Some designers truly hate WordPress.
They say WordPress limits their creativity.
They say it’s not really as easy to use, and that clients tend to be very confused when interacting with it.
They say it’s difficult to convert a modern design into a usable theme.
And, here’s the kicker, they are right.
At least partly.
WordPress is not perfect as a web development platform, especially when working with clients. That’s why we need to adapt a certain approach if we want to make them happy (read: so they will pay us).
There are various elements and processes that make some WordPress builds way better, simpler, and more effective than the others.
But the funny thing is that, as it turns out, putting together a great WordPress site isn’t actually that difficult once you know and understand one of the working processes.
So what I want to show you today is exactly one of those processes – the approach for how to design a WordPress website from top to bottom, and in a way that your clients will love.
Let’s get started! And sorry, but there’s no other way to say this:
Step #1: Steal!
Yep, steal. As in take stuff.
Where by stuff I mean ideas.
Note. Don’t ever steal the results of anyone’s work; including code, graphics, brand identity, names, stuff like that.
Again, this is about stealing ideas only. And even though you might be kind of “I don’t know” about this, let me just say that stealing ideas is the most common design practice off them all.
Here’s a quote by Jim Jarmusch:
The fact is that an idea in itself has no value. It’s the execution that matters. You can easily have 10 people start with the same idea, and they will inevitably end up with 10 different results.
Don’t be afraid to steal ideas. If you see something that resonates with you, steal it. Then use it to design your WordPress website, or a site you’re working on for someone else.
Step #2: Lay the groundwork first
This is something I learned a number of years ago when running a web design agency: Clients don’t care about how beautiful their site is, they only care about what results it brings.
So step #2 is always making sure that you understand what the client wants to achieve with their site.
(Or what you want to achieve with the site if you’re building it for yourself. The advice applies just as much if you’re your own client.)
Once you know what you want to achieve (which should be just one main thing and not 5-10 different things, by the way) then you can continue to build the whole site around it.
Some of the more popular goals for websites include stuff like: generating leads, selling a product, improving brand awareness, etc.
Step #3: Get the right set of tools
I guess you’re not here for the obvious, so let’s leave the basic tools out of this talk (like Dropbox, Google Drive, Photoshop, and etc.).
Instead, I want to show you a different set of tools. These are not that well known yet, but they still deliver big time (!) and make every WordPress designer’s life easier.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve been scouring the WordPress landscape wide and deep. This has resulted in a collection of posts that reveal some of the most useful tools a WordPress person can use. Chief among them:
- Excellent Productivity Tools for WordPress Users
- Best Time Tracker Software Compared
- Best WordPress Dev Tools
- Best Email Marketing Tools Compared
- Best Local WordPress Development Tools
- Best Website Screenshot Tools
- Free Images for Blogs – Where to Get Them
Step #4: To design or to modify – that is the question
There are basically two main ways how to design a WordPress website: You can either take a ready-made theme and modify it here and there (you can also modify the PSD files – most themes come with those), or you can build the actual structure from the ground up.
To cut the discussion short, we’re fans of the former. If you take an existing theme or a theme framework then you get a lot of functionality out of the box. And that’s functionality that’s been tested by other people and proven to work properly.
Apart from that, you often get support, and even if there’s no support then you at least get a community forum of some kind. In other words, in case of any difficulties, there’s always someone you can ask for help. Not the situation when building your design from scratch.
The main theme store we trust – that’s because we’re the ones running it – is ThemeIsle. If you like to have more options, cool, no hard feelings … here’s a resource looking at the WordPress theme market, analyzing 110+ theme stores.
Step #5: Get some non-obvious plugins on it
The main goal we’re going for in this guide is to design a WordPress website quickly and in a way that clients will be absolutely in love with it.
So the plugins we need have to be pushing us towards this goal.
Again, I’m going to save you all the obvious plugins you already know of, like WordPress SEO, Contact Form 7 or Akismet (get a full list here). Instead, let’s focus on the less obvious ones, yet still crucial for your clients.
- Advanced Custom Fields – the plugin allows you to customize the user interface even further, and give your clients some extra types of content and other elements that they can use in their posts (not a one-click wonder plugin though; it requires work).
- Revive Old Posts – these days, no one has the time to share their posts on social media manually every day. This plugin does this for you, or for your clients, so they can scratch one more thing off their daily to-dos.
- Better Click To Tweet – a very nice-looking tweetable block. We use those a lot on this blog – you’ve surely seen them.
- Optimole – this is our newest project – an image optimization plugin that works on autopilot. Just install it, activate, and your images are going to take up to 80% less space on your server (while still looking just as good).
Step #6: Help with content creation
If it’s your own site that you’re building then this step is pretty obvious. On the other hand, if it’s a site for a client, you should still step in and offer your help with creating the initial content and maybe even arranging some ongoing deal around it.
Leaving the client behind right after they pay you for the site is a common mistake among designers. And it has a huge impact on your future earnings.
Consider the worst case scenario: The client fails with their site because they couldn’t figure out what to write about and how to publish it. Do you think they will come back for more of your services?
It’s highly unlikely.
In contrast, if the client’s website thrives then they will probably start working on other projects. Since you were the person who built the initial one and helped with the content, who do you think they will reach out to?
Your turn to act: go design a WordPress website!
Out of all the steps for how to design a WordPress website that were described above, the last one has arguably the most impact on your client’s level of happiness in the long run.
Even if you mess up the site, but stay in touch and do everything you can do to fix it, provide tips, advice, and so on, then the client is still likely to come back. That’s because they now have a bond with you that’s underlined with a lot of trust and understanding.
So tell me, what are you working on right now? Anything we can help you with?
Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. With some simple fixes, you can reduce your loading time by even 50-80%: