Small business website design is very important to help drive more sales for your small business. Yet many small businesses still miss the mark when it comes to being a viable tool for their business, relegated still to the status of a glorified online brochure. It’s been 16 years since the National Science Foundation ended its sponsorship of the internet backbone, removing any restraints on commercial usage of the internet. I’m always amazed that after 16 years there are some sites that still miss the mark by a wide margin.
I was fortunate to get involved with the internet in the early years of the dotcom era which ran from 1995 to 2001. In graduate school one of the projects we were assigned was to present a report using html. Luck was with me as one of my project partners knew a little html and I sat next to him while he created code that today would be considered as simple as writing a sentence. At my first post-mba job in 1998 I was tapped to take on the companies website design based on my “web experience”.
Small Business Website Design
Having done small business website design for the last 14 years, the first thing that I do when I look at a site is assign a date to it based on when I think it was created. I still see sites that are so outdated they might as well be wearing bell bottoms or parachute pants. Today we look at three key areas of website design that will impact your site and its ability to add value to your business.
1. Website Structure
When discussing the structure of your site we actually tap into several areas that are important. The first is the underlying structure of the code of your site. Will you have a hand coded static site, a flash based site (those cool effects really are not worth the SEO loss), a dynamically generated site, a content management site, or a mixture. The structure you use is really dependent upon the scope of what you are trying to accomplish.
My preference is to use content management systems to build my sites. There are many options such as Joomla and Drupal, but my preferred platform is WordPress. WordPress was initially a blogging platform but over the last couple of years its really made strides in its over-all website capabilities. In my early days of designing with WordPress I tended to spend a lot of time up front looking for a theme that fit the vision of the site I was designing. These days I tend to use a few of the Genesis Child themes as a starting point and then customize the layout to the site needs.
Structure also touches on the information architecture of the site, ensuring that visitors are able to easily navigate and find the content most relevant to them. One of the key components is how you structure the home page. Often in site designs people try to fit a little bit of everything on the home page of their site. Your Home page should have one Primary Objective …if someone could only take one action on your home page what would you want it to be? That’s your top priority and you need to present that option in a clear and concise manner.
Its ok to have multiple objectives on your home page, and most people have some additional Major Objectives (Important but not as important as the primary objective) and Minor Objectives (not that important but still relevant.).
2. Website Functionality
The process of designing a site starts with a client meeting to determine how the client envisions the site impacting their business, and then the development of a strategy to accomplish their goals. Will they use the site to sell products or services? Will they produce tools and resources such as calculators or white papers to capture leads? Will the site serve to be a distribution point for thought leadership content? Or are they really only interested in having an online brochure? (its rare but I did work with a petroleum transportation company that simply wanted to have an online presence and nothing more).
What would you like your site to do? If you site isn’t pulling its weight in the sales, marketing, HR, and customer service department you missing opportunities left and right.
Many businesses are in need of leads to fill their sales pipeline but have not implemented a lead capture process on their site. If you do not sell products or services directly on your site then you need to determine what you can offer that will incentivize a visitor to give you their contact information. A great way to do this is through a white paper or guide.
People are online everyday looking for information to solve problems or address questions they have, you just need to take your knowledge and experience and package it into an attractive offer.
3. Website Design
If I could either have a beautiful visual site or an ugly functional site I would probably go with functionality. Its what’s inside that counts right?
Fortunately its not an either or decision. Going to the extreme in either direction is likely to mean your site fails on all accounts. Your small business website design, which includes structure and functionality, should use elements such as color, graphics, fonts, positioning, and size to process your content.
When using templates to design your site you can simply find a visual design you like. Or you can dive into the code and tweak things to develop your own look. Be careful to avoid text over colorful graphics or background color, keep flash use to a minimum, break your text up into readable blocks, and find a mix of graphics and text that keeps the site visually appealing while providing content that search engines can index.
Your website is the face of your business online. You need to make sure that it projects the image your wish to convey, the professionalism that you want to be recognized for, and the creativity you have to solve the questions or problems potential prospects need.
A final piece to the web development process that companies miss is to continue to improve the site. A great way to do so is to use conversion optimization testing to determine what drives more sales or leads. You can test headlines, graphics, copy, your layout and any element on your site.
For example: Using AB testing you can set it up so that 50% of your site visitors continue to see a home page headline while the other 50% see an alternative headline. At the end of the testing period you would know which headline performs better.
A second example might be that you test a shorter version of your lead capture form.