Not too many years ago, it was almost unthinkable for a small business to invest in their own website. Today, however, it is less of a choice than a necessity if you want to engage with customers, and stay ahead of your competitors.
Website building is more accessible now than ever before, with a wide range of tools and services available to help you create your brand vision in online form. Nevertheless, setting up a business website can be a daunting process, especially if you are new to the world of online marketing.
The on-the-move consumer has little time or patience for poorly-designed websites, so your landing page, and every page thereafter, needs to be structured with purpose and precision. Fortunately, this is not as difficult as it might sound, and if you keep the following checklist in mind, you will soon have a business website to be proud of.
1. Clarity and simplicity
When users land on your homepage, it can take mere seconds for them to decide whether to explore further or move on. As such, you need your landing page to clearly display who you are and what you do. Additionally, using consistent branding throughout your website, using your organization’s name and logo, adds cohesion to your content, and reassures visitors that they have not accidentally left your site.
Most internet users want to be able to navigate a website quickly and without confusion, so your layout is of critical importance. In recent history, there has been a trend towards shorter and shorter menus. Now, many sites display only three menu options, with the aim of quickly directing visitors to the key areas of the website.
Ultimately, your goal here is to make your website as easy to navigate as possible, both for internet users, and search engine crawlers. The simpler it is to crawl and index your site, the more likely you are to be able to secure a good search engine ranking.
Another upside to a simplistic design is that it will load faster, meaning visitors are more likely to stick around. When the Financial Times updated their layout at the end of last year, they reported that a one second reduction in loading times could boost engagement by 5 percent.
The rise of social media marketing has brought about significant changes in the way consumers evaluate businesses and products. You are not, and should not be, an invisible entity hidden behind your brand; your customers want to know who you are and why they should be excited about your business. Furthermore, it is your passion for the products or services you offer that should shine through in your content, and establish your website’s unique personality.
This doesn’t mean you need to reveal your deepest darkest secrets, or divulge personal information. Bear in mind, anything that you put on your website needs to add value, and be relevant to the overall plan. Think about the details you can share that highlights the best characteristics of your business, or that will cause visitors to feel more comfortable and familiar with your brand.
- Describe who you are and how your business came to be. What drew you to this industry, and where do you plan to go with it?
- What is your business all about? Give a brief, but clear description of the products or services you offer, and what makes them unique.
- Set out your values. Perhaps your materials are organic, or sustainably sourced. Maybe your business is carbon neutral, or is regularly engaged in community initiatives. This is your chance to highlight the details that have no place elsewhere on your site, but that you would like your customers to know.
3. High Quality Content
At the same time, it is important not to overload your landing page with content. By selecting key pieces of information, you ensure that these are the first things visitors learn about your business. Consider features such as a landing page video, so you can introduce yourself or your services in more detail, without filling the page with a wall of text.
Throughout your website, your content should adhere to SEO best practices, and always aim to offer something useful to your audience. If you are renovating an existing site, you should also go back through old content, removing anything that does not add value, and sprucing up anything that remains.
4. Business Tools
Do not be afraid to make use of the wide range of tools and applications available for building and running a business website. These applications are not for everyone, but when applied correctly, they can reduce your workload and streamline many time-consuming processes.
For example, you might consider an e-commerce CMS to facilitate the management of product pages, and generation of uniformly structured page links. Similarly, if you are managing social media accounts, or running a blog, content delivery systems can help you schedule posts, and deliver your content on a regular timetable. Shopify is one that brings blogging and ecommerce together nicely, but you’ve also got ones like Squarespace and Wix — your web technology will have a big impact on the overall affordability and design of your website, so choose carefully.
Efficient use of business tools can free you up to focus on other matters, such as creating new content, or engaging with customers. Many tools can also help with the collection of data analytics, providing you with valuable information about consumer behaviour, and the success of individual pieces of content. You can also use tools like chatbots to help customers along the customer journey, though you’ll have to ensure you still remain approachable.
As with all aspects of web design, you will need to weigh up the cost of using these tools against the long-term gains for you and your business.
For any website, security is a primary concern. After all, no one wants their data or their content to be compromised. For small businesses, having a secure website is even more critical, as a breach could not only put you and your site visitors at risk, but also can be extremely damaging to your organisation’s reputation.
If you have an e-commerce site, ensure that you are using a secure payment system, such as PayPal or Stripe. In addition, if you use a content management system, or any other third party applications, you should double-check their security standards, and be diligent about keeping them up to date.
Even if your website is not used for sales, it is still important to have HTTPS enabled on your website. You can do this via a Certificate Authority such as Let’sEncrypt, which provides free-of-charge automated certificates, in accordance with TLS security best practices.
That tiny padlock in the corner of the browser can be the difference between a new customer, and a visitor who never makes it past the landing page.
6. The Grand Plan
While this is the final item on the list, it is also the first step towards creating or improving your business website. Every aspect of your design should have a purpose, from menus to image placement, and even the structure of your URLs.
Whether you are starting from scratch, or renovating an existing site, you should create a comprehensive plan, going into as much detail as possible on every aspect of your design. This will enable you to identify potential challenges, costs, and long-term goals for your website. In addition, your finished plan acts as a coherent blueprint for when you finally turn your idea into a reality. Following in the footsteps of tech giants like Amazon is also a good way to grow your online presence — remember to always research the competition and keep tabs on their websites.
A Long-Term Endeavor
Remember that your business website is an ongoing project, not a static entity. This means you can always add or adjust things later if necessary. It is generally far better to create a fully functional, aesthetically optimized website with fewer features, than one bloated with half-finished pages and ideas.
Your site will need grow and change with your business, so constant improvement and reevaluation is essential. Pay attention to consumer feedback, analytics, and shifting trends, so you are always able to stay ahead of the curve. A successful business website requires regular maintenance and renewal, so it is vital to set aside the time to keep your content fresh, and your brand narrative current.
Even so, establishing your website is already half the battle. The rest relies on the same diligence, dedication, and passion for your business that has gotten you this far in the first place.
Victoria Greene: Brand Marketer & Blogger
I’m an ecommerce marketer by trade, and I run a blog in my spare time where I like to talk about content and blogging. I love taking people’s ideas and making them into digital realities. Big advocate of having an customer experience — something I’m currently trying to implement on a few stores of my own!