This is the most challenging and the most fun step in the process. Here you can picture what your website looks like, how it works, what pages will be included, etc. Visit multiple websites and look at their navigation, pictures, colors, and overall presentation. What things did you like and dislike?
The goal of the planning step is to begin to solidify the ideas you developed in your dream step. A great place to start is creating a sitemap or page outline. Start with your homepage and begin to branch out from there. Along with a sitemap, write down a list of all of the features you would like your website to have. For example, a blog, the ability to purchase products, a search box, and social media links.
Now that you have a sitemap and feature list, you can now begin sketching what your website would look like. I highly recommend doing your sketches with paper and pencil because computer software can limit creative thinking. You will only need to sketch the main pages because these pages will be used as page templates throughout the site.
With page sketches, you can begin to design on the computer using Adobe Photoshop or Fireworks. This software will help you see what the final product will look like when it is complete. When you are happy with the design, I would show it to your family and friends to get their reaction. When you show it to them, be sure to explain how the design and website addresses the what and why questions you answered in the beginning of the process. Before moving onto the build step, take the feedback you received and make adjustments .
The sitemap, feature list, and design comps will now be used to research the best platform for your website. Each platform has its pros and cons, and you have to decide which one is the best fit for your website. Some common platforms are: blog software (such as WordPress), content management system, or a custom built website. The platform will also determine the level of programming skills you will need to build your website. Once a platform is selected, site structure and content development will begin.
Now that your website is working and has been vigorously tested, it can now be launched for all to see. But unfortunately, it is not that easy. A website needs a home to live in (a web server), as well as a phone number (domain name). A domain name connects a visitor to the location of your web server that houses your website. It does not matter necessarily where you purchase your domain, but it does matter where you purchase hosting. Every web server is configured differently. So it is best to research which host is the best fit for the features and needs of your website.
Next you will upload or send your files to the web server. You should now be able to test your domain to make sure you can see your website when it is entered in a web browser like Internet Explorer. You will then need to setup a Google Webmaster account to submit your sitemap so that it can be found when searched for.
Your website is launched but only your family and friends know about it. Website promotion is critical in obtaining website visitors. Some great ways to promote your website are: write articles on a blog and share links on Facebook and Twitter, put your domain name on your business cards and email, and purchase advertising.
The process above was written in general terms. As you start the process you will begin to find areas that require additional training or outside help. It is up to you to determine what steps you feel comfortable working on and then what steps you would like to seek help with. It is possible to learn and accomplish all of the steps, but it requires training and a lot of patience.