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We all know the reasons why small businesses need a website.
- Drive traffic and engage visitors
- Convert visitors into customers
- Educate, inform and assure customers and visitors
- Provide convenience and in-depth information
In the physical world
When a person drives up to your place of business it’s your building, your signage, your staff and the services you offer that creates the FIRST IMPRESSION.
On the Internet it’s your website that makes a FIRST IMPRESSION to your visitors. Your website represents WHO you are, WHAT your business is and WHAT your business has to offer.
When visitors come to your website, they are considering a number of things about your business:
Am I in the right place?
Does this company really exist?
Can I trust this website?
Do I feel welcome on the website?
Will I find what I’m looking for?
As a small business website owner, you need to ask yourself these questions as well. Your homepage can be beautiful, but if it fails to instantly tell visitors who you are, what you do and how that helps them, they will leave without a thought.
The moment of truth is when a visitor first comes to your website. They probably came from an offsite link; perhaps from your blog or social link, so it seems that they are interested in your offerings so … this is no time to mess it up. Your moment of truth is the first impression.
- Professional Looking Design
Studies have shown that a website’s design has more value to a visitor than awards because the visual design determines the credibility of the website. If visitors don’t like the look and feel of the website, they will leave without entering.
That said, the investment in a quality website design can pay off with increased sales, thereby saving you money in the long run.
- Overall Structure of the Site
A good plan for navigating your website is essential. If a visitor can’t find what they are looking for or if they get lost in your website, they will get frustrated and leave.
- Keep the structure of your website and the navigation simple.
- The number of navigation categories should be between 5-7 main categories.
- A “Home” link is not necessary. Most visitors know that clicking on the logo at the top left of the page will send them to the homepage. By eliminating the “Home” link you will have made more space on your menu bar.
- Keep your secondary navigation to no more than three levels deep.
Using the right color in the right places will help to give impact and draw your audience in. Keep colors to a minimum (2-4 colors) and ensure that they relate to the logo or anything associated with your site. Consider choosing colors that relate to or are associated with your brand AND your target audience. Not all women like the color pink so don’t paint your target audience with a wide brush.
Web Page Elements
The elements we present below are the minimum and basic items needed on a modern and effective small business website. You’ll notice that we have not added elements that you might find on a large corporate website because your small business site communicates to your visitors differently than a corporate site does. Here are the elements you need:
- Domain Name and URLs
Your domain name (www.yourwebsite.com) should be as short as possible but still reflect the name of your company. Ideally, it should be simple to spell and not have strange spelling.
The URLs for interior page should have the spaces removed from between words and replaced by dashes “-“ not, underscores “_” between words.
- Company Logo
Your logo should be placed in the top left of your pages. This is a traditional location and most people know to look there to identify your company. It should be an image (.jpg or .png) no larger than 200 x 150 pixels and should be linked (throughout the site) to your homepage, eliminating the need for a “Home” link.
Your logo will help visitors identify your website and give them the comforting feeling that they are in the right place. By keeping the logo in the same place throughout the let’s your visitors know they have not left your site even if the layout changes.
Feel free to include a tagline in the logo image. The tagline should be relatively short and clearly describe your company mission.
- Main Navigation
Your main navigation should be descriptive, intuitive and clearly note the important main offerings of your website. Example includes: About, Services, Products, Pricing, Blog, Contact, Search. Choose single word options, if possible.
- Bread Crumb Navigation
If your site is large and deep you will definitely need to add an element called “bread-crumb” navigation. This navigation is placed at the left lower side of the page header and is formatted like this: Home > Services > Home Repair. This navigation helps your visitors understand where they are on your site.
- Search Bar or Icon
A search bar or magnifying glass icon linked to a search bar is also a helpful tool for a deep or complicated website.
A favicon is the small graphic that is used to represent the website and placed on the browser tab. The favicon can be as small as 16 x 16 pixels and saved as an .ico or .png file and added to the website using the CMS.
Items “Above the Fold”
In the area called “above the fold” (The “fold” being the area from the top of the page to the cut-off point of the bottom of the screen – at “full screen”) you should have elements that grab your visitors’ attention the second they land on your site. If you do get their attention you might get them to click around, subscribe or even, buy from you.
- Image or Slider
In order to capture visitor interest, it will be necessary to place a single, high-quality image or a few alternating images just below the page header. There was a time when a long series of images in a slider was desired, but testing has shown that this tends to confuse visitors and does not help to focus your Call to Action message. Using a single, high-quality, compelling image is suggested.
- Call-to-Action (CTA) or Headline
A “Call-to-Action” is a statement designed to create immediate response. It’s basically a sales pitch statement to let potential customers know what to do next. Keep the Call-to-action (CTA) short, to the point and effective. You may need to test different CTAs to find the most effective message. Your CTA should have a clear benefit, solve a problem or inspire curiosity. You should, generally, have only one CTA per page positioned in a prominent place, near the top of the page. Additional links or link buttons on the page are OK and should not take away from the CTA.
An enticing headline or CTA can increase the click-through rate (CTR). The CTR is the number of times people see your link vs. the number of times they actually click the link.
Items in Your Footer
The footer on your website is at the bottom of the site. It’s the last thing visitors see and can interact with. The footer tells the user that they have reached the end of the web page. The footer should also provide useful information, links and calls-to-action.
- Contact Information
Contact information placed on the right side of the footer will offer a second location (in addition to Contact Us page) for this important information and allow easy access for the visitor. Information to include is:
Link to contact us
- Various Secondary Information
Additional information to be added in the footer can include:
Link to most recent blog post – Limit to 3-4 articles only
A brief history of your company or mission statement
A chat or contact form
- Other information
Lower navigation that mirrors the main navigation
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Your visitors ultimately come to your site for the quality content. The new trend in content marketing and the use of search engine optimization has allowed small businesses to create quality content that gets seen, read and acted upon. This allows you to compete in the same marketplace as your well-financed competitors.
Within seconds of a visitor arriving at your website, your message needs to tell them what you do and how you can solve their problem. The visitor needs to know why they should buy, subscribe or download.
- Visual Appearance
Important information is prominent
Content appears to be logically organized
There are clearly defined pages
Click links are obvious
Few or no distractions
- Making Your Pitch
Writing content can be difficult but nobody knows your business better than you do so explain who you are, what your offerings are, how you offer a solution to problems and why the visitor should “buy-in” to the solution.
- Make sure you include a clear call-to-action wording and what steps are needed to complete the action you wish them to perform. Educate your visitors as often as you educate your customers.
- Offer value in your words, the formatting and your message.
- Write your content as if you’re speaking directly to your audience.
- Ease of Reading
Even though only about a quarter* of your website visitors will actually read your online content you should still create your content to be easy to read, understandable and digestible.
The font you choose will say a lot about your personality and the personality of your business. Choose a font that is Internet-ready, so it reads well on all computers and devices. To make the page easier to read you can use short paragraphs, bulleted lists and section headers.
- High contrast between font and background
- Links easily visible and working
- Quality, amount and relevant images and/or video
*Nielsen Norman Group
- Quality Content
Quality is better than quantity. You don’t have to write a lot of content, but you do need to write content that answers questions.
- Be friendly, human, respectful and helpful. Solve problems.
- Make your content unique. This is good for your site and for search engines.
- Don’t put in too many keywords as if you are writing for search engines. Instead write for your audience.
- If you are using old content or having someone write content for you be sure to review it so it meets your standards.
- Be Accurate, Fresh and Focused
Your small business website is the face of your company and unless your business is unfocused and lacking in freshness, your website shouldn’t be either.
- Do research if you have to. Don’t make things up.
- Keep your content fresh. Two-year-old information on your site is not going to help you with search engines.
- Keep your information focused on your audience. Offer content that visitors would be interested in.
- Add some facts and numbers periodically to back-up what you are saying.
- Don’t use buzz words. Words like “groundbreaking”, “best of breed” and “mission critical” are not helpful.
- Truth and Authoritativeness
Speaking truthfully and with the authority of a person who knows your small business and your industry. Your voice, although friendly, should carry a sense of professionalism, as well as, influence and respect.
- Show your personality
- Be authoritative and knowledgeable
- Solve visitor problems
- Write truthfully
- Other Content Types
Written content is only one type of content you need to consider for your site. A website with only blocks of type can be very boring and may cause visitors to leave without investigating or engaging.
- A blog with images, unlike web pages, can give you a different and perhaps more flexible voice and position for your information.
- Well-crafted images, graphics, charts and infographics are a very popular and effective way to communicate.
- Video or audio can work well to tell a story, give instructions or explain difficult to understand concepts.
- Testimonials, case studies and customer stories are ideal for telling a story. If you use real names and pictures you will improve the effectiveness.
- Finally, unique and relevant content is a very critical part of a successful search engine optimization strategy and being found on the Internet.
Links – Making Connections
- Text Linking
In addition to buttons you should be employing text links. Use text links within the content and be very clear in the link description where these links go.
- Internal Links
Internal links are links to other pages within your own website. Developing good internal linking is smart for visitor usability and accessibility for search engines to effectively review your website and index your web pages.
- Quality Links
The thing that really turns off visitors is when a link is offered and it’s either dead or it goes to such a general page that it’s of no help. Make your links specific to the topic and check them often to see that they are still working.
- Quality Stock images
Images really do tell a story, but they need to be chosen carefully. Stock photos are an option, but they are often distant, unrelated to the subject and just plain stiff and staged looking. It’s well known that “real” images are more acceptable to most audiences. But if you can’t find or take good quality images that are relevant to your business you might find that a good quality stock image is better than nothing at all. Each image will send a message to your audience so be aware of the images you see.
- Optimized Images
Once you have your “real, relevant” images you need to make sure that they are as small as possible while still maintaining their quality. Large images can dramatically reduce the speed of your site and diminish the impression the site has on visitors. Visitors will tend to wait only 3 to 5 seconds for a website load.
To fix the problem of large images that slow down your site it will be necessary to reduce the image’s resolution by applying compression that will make the file size of the image smaller but have no loss to the quality of the image. This process is called “optimizing” an image.
- Add Meta Tags to Images
Meta tags are used by search engines to explain what the page is about. Meta tags are also used for page description for people with disabilities (blind, low sight, low comprehension).
The information to include are:
- Title tag – the title of the page
- Meta description – brief description or summary of the page
- Alternative text tag – copy that describes the image
- Use Images with Purpose
When choosing an image you need to consider 2 things:
- Why am I using this particular image and not another
- Am I placing the image in the best possible location
Also consider if the image tells a story, completes a thought or conveys an idea better than a block of copy. Only by supporting the other content on the page will the image be considered effective.
- Use “Real” Photography
If you produce quality images of your store, your products, or even your employees for brochures or other printed material you should include these on your website. This will increase visitor engagement and help your visitors to “get to know you better” because they will feel they have met you and been to your place of business.
As a small business website owner you know how important your website is to you. Does your site have most or all of these items? If not, you’ll need to consider adding the right elements. You need to also make sure your site (your entire online presence) tells visitors who you are, what you do and how you can help them.
Your moment of truth IS the first impression.