What Makes an Excellent Small Business Website?
What are the qualities of an effective website for small businesses? I’ve been asking myself this question every day for the past seven years. Here’s what I know separates the good from the bad:
1. 3 F’s: Form Follows Function.
Look, I’m a designer. I’m all about smart, timeless design. But let’s be real clear about one thing, unless you do what I do, you’re not selling design. You are selling your product or service, so that thing–whatever it may be–should be the most prominent aspect of your website. Don’t shirk on things like product photography or good writing that gets to the point of what you do, especially if you’re a service-based business. Design is important, don’t get me wrong, but the design of your website should compliment your product. Think of it like the lighting on a photo set–it should highlight your subject, it should showcase it in the best possible light, it should not overwhelm or aim to cover up a sub-par product.
2. Information Architecture/Navigation/Delivery.
Before you delve into the web design process, you should get clear about the most important goals of your site. What parts of the site are most important to encourage users to visit? I know I’ve talked about this before, but it’s just so crucial in web design. For us, the most important function of our site is to get clients to see our work–our biggest sales tool. Second to viewing our work, we want to make contacting us super accessible. You should make it easy for users to get to any page of your site from any page–but you can also direct them to high priority content areas with clear calls to action. It’s okay to have multiple links, with a different design or name, to the same place on your site, if it’s where you want users to go. Our homepage, for example, has eight different links to our work and three different links to contact us.
3. Engagement + Voice.
Offer up actions for the user to take. This can be in the form of social media icons that direct them to your profile and/or a newsletter sign up. Encourage users to take some sort of action. The language you use on your site is an opportunity to embed the voice of your brand. From your opening summary to your links, every word you use is an opportunity to communicate who you are. If you’re not clear about your brand or what language to use, work with a copywriter or brand strategist to develop content. This issue is deeply connected to whether or not a brand becomes successful.
4. Updating and Expandability.
Nothing is guaranteed to turn away potential customers like a site that hasn’t been updated since 1997. This is an aspect of web design that should be thought about from the get-go. Starting with a plan is the best way to ensure that plan is followed through on. Ask yourself questions like: How often will I be updating the site? How can I keep it feeling relevant and alive? It’s no secret that the key to marketing is consistency. A website is more like an organism than a monolith that you build once and let sit to do the work for you. It needs to constantly be fed and maintained. In order to create a site that’s easy to update, the notion of expandability in design should also be discussed from the very beginning of the process. I can’t tell you how many clients come to me saying that their site just wasn’t built for growth and that they’re limited by their current design.
1. Splash pages are over. Do not use one. They are bad for SEO. The are also bad because you want visitors to take the fewest steps possible in navigating your site. Splash pages just add another layer to your site.
2. I’m a non-believer in Flash. To me, the second I see a site built with Flash my first response is that this person’s trying to cover up sub-par work with some gimmicky design. Plus, it doesn’t work on mobile devices.
3. Show your best work. Ideally, your site is a medium through with you convince your visitors to contact or buy from you. Often, less is more in the web-world, only show the work that you feel the best about and reflects the kind of work you want more of.