Posted: Tue 28th Feb 2023
When you're building a small business website, it's important to make sure customers can get the information they need and take the actions you want. Websites are a crucial checkpoint whether or not you have a bricks-and-mortar location.
In this blog, Jamie Hewitt, founder of WordPress agency Rocketship WP, helps us understand the principles behind good website design and the different approaches to creating a website for a small business.
Should I use a self-hosted solution or website builder?
A number of tools like GoDaddy's website builder Squarespace, Wix and BigCommerce allow you to create professional looking websites online. These normally offer free trials but have a monthly subscription fee.
The alternative is to buy web hosting and create a self-hosted site. This provides more flexibility but normally requires higher investment. Developers are often needed to create the site and set up hosting.
"The pros of self-hosted website solutions like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are that they can potentially achieve greater speeds. WordPress in particular has better native SEO capabilities and more versatility in design and functionality.
"If you're not technically minded, using a website builder and the templates that come with them is a good way to get started."
How can templates help create my small business website?
Templates are available for self-hosted websites and builders providing inspiration and helping shortcut the website building process. For example, envatomarket offer designs that work with WordPress and includes user comments and ratings.
"When people start building a website, they often don't have a good idea of what they want or have problems visualising the end result. Templates can help solve this problem, provided you work with the design and don't decide to change large parts of it."
There are lots of free templates available. But unless they're bundled with a website builder, it's generally a good idea to pay for your template for a self-hosted site. However, even a small budget can make a big difference in terms of how professional sites look and the features that are available.
Check out user reviews and comments, and pick a template that's updated regularly and has a high number of downloads to make sure you get the best solution as not all templates are created equal. Whether or not you end up going the template route, it can be worth browsing these sites to get ideas.
Should I build my small business website myself or pay a developer?
There are four main things to consider if you're thinking about whether to use a web developer to build your site, according to Jamie:
How complex the functionality is
The number of pages you need
What stage your business is at
"If your business is new, you have the spare time and all you need is a marketing brochure style website, try and build it yourself. The basic five-page structure tends to include a home page, an "about us" page, a services list, a news page and a contact form.
"However, once you start straying into e-commerce, or if you're a mature business, you might want to bring in a professional to help you."
What's a user journey and how do I plan one?
A user journey is a series of steps a website visitor takes to achieve something on your site. It's really helpful to plan what you want users to do on the site, which can influence your choice of platform, layout and more.
Think about your users' goals, what's motivated them to visit the site, and their character. It can be helpful to sketch this out in a notepad before you try to record a digital version.
Jamie has some insights here:
"The easiest way for business owners to plan the user journey is to concentrate on the ultimate conversion goal you want them to take on your site. Once you know what it is, brainstorm all the ways you can encourage the website user to that conversion goal."
Think of the different points in the buying cycle that people will be in. Some might be ready to buy immediately, but others will need to know more about your product or perhaps read testimonials to build trust.
Service-based companies like builders or consultants will want to capture a lead either by including a call to action to phone straight away or capturing details for a callback, for example. Including a phone number in the header of every page will encourage people to call and builds trust.
"Don't just think about your phone number. Consider other options. Would live chat also be helpful in enabling your customer to get a quick response? Or is a multi-part contact form a better choice?"
How can I make sure my website looks professional?
Good website design helps build trust and makes sure visitors take the actions you want them to. Jamie has a series of tips for people thinking about how to make their site look more professional.
Only use two fonts, one for your content and one for headings. The heading font should reflect your brand (if your product is an upmarket one, you could use something like Playfair Display). FontPair can help you pick a pairing.
Let the page breathe by leaving white space. There should be a minimum of 30px (pixels) of padding between different elements.
Trust marks are incredibly important. It isn't just about testimonials. Icons such as membership of a professional organisation, full contact information (including company number and VAT number) and the site's SSL certificate help too.
Pick three colours: White, light/dark grey and an accent colour.
Remember to optimise images for speed. Resize effectively and try using an image compression service like Optimizilla.
What can I do to make sure people find my website?
Getting to the top of Google's rankings for search terms related to your business takes time. That said, there are a number of design considerations that will help you get off to a good start.
Picking a domain with authority like a .com or .co.uk and including a single keyword like 'florist' in the site name helps with search engine optimisation (SEO).
"You also need to make sure your website is registered with each search engine and that it has an XML sitemap to ensure it can be indexed effectively. Finally, also think about what off-page SEO you can be doing.
"For example, making sure you're featured in good-quality free directory listings and guest posting on other people's websites."