As promised in the last blog post (although a year later – oops, sorry!!), listed below is my essential Web Design Checklist. These are some of the tools I use, but you can replace them with what works best for you. There are so many great tools out there, it’s impossible to list and use them all!
Since a lot of VAs would like to offer web design as one of their services, there will be two lists here. One for web & graphic designers and one for VAs who would like to learn the various tools needed to learn the basics of web & graphic design.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please note that I only recommend services I personally use myself.
Web Design Checklist for Virtual Assistants
This is the most obvious, but I’ll just put it out there anyways. If you aren’t creating sites from scratch, you need a tool to help you along, and the best ones are WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and Squarespace. There are a lot more out there, like Wix and Weebly. Just pick what works best for you.
For VAs who are offering this as a service though, you want to go with either WordPress or Squarespace. Squarespace is good for beginners and has a great drag and drop feature. You also don’t have to worry about thousands of plugins to choose from as everything is right there for you to work with. WordPress is the most flexible in terms of usability and takes a bit more to get used to. However, it is great for any kind of site and there are thousands of great themes and plugins to choose from. Please note that you want to use the self-hosted WordPress and NOT WordPress.com.
Even if you aren’t a graphic designer, you can make some pretty awesome stuff with Canva. You can use it not just for designing your websites, but you can use it for newsletter templates, social media posts, business cards, etc. It has a lot of different templates to choose from, made for a variety of needs and hundreds of images to choose from that are free to use. I use Canva as a compliment to my regular graphics programs. Canva is free to use with an option to purchase images that aren’t free. Or you can upgrade to Canva For Work for only $12 per month which allows you to upload fonts, fully customize your brand section and gives you access to even more images and illustrations.
While this is probably something you already have, it IS essential for any project you do, but for web design, you’ll definitely want to have a separate section just for it as there is a lot to go over. A great one for VAs is Trello. It’s easy to use and the front board is a great way to organize your different projects.
Once your project is complete, you want to be able to share all the files with your client. My favorites are Dropbox and Google Drive. Dropbox is super user friendly and you can earn free space by referring your clients. Google Drive is great all around, because while it can be used for file sharing, you can also use it for documents, sheets, forms, slides and much more! Both are free, but to get more space or if you have a lot of clients, you’ll want to upgrade.
Fonts & Graphics
Creative Market is awesome, because you get can free fonts and graphics each week or purchase anything you’d like with a license to use in your projects. And never underestimate Google Fonts. You can get all kinds of great fonts that look good on websites. Don’t try to over-fancify basic text. It just looks tacky.
If you need stock photos for your client’s site or their social media, then you can try any of these free ones. Pexels, Unsplash, and Pixabay. There are tons and tons out there, so just search around if these don’t have what you’re looking for!
Pinterest is great to gather inspiration for your sites. Have your client make a board and choose their favorite inspiration images for the style, design and color scheme they are looking for. Trust me, this helps! And you can create a moodboard and/or brand board to go along with it!
Now that you’ve created the site, if you’re offering maintenance you want to have a way to backup your client’s site regularly to ensure they always have a copy if something goes wrong. If you’re using WordPress, then you want to install a premium plug-in like Backup Buddy or UpdraftPlus. There are many out there to choose from, so just search around and see what works best for you! If you’re creating Squarespace sites, there are no plug-ins for this kind of thing. Squarespace is a managed service, so you don’t have to worry about backing up your sites. But you do have full control of your data, so you can both import and export your data at any time.
This, my friends, is the most important tool you can use, not just for your business, but your everyday life! There are some great tools, like the open source manager, KeePass, or my favorite – LastPass. While nothing in this world is 100% secure, I’d rather have my passwords on LastPass than in a thousand different pieces of paper throughout my house that I’d never be able to sort through. You can organize your sites into folders, and you can have your client share their passwords to you securely as well.
SEO & Responsiveness
Your sites are up, but they are super slow or are not looking quite right on mobile. Well, you need to learn some basic SEO and learn how to fix these little issues. Test if your site is mobile-friendly here. Then you want to check how your site’s load speed is on Google here. It will give you the info on both mobile and desktop and how you can fix any issues that come up. And now for the basic SEO, you want to make sure you have meta tags and descriptions setup properly. If you’re using WordPress, you definitely want to look into an SEO plug-in to help with this. Some good ones are Yoast SEO, Ultimate SEO Plus, and All in One SEO. And another thing you want to do is use keywords in your images. Make use of the ALT tags and name your images accordingly. These are just very basic SEO tips. You’ll want to do some more research to learn about SEO, mobile responsive sites, and page speeds.
And that’s the general list for VAs who want to add in Web Design to their repertoire. It may seem like a lot, but some of it might be what you are already using, and it’s just good stuff to have in general.
Now let’s move on to the regular Checklist for Web Designers. I’m not going to repeat anything from above, as all those tools listed are still essential items for web designers.
Web Designer Checklist
As stated, everything listed in the above checklist, is essential for a web designer. I might expand on some of them a bit more, but for the most part, they are listed as is.
To really customize the sites to make them unique, there are a variety of themes out there. All the ones I’m going to list are premium themes, which means they do cost money. If your main focus is web design, then these are things you want to invest your money in.
One of the most popular is Divi. Divi is an all around theme that can really be fully customized thanks to the Divi Builder. I highly recommend this theme. Elegant Themes has great support as well. I ended up purchasing the Lifetime Access, because I used their themes so much, it’s well worth it after all these years, and seeing how much it’s grown since its inception is pretty amazing.
Some other amazing themes I recommend are the X theme – which includes multiple unique designs within one package, StudioPress Themes and the Genesis Framework, which gives you the power to build super cool and optimized websites. The Genesis Framework utilizes child themes, which is essential in building a WordPress site, and because of this, you can update your theme without worrying about losing your customizations. Another one that is popular that I haven’t tried is Beaver Builder. It seems to be easier to use than Divi, is fast loading and has an easy to use and understand interface. It also has a great selection of templates.
There are even more out there, but these are the ones that I like and prefer. What other ones do you like?
So many great plug-ins out there, but you also need to be careful. As not all plug-ins mesh well together, you want to make sure you install a plug-in that is well coded and optimized and is updated frequently. There are a lot of outdated plug-ins out there. Some essential ones for you Elegant Themes users are Bloom and Monarch. Bloom is an email opt-in plug-in which lets you easily add in opt-in forms for your clients’ sites. Very simple and easy to use and they look great too! Monarch is a must have for social media sharing. You can use it for both having people share your pages and posts or have visitors follow your sites.
Another type of plug-in that is a must have is a caching plug-in. We briefly talked about speeding up your website above, well this takes it to another level. Some popular ones are WP Rocket (which is what I use), WP Super Cache, and W3 Total Cache. While the later two have free options, WP Rocket requires a license, but it is well worth it in my opinion.
These are both essential tools for the web & graphic designer. Especially if you focus on branding like I do. If you need a free alternative to Photoshop, then GIMP is the next best thing. And for vectors, the Illustrator free equivalent is Inkscape!
I’m not going to go into hosting, because it will be assumed your client already has that in place, but if they need a domain, I recommend going for quality and not price. A lot of people might not know this, but Google actually has their own domain registrar and since I love Google, I switched all my domains over. I highly recommend it! The interface is familiar, clean and simple. I’m not a fan of GoDaddy (yes I have used it), so I do NOT recommend it – there’s just too much going on there and all those “extras” they try to get you to buy into.
If you want some suggestions for hosting in case your client asks, ones I’ve used in the past are SiteGround and BlueHost. I have never had a problem with them, and their setup is pretty simple. I currently use KnownHost as I like to have full control of my own personal server and then I can create as many accounts as I want on it, add what I want to it and more.
For those of you who want to both design and develop, then webflow is for you. This powerful tool is like no other, where you can design, build and launch responsive and unique websites. I definitely recommend trying it out – I believe there is a 30 day trial. This will help take your skills to a whole new level!
If you’re using Chrome (and you should be!), one of the best web design tools is DevTools. By opening this up, you can see things like your page’s elements structure, the JS console, sources and assets and much more! You can also check how the sites will look on different mobile devices. It’s a great tool for debugging and troubleshooting why something you created isn’t working properly.
Best site for all that dummy text when you’re testing out sites. Nice and all in one place!
Somewhat similar to Canva, Adobe Spark is really great in its mobile app version. You can create social graphics, web stories and animated videos. Nice to have in your back pocket at the very least.
A great tool to ensure you get great search results in google. Lots of tips and resources to help you create a great site!
Whew! That’s a lot when you combine both lists together. And there’s even MORE great resources out there, but these are the ones I find most useful when I’m creating a site. I hope this has been helpful information and you learned a thing or two.
If you see something that wasn’t listed here, please post in the comments below. We want to help one another spread the wealth and make great sites!
* Ready to learn how to make awesome graphics for free? Check out The Canva Starter Kit, a mini beginners course! You’ll learn the basics and all that you can do in the free version of Canva.
** And don’t forget to subscribe to the Dewdrop Visuals YouTube channel, where I will be showing you all kinds of tutorials, tips and tricks for web and graphic design!
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