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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, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers 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 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

  • 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, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

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