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Website design tips
9 min read

28 website design tips for small business owners

An engaging, user-friendly, well optimised website can have a big impact on how much revenue you generate for your business. Your website is the backbone of your brand﹣it not only enables transactions and encourages enquiries, but it increases your business’s credibility. It’s the place where you provide more information, where you engage with your customers. It’s your most important digital asset that ranks in search engine results. 

As you can guess, creating a website for your small business requires smart thinking in some key areas, even before the initial design phase has commenced. With this in mind, here are some website design tips to keep in mind.

 

Before you begin

1. Define your goals. Make sure you know what you want your website to do for your business. Sell more products? Build a stronger community around your brand? Encourage more enquiries? Engage with your customers better? Book a free trial? Download resources? Attend an event? It doesn’t have to be just one goal. Define your website goals at the beginning so you can prioritise website content, features and capabilities that will help you reach them.

2. Really understand your target audience. As you are starting to define your brand, you need to know who you are trying to attract. Not all audiences have the same interests. Understand what drives your audience to action if you are going to create a website that appeals to them. Brainstorm their pain points and see how your website can quickly address them.

Branding and design

3. Be consistent with your brand guidelines. Identity is everything when it comes to building trust and awareness around your brand. Ensuring your website adheres to your brand guidelines helps provide a seamless transition for customers across both your online and offline assets. Logo, brand colours, fonts, characteristics that define your visuals and voice﹣this consistency will help define your brand in what can commonly feel like a ‘noisy’ digital landscape for customers.

4. Prioritise user experience. Your website is your ‘shop window’ online﹣particularly your homepage. It needs to not only look appealing, but provide a quality user experience. Most visitors to your website aren’t willing to spend time trying to work out what your company offers, and how they complete their intended goal e.g. find information, purchase a product, book an appointment, get in touch. Think about what your target audience is likely to be looking for and build this into the design and features of your website.

5. Smart structure. Your navigation bar is a key website feature that helps communicate what your business offers. It allows you the opportunity to prioritise the content you want visitors to read. It also enables you to take your visitor on a journey, from the most important pages at the top-left of the navigation menu to the lesser important pages at the top-right. The structure of your website will speak just as loudly about your business as its branding will.

6. Strong calls to action. Providing easy navigation isn’t just about a clear navigation bar, but clear calls to action on your key landing pages. Don’t hide them in bodies of text﹣give them their own area, make them stand out with an eye-catching design, don’t be shy to highlight what you’d like site visitors to do. Many will appreciate the steer-!

7. Keep it simple.Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”﹣Steve Jobs. It’s always tempting to throw everything into your website﹣information, images, videos, calls to action, social sharing buttons, carousels, a blog…! The most effective websites are the ones that keep their design and calls to action clean and simple. Not only is it less overwhelming (especially to those viewing a lot of content on a mobile device), but it encourages site visitors to get in touch for more information. If you have a lot of essential information that needs to go on your website, consider design features such as drop-drop and accordion menus.

Content

8. Cater for shorter attention spans. How your webpages are structured, how your text reads and how it speaks to potential customers is the essence of a great website. Web copy is structured very differently from print. Readers tend to scan a page and have a shorter attention span, so make sure to take this into account when planning the design and content of your webpages.

9. Provide valuable content. Build your brand’s authority on a subject by providing insightful and knowledgeable content that your target audience will find useful and potentially share with others online. Focusing on this type of content adheres to Google’s E-A-T standards: Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. This is a main factor that sets apart a high quality search result from a low quality one.

10. Get to the point quickly. If visitors have reached your site by typing a query into Google, chances are they have a question. Make sure you provide the answers quickly and clearly. Keyword research will help steer your content strategy.

11. Consider a blog. For many businesses, a blog on their website is an area they can be more conversational﹣a space to show more of a behind-the-scenes look into their company to appear more friendly and approachable. Others use it as an area to showcase more in-depth opinion pieces on matters affecting their customers and / or industry. Some combine the two! If you have the in-house knowledge then a blog is a great place to show expertise without overwhelming your key landing pages. If you’re unable to commit the time to a blog currently, consider building a website that has a blog feature that you can send live once you’re in a position to commit time to it.

12. Showcase reviews and testimonials. Consider placing a couple of reviews right on your homepage. If you have reviews for specific items, publish them on each product page including eye-catching star ratings. You can even add an entirely new page dedicated to housing glowing testimonials with a link in your top navigation bar. Ensure you feature them on your site in a way that works best with your offering.

13. Explore website feature options. Does your company rely on powerful imagery / videos to showcase and sell products / services? Does it offer a number of useful resources that users can download? Does your company get a lot of enquiries over the phone? Think about how website features can cater for these factors. Can you ensure your homepage allows space for large, engaging imagery, above the fold? Can you design eye-catching ‘download here’ buttons? Could you offer a chatbot to take the pressure off your phone lines? All of this needs to be considered as part of the planning stage of your website’s design and build.

Technical performance

If your website’s technical performance is poor, you’re not only going to frustrate site visitors, but it could affect your website’s performance in search results.Your website’s performance can fluctuate depending on any number of factors, which is why it is important to keep a close eye on your website’s performance metrics. These metrics offer extremely useful insights into how your website is doing, and any improvements that need making. Google Analytics is your best friend in this scenario, as it provides statistics and basic analytical tools for search engine optimisation (SEO) and marketing purposes.

Here are a few examples of what to consider pre-website build, as well as what to keep an eye on moving forward.

14. Ensure your website is responsive. Your website must be able to adapt to whichever device your potential customer is using. This improves your customer’s experience of your website, helping to encourage engagement and lower bounce rate. Google also prioritises these sites in search results, so if you want to stay competitive, you need a responsive website.

15. Avoid a high bounce rate. This refers to people who are ‘bouncing’ away from your site without thoroughly searching through it. It can also be defined as a single page visit to your site, with users failing to interact elsewhere. A high bounce rate could mean there are some issues with your website, such as your homepage is perhaps missing the mark, your marketing messages need reviewing, your site is taking too long to load or you’re targeting the wrong keywords as part of your SEO and PPC strategy. Monitoring this metric can help you nip any major engagement issues with your site in the bud.

16. Keep a close eye on your conversion rate. This looks at how many unique visitors end up converting into customers. Factors that can impact a conversion include overall user experience, attracting the right sort of traffic to your website, clear calls to action, fast load speed, and many more! Keep monitoring your conversion rate, make tweaks based on your data, give them time to bed in then review the results. Improving your conversion rate should be an ongoing project as part of your business strategy. There’s always room for improvement!

17. Set time aside to regularly review your Google Analytics. Let’s face it – there’s a lot of technical jargon out there that can feel overwhelming for those who aren’t trained in data analysis and are also trying to run the other areas of their business. Is there an employee who is capable and keen to take on additional responsibilities, which you can transfer ownership to in monitoring your website analytics each week, and reporting back? Or is there a freelance specialist or agency that could take on the management of your Google Analytics as well as your website development to ensure it’s running at its optimum, to encourage optimum results? (Read our guide: Google Analytics for small businesses.)

18. Highlight your reviews with some technical tweaks. If you have reviews on your site, ask your web developer to look into Schema.org Review type – adding this to your website encourages Google and other search engines to add your review/s as rich snippets within search results (and even the Google Knowledge Panel).

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

SEO is crucial because it makes your website more visible, and that means more traffic and more opportunities to convert prospects into customers. In all honesty, if you don’t consider SEO when building and maintaining your website, it’s almost pointless having one!

According to Safari Digital, approximately 61% of marketers believe that SEO is the key to online success, which is why modern businesses allocate an average of 41% of their marketing budget to it. Taking the time to outline a proper SEO strategy can revolutionise not just your online traffic, but your business as a whole.

19. When building your website, it’s essential to keep SEO best practices in mind. A great place to start is Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which outline recommendations such as:

  • How to help Google find your pages g. providing a sitemap file, ensuring all pages on your site can be reached by a link from another findable page, using the robots.txt file, etc.
  • How to ensure Google understands your pagesg. creating a useful, information-rich site, thinking about the keywords users would type to find your pages and making sure that your site includes those words within it, ensuring that your <title> elements and alt attributes are descriptive, designing your site to have a clear conceptual page hierarchy, etc.
  • How to help visitors use your pages g. using text instead of images to display important names, content, or links, ensuring all links go to live web pages, optimising your page loading times, designing your site for all device types and sizes, etc.

20. Keep up-to-speed with Google’s quality guidelines. Here are the basic principles:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines
  • Don’t deceive your users
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

21. Positive SEO is also about avoiding negative SEO! Avoid:

22. Spend time on your SEO landing pages. A landing page focuses on targeted keywords you hope to rank for and always includes a call to action. It is typically part of a larger inbound marketing campaign, where the goal is to increase your share of total search traffic within your industry. Effective landing pages funnel the user in a streamlined fashion towards a conversion event.

23. Let your keyword strategy guide your content. A solid keyword strategy forms the basis of a successful landing page. Select long-tail keywords strategically, focusing on search intent. Use keywords in the content naturally and logically, and remember to write for human readers, not bots. Search engine algorithms recognise and penalise keyword stuffing, so avoid this at all costs.

24. Use secondary and semantic keywords to add further context. Help Google understand what your landing page is about. Semantic keywords are phrases you don’t want to specifically rank, but that will support your primary keyword/s, helping to clarify the search intent you’re targeting.

25. Structure your landing pages to help search engine bots read, analyse and rank your content correctly. This includes optimised title tags, alt tags, meta descriptions, headings, internal links as well as images and videos. SEMrush goes into more detail here.

26. Build quality backlinks. These are links from other platforms to your website. The better quality these links are e.g. from respected, authoritative sources, the bigger the boost your landing page will receive in search. A popular technique to encourage backlinks is to create quality, shareable content﹣from engaging videos to infographics, survey statistics to whitepapers. You can also generate organic backlinks by publishing content on social media or content sharing platforms. Ensure your activity abides by Google best practice.

27. Select a content management system (CMS) that is SEO-friendly. A HTML5 or WordPress site gives you more control over factors critical to SEO and offers plugins to make your SEO efforts more effective. While automatic website builders are easier to use, they don’t give you 100% access to your website’s backend, which can limit your SEO activity. Make sure to do your research in this area before picking a platform.

For more information on SEO and also PPC, read our guide: search engine marketing for small businesses

And a final tip…

28. Make sure you can easily update your website. There’s nothing worse than using a specialist to build you a website, only to find you need a hefty manual to work out how to make any changes to it down the line. Whether you decide to use a specialist/agency to build your website, or look at DIY routes, ensure the platform you opt for is user-friendly behind-the-scenes, and that it has potential to be further developed should you wish to make changes to it in the future﹣whether it’s technical SEO tweaks, adding a blog, adding code that assists with your analytics further or shaking up the design if your data is showing that your user experience needs improvement.

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