Here Are Our 31 Tips for Building a Great Business Website
Having a professional, comprehensive website is important for every kind of business. Your website serves as your digital signpost for your business. There are certains standards to adhere to make it stand out from the crowd. The cost of development has really dropped over the years as well. We present our tips for building your best business website. From our many years of experience developing professional ecommerce and display websites, we present 31 of our best tips.
Have a Clear Goal
Every small business website is different because every one serves a different purpose. If you want your first business website to be a portal for people to buy products, you need to build it around that goal. In that case, it will be an ecommerce site built around Shopify or Magento or BigCommerce. If you want it to provide information and entice potential clients to call you, you have to build it with that goal in mind. In that case, it would be built around a CMS. A website without a clear purpose will only cost you time and money while providing little, if any, benefit. To the left, we show an example of the kind of clip art that is in abundance on stock photography sites that should be avoided in favour of shooting your own.
Write Your Own Content
Before getting started with building your first business website, you should decide, at least in basic terms, what you want it to say. According to most digital marketing experts, the website owner should at least start the content creation for their own site. The owner should not trust the creation of copy to web designers. Afterall, they don’t anything about the business. Even if you plan to hire someone to edit or polish it, you know the basic message of your company better than anyone else.
State Your Purpose Clearly and Quickly
You do, however, want to make sure that the written content of your website isn’t too long-winded. Website visitors don’t often spend a lot of time reading through pages of content just to find basic information. They have very short attention spans. So make sure that the important points about your company and its offerings are very clear and easy for visitors to find.
Tell Customers What You Can Do for Them
It can also help to try reading your content as a potential visitor. Step away from your role as CEO, CTO or IT guy and try to think like your customer.
Use Bold Calls to Action
Another way to make your goals very clear to visitors is to utilize calls to action (CTA). Do you want them to sign up for your newsletter? If so, add a form on your main page. Do you want them to shop through your new collection of products? Tell them so. One of the best ways to use CTA is to show a large banner on your landing page with a big bold slogan about your company, and then a big bold button that says “Lets Get Started”. Your CTA should lead to a contact-us button, a shop page, or a product page that really does get them started.
Develop a Page Hierarchy
Almost all business websites include at least a few different pages. You might choose to go with a very simple format, including a home page, about page and contact page. Or you might want different pages for your different services, with a main services page that offers a general overview. That’s something you should decide on, or at least consider, before building or hiring someone to build your site.
If you’re unsure of how you want your first business website to look or how you want your content to read, look around for some websites that you really like. Don’t copy them, of course. But looking for some outside inspiration can help you get an idea of what you want from your new site.
Professional Website > Personal Accomplishment
Small businesses strapped for cash might want to go the DIY route for their first business website. While some have done this successfully, it’s tricky for a new business owner.
We once overheard a another digital marketer say: “I hear it all the time from business owners who tried to build their own websites. They felt so proud and it was such a great learning experience. But the fact is that customers don’t care what a great learning experience it was. They only care that your website looks professional. So even if you worked really hard on it, if it doesn’t look professional it can be detrimental to your business.”
Own Your Domain
We also recommend that all businesses purchase an actual domain name. Some providers offer free ones that come with extensions. But yourbusiness.com tends to be more professional and easy to remember than yourbusiness.wordpress.com. That goes without saying.
Choose a Reliable CMS Application
There are also plenty of different hosting platforms available. We recommend and mainly work with WordPress, which is a great scalable and customizable option. But there are others that you can look into based on the needs for your particular website. There are others out there including Joomla and Drupal, which we don’t recommend due to their complexity and unreliability.
Consider Future Growth
However, if you plan or hope to grow your business quickly, think carefully before choosing a low-cost platform aimed at very small sites. Platforms like Wix and Squarespace can work great for businesses that plan to stay relatively small and use just a few features. But if you ever outgrow them, transferring all of your site content to a new host can be quite difficult if not completely impossible.
Get a Designer You Admire
If you are going to hire someone to create your first business website, choose someone who you think fits the style of your business. One of the best ways to do this is to look at those sites that you admire and see who’s responsible for the design.
Seek Samples and References
Once you have a few names to consider, take a look at their other work and don’t be afraid to ask for references. Keep in mind that designers don’t have complete creative freedom to show off their best work, instead the owner of the website may have opted to change and / or remove any creative elements and could have overruled the designer’s creativity with their own design concepts.
Consider the Project’s Scale
However, even if you’ve found some sites you like, they might not have many elements that would be applicable to your own website project. When looking for examples, you should take into account the scale of the project along with the actual design elements. You don’t want to choose a designer based on their work with huge brands that have hundreds of website pages if your project is very small and basic.
Check Out Pre-Made Themes
Not every brand new business owner will necessarily have the resources to hire a design team. There are plenty of pre-made themes available for purchase, depending on the web host you’ve chosen. So find a theme that fits with your branding and will allow for small edits down the road. If you choose WordPress as your CMS, there are many prebuilt themes out there that are usable right out of the box. Many themes include sample websites that you can start with.
Stay Away from Nulled Themes
We caution against businesses choosing nulled themes for their sites, since they often aren’t as secure as those you purchase. It doesn’t have to be a huge expense, but even a small investment in a good theme can help keep your first business website secure. Nulled Themes are simply cracked or hacked paid themes that are in abundance on file sharing networks.
Add Some Pretty Faces
One of the common elements of many popular small business websites, is a photo of the founder or the team. In fact showing photos of the entire company team can be very helpful. Customers always want to know who they are dealing with. Avoid the temptation to use stock photography or models for your people. Here’s an example of a page-wide photo showing an entire row of people from stock photography. Avoid using stock photos such as this.
Tell a Personal Story
Another way to make people feel more connected to your business through your website is to tell your story. Include a story about yourself or why you created the business in the first place, as long as that reason is something more than just ‘to make money.’ If you started the business to help people or if there was a specific thing that happened that led to your business idea, people love stories like that.
Set Up Easy Contact Us Forms
With very limited exceptions, every business website, no matter the type or size, should include contact information. This can be an email address, phone number, address, social accounts, or all of the above. The more ways you give people to contact you, the more likely they are to feel comfortable reaching out. Include an easy to use contact Us form.
Always Include a Contact Form
When deciding which types of contact information to provide, a contact form should always be included. Sometimes people are looking to get in touch but they don’t have access to their main email program or just can’t click on your email link for whatever reason. A contact form makes it easy for people to send a message no matter where they are or what kind of device they are using.
Keep Design Elements Simple
Whether you’re working with a designer or just choosing a template, don’t go too crazy with different design elements. Stick with a few colors or textures and don’t add too many different fonts or type sizes.
Make Text Easy-to-Read
Since the text of your site is likely what’s providing most of the relevant information to your visitors, it’s important that they can actually read it. Basic typefaces, like those that your designer or theme are likely to suggest, are best for readability. So don’t go changing all of your fonts to fancy lettering just because you think it looks cool.
Add Valuable Images
Visuals like images can also go a long way for adding interest to your first business website. Some ideas for relevant images include team photos, examples of your work, and even relevant stock images. Also include some photos of very good looking people using your product or just looking happy. It’s what everyone else does.
Avoid Cheap Stock Photography
However, an overwhelming amount of stock photography won’t really add anything to your first business website. So if you’re not willing to make a small investment in good images, it might be best to just skip it. If you can’t afford to hire a professional photographer or professional models, or can’t spend the time shooting your own photos or don’t have the right equipment, then it is often better to avoid cheap stock photography, because it is often overused by other websites. Your visitors will recognize it right away, and will know it’s been used elsewhere and is not unique to your business. The photo shown here is just a stock photo of 3 people in business attire sitting around looking at a computer. This kind of photo is widely used on business websites. It may have been used on any number of websites before you got it. It comes in many varieties, including 3 women or 3 men looking at a computer. It is even available styled in different global locales. Anything from European, to Asian to American.
Include Customer Testimonials
Customer testimonials can be another great element of a lot of business sites. If your business is brand new, work on getting some quality testimonials first, rather than just publishing bland, generic recommendations. But even a few text blocks from customers can help build your credibility. On the otherhand, it is well known that many customer testimonials are faked or completely made up. So, if you don’t have any, there is no need to worry.
Scout Good Images
Including images with those testimonials can increase their prevalence on your site even more. But you might have to work on getting the best images possible.
“I’ve found that, for clients that like to include photos with things like testimonials, if they ask clients for photos they tend to be a bit bashful about sending them. But if they just ask if they can use a photo from their LinkedIn page or take one while they’re on a sales call, they’re more likely to go for it. You have to make it really easy for them.”
Add Video Elements When Possible But Don’t Use them on Your Landing Page
You can also add video testimonials or other types of video content to your first business website if it’s relevant to your message and high quality. We recommend loading them onto youtube and embedding them onto your pages. Avoid the temptation to use video elements on a landing page. Many website visitors really hate to land on a page that has a moving background. It looks cool, but really drags down page load times. However, one benefit of a busy animated landing page is that it keeps customers on it longer which will boost your SEO score.
Insist on a Mobile Site
But no matter what type of content you decide to include on your website, make sure that the site itself is responsive or mobile friendly. Having a site that isn’t mobile optimized can drive away customers, hurt your SEO and look unprofessional. The new buzz word in the business is Responsive. It simply means that pages adapt to small screens automatically.
Learn About SEO and Write to Boost Your SEO
SEO is a concept you’ll have to keep in mind throughout the entirety of running your website. Your designer should be able to help with the basics at first. But over time you’ll likely want to educate yourself about some of the concepts so that people can easily find you online. Our advice is to think of the keywords that your customers will use to find your site in so called “organic” searches. Organic simply is the buzz word for searching in the google search box with keywords related to your business or product. For example, someone searching for deals on mortgage loans will search for “mortgage loans”. To move your ranking for these keywords and this organic search upward, you need to use these keywords in your website CMS pages in the descriptions, the title and the text, and you need to keep readers on those pages longer than your competitors. Linger time really helps your score, as google keeps track of the time spent on a page, and uses its implied interest to mean that its relevant somehow. The bottom line is to use those keywords as much as possible and then try to engage your customers to spend more time on your pages. Whether that translates into customer leads or more sales is anyone’s guess.
Learn as You Go
Once your first business website is live, the process is far from over. You’ve made a great first step. But a company’s website is never really complete. Add or change elements as your business grows and changes. Adapt to things like SEO and mobile designs. And always remember to keep your customers’ needs and wants in mind when it comes to your first business website.
Develop Your Website for all of the Major Browsers
Get An SSL Certificate
SSL is simply a layer of encryption between your server and the end users browser. Some browsers such as Chrome and Firefox are starting to put up barriers to prevent users from seeing non-SSL websites. Others such as Internet Explorer and Safari don’t seem to really show any difference. The price of an SSL Certificate can be anything from $0 (yes free) to $300/year depending upon the level of verification. Free SSL can be found by reading our other blog post. We wrote another blog entry on how to install SSL.
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