7 Steps to Developing a Strategically Sound Small Business Website
Sonoma County website design specialist Tim Smith outlines the 7-step process his team uses to build small business websites that attract and convert customers.
So, it’s critically important that you take a thoughtful approach to the project—one that reflects the overall marketing strategy for your small business.
We use the following 7-step process with website design projects for our clients. Even if they don’t have a lot to invest in advanced marketing tactics, at least we take a strategic approach when planning it. You can do this, too—whether you hire a Sonoma County web design company or do most of the work yourself.
Start with Website Goals and a Plan
- Generate leads from keyword searches.
- Differentiate your products/services from the competition.
- Build a marketing list.
- Sell products through the site (ecommerce).
- Attract attendees to events.
- And so forth…
You will want to consider what type of website platform (WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, etc.) is best. Take into account your budget, your ability to update/maintain the site and the platform’s ability to deliver on your goals. Some platforms (e.g. WordPress) support a high degree of customization and offer more flexibility. Other platforms are designed for users with lower budgets and/or a desire to manage content with little technical background.
Take a few minutes to create a simple website plan. List your goals, how you will accomplish them and how your site content and structure will support this.
Develop a Solid Content Strategy
Don’t buy into the simplistic notion that “people won’t read content.” Bull! Part of my job as a Sonoma County website design strategist is to bust this common–but completely false–myth.
The Internet is the “information highway.” It is designed to deliver informational content, so make sure you anticipate your audience’s needs for information.
They don’t come to your website just for pretty pictures or general taglines. They want to know who you are, the features and benefits you offer, and why you are different/better than other providers. The answer to these questions should drive your content.
Depending on your audience, your type of business and the goals for your site, organize your content to meet users’ needs. This will affect what pages you include and what’s on them. One of the first things we do is develop a site outline early in the planning process. Your plan should specify top-level pages (and links in your navigation structure) as well as any sub-pages that provide further detail. Then use this plan to write your content.
Consider SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
If you want people to find your site in Internet search, you will need to consider search engine optimization, or SEO. SEO involves tactics to increase your site’s chances of appearing in relevant online keyword searches.
Optimizing your site requires that you research and plan your keywords. Try to anticipate what words and phrases your customers might enter into a search bar.
Some (but not all) website designers can help with this, and your platform or special plugins can provide tips on how to optimize your site.
Most of the sites we develop have at least some SEO treatment today. However, online search has become extremely competitive.
As a result, not all small businesses can allocate the resources it takes for a successful campaign. If you can drive leads to your site from sources such as referrals, networking, email advertising, print advertising, mail or other methods, you may not need SEO.
Write Clear, Compelling Website Content
Good content—clearly written, persuasive yet not overly promotional—is essential to make the right impression. Readers don’t believe superlatives and platitudes like “we’re the best,” “we care about our customers” or “we’re professional.” Every business can and does make these claims. But, generalities like this simply don’t register with the brain.
Instead, provide information that lets visitors draw their own conclusions. Give them enough details so their questions are answered. Find ways to explain, in almost third-party objective style, why they should trust you and do business with you.
Here are some important content tips, whether you’re writing for search engines or human beings:
- Use plain, conversational English.
- Keep sentences simple. Avoid compound structure.
- Avoid passive voice.
- Sentence length should vary, but average around 14 words. People retain more that way.
- Keep paragraphs short—just a few sentences. The idea is to give the eye “breathing room.”
- Use the words “you” and “yours” a lot.
Make an Impact with Branding and Page Design
Branding is more than just a logo. Unfortunately, most small businesses often don’t take branding seriously enough.
Your website should be an extension of your business that connects people to it—not looks like it’s a different business.
So, use colors and images that are consistent with the established identity for your business. Your overall website design should have impact. Avoid trendy, visually dazzling effects that interfere with content delivery.
Unless you are an artist, presenting images should not be your your primary goal. Work to present content in a clean, uncluttered and professional environment. Design should support and enhance—not detract from—content.
Make the navigation structure easy to find and see, whether in desktop or mobile view. Use plenty of images to make the page interesting for the eye. You can use headlines to separate and “frame” content areas so people understand what each section is about.
Don’t shy away from content (remember, it’s why people come to your site…) Instead, learn to break it up and avoid the dreaded “wall of text” with images, graphics, bullet points, subheads, etc.
Lead with a Strong Home Page
For most small business sites, the home page is a critical “front door” to the website. Keep in mind that people are generally scanning when they enter the home page. So, it’s important to understand how to capture site visitors and keep them engaged.
To do that, I believe there are three main questions your home page must address. These questions lurk in back of site visitors’ minds as they scan your site:
- Who are you, and what do you do?
- Why should I trust you/do business with you (i.e. why are you better or different?)
- Where can I go on your site to get more information that interests me?
Your home page must provide these answers clearly. But, it must do it in a few nanoseconds. Otherwise, your site visitors will “bounce,” meaning they abandon the home page without going any further. You can see how I accomplish this on my own home page. We also use a similar approach with most clients’ sites.
Use a large, main image at the top of the home page. This “hero” image (or images, in the case of a slider) serves to capture the viewer’s eye and helps make a statement about your business and your offering.
Execute on Your Conversion Strategy
As noted earlier, you should have a goal for your website. Generally you want visitors to take some kind of action, which we call a “conversion.” This can a phone call, filling out a free consultation webform, purchasing something, joining your mailing list, downloading a file, etc.
Make sure the information needed to support conversion is readily apparent. And, of course, provide the form or link that makes it easy for site visitors to take that action.
Sonoma website designer Tim Smith blogs on website design and marketing topics related to Sonoma county website design serving area small businesses and organizations.