Two entrepreneurs examine the site architecture for a mobile web page.

Building a Small Business Website (continued)

6. Design principles

As you implement a website strategy, you want to make sure that you keep your audience in mind. You want to engage them with a story about who you are, what you offer and why you’re the best choice to do business with. You want the site to be responsive so that it instantly reformats and scales to different screen sizes of phones, tablets, laptops and PCs. It should also shift effortlessly from a horizontal format to a vertical one without visual hiccups.

Focus on your audience

You can spend all the money in the world on a website, but unless you give the customer a great user experience, it won’t generate leads or sales. Think like a customer and design your site with them in mind. Today’s design tools allow you to do nearly anything imaginable, including serving up customized content that matches your customer’s interests. Everything should be customer-centric, making it as easy as possible for visitors to find what they need, make decisions about you and your offerings and follow up with you in as few steps as possible.

Tell a good story

If all you do is sell on your website, you’ll turn visitors off. They may not be ready to buy yet. Instead, they may still be in the research stage and narrowing their choices. Your website should provide useful information that supports this process, builds trust and rapport and opens the door for further interactions. Speak in a language that is conversational and friendly. Don’t use big words or jargon. Tell them about you and your company as well as your products and services. Ultimately, they are buying a relationship with you; be transparent, honest, and engaging, but most importantly, build that long-term relationship. Be a ruthless editor and cut anything that is repetitive, unclear or unnecessary.

To that end, consider adding a blog to your site or other content that shares expertise and knowledge. Not only will it build repeat traffic because you are offering something – knowledge – for free, but it will also improve your rankings in search engines since search engine algorithms love good content that isn’t all about selling something to someone.

Make it easy

As noted before, people want to visit a site that is easy to use and intuitive. Visitors don’t want to have to guess where to go next in their journey. Make it easy to find pricing and contact information. Every step along the way, offer the ability to speak with a real person, even if it’s through an online chatbox. Remove every frustration that could cause a visitor to click out of your site and find another.

Be consistent

Speak in the second person to your audience. Make sure your grammar, spelling and punctuation are not only impeccable but consistent throughout the site. Grammarly can be a big help if you’re not a professional writer. Every page should feel like it belongs with the one that came before and after it. This goes for using the same typography, type font, alignment and color palette. Photos should be of the same family as well. Try to pick images that support one another and add to the story. Whenever possible, use real photos, not stock ones.

Pro Tip: Never use a photo you found out on the Internet or may get an unpleasant letter in the mail one day telling you that the image was copyrighted and that you owe the law firm’s client some money.

Design for speed & mobile

Even with the massive data pipelines available today, you want your site to load quickly and predictably. Remember, even though the site may load almost instantly on your computer at home, you need to remember the person living in a rural community who has spotty 3G connectivity at best on their phone.

How quickly a site loads can significantly impact both a user’s experience and how well your site ranks in search engines. There are several ways to design a site for speed. A few of the easiest and most effective methods include reducing the number of plugins you’re using, compressing photos so they take less time to load, and using a limited number of redirects (a link that sends a visitor from an old page to a newer one). A web speed tester can help you see the predicted load times for a specific location or country.

Remember that many people are mobile these days, so it’s important that your site work correctly on a smartphone. WordPress and other CMS products will do this automatically, and Divi allows you to toggle features and content on and off for specific devices, allowing you, for instance, to post a wide photo on a PC and a vertical photo on a tablet or phone.

Pro Tip: Here are some other things you can do to speed up your website:

    • Keep plugins to a minimum. These can slow your site’s speed significantly.
    • As you work with photos, try different compression levels to get the best quality for the image with the shortest load time. Always save an image at 100% of the size it is to be on the page. A photo that is larger than necessary will slow the load of the site; too small and it will be grainy.
    • Limit redirects that forward a user request to another page. These requests slow down the response time since the server tries to find the original page first, then the page it is forwarded to.

Don’t make it a mausoleum

A website is not a set-it and forget-it proposition. Building the site is just the beginning. Make sure that it is updated regularly. It will need to be redesigned eventually. Schedule small redesigns for every year and a major one every other year. If you choose a platform like WordPress and a theme like Divi, you can change every aspect of your site without having to select a different theme to achieve a fresh look. Colors, fonts and entire pages can be reconfigured with just a few clicks, and you can export and import styles easily between sections and entire pages. Compared to the old days of hard-coding pages in html, modern web tools are nothing short of a miracle.

Wrapping up

The great thing about a website is that you can start small and build over time. A basic website shouldn’t run you more than $2,000, and there are good freelancers out there who can do it for even less. Just remember that you may end up getting what you paid for. That’s why it’s important to do your due diligence and speak with other clients about their experiences. Then check out these clients’ active sites to see if the designs, functionality, and features measure up to your expectations or look cookie-cutter; the sign of a rookie.

A fully built out site in WordPress will run you anywhere from $2,500 to $6,500, the high end having online ordering capabilities.