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Web Design Basics: Ultimate Guide to Small Business Web Design

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Updated June 10, 2019
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Small Business Web Design

Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, and strategic marketer focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses and construction companies.

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.

Web Design Basics Guide - Small Business Web Design Tips

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.

Web Design Basics - Ultimate guide to small business web design

Three Biggest Keys to Small Business Web Design

  • Clean Visual Heirarchy: Make sure that you know who it’s for, and are clearly and cleanly (i.e. white space and not cramming things in) laying out the benefits visually, helping them imagine themselves working with the company or purchasing the products and benefiting.
  • Many Trust Factors: Showcase social proof like testimonials/reviews, awards, credentials, and any thing else that will help people trust you quickly. These items should be visual (not just a list) and prominent on the site on every page in key areas.
  • Clear call-to-actions: Don’t be shy! Tell them what you want them to do. On the header menu of the site, homepage right when you land on the site, and above the footer / end of the page – make it visual, make it clear it’s a button, and surround your call-to-action’s with compelling photography, trust factors, and persuasive language.

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 companies 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

  • The design should be super customer-centric, but the way the site moves into development can negatively affect the look and feel of the site. The dev side of this – is outside the bounds of what this guide is intended to solve, but it should be done professionally, and with respect for the ultimate goal of the site. (We suggest WordPress for small business web development.) The important parts here are that the developer knows how to use HTML, CSS, and Javascript to make the site look like the mockup, and knows how to make sure the site is easily editable in whatever website platform you use.
  • 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.

In Conclusion

A small businesses 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 it’s 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.

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Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, and strategic marketer focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses and construction companies.

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Dan Corrigan
Dan Corrigan
18:43 19 Jun 19
I am a small business owner who was referred to Hook Agency to develop my website, promoting and advertising my business. The first time I spoke with Tim I knew his company would be a good fit for my business. The entire Hook Agency team was very responsive, acommodating, patient, and easy to work with. They made the whole process productive and stress-free. I recommend their services to anyone starting a business or for those who simply would like the best agency supporting their business.read more
Jen Wright
Jen Wright
19:48 06 Jun 19
Truly honest and caring people - I reached out to Hook Agency to schedule a consult with them, and I received a call from Tracy Kelly the same day. He was personable, kind, and took the time to explain what I was looking for wasn't a fit for their agency, but went completely above and beyond to talk to 2 other businesses to see if they would be interested in working on the project I have in mind, and then sent me a follow up email with their contact information. I am so impressed with the Tracy and his honesty and integrity. If you're worried that someone is going to sell you on services you don't need - you can expect a breathe of fresh air with Tracy and Hook Agency.read more
David Keinert
David Keinert
13:17 04 Jun 19
I was looking for agencies because we wanted to create a new website and blog. Hook was one of our top choices, but admittedly, I was nervous based on the fact they had not done work in my industry before. Fast forward to a year later, and I couldn't be happier. The team at Hook is responsive, resourceful, creative, and fun to work with. We have great content on our blog, and website continues to grow each month. I'm "Hook"ed!read more
Ryan Hanson
Ryan Hanson
03:10 24 May 19
We have nothing but great things to say about the Hook Agency. Their website work, and subsequent SEO, blog writing, and social media expertise have done wonders for our lead pipeline. We would recommend them to anyone looking for a competent and professional digital marketing team. We already have them contracted to do another project!read more
Jesse Hoekstra
Jesse Hoekstra
20:17 15 May 19
Great company to do some SEO work with and also a great help on the website building. They have quick response to questions, updates, and last minute changes.
Greg Toler
Greg Toler
17:07 15 May 19
Tim and the entire Hook Agency team has been the exact partner my company needed for all things web design, SEO, and even digital marketing strategy. Was hesitant at first with the complexity of my industry, but they have far exceeded expectations with research and content development. Our SEO position and inbound leads were almost nonexistent. Within three months our website authority and position had drastically increased, and we were consistently receiving organic leads. Now we have closed our first inbound lead as an organization and are transitioning to let Hook manage our PPC. As a small business, Tim has been helped us get the best bang for our buck while getting to know our company and process to help achieve our goals. We have used several large and small SEO companies in the past, but Hook Agency's management has provided the first measurable difference and growth. Would highly recommend!read more
Josie Franske
Josie Franske
16:11 22 Apr 19
We considered several web-design firms before selecting Hook Agency to redesign a large portion of our company site, and we're incredibly happy with the results. Not only was the team able to create exactly what we wanted, they've come up with some great compromises between keeping our brand voice and SEO writing, providing solutions that I'm confident no other firm would be able to dream up. It's been a very collaborative process and we're seeing great outcomes. They've also provided technical support on some small web issues, which takes major headaches off our plates as a small business without a full-time IT department. We absolutely recommend them!read more
Karine Woodman
Karine Woodman
02:50 21 Apr 19
We absolutely love our website. Hook Agency was very professional and provided us with a website that exceeded our expectations. We've also continued with their SEO services.
Jamie Rykyto
Jamie Rykyto
23:18 21 Jan 19
Very impressed! Long story short, our company website that was hosted elsewhere somehow lost data and went down. When the hosting company failed to do anything about it Hook Agency didn’t hesitate to help. They went above and beyond to get us back up and running. They made us feel confident and comfortable with what they were doing and explained everything each step of the way. I would definitely recommend them!read more
Maygen Lacey
Maygen Lacey
16:16 09 Jan 19
Super impressed with Tim. I had no idea how to find a web developer in my budget. Even though he was well out of my price range, he still very kindly took the time to suggest a few options and and walked me through how pro web developers operate. Class act! Thank you!!
Gibbous Wolf
Gibbous Wolf
19:53 31 Oct 18
Hook Agency came up with highly creative SEO solutions to my growing website. Their process was very insightful and they explained everything in an intelligent way without making me feel talked down to. I would recommend Hook Agency for anyone's SEO needs in Minneapolis.
Casey Palmer
Casey Palmer
18:49 16 Oct 18
Such a good website creator! So creative, responsive and helpful. Great team!!!
Robbin Julien
Robbin Julien
00:29 18 Sep 18
HOOK made the complex topic of SEO far less intimidating. They were patient and understanding with our learning curve. They worked "with" us, educating us as to where the opportunities were. They identified what "they" could do for us and even more valuable, what "we" could and should be doing for ourselves. HOOK and their style of full transparency, had us feeling comfortable immediately and ultimately feeling like we had a trusted partner working for our best interests. We look forward to our future collaboration and success!read more
Andrew Alshouse
Andrew Alshouse
17:24 10 Aug 18
Hook Agency has been a great resource for our small business. From creating our initial site to making updates as we grow, Hook has always been easy to work with. And they are quick with bug fixes which I really appreciate!
Reed Leidle
Reed Leidle
17:07 27 Jul 18
Amazing! Seriously, first class customer service and good people!!! Talk about going above & beyond... couldn't ask for a better experience.
Mark Graham
Mark Graham
18:45 16 Jul 18
Finding a website design company that is highly creative, technically competent , fundamentally sound, well organized, willing to listen and committed to service is unique indeed. We found exactly that at Hook Agency.
Eric Pfeffer
Eric Pfeffer
21:10 05 Jul 18
Without even paying a dime, Tim looked at my google analytics account and my google console account and gave invaluable free advice. Although his services were not a good fit for my needs at this point, I would highly recommend his services for SEO and high raking on google searches. Hook Agency is the way to go!read more
Craig Pladson
Craig Pladson
13:40 25 Jun 18
Tim and his team were collaborative, responsive, fast and delivered quality work on a tight timeline. The Wordpress pages they built are easy to update, mobile friendly and we plan on using the template they built for landing pages down the road. Tim also provided insightful guidance on SEO and lead generation best practices along the way.read more
Anna Overly
Anna Overly
17:28 17 May 18
When I began searching for an SEO agency last year, I received a lot of generic proposals from SEO agencies who wanted our money but didn't show any dedication to learning our niche industry. Tim, on the other hand, came to the table armed with a list of keywords to go after, goals to reach, a knowledge of what our competitors were doing, and an eagerness to understand our industry. Since then, Tim has shown a deep commitment to our success and has gone above and beyond to make sure we reach the goals we set. In the last year, our company has experienced a 30.8% increase in conversions from organic search (3mos/3mos) and a 135.06% increase in page views from organic search (3mos/3mos). The conversation has shifted from "let's get more leads" to "we need to hire more employees to handle all this new business." Tim has been incredible to work with, and I'd recommend him highly to anyone looking to hire an SEO specialist.read more
Sarah Lietz
Sarah Lietz
15:19 21 Feb 18
Tim has always been super responsive, creative in design, and helping us long after he should! Highly recommend!
Patrick Lorence
Patrick Lorence
15:52 20 Sep 17
“My company launched our completely revamped website and couldn't be happier with the way the site turned out, and our experience with Tim B Design. They took our old website with outdated graphics, poor sales results and transformed it into a modern, incredibly attractive and sales thriving site. In 6 short months we have seen a 300% increase in sales by online traffic, a greater return than we had ever imagined. Our product keywords are up over 350% and our website can easily be found on top of any major search engine. When we met with them to discuss the project, we were immediately impressed with how easy they were to communicate with—just real, down to earth, believable people that don't talk over your head with tech jargon. They listened and spent ample time understanding our products and message to make sure the site layout was exactly what we wanted.These days, I feel that people get to know your business through your website before they even walk through your door so it better be a good first impression. Our site brings in new clients every single day. The best part is that my website is so easy to use, I am able to edit content whenever I need to. It’s become such a great tool for my business. I am so in love with my branding, I receive compliments everyday. The Tim B Design team is amazing. They are creative, quick and so much fun to work with, I highly recommend them to any business.”Brad LorenceOwner, Banksystems Marketing Incread more
Niles Deneen
Niles Deneen
19:44 03 Aug 17
Awesome - we are seeing great improvement in our traffic and engagement. It's a pleasure working with Tim he is such a gifted guru of seo and digital marketing.
Josh Carlson
Josh Carlson
14:44 11 Jul 17
Tim B Design is exceptional to work with! He and his team have a great attitude, they've shown excitement in helping my business, and they are go getters! When I first contacted Tim on his website he responded to me almost immediately which was great. After our first face to face meeting I knew I wanted to work with him. I agreed to have them design my logo and build my website. In the process of doing that Tim thoroughly educated me on the importance of SEO which I knew very little about. There was absolutely no pressure to purchase anything while he was educating me but I decided to enter in an agreement for that too. Shortly after starting SEO they had availability to take over my social media accounts and I jumped at that opportunity. I put my full trust in them and they are doing great with all of it. Because of their work I've already seen growth in the number of sales leads generated by my website which is terrific! If you need help with any of these areas you need to contact Tim B design. Thank you Tim and Bea!read more
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