How web design actually works, and SEO in simple terms

Written in 2022

You don’t need to be a superhero! (Although having one around helps)

In this post, I will walk you through my web design process briefly covering the 5 steps I complete with clients. It’s a bird’s eye view of the process but still packed with lots of detail. Of interest to many of you, the last step of SEO offers an easy-to-understand explanation: it’s just like finding great Sushi.

On all projects, there are dozens of technical details I take care of behind the scenes that you don’t see – or need to. The whole process from start to finish looks like this:

1. Picking a great domain name
2. Choosing the right hosting and email service
3. Getting the right editing solution
4. Making a slick, customized theme
5. Getting your SEO on a roll

These 5 steps are a really brief overview of the whole process. If you have experience launching a website, you likely got involved in the project during step 4 – the design of your theme. Most web designers will take care of steps 1-3 for you as part of their solution. Another way to look at the above process is like this:

1. Positioning – the right message, colours, domain name, calls to action, and delivery mechanism
2. Building – the design of your message via the website or other
3. Marketing – the post-launch activities like SEO, online advertising, social media and more

Step 1: Everything starts with a smart address

One of my first conversations with clients is about domain names. Creating the right domain name isn’t about what’s easy for you, it’s about thinking like your potential customer. Your customer needs to easily find you, identify some unique relationship with your domain name, and be able to remember it easily for return visits.

The easier your domain name is to remember, the more likely they will tell their friends and visit your site again. Bad strategies like weeard spellingg, numb3rs, hy-phens, and hard-to-remember extensions, all work against you. Keeping the domain simple, using words describing your product or service, using .com whenever possible, keeping the number of words low, avoiding plurals, and using the most commonly used words describing your product or service all work in your favour.

How your domain sounds when spoken is equally essential. When you tell a friend your domain name (or your friend tells someone else), they must be able to spell it without your help. Just think about all the phone conversations you are likely to have about your website. You shouldn’t have to say “b for bob, d for David, s for sam, f for frank, 1 – the number one” etc. If spelling mistakes are impossible to avoid or it’s too late for you now, register multiple domains covering all the phonetic possibilities and have them all point to your website. It’s easy to do, and the small extra expense is better than having a frustrated customer not find you when they are ready to buy.

Sometimes, in rare circumstances, the right choice is NOT to change your domain name. My domain name, as an example, is difficult to misspell once I tell you one time but it doesn’t follow all of my other rules (common words, what people search for, etc). I won’t change it today, because it has been around for a number of years and I have built up significant “online equity” at this point. Changing domain names for me today would be a step backward.

You should ALWAYS (I really mean ALWAYS) register domain names yourself!

If problems occur with your hosting company or domain name ownership, you don’t want to be held ransom to the identity you worked so hard to build. It’s a lot easier for you to make changes to your domain name if it’s under your own control. If the registration is done correctly (yes, it is easy to do it incorrectly), nobody can take your online identity away from you.

NEVER ask your web hosting company or web designer to do this for you – many offer it as part of their service package. The domain should be in your name, held under a high-security registrar lock, registered with your street mailing address (helps to prove ownership if your primary email is unavailable), and have you listed as the primary administrative and registrant contact (the third type of contact on a domain name, the Technical contact, doesn’t have to be you). If you are unsure about ownership of your existing domain name, just send me an email and I can tell you the appropriate steps to take.

My recommendation for registering and moving domain names is I use them for all my domain registrations today and have my clients use them as well. With dynadot, you won’t run into any domain ownership issues. Dynadot doesn’t do Canadian .CA domains so visit for equally great service. If you wish to use a domain registration company other than my recommendations, make sure you can manage your own DNS records. Custom DNS capability will give you easy access to Google Apps (mentioned further down).

A final tip about domains: DO NOT use Godaddy to search, register, reserve, or buy domain names. There are rumours going on for many years now that Godaddy occasionally snipes domain names that people search for. Their domain management, as well, is inferior and their product sale practices are very predatory. If I have clients using Godaddy for anything, I require them to move away.

Step 2: Choosing the right web and email hosting

Once the domain is registered, you need to have a place where web pages can be served to the public. All websites today have a host that provides this service. Good web hosting companies will:

  • Easily handle lots of traffic
  • Create backups on a regular basis
  • Have multiple connections to the Internet for redundancy
  • Promise near-zero downtime or outages
  • Ensure their systems are up to date, patched, and virus-free
  • Employ perimeter defence systems to keep hackers out

In the hosting world, you get what you pay for. Not all hosting companies are the same and not all carry a track record of fast service. Many low-cost domain registration companies like and Shaw provide free hosting but they are unlikely to offer all the features I mention above. Low-cost or free hosting companies are also less likely to provide a quick response to solve your issues. Think of hosting like insurance: quick response and service are crucial when you run into problems.

My recommendation for quality hosting at the moment is Cloudways. If you still don’t think premium hosting is for you, ask yourself this question: Can you afford to have your site down after spending thousands on a marketing campaign and working hard to get visitors to your website? Are you ready to risk losing online visitors for the cost of a weekly lunch? Would you like to know right away when your site is down? If any of these questions are important to you, then premium hosting is something you shouldn’t skimp on.

Email, calendar, and online documents

Hosting is only one more piece of the puzzle. Nearly all hosting companies offer free unlimited email accounts and web access. There are better options though. Thanks to a great product from Google called Google Workspace you can have a branded email address like This premium email service comes with

  • Multiple email accounts and addresses
  • Great virus scanner and spam blocker
  • Public and Private Group discussions that are like mailing lists
  • Autoresponders
  • iPhone and Android interfaces for checking email
  • Online Calendar, Online Documents, and Chat

All of these services are branded with your own email address and look much more professional than an @gmail or @hotmail address. For a small extra fee, you can also get email audit control, enhanced security, desktop synchronization, company-wide email signatures, and much more. If you aren’t happy with your current email system and have a domain already, you can switch to Google Apps without much trouble.

Step 3: A great content solution

Once your domain is registered and your hosting and email services are running, you need to start looking for the right content editing software. I have found with every web project to date, the ability to edit content quickly and easily is crucial for my clients. As a result, I’m always looking for great content management tools and software. Adding new, good-quality content to your site on a regular basis is one of the secrets to better search engine results.

My preferred website content solution is powerful software that sits on your server called WordPress. WordPress is the “Hummer” of content management systems. It runs huge sites like Techcrunch, Engadget, New York Times, CNN, and NASA. It’s superbly designed and architected, completely ready for SEO, and is actively developed software that’s improving all the time. Even though sites like NASA use WordPress, it’s just as popular for small business sites too. WordPress is in fact, so popular, that nearly 40% of the Internet runs on it!

You can see a few examples of my WordPress installations for clients here, here, here and here.

WordPress comes with a complete suite of back office management tools for creating pages, blog posts, news entries, videos, images, embedded items and much more. The back office tools that come with WordPress run right inside your web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and all the others) so you can edit your site from anywhere in the world. It can even receive new content by email or be edited from your iPhone or Android.

Step 4: Your brand and unique style

Once your site has WordPress installed, it must be styled and branded to fit your business theme, colours, and images. Out of the box, the default theme is completely naked, un-styled and missing lots of essential features like menus and sub-menus, your colour palette, your logo and brand identity, your photos, a better search, background colours, a newsletter subscription box, web statistics, and so much more. The visual experience between a designed theme and the default theme can’t be compared. Left unbranded, your site will not drive visitors to do business with you. With a custom-designed theme, visitors will pull up a chair and stay on your site for a while. Designing a custom theme isn’t an instant process (like picking from a menu). I spend a lot of time designing your graphics, bringing in your photos, playing with ideas, and injecting my design skills to make it fit just for you.

Just like a custom-tailored suit gives you the edge, a custom-designed theme will make you stand out from your competitors.

Step 5: After the site is online, it’s ready for SEO

SEO means “search engine optimization”. It’s the process of making your sites clearly visible to Google, Yahoo and other search engines. Many SEO consultants offer guaranteed top 10 Google placement without much effort on your part. Back away slowly from these hollow promises. The process of SEO is nothing like buying a domain name or getting a hosting account. Instant-on top 10 rankings is bound to last just that long too: an instant.

To understand the right strategy for the top 10 rankings, you first need to understand how search engines work.

Think of search engines like this: If you ask many people for their favourite Sushi restaurant, you will see a trend develop. Many will mention the same restaurants over and over because of the great food and nice atmosphere. You are likely to do business at these favourite restaurants, and chances are you will tell others about your positive experience too. As a result of the collective referrals and recommendations, better restaurants become more popular. This increasing popularity is termed “organic” in that it will happen naturally from positive recommendations.

The exact same thing happens on the Internet: Google surveys web pages to determine which websites get mentioned the most. They survey continuously, with many computers, 24 hours a day and visit pages more than once to look for changes. The computers run mathematical equations that analyze web pages looking for text, images and links. The links are harvested and compared to all the other web pages they track reaching a trillion pages recently. Google engineers constantly tweak and improve the mathematics and algorithms to account for all types of links, even bad ones (site and comment spam, link baiting, etc). They have people dedicated to ensuring spammers are watched closely too. Due to this ever-improving formula, and the flood of new pages created every day, Google has achieved greater accuracy over time. Today search has become more precise and reliable. Less popular sites and spammers rank lower so that you aren’t caught into a virus trap or link bait scheme as often as before. Google has a majority share of the search market due to their simple search interface and sophisticated search algorithm. It’s an impressive accomplishment for a company that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Amazingly, Google is still staying search is nowhere close to being solved.

So what happens to restaurants where quality drops? Well, the first thing that occurs is that you hear it through word-of-mouth. If you tell one or two friends about the poor review and they do the same, the restaurant sales will suffer and that’s exactly the outcome to expect for bad food and poor service. Restaurants can fight negative publicity with mass advertising and new customers, but that’s not a sustainable strategy long term. It’s important, as well, to remember that not all recommendations have the same value. Newspapers, food critics, and magazines are more reliable opinions than casual rumours and word-of-mouth. Thus, when picking a restaurant, the qualifications of the reviewer matters as much as the quantity of all reviews made. For websites and their Google ranking, the same approach is applied to search. The quality of links and where they come from matter as much as the quantity of all links they find. It’s not good enough to have 1000 websites all mentioning your web address if those websites don’t have much traffic (by the way, some SEO consultants try to sell packages that do this). Popular websites where many users gather lend greater credibility to how links should be ranked vs spammers’ strategies, link baiters, and dead pages which lend lower credibility to their ranking. Sometimes, overly aggressive SEO tactics can even get you blacklisted or penalized by search engines.

So far I have said SEO and search engine positioning are like finding a great restaurant. There IS one very important difference. With traditional advertising, if you want people to do business with you, you tell friends, family, your local community, and the consumer audience through mass advertising. This approach is typically un-targeted (or poorly targeted) in that you need to tell a lot of people – most not ready to buy – before making a sale. Real estate agents do this kind of mass advertising with bus bench ads and pizza joints do this by sending out menus to everyone in their area. Most people seeing these ads aren’t ready to buy and probably won’t remember you when they are prepared to buy. Online Marketing is different because you have control over how your site appears to search engines. For example, if you had a website selling yellow rubber duckies with information about types of rubber, duck buoyancy, and the colour consistency of your ducks, Google would be likely to show your website if someone searches for “yellow rubber duckies”. People will find you because your website has what they are searching for. Paid advertising works in a similar fashion by letting you control which keywords you want your business to display: you can specify which keywords should trigger your ad. Traditional vs Online marketing is like floodlights vs laserbeams – one is simply better at pointing.

All of my discussions on linking thus far should give you insight into at least one strategy: popular websites (preferably for your target market) are places you should spend time and participate, in and post your web address to (so Google knows about it). The more your website is mentioned, the more likely Google will reward you with inclusion and a high ranking in their search index.

Ready to get started with your web project?

I’m ready! Start your web project right now by asking me for a FREE quote! I can take all the fear about starting a website:

1. You don’t need to be a web or computer expert
2. You don’t need to know anything about design
3. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get started
4. You don’t need to be a superhero
5. It’s easier thank you think

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