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Website Design Tips for Small Businesses

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski

Your website's design is often the first impression visitors get of your business. Here's how to make sure it's a good one.

Your website's design is a key component of your online marketing presence. A well-designed website can convey professionalism and ensure repeat customers by making information clear and easy to find. In this article, you'll learn why website design is important, review tips for designing a good business website and see examples from real businesses with excellent website designs.

Why is website design important?

Website design is an incredibly important aspect of marketing your business successfully. Your website is often where you make your first impression on customers and where they will typically go to find information about your business.

"A website works best when it serves both the business and the visitor," said Adriane Galea, founder of The Beach Bum CEO. "For the business, it should have clear calls to action and help convert traffic into customers, leads, clients and so on. For the visitor, it should provide an easy solution to their problem or query."

Here are six reasons why website design is important:

Sets the first impression

When customers land on your website, they will make a judgment within the first few seconds based on your website's look and design, so you should do everything you can to ensure that the first impression is a good one.

If your website is blatantly outdated, unorganized or unappealing, customers will be turned off and will take their business elsewhere.

Improves SEO

Your website design elements will influence your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts by determining how your website is ranked on search engines such as Google. Your website's design affects how and where you publish content on your website, which, in turn, determines how search engines crawl and index your site. Additionally, your code should be SEO-friendly to help ensure your webpages come up in searches.

Sets the tone for customer service

Just as customers will judge your business based on their first impressions of your website, they will also judge the quality of your customer service. If you haven't put careful thought and work into the design of your website, you probably won't put much effort into helping your customers. You want your website to be bright, modern and welcoming, with contact information readily available.

Builds trust

Scams, hackers and misinformation abound on the internet, so a well-designed website is key to conveying that you are a legitimate and trustworthy business. A website with a poor or outdated design will often read as untrustworthy or unsafe to customers, which can cost you business. This is especially vital if you sell products or services on your website, because customers will need to input payment information.

Helps you keep up with competitors

If your competitors have beautifully designed websites and you don't, you stand the chance of losing your customers to them, because they will view your competitors as better, more trustworthy businesses.

Try to make a habit of exploring your competitors' websites and seeing what they're doing versus what you are doing on your own website. Take note of things that look good or work well, and try to integrate them into your own website.

Creates brand consistency

If you're trying to build brand awareness, it's important to have consistent branding across as many channels as possible. Your website is the starting place for much of your business and, as such, should set the tone for your branding. Be sure to have the same fonts, colors, styles and layouts on every page of your website to ensure consistency and let visitors know where they are every time they click.

What makes a good business website?

There are many ways to make a good website and many aspects of a quality design. Here are some key elements to include in your business's website design:

Easy navigation

Most users come to your website with a goal in mind, like finding the price of an item or contacting your customer support, so you want to make it as quick and easy as possible for them to complete that goal. Having a confusing website where users need to click around and search extensively results in frustrated customers who are likely to leave your site for a competitor's. Your navigation should be clear and self-explanatory and include broad headings with related subtopics.

Responsive design

More users than ever are accessing webpages via their smartphones and tablets, so it's important to have a responsive website that works well on whatever device it is being viewed on. A mobile-optimized website adapts to create a positive viewing experience, such as by resizing pages, adjusting menu formats and incorporating dropdown tabs. Search engines also take the mobile layouts of websites into account first when crawling sites, so if you want to appear higher in search engine results, you should ensure your website is mobile-friendly.

Consistent branding

As stated before, having consistent branding across your entire business and website creates a sense of cohesion and professionalism. Your site should have the same website layout, typography and color scheme on every page so that users know where they are and where the information they need is located on each page. Having a designated style guide will also make the process of adding pages or elements to your website quick and easy, since you have a set template of how those pages should look on the website.

Purposeful images

It can be easy to go overboard with adding images and videos to webpages; after all, images and video see more engagement than text alone. However, you should avoid overwhelming your pages with too many unnecessary images. Try to achieve a balance of text and appealing images that fulfill a purpose; don't just include an image for the sake of doing so.

Try placing an image or video after a block of text that illustrates or supports what the text said. This way, you're reiterating your point and engaging your customers without overwhelming them with visuals.

Strong, clear copy

The copy, or the words on the page, is a vital part of any website, since those words convey all of the necessary information to customers. Make sure that your copy is well written and error free and that it clearly conveys your message in an engaging way. Your style guide should include guidelines on how your copy is written to ensure consistency across your website and all branding materials.

"The copy needs to be written with the site's viewers' point of view [in mind] and in language they understand, not the techie speak of the business," said Walt Wise, marketing strategist and business coach at BPI Strategy Group.

Calls to action

A call to action (CTA) is something that directs customers to complete a specific action – for example, a button they click to subscribe to your newsletter. Your CTA buttons should be clear and eye-catching and conform with your branding.

Fast page speed

Page speed is how quickly your website pages load when a customer clicks them. It is a vital part of how customers engage with your site and affects how Google ranks your website. If one of your website's pages takes too long to load, the customer will grow impatient and seek the information on another, faster website. You can use Google's PageSpeed Insights to see how quickly your site loads and identify places where you can improve your page speed.

Business website design tips

Whether you want to improve your website's design or are just starting to build your website, here are eight tips for creating a strong website design:

1. Create a plan.

Your first step when creating or redesigning your website should be to create a detailed plan of what you want to do, how you will do it and how each element of your website will help serve your customers. Map out a customer journey from start to finish to have a good understanding of what your website needs to offer and how you should design each step. For this step, you should have data on who your customers are, what they like, what types of content they respond well to and how they were converted from website visitors to customers.

2. Remove unnecessary elements.

Modern website design is all about being clear, crisp and efficient, so rid your website of anything clunky and unnecessary. This includes things like animations, overly wordy copy, extraneous stock images and too much meaningless jargon and promotional language (e.g., "next-generation," "robust," "innovative").

Customers nowadays have short attention spans and don't want to wade through pages of fluff content to get to what they need, so design your website to be quick and to the point.

3. Include social platform buttons.

Your online presence should be a cohesive unit, with your website serving as the hub. As such, it's helpful to have buttons that link to your social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram) located somewhere on your website – ideally, in a footer that travels with the customer as they click from page to page.

4. Make your homepage scrollable.

Because more people than ever are accessing websites via tablets and mobile devices, having a scrollable homepage means that your website is accessible to more users. Plus, a scrollable homepage is modern and engaging because you can animate elements of your website to pop up or move as the user scrolls down to them. This type of design adds an element of interest without being overpowering or distracting. Be sure to organize your scrollable homepage into sections to make it easy to navigate. Your homepage should include the following sections:

  • Introduction/About Us
  • Overview of Services
  • Products/Product Features
  • Testimonials
  • Case Studies/Success Stories
  • Resources
  • Contact

5. Don't be afraid of white space.

White space is no longer something to avoid. You can use white space (or blank space of any color) thoughtfully to help break up pages and make your content easier to read by prioritizing the most important text. White space can also help you determine where to place other page elements.

6. Optimize it for mobile devices.

According to Google, 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site if they had trouble accessing it, and 40% will leave to go to a competitor's site instead. As such, you should make it a priority to ensure that your website is mobile responsive and looks just as good on smaller screens. Make sure you tailor your mobile sites to respond directly to the needs of your site visitors. Think about why they are accessing your mobile site and what information they're likely looking for, and make it as easy as possible for them to get to that information.

7.  Have an SEO strategy.

SEO is a vital part of any business's online presence and should be considered at every step of creating or redesigning your website. Think about what content is relevant and interesting to your customers, and design your SEO strategy around catering to that content. [Read related article: Small Business Guide to SEO]

8. Make it secure.

Customers are becoming more protective of their personal information, so you should do everything you can to provide them with peace of mind that their information is safe on your site. This means having a current SSL certificate, which is a small data file that binds a cryptographic key to your business and secures credit card transactions, data transfers, logins and browsing. A current SSL certificate is essential because it's what creates the "https" application protocol and padlock symbol in a user's search bar. If your website does not have an "https" application protocol, Google will often flag your website as not secure and direct the customer away.

Examples of awesome business website designs

Here are several examples of well-designed websites to help inspire your own website design:

Apple

Apple has mastered clean, clear, minimalist design, and the company's products and website embody that aesthetic.

"I love Apple's web design and how they get right to the point with a seamless experience for the end user," said Teo Vanyo, CEO of Stealth Agents.

The website is visually engaging and easy to navigate, and it carries a cohesive style throughout every page. There is plenty of blank space that makes the visuals and copy pop and draws your eye to what's important on each page.

Christo NYC

Christo NYC is a New York City-based hair salon with a modern, sleek website that showcases the business and makes it easy to book appointments and learn about the salon's services. Christo NYC incorporates appealing images without overwhelming the page and has a clear brand style.

"I like Christo's website because it immediately leads people to booking, has a good flow of information, establishes credibility with great website copy, and uses a simple and easy design," Galea said.

HelloFresh

HelloFresh is a popular meal kit delivery business. The company's website uses bright colors, punchy copy and a scrollable design. The homepage is highly engaging, with plenty to look at, clear sections and multiple calls to action.

"If you visit their website, you will notice that everything is available from the homepage," said Ryan Scribner, co-owner of personal finance blog Investing Simple. "You can learn about the product, sign up for a subscription plan and even read the FAQ right from the homepage. Most people who visit the site will have their questions answered right on the homepage, meaning they don't have to go digging for information. From a design standpoint, this site is great, too. You find consistent branding, colors and fonts site-wide."

Gotham Greens

Gotham Greens is a greens grower and distributor based in New York City. The company's website also uses a modern, minimalist aesthetic with a scrollable homepage. The website's copy is minimal and direct, and makes it easy for customers to learn what the business does and find what they need.

"It's simple but effective, utilizing a one-page design to present the most relevant information without the user having to do more than scroll," said Jake Hill, CEO of DebtHammer.

Website design tools

There are numerous tools available to help you create the perfect website. Here are some recommended by business owners and marketers:

Wix

Wix offers free, customizable website templates that you can use to create your website pages.

"There are many free resources out there that offer templates that are completely customizable, but one of my favorites is Wix," said Kelly Andersen, marketing director at Wealth Continuum Group. "They have beautiful designs, and it is simple to create a completely customized website that is also optimized for mobile and that will also be able to be found on Google and other search engines."

Figma

Figma is a web-based vector graphics editor and prototyping tool that allows users to design, prototype and collect feedback, all in one tool. It offers collaboration features such as real-time feedback and easy file sharing that allows team members to work together seamlessly.

"We recommend Figma and Sketch," said Paula Glynn, director of search marketing and digital strategy at Pixelstorm. "These tools integrate really well into the web development process, and using these [tools] results in pixel-perfect websites. They are both run by innovative companies who keep the tools and improvements updated regularly."

Canva

Canva is a graphic design platform that can be used to create multiple types of visual content, including graphics for your website. Canva is free, but you can purchase a paid subscription for increased functionality.

"Canva is, hands down, the best resource for easily creating professional-looking graphics, logos and more, and can also be a huge help in creating content for social media," Galea said.

Elementor

Elementor is a software company that allows users of the website builder WordPress to create and edit their websites using a drag-and-drop builder. The software features a built-in responsive mode and can help you speed up your website, drive traffic, and create professional-looking webpages.

"I love Elementor. It's a drag-and-drop website design tool, and you don't need to have any website design experience to use it," said Julian Goldie, who runs an SEO link-building business. "What would normally take you hours to code (or a lot of money in website design staff) can easily be achieved in minutes with Elementor."

Hotjar

Hotjar is a behavior analytics tool that analyzes website use and provides feedback in the form of heat maps, session recordings and surveys to help you determine which parts of your website are performing well and which require attention.

"A heat map, like Hotjar or Crazy Egg, allows a webmaster to install a snippet of code on their site," said Ben McLaughlan, founder and owner of Easy Mode Media. "The app then records valuable information about audience interaction with the website. If there is a section of the page that people click away from or a button that never gets clicked, this is important information when optimizing a website and landing page for conversions."

Image Credit: milindri / Getty Images
Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski,
business.com Writer
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Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and now writes on small business, social media, and marketing. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.