In this guide to website design for small businesses, we provide key insider marketing tips to improve your website along with the tools you need to do so. By using the suggestions outlined in this post, you can craft a fantastic website and boost your brand’s online presence.
Let’s start with a thought exercise to explore why website design matters in the first place.
Before you started reading the first sentence of this blog post, you had already decided if you like this webpage or not. That’s right – in a mere span of 50 milliseconds, your mind had already formed a powerful first impression about the visual appeal of this page. Let’s take a minute and explore the psychology behind this.
Take a few moments and look at this stock photo of an ice cream cone:
Congrats – you just activated a complex and innate organizational system in your brain that we once used to distinguish prey and aggressors. Any visual information, including the ice cream cone you just looked at, is swiftly sent from your visual cortex to other regions of your brain in order to prompt a suitable response from you.
It’s human nature to judge a book by its cover – or a webpage by a momentary visual scan.
The ability to rapidly categorize and process visual information is deeply engrained in our cognitive evolution. Your brain made a snap judgement about the ice cream cone as a non-living, nonthreatening, and perhaps desirable object if you happen to be hungry right now. In the same way, your brain made an instant snap judgement about this webpage the second it loaded.
Our ability to form quick first impressions is a critical reason your website needs to have top-tier visual appeal. You could have the most fantastic, compelling content on your website but if your site lacks visual appeal, visitors won’t make it far enough to appreciate your content. If you want to reach your target consumer, stellar visual communication on your website is essential. If your content is gold it needs to glitter, and that’s where effective website design can help your brand shine.
In today’s digital age a polished, attention-grabbing, and professional website is no longer optional. Your website functions like a storefront – when potential customers “window shop” online, they peruse a multitude of options. You need your website to stand out from the rest, and lure in potential customers to browse through your services and eventually convert into sales.
You can accomplish this with the 3 Key Steps laid out in this Comprehensive Guide to Website Design for Small Businesses.
The first step is choosing a website design tool that best suits your needs. There are many important suggestions for website design for small businesses, which we discuss later in this post. The following website design tools can help you implement those suggestions:
WordPress can be hosted through a third party (Bluehost for example) or hosted on a local server. This platform is considered to be the most versatile out of web building platforms and ranges from free if locally hosted, to $5-$15 dollars per month for professionally hosted. Unfortunately, WordPress suffers from numerous significant security flaws and is also considered one of the most vulnerable web design tools.
Squarespace is a hosting and web design tool company. For $14.99 per month they provide both hosting and an extremely intuitive tool to build sleek looking websites. Additional tiers that include the ability to take payments cost more. We recommend that many beginners who do not need complex websites begin with Squarespace.
Wix is another design/hosting company hybrid. Wix essentially occupies the same place as Squarespace. It is somewhat more technical and difficult to use but makes up for that by being very versatile.
How long do you think the average person spends on a web page?
It may surprise you to hear that the majority of people spend less than 15 seconds on a web page before moving on. So, how do you effectively capture someone’s attention long enough for them to engage with your website in a meaningful way?
Here are 12 research-based methods that can spark interest and encourage a potential customer to interact with your website (hopefully for longer than 15 seconds!):
First and foremost, your website needs to be easy to navigate. If a user has to spend a few minutes trying to figure out how to find your mission, contact information, or list of services, they may get frustrated and move on. It should be immediately obvious on the homepage where these things can be found.
Put your logo at the top left corner of your website on all pages, and set it so that it will lead back to the homepage if it is clicked on. This is a common practice on most webpages, and people know to click on the logo if they want to go back to the homepage. Here’s an example of a homepage with intuitive navigation and logo placement:
To easily create a professional quality logo design in seconds we recommend AI powered Renderforest. Simply type in your company name, tagline and add a description of the logo you want in 1 or 2 sentences. You can choose one of the six available styles, like flat, watercolor, gradient and more. Just wait a few seconds for the AI to do its magic and voila, you have a beautiful professional looking logo in seconds.
Each logo is fully customizable with options to edit the font, colors, size and more. You can download a small file size PNG to preview your new logo for free. If you’d like a higher quality PNG or if you’re going to use your logo commercially it costs just $9.99. If you’d like to pay a little more, Renderforest will create a brand guide, social media package and 20+ logo mockups for $39.99.
This one may seem obvious, but color is worth mentioning as it is extremely important. Color evokes emotion and associations. Blue, for example, is one of the most popular color scheme choice for brands, as it evokes a sense of calmness and trust. However, this isn’t the only thing that matters when choosing your color scheme.
Color associations matter, but choosing a color also involves considering your buyer persona and context – research shows that what truly matters is that you can gauge how consumers will respond to your color scheme. Think about your ideal buyer persona, and choose a color scheme that will appeal to them and will reflect the “feel” of your brand. Employ the same general scheme across all pages on your website to create a similar vibe on each page that represents your brand.
To easily create a perfect color palette for your brand we recommend Coolors. Coolors allows you to explore trending color palettes or use their generator and create your own. Simply hit your space bar to generate millions of aesthetically pleasing color palettes automatically, no design skills needed.
You can also upload a photo and create a perfectly matching palette instantly. Coolors allows you to export your palette for free and copy the correct color codes using HEX, CMYK, RGB and more. The CMYK color model is used in printing and represents: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key, which represents black. RGB is the color model your computer monitor uses and represents the primary colors Red, Green, and Blue. Web developers use HEX codes to represent colors in code. Each HEX code is expressed as a six-digit combination of numbers and letters defined by its mix of red, green and blue.
These terms are useful to know when working with designers, developers, contractors and printers to ensure your designs are in the correct format when produced. For example, when printed, RGB colors will not appear the same as they do on your monitor and may look distorted.
Having a video(s) on your website is a way to increase interest in your company. 87% of video marketers say that videos have increased traffic to their website, and 80% say that videos have increased sales. Video has actually become the most commonly used format in content marketing, surpassing blogs and infographics. But a lot of companies haven’t kept pace with this shift – at this point, it’s almost always necessary to have videos showcasing your brand in addition to your blogs and images.
There are many options for video creation tools in 2020, but we recommend tools in the Adobe Suite. For beginners, we suggest you start with Adobe Spark which is free for 2 months right now. Adobe Spark is available online and lets you easily add photos, video clips, icons, or your own voiceover and soundtrack with slick transitions between.
For those with a little more experience we recommend Adobe Premiere Rush for more customization and graphic options. Use free professional templates right in the app, with hundreds more options on Adobe Stock or Envato Elements. You can change the color, size, font, and more to match your brand and video needs.
Finally, for truly professional quality videos we use Adobe Premiere. Adobe Premiere is the industry standard for videos and supports high resolution video editing, audio mixing and graphics creation you can export in HD and 4k. You can easily import templates from Envato and other sources to create more engaging clips. If you want to learn more about video creation and editing there are many free tutorials online and in the Adobe ecosystem.
It is imperative to use Calls to Action on your website. Examples of Calls to Action include buttons that say “click here for more information”, “download our free form”, “contact us”, etc. An effective Call to Action creates a navigation path on your website to land users where you ultimately want them to be.
In a recent podcast episode, Neil Patel (Digital Marketer and New York Times bestselling author) noted that one of the most important things to have on your website today for search engine optimization is interactive tools. These could be quizzes that users can take to find out which service best fits their needs, for example.
Simply including some interactive tools can boost the quality of website design for small businesses. Consider incorporating some user-friendly interactive tools on your website to enhance SEO and user interest. You can start with a tool such as Typeform to create a quiz for your website. You can then post the quiz across your social media accounts.
This one is especially important – you definitely need to effectively use images and infographics on your website. A well-placed infographic is a powerful way to display statistics that make your company stand out, or simply show your services in an easily understandable way.
Most people would rather look at an image than read a block of text. You can use infographics to quickly get important information about your brand across to potential customers. Additionally, having images boosts your SEO. You can use infographic templates to start. For an affordable monthly cost, we recommend websites such as Envato Elements that offer a wide range of images to choose from without worrying about copyright infringement.
To create beautiful and interactive infographics try Infogram. We find this more intuitive for beginners than data visualization behemoth Tableau. Infogram is a free online tool you can use to make and share interactive digital charts, infographics and maps on social media and your website. Infogram offers an intuitive user interface that can import data from CSV, Excel and more file formats. You can easily customize the colors, fonts, icons and designs of each infographic. Infogram allows you to embed each animated design on your website with a link to your data sources.
Your headlines should clearly answer the question, “Is this what I’m looking for?”. Users are more likely to read the rest of your site if the headline tells them exactly what they will be getting out of it and if they find that useful. Make sure you explain exactly what your company does prominently on the homepage.
For example, our Vale Creative homepage states, “We help SaaS companies grow”. This tells a visitor exactly what we do and what they can get out of our services right off the bat. The same applies for blog posts!
This is a key part of website design for small businesses – you need to create “social proof” on your website. The reviews you choose to display on your site should closely reflect your key services or products, and reinforce the claims you are making about your company.
You can feature a horizontal bar of short testimonials on your homepage that users can scroll through, and/or include a “reviews” or “customer feedback” page on the header of your website that users can navigate to in order to see raving reviews about your company.
Clearly show one thing at a time. While images, videos, and text are all important, don’t overwhelm users with too much content on a single part of a page. If a user feels overwhelmed by clutter on a webpage, they will probably leave. Simple designs that use more white space draw attention to your core message, and don’t risk diverting a user’s attention.
Definitely don’t overlook this one! According to Google, 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing, and 40% will visit a competitor’s site instead. These are some pretty noteworthy statistics! You must ensure your website is optimized for mobile use, or you risk losing a potential customer for life.
In the hunt for the latest trick to boost SEO, generate more traffic and quickly build an audience, we can lose sight of what is arguably the most important item on this list. There’s no algorithm or hack that can craft copywriting that will draw in your target audience. If your website’s writing isn’t excellent, your content will not stand out. We’re always in search of the latest marketing trick in the hope of finding a quick way to boost leads, but the truth is that we should spend more time getting back to basics. The cliche “content is king” is a common phrase in business for a reason.
Your copywriting needs to be better than everything else out there on the same topic.
Really try to get inside the mind of your ideal buyer persona. Think about how they would react to every single sentence on your website. If there’s any fluff, remove it. If you’re unsure if your website’s copy is optimal, take a step back and get a second opinion from coworkers. We recommend taking a close critical look at your current copy. It’s worth it to spend time finding the exact right words to use and closely proofreading your writing. See our blog post on technical content writing for more information about why tech companies today need good writing to succeed.
If you really want to elevate your writing to the next level, consider taking a free writing course through Harvard’s online learning platform edX. They currently offer classes and certifications on business writing.
So – you now have the tools you need to start building a great site or you’re convinced you need to tweak a few things on your current site. What’s next?
How do you know how people are interacting with your website and what’s working?
You might want to conduct some simple A/B testing with different landing pages to optimize your web design. That is – you can test out different pages to see which page is most likely to produce leads.
For example, you can set up one landing page with a call to action worded slightly differently than it is worded on another landing page. Users will randomly land on one of these pages, enabling you to see which wording generates the most clicks. You can test out many simple website changes, and over time achieve a highly optimized site capable of producing the most leads. This is a process that takes time to fully optimize, but it’s worth it for the results. You can use an online tool like Unbounce at a monthly price to do this.
It is important to note that optimizing your website is an ongoing process. Website design for small businesses must be maintained – what works today may not work in 6 months. You should continually monitor the effectiveness of your web pages for engaging potential customers and creating leads.
We recommend conducting a thorough assessment of how users are interacting with your website at least once every 6 months. This enables you to keep up with the competition, maximize your SEO, and appeal to an evolving consumer landscape. Lastly, it is important that your website reflects your branding, company’s identity, other promotional material, and product/service design.
Many people overthink website design for small businesses, but it doesn’t have to be hard! If you use all of the tips in this article, you’ll have an excellent start to a fantastic site. If you’d like an expert assessment of your website, book a free consultation with us – we’d be happy to chat and give you some ideas about website design for small businesses, and discuss how you can create a streamlined marketing approach that highlights your brand and drives revenue.