Does your website represent the level of quality that the company offers? What if I told you – a bad website can literally lose a companies customers, and a competitor’s nicer looking website is actually stealing them away?! Stop the bleeding! I can understand how bad it would feel to offer better products or services, only to have an inferior competitor with a fancier website get that business.
- This guide will not make you a web designer
- It won’t do the hard work of asking important questions for you.
- What it WILL DO is give you principles that have proven highly effective on over 50+ small business website design projects.
Introduction – A couple of key ways to frame a successful website design project
- Know who the ideal customer is, and have an obsessively empathetic approach to designing for them, not for your boss, the client, or your portfolio.
- Follow a clear process (ours is Discovery, Wireframe, Design & Revision, Development & Revision, Soft Launch, Full launch) and for god’s sake don’t skip steps.
- Ask really good questions in a kickoff with ‘key stakeholders’ in the outcome of the project. If someone can veto your design, make sure they’re in the kickoff and get heard. Be the professional – but ask about the business, the ideal customer, the final action people should take on the site, the other audiences, and how people normally become their customer.
These are three of the biggest keys, but shall we dive a little deeper? Below we outline the 9 most important elements of small business web design, and essentially a checklist for each – use this as a resource to see if your site measures up, or use it to help guide your next web design project:
Get the most important principles of small business web design in this quick video or read the full post below:
1. Use simplicity to give a high-end feel
- Ensure there’s enough White Space throughout the design
- Keep font choices simple, consistent, and highly legible.
- Use different sizes in headlines in text, in general – avoid highly decorative fonts unless you’re sure it matches the company’s style. Use their brand style guideline if it exists (if it does, and you spend a ton of time on a site design, you’ll feel heartache later when you realize you have to re-do the whole thing.)
2. Ensure clearcut Visual Hierarchy to emphasize what’s most important
- The first few things they see communicate the story
- A call-to-action is immediately visible
- Prioritize headlines, if they only read one or two things will they know how you can help them, what you do, what makes you different?
3. Use contrast to make sure text is legible, and to increase visual interest.
- Make sure light text is easy to read with dark bg and vice versa
- Alternate light and dark sections or make things stand out by being on their opposite background
- Don’t put colors of the same darkness level next to each other, bad visual vibration (make it greyscale to see)
A small business website design should be super clean and modern, tell the companies story visually and persuasively, create trust with visual trust factors, and call the ideal customer to action – all while being super customer-focused, and clear in it’s visual heirarchy.
4. Study Persuasion, and constantly write with the customer’s benefits in mind (stop talking about YOU the company)
- Copywriting is everything. Take a course in copywriting if you have to… start with Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller
- Headlines should be short and sweet and be YOU the customer focused.
- Constantly talk about benefits, not features. Help them imagine themselves enjoying the benefits with smiling people, how would they look after their receiving the benefits.
5. Help them trust you.
- Testimonials reviews w/ a visual 5 stars, a picture of the person & where they left the review are highly trustworthy.
- All of your credentials, awards, or the logos of your clients (possibly muted & grayscaled can give credibility quickly)
- Projects, case studies, and visual evidence to your hard work – updated regularly helps grow the trust.
6. Call them to action
- The menu bar, the homepage right when you land, each key service page, and the end of every page should have a clear, compelling call to action with a button, and often imagery to draw attention.
- Use a blend of ‘trust factors’ alongside your call-to-action to ‘decrease friction’ to taking the next step.
- Use contrast in the color, and use a brighter or prominent call-to-action for your main action button, and use that color less throughout the design to make sure it stays visually prominent.
7. Be brief on the surface, when they drill down then be comprehensive.
- Headlines and key areas toward the top should always be super brief.
- But on interior pages, and lower on the page, we suggest at least 700 words on all service pages, and most pages in general for Search Engine Optimization so Google knows what you’re offering and will actually serve up your page, and to be a ‘comprehensive resource.
- Use ‘show hides’, or accordions if you need to… be OK with a long scroll, and break out text into alternating dark/light sections with images going left then right to make the text not feel overwhelming (avoid a “wall of text” like the plague)
8. Always focus on the landing experience.
- Get them to stay – by any means necessary… your lead line has to be TIGHT and your page has to load fast.
- Make them laugh with a meme, give them something easy to watch with a video, or use the copywriting ’mystery formula’ to ask a question they want to answer to, give a couple of common wrong answers, and promise something big.
- Make text bigger at the beginning of articles, use bullet points on landing pages, give a CTA above the fold… assume you have 10 seconds to make a big visual impression and persuade. At least they’ll know what the page is trying to accomplish and get a sense of personality. Maybe they’ll take action then and there.
9. Give a shit about development and search engine optimization
- Search Engine Optimization is the art of making your site more visible on search engines, and it’s critical to the long-term success of your marketing efforts. Ideally, you work with a team that knows SEO in-depth and can wield it on your behalf. At least write meta-titles and descriptions, make sure the site is crawlable, and submit your sitemap to Google search console – check out an ‘SEO basics’ guide here, and a ‘setting up Google analytics basics guide here.
- Ultimately this guide is about the visual design and layout of sites – but these two elements are absolutely crucial to making an effective website – so I strongly suggest making them primary in choosing a partner, or working with an outside team if you don’t have these resources internally at your company.
Experts Share Their Top Tips
Small Businesses need different types of web design and SEO than larger companies. We talked to other small business web design experts – to get many perspectives. What we’ve found is a really solid set of web design tips – that goes deeper into marketing strategy, and even some coding suggestions to get the most out of your website – whether you’re redesigning, or modifying your existing site.
Add schema markup to enhance your visibility in search results
An often overlooked opportunity, schema markup is code that you add to your website that search engines use to display information about your business, services and products in search results. This can bring critical information into your organic search results, such as reviews, breadcrumb links, company logo and product prices. These enhancements can improve your keyword click-through-rates, earning you more traffic for simple site improvements.
Don’t consider yourself technical? That’s OK. Schema markup is easy to implement. Check out my favorite schema markup generators, which will create the code for you so that all you need to do is copy it over to your website.
Telling your story to the right audience works.
Make your site mobile-friendly, blazing-fast and convert it to HTTPS
Three things that imperative for your website in 2018: mobile-friendly/responsive/adaptive design, website speed and performance, and converting from http to https (SSL certificate purchased from your hosting company). All three have been highlighted by Google as ranking factors starting in the summer of 2018.
Use a Google Respected System – and make it fast
There are 4.9 billion mobile device users in the world, your site has to look across desktops, laptops, tablets, and phone, all of varying size. Avoid using DYI site builders like Wix and Weebly, to name a few. They are limiting from a design perspective and they don’t play well with Google for SEO purposes. Website speed and performance is reliant upon a great hosting company and a well-coded website. WPEngine is the top shelf of hosting, the most expensive and worth it. Bluehost cloud service is a great choice for the budget-conscious. Avoid GoDaddy.
Original high-quality photography from a local photographer
This separates a great site from a good one. Include interactions with happy, smiling clients; action shots (if applicable), case studies/portfolio of your work, and current headshots of your team. People relate to the human aspect. Keep the design consistent, use the same size page header photo (2000×600 is a good size) across the site. From a potential customer perspective, provide a clear message of how you can help them above the fold (top 1/2 of the page) with a clear call-to-action (CTA) button including action words (Request, Download, Call, Submit, Email).
Be sure to claim your Google My Business listing
Less than 50% of business owners claim the free listing from Google. Build your local directories/citations from your Google My Business listing. Consistency including exact spelling, abbreviations of street names, business hours, and 100% completion across these directories is key to Google viewing your business as trustworthy. Ask clients for Google reviews, at minimum you want 15 Google reviews.
Prioritize and vigorously keep it simple
If everything is important… nothing is important
It’s tempting to try and make everything bold and stand out on your site, but it will most likely have negative affect with your users not knowing what to do. Have a refined experience on your site that lets people explore the content they want with ease.
Make it easy to digest
There is such thing as TOO MUCH content. Most people skim through websites and don’t want to read a book to find the information they are looking for. Splitting up your content into clear sections with simple headlines will improve your site tremendously.
KISS Principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid
De-clutter your site so it is easy to navigate and read. People can be overwhelmed If there’s too much going on. This could be too many colors, patterns, or even too many calls-to-action.
Pick a color… or two
A great way to brand your site is to implement your company colors. For the best results, use the chosen color for buttons. People will associate that color with taking action and can easily see what they can and cannot click on.
Create a sincere emotional connection with visitors
Nothing matters more than emotional resonance. If you don’t connect personally with your ideal customers – someone else will. Just making it beautiful, accessible, and Google-friendly – is the baseline, and if your competitor can create a magnetic connection with your ideal customer with compelling images, and headlines that truly speak to their pain points and desired outcome – they’ll get that customer not you.
Focus on your headlines, and delight them
If you can make them fall in love – with one headline, you’ve found the one. Romance them with the idea of working with you – draw in their attention by addressing their main pain point. Then seduce them by offering a solution, without all of the trivial details about how it gets done – just help them imagine themselves in a post-problem scenario. Enjoying the delightful benefits of your service or your products. You are a bad-ass – use your current ideal clients as a model for how you write out what they will love about your work.
Focus on your 5 most prominent images and make them want it.
What will the visitor to your website – the ideal customer – the hero of the story feel, look like, and experience after they use your solution. Focus on images that give them this kind of feeling – and do your best to get original images – at least for the 5 most prominent images on the site. I’m not saying – never use stock photography – I’ll leave that to the big companies who have zillions of dollars to spend on marketing, but I will say ‘pay to have a handful of amazing photos professionally taken so that you can create a genuine and personalized effect based on your companies personality.’
Focus on instilling trust, and making it almost impossible to not take the next step with you.
Nothing matters more than trust when it comes to creating an insanely good website. You have to drive the point home that you have a track record, with badges, with testimonials, and with undeniably awesome examples of your previous work. Then – right as they reach a fever pitch of trusting you, and wanting to work with you – have an obvious next step, a big juicy bright button that pushes them to take the next step with you.
Start with a style guide to ensure consistency
I can’t stress the importance of developing a style guide for your company brand, enough. Documenting the expectation of design quality for your brand is key in ensuring you have a consistent design aesthetic across your marketing material. Leaving a succinct impression on your potential clients. Starting with a style guide is the best piece of advice I can give to any business when embarking on a web design project.
Focus your efforts on your customer’s need
Your customer has a space for your business in their life, figure out what that looks like and design it to be a positive experience for them. Don’t be afraid to start with your assumptions and be comfortable knowing you’ll tweak everything a lot to get it right. Set yourself up to listen to your customers, use analytics, and various user tests as tools toward a better experience for them. The overall goal is to create the reaction you want your ideal customer to experience in all facets of your business. However, I would argue that your website is one of the most important. With it, you have the ability to utilize customer data and behaviors to influence other areas of your business.
I hate the expression, “Don’t be a superhero and take on the entire world.” when people try taking on too much. Who doesn’t want to be a superhero? Instead, I’ll say be a superhero by solving one problem in your customer’s life. People naturally put labels on other people and businesses. Labels keep people organized so when they need something they can easily remember you for that specific something you offer. As a small business owner, you control what that something specific is and how quickly they will remember your brand name for it.
Above all else, be consistent
A common trap small businesses fall into is letting their online presence grow stagnant. I’ve seen businesses set up blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and more, only to have those same pages go for months or even years without updates. This is because it’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to write a post once a day, or even once a week. While their goals are admirable, they aren’t achievable.
But it’s important!
Consistency is one of the most important factors when running a business, especially when it comes to blogging and social media. There is little more telling than a Twitter account that hasn’t been updated since 2016. Customers will think, “This business doesn’t appear to be active. I don’t think they’ll be very responsive if I have a question or need help.” This reflects poorly on you and your business.
How can I be consistent?
It’s important to start small. Set up a routine and add it to your schedule – for instance, in the case of a blog, two short paragraphs each week. If the goal seems too simple, that means it’s just right. The most important factor isn’t quantity, nor is it quality. It’s achievability – and from that follows consistency. Refine this process further by creating templates or outlines to work from. Automate as much as possible – use services like Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule and crosspost to all of your accounts. Once the consistency is the primary goal, momentum, quantity, and quality will follow.
Use free tools
If you’re a small business trying to create a website, don’t think you need to go it alone. There’s no need for you to spend weeks learning how to code a website or how to perform on-page SEO. Rather, there are plenty of free tools available that can help you do all the tasks you’re unfamiliar with.
For example, there are website builders that can construct entire websites for you in a matter of minutes. And nowadays these websites are just basic looking sites, but rather fully comprehensive and modern sites that your business can be proud of. Or you can use a keyword rank checker to see what keywords you should focus on for your site. If you end up using a tool like WordPress, there are literally thousands of plugins you can use for free that will add features to your site.
Creating and running the perfect website for your business from scratch isn’t easy. But no matter what tasks you need to do, chances are there exists a free tool that can help you out. So, save yourself plenty of time and money by making use of the amazing free tools that already exist, and go back to focusing on more important matters.
5 Top Small Business Web Design Mistakes
Small business websites can be very, very effective – but they can absolutely go very wrong as well. It’s important to spend the time and attention to make sure you don’t make these common 5 small business web design mistakes – so that the budget you’ve spent on marketing actually creates a return on investment!
1. Using stock photos too excessively
It can be hard to get genuine, professional photos of your team taken – but just like a professionally designed website, the investment is truly worth it. If you create websites for clients, it’s extremely important to emphasize the importance of high-quality photos as early in the process as possible.
In some cases, utilizing a few very well-curated stock photos may make sense. Just don’t make the mistake of not showing your team, and taking some photos that show of your actual personality as a company.
2. Failing to visually show your ‘Unique Value Proposition’.
Is your company quicker at what you do then all of your competitors? What do customers cite as the main reason they go with you when you were up against your competitors? We strongly suggest answering these questions before you make your new website – that’s why we actually build this into our process for every client (and if you’re a web designer you should too.)
Answering some of these simple questions will help you define your main headlines and the images you use. The main full-width images, and image backgrounds should evoke a positive emotion towards your companies key value proposition. How can you show it visually? How can you remind them of the benefit of your product or service, almost without them even reading the copy?
3. Not emphasizing compelling and targeted ‘call to action’s.’
A call to action is a button, an invitation to call, or a featured button to a product or to add to cart – that should take front and center of every small business.
An example is like this promotion right here that invites you to download our free audiobook:
Every small business website should be built around call to actions, and they should be central to every page on your site – including blog posts!
4. Not including enough visually clear obvious evidence of your trustworthiness.
Everything I do is about Trust factors – this means testimonials, social media integration, clear and obvious contact information – as well as certifications and guarantees. The more of these you have, and the more professionally displayed, the more prospects will feel comfortable with your service, and the more likely they are to take the next step and contact you.
5. Not having the website professionally designed and developed.
All of the above being said – we understand that not everyone has gone to school for years to learn professional website design and development – and even some that haven’t created 100+ websites from scratch and marketed websites aggressively with SEO, analytics, A/B testing and tracking.
You don’t have to hire your cousin’s son, or your friend’s brother to create your website – in fact, when the fate of your business’s online presence is involved, it may be time to bite the bullet and hire a true professional.
Look for examples of previous work, case studies of what kind of results a professional website designer has received, and be clear that sometimes hiring a real professional is actually cheaper in the long-run, since a well-designed website can create serious ‘return on investment,’ when it’s done properly.
Top Small Business Web Design Companies
We know we’re not the only option when it comes to small business web design companies! That’s why we did our best to curate this list of 10 small business web design companies for your perusal.
We always want the people that work with us to do it for the relationship – and for our style. We also work pretty heavily with roofing and construction companies and financial services companies – but haven’t done as much work with law firms or some other types of companies. We strongly suggest checking out these companies’ work – and choosing a small business website design partner that suits your specific needs! Check em’ out!
The Top 10 Small Business Web design Companies
Based on rankings, branding, and breadth of services – considering general price points and messaging around the types of brands they serve.
10. Webpage FX – WebpageFX is a full-service Internet marketing and SEO company offering innovative web marketing solutions to companies across the globe. As a leader in SEO, web design, ecommerce, website conversion, and Internet marketing services, Webpage FX prides themselves on driving traffic, converting visitors, and measuring effectiveness to ultimately deliver real results for their clients.
9. The Affordable Web Guy – Website suggests they take the hassle and the stress out of managing your own website design, maintenance, and hosting. Focuses on providing reliable, trustworthy and professional solutions and look forward to learning more about your small business website needs.
8. Lounge Lizard – Team composed of web site designers, graphic artists, content writers, programmers, and digital marketing experts all dedicated to making your brand successful by producing new leads and customers.
7. Junction Creative – Unlike traditional consulting firms, Junction doesn’t hire a class of new associates and aggressively push them through a training program. Junction believes the most successful strategies are born from the most experienced strategists.
6. Intechnic – When it comes to the success of your website, app or software, the strategy is everything. It’s the foundation for your success. It’s “do or die.” Intechnic. They begin every project with a workshop — crafting a one-of-a-kind, unique strategy that is designed to help you win.
5. Ruckus Marketing – At Ruckus, they work with game-changing brands, inspired companies, and global influencers. Whether you’re just starting out or evolving your brand, Ruckus offers the expertly crafted disruption that’ll take you to the next level.
4. Element 502 – While utilizing content writing, photography and branding combined with graphic designs in web. Therefore Element 502 designs with the purpose for strong communication that is grounded in research and insights. This also creates effective online campaigns and dynamic web designs that deliver success.
3. Southern Web – Since 2005, Southern Web has served as the go-to digital agency for businesses and organizations that want to grow a strong online presence but aren’t sure how to get there. Southern Web is a production house at their core — their team thrives off to-do lists and creative collaboration. They love what we do, and the work we create for their clients reflects that passion.
2. Comrade Web – Comrade Web Agency partners with ambitious startups and small-to-medium sized businesses, helping them excel at what they do best. They’re excited to solve design, technology, and marketing challenges for their clients, often competing with larger companies and at a fraction of their budget.
1. Hook Agency 😉 – What you thought we were going to say anybody else? We are the cream of the crop. Any it’s quite a crop! We believe there are tons of options for getting a new website, so we aim to be the absolute best at customer service, and treating our customers to the best craftsmanship in web design possible!
No matter what you need – it’s all about finding the right small business web design company for your specific needs. Don’t take our word for it – dig into these company’s case studies and design samples and look for one that suits your purposes.
A small business website can make or break that company – whether it supports referral business, or ideally is attracting new business regularly through social media and search engines. A small businesses website design should be it’s “marketing tank”, and the businesses owner or a marketing manager should be able to run its controls – so the company can be nimble with new promotions, work and content regularly.
Thank you for reading “Web Design Basics: Ultimate Guide to Small Business Web Design.” I hope if I can be of service in any way, shape or form – you’ll reach out to me, or comment below! Thank you.