Building an effective small business website or improving an existing website doesn’t have to be hit or miss. There are useful benchmarks that will tell you how hard your small business website is working for your small business.
How do you define effectiveness? It all comes down to whether your small business website brings in more money than it’s costing you to run it. If so, then it’s a win.
Three main objectives of your website should be:
Visitors stay and engage with your content
Visitors share your content with their network
Visitors leave a bit of themselves on your website through comments or signing up for your newsletter or more information
Your content needs to be high value for relevant visitors to stop and linger on your website.
Other design elements will make it easy and interesting for visitors to engage with that content.
Four Tips on Effective Website Architecture
First, the website architecture or the “bones” underneath the design needs to make it easy for you to update the content for your visitors. Nothing turns off visitors faster than stale content.
The website owner should choose a platform he or she knows or can easily learn to add or edit content without having to pay someone else to do it. If you have to pay someone to do what should be a simple task, it drives up costs quickly.
Second, the website architecture should make it easy to navigate your site intuitively. It should load within two seconds and have a clear site map so visitors can find what they need without explanation.
Third, the platform the site is built on and design elements like typography, color, and overall presentation must work seamlessly across multiple platforms and business types. The site should look the same if your visitor has a MAC or a PC; a laptop or a desktop. These days you also want the site to look great on a mobile phone.
Fourth, elements like color, texture, logos, and typography should be designed with one goal in mind; invite the visitor to stay and engage. Fast moving images, pop-ups, graphic-heavy landing pages all turn the visitor off. You’ve experienced those, no? Don’t you get “turned off” when you encounter these things on other websites? Remember the Golden Rule…
White space is not wasted space
Allow your user to achieve clarity of focus with skillful use of white space – don’t overwhelm them visually. Think Apple.com versus Publisher’s Clearing House. Also see Copyblogger.com for an excellent example of a clean, content-driven website.
Prioritize your website’s calls to action
Before approaching any website design process, you need to know your objectives:
Do you want email inquiries?
Do you want to build an email list to use later?
Are you more focused on “butts in the seats” in your office right now?
If you have more than one objective, take a hard look at prioritizing them. The top priority objective needs to be given the most visual weight in your design, with the others a distant second or third.
Tell people what you want them to do. And tell them often. Don’t shrink back from encouraging readers to become clients/customers.
Redundancy is a GOOD thing
Ever heard the old speakers’ adage, “Tell’em what you’re gonna tell’em, then tell’em, then tell’em what you told’em?” The same is true with website architecture.
Don’t be afraid to feature key links in your top navigation. Then, embed them in your home page text, and if appropriate, repeat them again in the sidebar.
Not everyone “reads” a website the same way – a feature that jumps off the page for one user might be invisible to another.
Flash is SO 2001: Don’t Use Flash On Your Website
Never, EVER use Flash on a website. Why? Because if you do it will not work on an iPad or iPhone. All you’ll see is a black hole. If you want moving parts, there are other non-Flash ways to achieve this. Any designer worth his or her salt knows them.
Website Navigation Should Be Intuitive
How many times have you left a website because it wasn’t easy to figure out what to do next? Don’t do this to your users. Give some thought to the structure and content before jumping into the design.
Choose Readable Web Fonts and Make Them BIG!
Choose readable fonts and make them bigger than you think you should. Bump body text sizes up to 15 or 16. Keep body text simple. Use fonts everyone has on their computer that were designed for the screen. Verdana (sans serif) and Georgia (serif) are good choices.
Website Design: Use Color Well and Sparingly
What color you use doesn’t matter nearly as much as using it WELL. Keep color choices to one main theme and one or two accent colors, used sparingly.
With few exceptions, keep background colors behind content light – reading reverse (white) text on a dark background makes most people see spots.
Keep Web Pages Uncluttered
We’ve all heard “content is king,” but if your website is cluttered and unprofessional, then people will have trust issues from the minute they see your home page. They’ll wonder – is that what your inbox looks like?
Use your home page wisely
Be clear on your main goal for the home page. You’re not trying to make the sale or the contact on the merits of the home page alone.
The purpose of your homepage is to lead people deeper into the site and show them how you can help them. You can do this with links in the content of your home page text, which is designed to grab the reader’s attention and make them want to learn more about you and your business.
Worst title for a Home page ever? “Home,” followed closely by “Welcome to Our Website.” – this is a great place for an eye-catching headline that sums up what you’re about.
Convert your visitors – don’t scare them away
On lead capture forms, don’t ask for info that you don’t really need. Their street address usually isn’t useful for you on the first contact. Asking for too much info causes people to abandon your inquiry form. First name and email address is usually all that’s required.
Really answer questions with the FAQs
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) should be just that – what people really want to know, rather than what you want them to hear. FAQs are not an opportunity for blatant marketing, but rather should serve the reader.
FAQs are wonderful for addressing any potential negative spin or objections (as we call them in marketing parlance). This is another place to reinforce how to get the most out of your small business website. Chris Guillebeau who wrote The $100startup recommends this to everyone.
Know When You Need A Little Help
Start with a simple platform you can manage and that can scale as your business grows. Hiring a professional up front, even with a limited budget will get you off on the right path.
With all the DIY solutions out there – and the ease of using WordPress (note I said ease of use – not ease of building) – it’s easy to feel like a chump if you invest in the services of a professional to help you create an online presence that has the potential to improve your your bottom line longer term.
DIY websites are never truly do-it-yourself. Unless you’re trained, most mortals get stuck when they want to sell something from the site. This often leads to is an embarrassing effort that you’re constantly apologizing for rather than proudly touting on your business cards.
Small business owners are often paralyzed because building an effective small business website seems so daunting. Know what your budget is and then start asking for referrals – as well as horror stories – from other business owners. The Express Launch service Rowboat Media offers is designed to get you up and running quickly, efficiently, professionally, at minimal cost.
If you want to add features in the future, we’ll build you a platform so you can invest in your small business website as the business grows.
Beware the Quickie, Cheap Website
Beware the $250 quickie website – you’ll pay for it in thousands of dollars of headache later. Look for reputable studios that can build you a website – on WordPress – that you can be proud of and keep updated easily.
Again – GET at least three referrals for each web designer you interview.
Most people think once the website is launched, that’s the end of it. It’s not. The real work begins after the site goes live. You will need your web designers to be there for you when you need them.
Follow through with a long term commitment to your small business website success should be non-negotiable as you interview possible web designers.
Anyone can make themselves look good online – but not everyone can have a strong list of thrilled clients.
Hit the Panic/ ASK DAWN button and we’ll get back to you.
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