Before you start designing your website, you need to know what you want your customers to do. Your visitors didn’t come to your website to simply ooh and aah over how pretty it is; they came to do something. The design should help them accomplish their goal and guide them to take action.

Amazon's website helps customers find products through a prominent search bar and list of departments.

The Pinterest website is intended for browsing, so the header and navigation are small to reduce interference with the content.

The first step in designing (or redesigning) a website is identifying the goal of the website. Some websites (Pinterest, Reddit) are set up for browsing. Others (Amazon, Barnes & Noble) are meant to sell things. You can see the difference in their design. Pinterest uses a long scrolling format with very minimal navigation. Amazon, on the other hand, has a robust series of categories and subcategories as well as a prominent search option to help customers find the products they are looking for.

Don’t leave visitors wondering what they should do once they get to your website. Put a big call to action button on the home page that encourages them to do something. Whether you want visitors to purchase online, come to your store, become a member, or any other action, don’t be shy about it.

The most important information on a website should be near the top so that visitors see it right when they get to your website and don’t have to scroll to find it. As soon as they reach your website, visitors should see the name of your company, information about what you have to offer (your “value proposition”), a call to action, and the main navigation.

Visitors are willing to scroll for more content, but only if they see a reason to. The information and design in the top of the homepage has to be compelling, interesting, and either answer the visitors’ questions or show them where to find the answers.

In addition to guiding visitors to do what you want them to do, your website should help the visitors accomplish their goals as well. Put yourself in their shoes. Why are they coming to your site? Think about their goals and then design your site so it’s easy for them to accomplish those goals.

Make sure to include enough information for the visitors to make the necessary decisions. This may be directions on how to do something or specifications for a particular product so the customer is confident of what they are buying. And make this information easy to digest. Provide it in small chunks with clear headings and subheadings so visitors can quickly scan it. Whenever possible, use bullets and short phrases rather than sentences and paragraphs.

For a more in-depth look at guidelines and tips on designing a website, visit our Design Learning Center.