Whether your current small business website design just needs some tweaks or major updates, creating a great website can be a daunting task. Every week, it seems, there are new ‘best practices’ and ‘tricks’ to consider in order to ‘game Google’ or get customers.
Some of the advice is very good. Some of it is little more than snake oil. While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the principles that guide our work. We’ve found them to be useful. But, more importantly, our customers have found them to be useful.
1. Design Your Business Website With The User In Mind
First things, first, take a second and think about how you browse the internet.
You’ll probably notice a few things about user behavior on the web:
- You constantly look things up on your phone.
- Your browsing habits are a mix between goal-directed and exploratory behavior.
- You rarely read anything in its entirety, but instead…
- You skim most everything to see if it’s worth reading.
- You’re easily frustrated by pinching and zooming on a mobile phone
- You’re easily frustrated by broken links, text that’s hard to read, or an inability to find the content you want.
- You’re willing to put up with a few moments of frustration (which seem like an eternity), but after that, you go somewhere else.
Sound about right?
Well, you might not be surprised to know that nearly everyone else is the same way.
Users on the internet generally spend a lot of time skimming and filtering and less time reading and engaging. As a result, users are often more easily influenced by emotion and intuition than they are by reading or deep intellectual engagement.
Keeping that reality in mind can help to inform a lot of your small business website design issues, many of which we’ll dive into deeper below.
2. Have A Clear Information Hierarchy
When we think of web design, it’s easy to start thinking of images, videos, fonts, and the like.
But, the granddaddy of them all is the information hierarchy.
Your information hierarchy refers to how you organize the content on your business website. It’s the principal means by which users will engage your content.
And making it easy for your website visitors to get to the content they want is one of the most important principles of usability.
Your information hierarchy includes:
- What pages you want on the site
- How those pages relate to each other
- What the goals of those pages are
- What content will be on those pages
Starting a new business website without first considering information hierarchy is like trying to build a house without a blueprint.
Can it be done?
Sure. Well, probably. Maybe?
While it may sound challenging, it can be easier to accomplish if you just remember these 5 principles of content hierarchy:
- Strive to bring your goals and your visitor’s goals together. Your visitors are trying to accomplish tasks when they’re on your website. And you want them to convert, so they can become leads – or customers. Aligning both sets of goals leads to the best outcomes.
- Group related content together. It makes it easier for people to find their way around.
- Map your content to your sales funnel. Different visitors want to relate to you in different ways, based on where they are in the buying process. Add value at every stage of the funnel.
- Track your progress. One of the best things about the web – data. Track behavior, user flows, goals. Adjust content, website structure, and lead magnets as appropriate.
- Keep visitors within 1-2 clicks of a conversion opportunity. It allows you to be sure you’re offering value while giving website visitors the opportunity to engage you.
And that’s what your hierarchy is – your plan for your site.
3. Make Sure Your Website is Mobile-Friendly
Want some truth bombs dropped on you?
- Over 90% of all internet sessions start with a search engine (source: SearchEngineJournal)
- Over 60% of all searches happen on a mobile device. (source: Search Engine Land)
That information becomes even more compelling when you look at it by industry:
Share of Online Searches Initiated by a Mobile Device by Industry
All of this means…you got it – there’s a good chance your customers are using their phones to find you. For example, many people will use their phones to google your business name and then click on the resulting link to your page…rather than entering in “yoursite.com” directly into their mobile browser. Of course, with the rise of voice search, they may not even be typing it any more.
Thus, when considering a small business website design, mobile is a really important thing to keep in mind.
Sounds obvious, yet we’ve found that over 60% of businesses in our community failed Google’s mobile-friendly test. And every day, in our research on different companies and industries, we find many websites that aren’t optimized for a mobile experience.
(Mobile design is, itself, a rich topic – for more information, check out our Ultimate Guide to Why Mobile Matters!)
4. Design With The Customer In Mind
Generally, one of the purposes of your small business website is to acquire customers. So, you have to design with them in mind.
This manifests itself in a few ways, but two common mistakes I see are:
- Not speaking to customer problems
- Not having clear calls to action
We discuss calls to action elsewhere in this post, so let’s take a closer look at what it means to speak to customer problems.
Speak To Customer Problems
Chances are, you’re great at what you do. It’s why you started your business in the first place.
The question is, who cares?
Most customers care more about their problems and aspirations than your specific service. (Watch our 60-second Home Improvement tip on this topic below.)
Reframing your business website’s copy to acknowledge and answer customer questions increases the likelihood that they’ll engage your content and move closer to an “action” step.
Doing this requires you to be clear about where the customer is in the buying process and how to target them effectively.
5. Keep Your Website “Skimmable”
The default behavior with online content is skimming.
Therefore, you should make the content on your business website easy to skim.
This post is a good example of that. It’s long, but maybe not all of it is immediately relevant to you right now. So, we make it easy for you to find the nuggets that matter most.
6. Use Well-Known Conventions
Ever notice how most of the time, there’s navigation on the top, sidebars on the right, and footers on the bottom?
Because so much of our thinking and acting is intuitive and rooted in past experiences, conventions are your friend.
They allow people to find their way through your website & to your content quickly and easily.
So, unless you’re a creative trying to create a new experience, make sure your next small business website design incorporates common paradigms.
This is especially true if you want to motivate people to act in specific ways, like call or click.
7. Invest In Good Writing
It might not seem like writing is an important part of web design.
On the contrary, good, clear writing improves skimmability and, perhaps more importantly, is one of the primary means you have to engage your visitors.
For example, framing your headlines in terms of customer problems instead of product features increases the likelihood that the prospective customer skims further down the page (exhibiting a micro action) to a section that starts to suss out what matters to them.
While there are many different types of copywriting on the web, there are three that bear special consideration:
- Writing to describe
- Writing to persuade
- Writing to educate
1. Writing To Describe
A lot of the writing you do on your core site pages will be to provide information. This information might include things such as:
- Who you are
- What you do
- The features and benefits of your service
- Contact information
As much as possible, this content should be customer-focused in its language and brief. Remember people skim on the web.
2. Writing To Persuade
Chances are you’ll use persuasive writing for sales pages, landing pages, sidebars, and call-to-action boxes…really, anytime that you want someone to take an action on your site.
There are numerous ways to write persuasive copy, which is outside the scope of this article.
Suffice it to say that it’s often more subtle and much more heavily customer-focused than descriptive writing.
3. Writing To Educate
While there are elements of education that might take place on ‘descriptive’ site pages, the majority of your “educational writing” will be on your blog, white papers, Ebooks, and the like.
This post is an example of ‘educational writing.’
Reading through this post, though, you’ll note that we’ve optimized for skimming (we know most people aren’t reading every word of this).
There are clear fonts, short sentences, big headlines, images, and bold text links. All designed to make it easy for users to engage our content.
8. Invest In Good Images
A picture is worth 1,000 words, right?
On the web, it might well be a million.
Our brain processes images in just 13 milliseconds and can make a judgment about what we saw AND act in less than 1/3 of a second.
People are visual.
Pictures, graphics, icons, and infographics make it easy for people to quickly skim your content, process information, and decide what to do next.
They can also influence the emotional state of your reader, which can help or hurt your business objectives (depending on what they are).
That’s why, when done well, images can dramatically boost your website’s performance. Just be careful that you also take care to optimize them for speed, so you don’t slow down your website and hurt your Google ranking.
9. And Possibly Video, Too
There is increasingly more video content on the web.
If pictures are worth a thousand words, I can’t begin to imagine how many a video is worth.
So much content can be quickly communicated via video…and, it’s entertaining. That’s part of why we made our Website Home Improvement Tips a video series.
Plus, with cell phones and apps, videos are easier to create than ever before. (Though, for some content, you definitely want professional help.)
10. Embrace White Space
Nearly everyone whose small business website design we undertake says they want their site to be “clean.”
What they usually mean by that is that they don’t want it to be cluttered.
We get that many business owners are rightfully proud of their experience, products, and promotions.
But the result is often cluttered pages that don’t actually communicate value and prompt users to leave your page for a competitor’s page…whose site is ‘cleaner.’
Having expansive space between elements, or “white space,” make it easier for people to skim your content, quickly understand what you intend to communicate, and decide what to do next.
11. Use Good Typography
There are whole theories, ideas, practices, and methods around good typography.
They’re interesting, but outside the scope of this post.
For your business website, you want your typography to:
- Reflect the personality of your brand
- Be easy to read
- Have a clear scale, that demonstrates…
- A clear typographical hierarchy
Reflecting the personality of your brand is straightforward and completely up to you. You might consider any one of Google’s free fonts to pick ones that stand out to you.
Being “easy to read” is also pretty straightforward – stay away from out really curvy, curly or intricate fonts on pages you want people to read. In fact, those fonts are better regulated to logos, annotating images, and (some) headers or headlines.
A clear typography scale is a little harder to pin down & as much an art as it is a science.
It also depends on the fonts you’re choosing to use.
But, in general, you’ll want your base font to be about 16px, which is generally easy to read. Headers should scale up from there and captions might scale down.
12. Design Your Website Around “Micro-Actions”
Because people are so prone to skim on the web, your business website should include and promote “micro-actions.”
Micro-actions are small actions that visitors take that go just a little further into your site, content, or funnel.
For example, the first micro-action on your business website might be to get someone to scroll past your initial header.
A next one might be to click a ‘learn more’ link related to a specific problem you solve.
The next one might be to read the content on the page you’ve just linked to.
Each of these actions represents positive forward momentum on the part of your visitor.
Over time, these micro-actions should progressively build until they manifest in a more formal ‘call-to-action,’ which gets someone into your pipeline or marketing channel.
13. Make It Easy To Share Your Content
Another way to enhance your web design is to make it easy to share your content.
This increases the probability that more people see and/or link to your content, which should factor into your design.
These little boxes help too:
14. Enhance Credibility
Having a great small business website design automatically enhances credibility.
But, there are other things you can do to enhance credibility, such as including:
- Associations and affiliations
- Press releases/features
These can be featured tastefully towards the top of your main header image if there are particurly impressive accomplishments you want to show off.
They’re often more effective further down the page because someone who is scrolling that far is more likely to be engaging your content and the trust factor is more relevant as they become increasingly engaged.
15. Use Clear Calls To Action
Ok, so that was a shameless plug.
But, if you want a great business website, you have to ask people to engage.
It’s no different than making a sale; you have to ask for it, right? Same thing here, if you want followers, subscribers, people to request a quote, whatever…you have to ask.
Calls to action are the primary way to do that.
They accomplished with buttons, words, links, images, etc. But, generally, you should have a plan for how you want people to engage with you (make sure it’s based on where they are in the buying cycle, of course).
Then, ask people to participate.
16. Use Colors Smartly
Kissmetrics wrote a great post on the psychology of color on conversions and found that 90% of product assessments have to do with color.
Color psychology and theory is a big field, but the core conclusions are this:
- Women tend to prefer blue, purple, and green. They don’t like gray, orange, and brown as much.
- Men prefer blue, green, and black. They don’t care for purple, orange, or brown.
- Blue cultivates trust.
- Yellow indicates warnings.
- Use Green if you are an environmental company or sell outdoor products.
- Orange can be fun and create a sense of haste or impulse.
- Black signifies luxury and value
- Calls to action should be bright, primary colors.
- Embrace whitespace (sound familiar?)
You can read their full report here, but the point is that color influences feelings, moods, and actions. Use it wisely.
But, you should also…
17. Test, Test, Test
While these rules of thumb are helpful, the devil is in the details.
As a result, you should make sure that you have analytics tools installed on your website and measure the effectiveness of the strategies you’re using on a consistent basis.
From there, you can see what’s working and what’s not, then change it accordingly.
We tend to run tests on our site in 30-60 day chunks, in order to get enough data to feel like we’re making informed decisions. For our customers, we keep an eye on their metrics and our managed service makes it really easy to test content periodically.
18. Keep It Fresh
One thing to keep in mind is that design conventions change. It evolves and your website visitors evolve with them.
Therefore, the “best website design” is also flexible and evolves.
To do this, you should invest in keeping your content and design current as conventions, website visitors, and your business evolve.
19. Secure Your Website
The web is a big, dynamic place. And, unfortunately, one full of bad actors who want to steal information or debauch websites for fun or profit.
And, contrary to common belief, small business websites are prone to risks on the web.
When undertaking your next small business website design, you want to make sure that you’re working hard to secure your website. There are generally three vectors where risks can creep in:
- The technology: The ‘equipment’ of your business (e.g., webhost, CMS, themes, plugins) provide an attack vector. Especially if they aren’t verified and updated.
- Internal processes: Who (or what) has access to your system(s), when, and to what degree provides a context for security – or malfeasance.
- People: Perhaps the most common level of vulnerability, you want to have (and enforce!) best practices around are web (and data) security. The best system in the world can’t prevent against negligence.
Before going too far down the design path, make sure you understand how your web development company protects against these risks.
Finally, you want to make sure that you have an SSL certificate on your website. These not only provide credibility in the eyes of your customers, but they also help with your search engine ranking and allow you to know if or when data is being passed insecurely. In many cases, an invalid certificate causes the web browser to throw an error. This allows you – and your customers – an opportunity to retreat to safe harbor before data is intercepted.
Need Help With Your Next Small Business Website Design?
Many small business owners are overwhelmed at keeping up with the pace of change and complexity of managing their web presence. Partner with SuperWebPros for your next small business website design and let us focus on the ‘tech stuff’…so you can focus on running your business! Our competitive web packages are designed to provide secure hosting, pro-active maintenance, small business website design, and business blogging at an affordable rate.