are going to have, and their names – so your designer can set them up for you and put placeholder content in until you are ready to insert the real stuff.
Speaking of pages, it’s important for you to know what links you want in your navigation bar at the top of your page, so that your designer can style them to look right. You should have a list of the links you want to include, and the names you would like them to appear as on the navigation bar. Just because your About page is called ‘About’ doesn’t mean the nav bar has to say that – it can say anything you want, so think about that.
About and Contact are standard pages that should be included – as everyone expects to see them there, but other than that it’s up to you. You don’t want to include too many links in your nav bar because then things start to look messy and crowded. On my site, I’ve kept it really simple with only four links. You can also have links in your nav bar that drop down to reveal a longer list of links, so consider that too, but remember – simple is best! Here are 4 Links Every Blogger Needs on Their Navigation Bar.
The first question you need to ask yourself is, do you want a sidebar? Today in web design, there are two trends. Either full width pages where you scroll horizontally to view content in blocks, or pages with a sidebar. For the most part, it’s business minded pages that are full width, and blog pages that have a sidebar. There’s lots of research you can do to consider the pros of cons of having one, and you should definitely decide whether you want one or not before your redesign.
If you decide a sidebar is right for you, then you need to think about what you have in it. This is something you can discuss with your designer during the design process (because they likely have some favourite plugins or suggestions) but it’s also something you should brainstorm about on your own before hand. Here are a few things to consider including:
About Blurb – The sidebar is usually the place people look first when trying to find out what a blog is about. You should have a short, catchy, intriguing blurb about yourself and what the blog focuses on. This blurb should also link to your about page.
Photo – You can also choose to include a picture of yourself with the about blurb, or you could include an image that helps explain the blog’s content and niche. This picture should also link to your about page.
New Reader Link – This isn’t on every blog out there, but some people choose to include a link to direct new readers. It’s something to definitely think about, because when a new reader lands on your page it will be easy for them to know where to go. You can link this to your about page, or create an individual page specifically for new readers and explaining what your blog is about, and where they should start reading.
Social Links – This is pretty much an industry standard. Social links need to be somewhere on your site, where people can easily access them. In the blogging world, this usually means in your sidebar. If not there, most people have them in the top right corner of their header, or scrolling along the left side of the page with the content.
Search bar – A search bar is vital, because you need to cater to everyone. While some people might just stop by your site to browse, others might come looking for one thing in particular. If they don’t see a search bar within the first few seconds, they’ll likely navigate back to Google and search there instead.
Top Posts – When a reader is finished with the blog post they are reading and looking to go elsewhere, you need to tell them where to go. Putting a list of top posts in your sidebar is a great way to give your readers somewhere to turn next, and will keep them cycling back and reading more and more of your content.
Disclaimer – This isn’t vital, but today many blogs have started adding disclaimers to their sidebar or footer. These disclaimers not only tell your readers how they are allowed to share your content, but protect you from being liable when a reader takes your advice and fails. For example, recipe blogs need a disclaimer telling readers that they can not be held accountable if a reader makes one of their recipes and then gets sick. It’s likely you’ll never have to use or reference your disclaimer, but it’s better to have and be safe!
Categories – Having a list of your main categories in your sidebar is a great way to avoid crowding your navigation bar at the top. This way, people can navigate your site easily and find exactly the type of information they are looking for, without making the site look too crowded. Think about how you want your categories displayed – you can use a simple text list, or coloured boxes like I did.
Subscribe Forms – If you have a newsletter you want your readers to subscribe to, your sidebar is a great place to let them know about it! Keep things simple, but let them know what they get out of subscribing. Is it exclusive content, free upgrades, a weekly recap? You want to get into their inbox so entice them to sign up!
Calls to Action
A Call to Action or CTA, is something that tells people to take a certain action (usually to click through, sign up, or buy something). If you’re just a blogger and your goal right now is not to monetize, you can still have a CTA. Your CTA would be getting people to subscribe to your newsletter (you should have one!). Think about where you would like these signup boxes, and the text you would like to use on them. These are something that you definitely want to talk to your designer about, because you want them to be customized to fit your design. There are many plugins that offer them for free, but they will not match your design and will stand out. Here are a few different options for where and how to insert CTAs throughout your site:
Pop-ups – You can have a box that pops up when a reader enters your site, or when they are about to leave. It can be anything from simple text to a signup form. Pop ups are tricky because you don’t want to annoy your readers, but you still want to capture their attention.
Top Bars – A top bar is a very thin bar at the top of your site that asks people to do something. You can change the content of your bar over time, like when you are having a sale or have just published new content, so it’s important that it looks great. It’s not invasive like a pop up, but can still be styled to capture attention.
Post Buttons – If you want to, you can even add buttons that will automatically appear at the end of each post. I have two that appear at the end of every one of my blog posts. One encouraging people to sign up for my newsletter, and another enticing people to hire me if they want to move forward with a brand design. You scroll down to check them out.
Sidebar Buttons – Like we discussed above, you can add a subscriber sign up to your sidebar so people can sign up no matter what page they are on. You could also add a call to action button that will take people to a unique page where they will learn more about the action you want them to take.
Though every designer has their own process and requirements, for the most part, it is best to be prepared with everything you can. Your designer will likely be glad to chat with you if you’re not sure if a certain element looks best in blue or green, but remember that their job is design. They think only about design. It is not their job to think about what text would be best for your CTA, or which pages should go in your nav bar. This is information for you to think about before the process begins. Ask for help or advice if you need it, but never leave your designer to make content related decisions for you. Any design process is a two way street – while it is your job to create content and make decisions about your unique website, it is your designer’s job to make that content look amazing. Make sure you both have the tools and time to focus on your own tasks!
Your designer will never get angry at you for having too much material prepared – designers love having resources and inspiration to turn to. However, if you say you’re open to any colour scheme, so your designer spends hours creating a site that’s pink and blue, only for you to realize you hate pink and would prefer green – they will be pretty peeved. It’s best to do your homework and be prepared, and always know what you want – and if you don’t, just ask! Believe it or not, most designers like what they do, and will be happy to talk to you about it for way too long. Below I’ve included a free printable worksheet will all these steps included, so you can make sure you have everything you need. All you have to do is sign up to our newsletter to access the printable PDF download.