Checklist: All The Questions You Should Ask Before Building a Website

Alternative Title: Why You Need a UX Designer, Not a Developer

Last year, we hired a local web development firm. They claimed (somewhat misleadingly) to have worked for companies like Dell, and won big awards. Like many web developers, they booked themselves as the full package: UX, UI, graphic design, strategy… the works.

Throughout the process of working with them, the firm surprised me with how little they seemed to understand the vision for the site. Too late, we realized that if we had hired separate UX designers first, we could have saved time, money, and headaches.

If you’re planning to build a website, hire a UX designer first. Many developers believe that they are also designers. They’re often wrong. A real, experienced designer will ask questions you might never think to ask.

High-Level Strategy

  • User Personas: What kind of change are users trying to make in their lives? Do they want quick info or deep, long-form content? Emotional or factual? Your users aren’t just a set of demographics. They’re people with complex motivations. The deeper you dive here, the more relevant your site will feel to users.
  • Mission: What would someone Google to come to your site? Are you clear about exactly what specific problem you solve for your users and why? How does that impact the tone of the site? Spend time on this, because if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a site that’s unfocused and cluttered.
  • User Path/Flow/Journey: Have you created a clear, intuitive path from wherever a user lands on your site to whatever action you want them to take before they leave? Does your user need to see pricing before they buy? How can you make sure they don’t leave your pricing page to check out your blog?
  • Competitive Analysis and Inspiration: What similar websites exist and how are they laid out? What can you improve or build on that they’ve already done? How will users expect your site to work based on what they’ve encountered in the past?
  • User Testing, Research, QA, and KPIs: How will you get feedback from users? How will you determine whether your website is effective? What data will you want and how will you get it?
  • Testing: Are you planning to do any AB testing? If so, how will you run your tests and what will you want to test?

Finding Your Site

  • Structured Data, Preview Text, and SEO: Will you use Yoast? What keywords and search terms should you try to rank for? Are your URLs, metadata, and headers optimized? A good designer should be aware of how SEO strategy might impact the layout and functionality of the site.
  • Tracking, Code Snippets, and Tag Manager: How are you planning to track visitors? For example, does your CMS need to make it easy for non-technical admins to add a global site tag? Will you need to have a cookies popup?
  • Social, Referral Programs, and Sweepstakes: Are you using a referral program to drive users to your site? If so, will you have a separate page, popup, or widget to give visitors a personalized referral link and track referrals?
  • Speed: Does your site load fast enough?
  • Onboarding: Is it immediately, extremely clear to a new user what your site is for and what they should do once they get there? Do you want to have a different experience for new vs. returning visitors?
  • URL Structure: Is your URL memorable? Does your URL structure make sense? Is it meaningful, optimized, and organized?
  • Preparing for Launch: Do you have enough content to populate your site at its launch, or will your blog be empty at first? Will you have a temporary landing page or lead capture holding your place until launch day?

Visual Design

  • Color Scheme and Fonts: Do you have a color hierarchy with specific hex codes? Have you considered how text colors might show up on various backgrounds? What about hyperlinks? The standard, blue underline might not look good on your site.
  • Screen Size: How will your site need to look and function differently on an iPhone or iPad? What about a large monitor vs. a small laptop? What if a user is zoomed in?
  • Image Sizing, Alignment, and Responsiveness: Will any images (or text) need to resize, crop, or change dimensions when viewed on mobile? Are you using a parallax effect? If the amount of text above, below, or overlaying an image changed significantly, would the image need to move up, down, or resize? Should images be responsive to the top of the page or the content next to them?
  • Loading States, Progress Bars, Reactive Animations, and Visual Cues: What visual cues do you give your user that part or all the content is still loading? How do they know what is clickable and whether they’ve already clicked it? Do buttons have reactive shading or shadows? If a button state changes, should the state change remain if the user leaves and then returns to the page? Is there an animation for transitions between states?
  • Above the Fold: Do your users have to scroll to find your most important content?
  • Visual Cues and Icons: Are you sure your users know what that term or icon means?
  • Invisible Elements, Padding, and Hit-boxes: Are there any invisible elements that overlap visible elements? Especially when designing for mobile apps, it can be easy to encounter hidden dividers, scroll bars, and more. This can cause your users to tap on buttons that just don’t register their touch — frustrating!

Search and Data

  • Boundaries and Outliers: What are the biggest and smallest data points that can users can enter in searches, tools, charts, etc? What goes at the top or bottom of a slider? How will extreme outliers such as big numbers impact the appearance and function of the site?
  • Missing Content: How will the site handle missing data or content? What message will a user get when a search term returns no results? What will the defaults be if you don’t add a featured image or author to a blog post? What search fields are required vs. optional?
  • Order and Hierarchy: How do you emphasize the most important data in a chart or search result? Should you separate featured content? How will you organize search results? Should users have an option to sort search results differently?
  • Style Guide, Date, and Time Format: PM? P.M.? pm? Can you make decisions like this now, so you don’t need to re-code anything later?
  • Defaults: If your site has a slider or carousel, does it start to the left or in the middle? Do drop-downs, radio buttons, or text boxes contain a default or suggestion?
  • Increments: If your site has a search tool featuring a range of numbers, how should the tool work? Should users enter a range, minimum, or maximum? Or should you give them a choice of increments? For example, should a job search allow users to search salaries by increment (50k-100k, 100k-150k, etc, for example), or by a slider? Will it be immediately intuitive to your user how the slider works?
  • Restarting and Clearing: How do users clear filter settings or restart a search?
  • Results: Will search results appear on the same page, in a popup, or a new page? Will results change as you type or will the user need to hit “search” first? What information should appear for each result, how will you arrange each result, and how will users select which result to view?
  • Data Validation: Can your users put “555” for a phone number on a lead form? Do you require passwords that are exactly 8 characters long and include 3 capital letters, four lowercase letters, four numbers, and two exclamation points?
  • Content Types: How will your site handle embedded videos? PDFs? Forms?
  • Future-proofing: Will your model for storing, structuring, and retrieving data continue to work well as the site gets more complicated? Are there any features you envision adding in a later version that will require a model change or heavy migration of the repository? For example, if you’re not collecting user addresses now, but expect addresses to be integral to later features, what might you need do now?

Personalization and Interaction

  • User Accounts and Permissions: Should your site visitors be able to create user accounts? What should you allow them to do? How should different users’ experiences be customized or personalized? Should returning users have a different experience than new users? Where should your login button be? Menu bar? Landing page? Popup?
  • Interactions: Do you want to allow comments or likes on your site? Will you add a chatbot? Popups? How will you make these items helpful rather than invasive? If you don’t have a login, how will you enable personalized interactions? What platform or plugin will you use?
  • Social: Where do you want your users to share your content? How easy is it for them to share? For example, do you want to add an “Add to Pocket” button on blog posts? Do you want to auto-fill any text into social shares?
  • Lead Forms and Segmentation: What info will you need from your users? Will you need to be able to bucket leads so you can send them different types of outreach? How can you shorten your lead form? Can you use conditional logic to reduce the amount of data your leads need to fill-in? Can your users use autofill to complete your forms faster?
  • CTAs: Do you have clear, accessible calls to action?
  • Spam: How will you deal with spam comments or fake leads?

Legal and Accessibility

  • Accessibility: Is your site ADA compliant and accessible for people who may be visually impaired? Are there text descriptions for AV elements and vice-versa? Is the text clear and readable?
  • Data Security and Compliance: Do you follow GDPR guidelines? Does your site have a TOS and Privacy Policy? How will you protect user data?
  • Footer: Does your site footer contain a sitemap, contact info, copyright info, and link to your TOS and Privacy Policy?
  • Transparency: Do your users understand why you collect their data and what you will do with it?
  • Languages: Will non-English-speakers use any of your content? If so, is there a clear way for them to find the content they’re looking for in their language?
  • Warnings: If your website contains information that may be sensitive or upsetting, have you added an appropriate popup or warning?
  • Credibility: How will visitors know that you are an authority on your topic? How will you cite sources for blog posts?


  • Errors: What happens when a user clicks an internal broken link? Do you have customized error pages?
  • Returning Home: Is it easy for users to restart a search or get back to your home page?
  • Next Steps: So your users read a blog post or filled out a lead form — now what? Are users given a thank you message or taken to a specialized thank you page?
  • Tags, Labels, Groupings, and Breadcrumbs: How will you tag, label, and group your content? Will those tags be visible to users? Will you give your users breadcrumbs to help them navigate your site?
  • Consistency: Is there a consistent look and feel across pages?
  • Posts vs. Pages: If you’re working in Wordpress you’ll have to choose whether content should be a post or a page.
  • Terminology: Is your site terminology clear to your audience?

CMS and Code

  • QA: How will you avoid broken links and monitor your site for errors?
  • Plugins, Accounts, and APIs: How will your site sync with other systems, like your CRM or email automation software? Will you need any plugins, accounts, or API keys? What accounts are you using already? For example, if you plan to have a careers page, you might need to figure out how it will sync with your ATS. If you want to embed a map, you may need to know whether your company users Microsoft or Google.
  • Content Variation and Flexibility: Can your templates handle content that doesn’t fit? Say you’ve got a great template for blog posts that always features a nice profile photo for the author. What do you do if a blog post is a collaboration between three authors? What if you want to format your blog post as an interview with an interviewer, interviewee, and a writer?
  • File Sizes, Caching, and Lazy Loading: Is your site optimized to load quickly? Are you trying to load pages filled with large files?
  • Customized Visuals and Graphics: Are you planning to use a particular format or color scheme for icons, symbols, images, etc? Are you able to make new ones that fit that format or color scheme easily, or will your designer provide everything you need?
  • Text Input: Do you have WYSIWYG keyboards anywhere you might enter a block of text?
  • Internal Labeling: Are you getting lazy about labels? As your site fills with content, you’ll want to be able to find assets like media files easily.
  • Customizable: What happens if you don’t have the content for a field or section yet? Can you add, remove, or reorder fields? Change default titles and labels?
  • Linked: Do you plan to enter information into your CMS that will appear in multiple areas on the site? If so, do you want those changes to be universal/site-wide or restricted to a particular page?
  • Duplication: Will you want to duplicate content, posts, or pages?
  • Cybersecurity: Just because it isn’t strictly in the designer’s wheelhouse doesn’t mean you can ignore it. Is your WordPress username still “admin?” Are you using 2FA? What about reCAPTCHA? Have you run your WordPress site through a plugin like iThemes Security? Updated your salts and security keys?
  • Backup: Is your site backed up? Can you roll back to a previous version if an update breaks the site?


  • Lorem Ipsum: If your design features placeholder text, do you have at least some idea what it is going to say?
  • Consistent Terminology: “Enter” of “Go?” “Done” or “Save?” “Exit” or “Close?” If you don’t plan ahead now, you’ll end up with inconsistent terminology across pages.

I interview startup gurus and recently founded my own business, Wrenworks — helping startups launch MVPs.

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