If you’re planning on starting a business or are already in the midst of running one, it’s probably fair to go out on a limb and say you recognize the importance of building up your brand and reputation online. Making sure your website is on point is one of the most effective ways to build trust with your potential customers. Online users have higher expectations than ever before and often do their fair share of digging around on Google before committing to a purchase. Nowadays, business sites are often tailored around user experience, responsive design, website speed and seamless navigation.
This post will cover the basics of modern web design for small businesses and e-commerce sites that aim to make an impact on their potential customers.
Before getting into the ‘must-haves, you’ll want to establish some key objectives that are going to make the new website a success. By making sure your plan supports higher-level business objectives, you’ll be able to validate your web design and development decisions from the get-go.
Here are a few common goals for business websites within different departments in an organization:
- Marketing – Drive organic traffic, generate leads and retain existing customers.
- Sales – Increase conversions and online sales.
- Operations – Reduce business costs by streamlining internal tasks and workflows.
- Customer Support – Solve customer pain points or automate the customer service process as much as possible.
Planning Phase // Creating a Sitemap
One of the initial steps that might help you visualize the structure and website navigation is to create a sitemap mapping out the various pages you’ll need on your site and where they will live based on the purpose each one serves and it’s importance to your business. (Eg. Signup pages, Contact, About.)
Creating a sitemap in this initial phase can help you manage the overall design process, stay organized during the development phase and give you an idea of what your website might need to look like to make the most sense to the end-user. Taking the time to map out how you want your website to flow also gives you a clear framework to build on going forward. There are tons of free tools that can help you out with this, but one of my personal favourites is FlowMapp.
When considering the visitors to your new site, you might also want to consider using a clickable HTML sitemap somewhere as an alternative option for quick website navigation. It’s also worthwhile to understand the difference between an HTML sitemap and an XML sitemap. You can find out more information on that in this Search Engine Journal article by Eli Schwartz.
You’ll also want to get all of the necessary digital assets in order before you start planning the rest of the site. Be sure you have your desired domain name, colour scheme, access to various logotypes, stock images or product images you might want to use. Being mindful of minor details like these while aligning them with your brand’s identity can help you achieve a better quality result and instill trust with your customers.
Once you have a general framework in place, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty and start building your site. Below you’ll find a list of actionable tips that could give your site the upgrade your clients and customers deserve.
In the early stages of designing your site, it can be easy to get hung up making low-level decisions over things like colours, fonts, icons, etc
One way to bypass this is by taking a systematic approach by implementing a design system. A design system is a set of pre-determined styling rules and constraints to help keep your site’s design clean, consistent and on-brand. Some can get pretty extensive, but you can keep it simple by starting with the main elements like colours, spacing for padding and margin, typography rules, border radius and box shadow.
Taking the time to establish a design system early on will help you maintain consistency throughout your build and give you a quick styling reference throughout the process.
Have a Clear Call to Action
Getting creative with your call-to-action can be a great way to showcase your brand’s personality, just not to the point that your potential customers/leads aren’t sure what to do next. Pages that lack a clear, visible call-to-action might have a bigger challenge converting those users into paying customers. Keeping things clear and concise will help keep things simple and enable your visitors to move on to the next step without confusion.
If you have more than one call-to-action on your site – make sure your visitors are lead to the right place and that the information on that page is consistent with the step before. You’ll also want to check for broken links and spelling/grammatical errors. Here’s a detailed list of solid call to action examples.
Here are a few useful things you can track with Google Analytics:
- Track organic traffic and performance.
- Visitor segments and demographics.
- Create attribution models.
- Measure the value of traffic from Social Media or PPC Ads.
- Track a Mobile Website or App.
- Video Plays.
- Phone Calls.
- Cross-Device Tracking.
- Custom dashboards – (I prefer to use Google Data Studio for this.)
- Remarketing and a lot more.
Add Reviews to the Mix
Customer reviews are no longer limited to Google My Business and Yelp. Many folks appreciate seeing reviews directly on whatever site they’re visiting. Seeing them natively on your site might save them the inconvenience of sifting through external review sites or subreddits in search of a genuine review. Reviews can also offer social proof that your brand and its products are worth the purchase, giving potential customers the confirmation they need to commit.
Use a Modern Framework, Theme or Template
There’s no doubt you’ll want to make sure your site sports a clean, modern design. Having modern design elements throughout your website can help show your customers that you’re keeping up with competitors and promote trust with new customers online who may not be familiar with your company.
If you still aren’t sure where to begin – Start with a piece of actual functionality. Say you’re building an event booking service. You could start with a feature like “searching for upcoming events” or “book an event.”
Responsive // Mobile-Friendly Design
Did you know Google is moving to a Mobile-first Index? A significant amount of our digital activity occurs on a mobile device. It goes without saying that having a responsive site that looks and functions properly on all screen sizes is a priority. Responsive designs are now developing into a mandatory style for all websites, whether or not you’re just starting out. There are plenty of options in terms of themes or templates that offer a responsive design out of the box – But if you don’t have someone in-house with a background in web design or development, it’s worth outsourcing to be sure your site represents your brand professionally.
Site Structure & Hierarchy
Site navigation is a huge part of creating a seamless user experience. You’ll want to make sure your site architecture is organized in a clear and logical way that your visitors can easily understand.
An Effective Contact Page
Every business site should have a place where your customers can reach out to you for support. However, this can also be used as an opportunity to highlight your values or zero in on user experience. Highlighting your priority on customer support or creating a simple and effective way for people to reach you might help establish trust with new visitors.
There’s no doubt that building an email list can move the needle when it comes to driving traffic and generating leads, but some website owners have doubts about how to approach the building of their list when they’re first getting started. Email Marketing remains a direct and personal way to target your potential customers. Try to make the signup process as easy and seamless as possible while providing value to those that sign up.
Prioritize Page Speed & Web Performance
Google also recently made an announcement that page experience signals would be included as a ranking factor – A focus on performance when building your site is definitely a priority.
Maintaining Your Website
Website maintenance is often ignored, but it will help your site stand the test of time. A website isn’t exactly a “set it and forget it” type of asset. Your average business site likely requires regular maintenance and security updates.
Think of your digital presence as the first impression your potential customer will have of your brand, and you want to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
I hope you were able to find something of value to take into your next business website. Need help building a website? Check out my web design services or contact me directly. If you want to know more about me, you can read a bit more about my story here. – Thanks for reading.