How to Create an Effective Small Business Website
More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and these entities create about two out of every three jobs in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Most of today’s small businesses couldn’t survive without a website. An effective site can significantly broaden your geographic reach and showcase what differentiates you. Below are some tips to improve the effectiveness of your small business website to maximize its full potential — without breaking the bank.
Freshen It Up
When was the last time your website had a facelift? It’s often the first impression about your company that your customers receive, and site designs have changed significantly over the last decade. If you don’t have the budget to retain an outside designer, consider downloading an inexpensive, modern-looking website template. Just like a brick-and-mortar store, your website design should be clean, organized, inviting and safe.
Start the process by visiting the websites of your competitors, especially large ones with substantial marketing budgets. You’ll notice that most updated sites are sleek and minimalist. They use a lot of white space, limit text and supplement with professional-looking photos. The top sites also download quickly and render well on all mobile devices and on all browsers.
Additionally, it’s important for visitors to feel secure on a website. Many companies monitor customers’ online searches and then use the data to tailor ads to their real-time wants and needs. Some customers may feel violated if you track their usage and later send them targeted ads based on their search histories.
If your company accepts payments online, it’s imperative to take security measures to prevent hackers from stealing customers’ personal and financial data. An information technology professional can help evaluate your site for potential vulnerabilities and suggest ways to enhance cybersecurity.
If you use seasonal material to refresh your site — such as a restaurant that offers a holiday or seasonal menu, a manufacturer with a salute to veterans on Memorial Day, or an accounting firm with a countdown to Tax Day — update it in a timely manner. Keep you website content fresh and do not display expired coupons or biographies from people who’ve left the company.
Keep It Simple
When redesigning your website, focus on the big picture: What’s the purpose of your site? The answer will guide the layout of your home page. You do not want visitors to just look around your website, but to engage and interact with you. Typical “calls to action” include:
“Shop here.” Many companies use the Internet as a distribution channel. If your website primarily serves as a means of selling products, display images of the newest and most popular products directly on your home page and provide a search function that allows customers to enter product names or codes. Your site can provide supplementary pages with the biographies of company’s owners or mission statement, but the home page should focus simply on e-commerce.
“Research our products and services.” Other companies use their websites to help customers research products or services before they speak with sales representatives. For example, an auto dealer’s home page might provide a link to its new and used vehicle inventory listing to help customers know which makes, models and colors are currently available before visiting the physical showroom — or customers might want to research special finance offers or vehicle specs, such as fuel efficiency, horsepower or safety ratings.
Likewise, professional service providers, such as medical practices or creative agencies, typically use their websites to demonstrate their abilities or expertise, and provide listings and descriptions of their services. Their home pages might offer samples of their work, white papers on technical issues, and customer testimonials. In addition, many service providers encourage site visitors to complete online lead sheets, which are forwarded to a sales manager or marketing director for follow-up.
“Sign up for our email list.” Most people who visit your website have a direct interest in whatever your business is selling. If you can convince them to sign up for your email list, you can “push” marketing ads, coupon offers and other relevant information to these customers in the future.
You can easily insert a registration form on your home page or you can ask customers to sign up in exchange for a free shipping coupon or a white paper download.
Put Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes
When evaluating the effectiveness of your website, pretend to be a visitor in search of a specific piece of information. Examples include hours of operation, the price of a specific product, job openings, or the owner’s biography. Then track how many “clicks” are required to find that information. As a general rule of thumb, try to keep the number of required clicks to three or fewer.
Often, visitors are just looking for contact information, such as your location, email address or phone number. Make this information available in the header or footer of each page, where people would expect to find it, rather than only on a separate “contact us” page.
Remember that your online presence extends beyond your website. While you’re pretending to be a customer, enter your company’s name in a search engine and review the results. You might find inaccurate information on a trade association website or an unfavorable review on a site such as “Yelp” that warrants your attention.
Effective website design isn’t something you do once and forget about. Companies that stay on the cutting edge of website design trends, functionality and security are able to adapt quickly to market opportunities.