Once upon a time, businesses could survive (and often even thrive) based exclusively on people who saw their brick and mortar storefront. Many even got the bulk of their clients from referrals. It may not have been enough to land them on the cover of Forbes, but it was certainly enough to live a comfortable existence.
Then the internet came along and it became standard to design a website. Nothing fancy. Just a couple of pictures with basic information about what you do and how to find you.
Then, a pretty famous worldwide pandemic changed everything even more. What could be done from an office is now done from wherever there’s an internet connection. Meetings became Zoom calls. Grocery trips became online orders with a speedy delivery. What was once done for convenience is now a way of life.
Within this context, your business website is your presentation card. It’s usually your chance to make a first impression. The pièce de résistance of your marketing efforts. So you can’t just throw together some content and paste it on a pretty background — especially in an age where so much is conducted online.
You should have a business website for the same reason you order from Amazon, get a ride from Uber, and book lodging for your vacation through AirBnb. People rarely interact in person anymore. They look for answers online, schedule meetings online, and buy products online.
Not only that, but even before people are ready to make a purchase, they go online to research solutions for whatever ailment they’re experiencing. And when your target audience goes on Google to look for what you offer, you most definitely want to show up in the search engine results pages (SERPs). And the only way this can happen is if you have a good business website — one that offers valuable content and follows search engine optimization (SEO) best practices.
In this digital world, designing an effective site requires a lot of brainstorming, strategizing, and testing. This is crucial because competition is fierce. Instead of exclusively writing about what your business does, you need to conduct market research. Tailor content specifically to what your buyer persona would prefer. Also, take into account whether you are designing a B2B or a B2C site.
In addition, you should guide visitors through their buyer’s journey. Are they starting to do their preliminary research? You want to be that industry expert they turn to. Are they comparing options? You want to make this process as easy as possible for them. Are they ready to make a purchase? By golly! You most certainly want to be top of mind when they pull out their credit card. And for this to happen, you have to be meticulously strategic.
But what’s the best course of action? Should you build one in-house or hire a design agency? What are the best design tips and practices? And honestly, do you even really need one in the first place? What if you’re one of those people who thinks that going to networking events every week is enough to make that phone ring?
As website design has become easier with the advent of website builders, many businesses are opting to create their own site. However, designing an effective website is not as simple as it seems, and can end up being a costly exercise after you factor in the cost of website redesigns when you discover that it didn't achieve the results you had intended.
There are many factors that will determine how successful or unsuccessful your website is at generating leads, solving problems, increasing revenue levels, and improving your overall bottom line.
Here are some website design mistakes that you should avoid at all costs:
Using a Website Template That Doesn't Suit Your Business Image.
When choosing a website design, don't just opt for the website template that you find to be the most visually appealing. It’s important to choose one that not only suits your design style and color scheme, but also one that meshes well with your business image.
For example, if you offer event planning services and promise prospects fun, unforgettable parties, using a template that makes your site look like you’re running a funeral home is probably not going to be an appropriate website design.
On the other hand, if you're selling digital products such as e-books or video tutorials, templates that are more artsy in nature will probably work better for your business.
No Clear Understanding of Who Your Website Visitors Are
You need to have a good idea of who your website visitors will be so you can align the website design to suit their needs and wants. You should have some background information on these website visitors, such as their age range, education level, income range, what website pages are of interest to them, their social media usage, buying habits, and so on. Only then can you effectively design web pages that will appeal to them.
Displaying Images That Don't Add Value to Website Pages
Many website owners make the mistake of uploading low-resolution images, thinking it doesn't really matter. In reality, this can be detrimental to your site’s performance if it causes it to load slower. In fact, it can cause users to become impatient and go to a competitor’s site instead.
Compress images to ensure fast load times. Nothing should be above 1MB. Also, save them in JPEG format, which takes less time to load than PNG. And don’t add images just to add them. Select them with a purpose — such as showcasing product features, company culture, or anything else that may be relevant to your business.
In addition to avoiding these common pitfalls, you should also take the time to implement website design best practices.
While most businesses try to differentiate themselves from the competition by creating a unique website, there are certain elements that should be implemented across the board.
1. Determine Your Budget
The costs associated with designing a business website come in a wide range. It’ll all depend on your needs: Will you be using templates or design a custom site from scratch? Other elements to consider are the number of pages, interactive content, functionalities, and whether you want to include eCommerce.
Make a detailed list of everything your site should include, then figure out whether you have a realistic budget for it. If you do, that’s great. If you don’t, it would behoove you to still discuss your needs with web designers and developers to look for viable alternatives. Whatever you do, don’t bypass designing a website due to a small budget. Work with what you have.
2. Buy a Domain Name
A domain name is the name of your website (aka your web address). Whether this exactly matches your business name or you got a bit more creative with it, buying it will prevent others from using it. You can purchase it from any domain name registrar (GoDaddy, BlueHost, Network Solutions, DreamHost, HostGator, and Domain are some popular ones). When choosing a registrar, take some time to research all costs (including upsells and hidden fees), as well as their ease of use and customer support.
3. Get an SSL Certificate
All of your website visitors should feel confident about your site’s security. This is especially the case when you have landing pages and forms that ask them to provide their full names and contact information; or eCommerce pages that require entering credit card numbers and mailing addresses.
A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate secures online transactions by encrypting information — both at rest and while in transit. This prevents unauthorized third parties from intercepting or accessing any user data.
4. Create Wireframes
There are plenty of people who design websites without wireframes. However, they usually end up wasting a lot of time going back and forth between the design, content, and development teams. Investing in a wireframing tool (or simply drawing them on a notebook) will help everyone working on the website visualize each page’s layout so that the process can move along more efficiently.
5. Design Layout for Best user Experience
Listen, user experience (UX) is everything. This refers to what a website visitor feels as they interact with your website. This could range from excited to have found a solution to their pain points, to frustrations over a confusing navigation. Every single page should be designed with the intent to entice people to remain in your website as they move through the sales funnel.
6. Choose a Website Builder
If you’re a startup with a very small (or nonexistent) budget, or if you just want a simple site with little functionalities, you can get away with using most website builders. However, if you want an attractive website that enables you to design it based on a long list of specifications, you’ll likely narrow it down to WordPress and HubSpot. And even within these two, you’ll want to take into consideration additional factors, such as whether you’ll need to install third-party plugins to accomplish what you wish to accomplish, or whether most of these tools already exist within the platform.
7. Choose a Template
Pre-built website templates make it a lot easier for you to create your site. Website builder platforms often come with a template library that you can browse for something that matches your brand identity. Some content management systems (CMS) — such as our all-time favorite, HubSpot — come with user-friendly functionalities, such as drag-and drop capabilities and calls-to-action generators.
8. Optimize for Mobile Devices
Most people go online from their smartphones. Sometimes, they’ll use tablets, but phones are where it’s at. They’re practical and always in their hands. So it’s crucial to make sure that your site looks good and works well on smaller screens. Failing to do so will just annoy people. And they’re not just gonna put their phones back in their pockets and wait until they’re near a desktop to visit your site. They’ll just go buy from your competitors.
9. Conduct Keyword Research
I’ll expand on keyword research in the SEO best practices section below. However, always keep in mind that no matter how great your content, you should always incorporate the same words or phrases your target audience is entering in search engines. Otherwise, they'll never find you.
10. Include Strong Calls To Action
Calls to action are designed to entice website users to do exactly that — do what you want them to do. Although this may sound Machiavellian, it’s really a quid pro quo. After all, you are offering something web users want and would benefit from. That’s why they’re on your site.
When designing your CTA buttons, use action-oriented words (e.g. Download Free eBook or Enroll in Our Webinar is significantly more effective than Submit). You should also be specific about what will happen when they click on the button.
11. Proofread Content
If your target audience is educated, they will notice atrocious grammar. And listen, we all make mistakes, overlook things every now and then, and commit the occasional typo. That’s precisely why you want to proofread your content before you publish it. It’s even better practice to have a second set of eyes to go over it to ensure they catch anything you may have missed. The last thing you want to do when trying to convey your professionalism is to look careless.
12. Implement SEO Best Practices
Search engine optimization is about a lot more than just keywords. There are on-page and off-page elements that will have an effect on your likelihood of ranking well on SERPs. Specific items to include are described in more detail further down this blog; but no web design best practices list would be complete without this factor.
13. Test Site for Functionality
Prior to launching your website, you want to make sure (and double check) that everything works the way it should. This includes ensuring that every video plays, every call to action button directs users to where you intended, that click-to-call phone numbers work, and that form fills arrive to your inbox, to name a few. Test everything.
14. Conduct Post-Launch Testing
You’ll also want to ensure that everything works once your site goes live. In addition, you should test different versions of site elements to see which ones get better traction (e.g. A/B testing of homepage heroes, CTA buttons, or landing page format). And when doing this, focus on one element at a time (e.g. color, text, size, format, etc…) so that you know exactly what it is that’s performing best.
15. Promote Your Website
Once you launch your website, shout it from the rooftops! Promote it on your social media channels, marketing emails, newsletters, business cards, and anywhere else prospects may see it. You can also reach out to other businesses and pitch writing a guest blog post so that you can get backlinks to your site. This helps you reach a wider audience and boost your SEO.
Every business is different (or at least, they try to be). So you have creative license as to what to include on your site. However, you’ll always want to create pages that cater to the best UX possible. One way to do this is to always include the following:
Your homepage is your chance to create a pleasant first impression. Keep it simple by having plenty of white space. Include a value proposition above the fold, along with strategically placed calls to action buttons. Also, remember that the homepage sets the tone for the rest of the pages. Pick your color palette carefully and use it consistently across the rest of the webpages.
People want to know who they’re doing business with. And they want more than just a logo. Show your face, your team, your company culture. Tell them your story of why you started your business. What are your company values? And definitely include social proof of how good you are at what you do by including customer testimonials.
Products and Services
Way before people are ready to make a purchase, they do detailed research of what’s available in the market. And the bigger the investment, the lengthier the comparison process. Make it as easy as possible for them by including products and/or services pages showcasing all helpful features and detailing relevant information. If you offer multiple similar options, it would also be helpful to include comparison charts so that they can study products side by side instead of jumping back and forth between pages.
This one’s more time consuming and requires a commitment to publish quality content on a regular basis. However, there are several benefits to having a blog: You’re providing useful content for your target audience. Solve some of their pain points for free. You also get the opportunity to educate your audience — about your products and services, about your industry, about ancillary or otherwise relevant topics. The more you post, the more you establish yourself as an industry expert. Finally, every blog post is a new page that will need to be ranked by search engines. Therefore, the more you publish, the more chances of popping up in a good placement on SERPs.
Contact Us Page
This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Make it easy for users to contact you. They shouldn’t have to scroll through page after page to figure out how to reach you. So create a simple contact us page with your phone numbers and a form to submit queries (old school websites include email addresses, but that lends itself to filling your inbox with spam). In addition, include several ways to contact you throughout the site. Live chat is a popular feature, since it lets web visitors get quick answers almost instantly.
Search engine optimization is all about ensuring you have a higher likelihood of ranking in search engine result pages. This is a crucial element of any online content, since, no matter how visually appealing or helpful your website is, if it doesn’t have proper SEO, people aren’t gonna find it. So pull out a notebook and take notes.
Don’t just try to guess what your target audience will be searching for. While you likely have a good idea of possible search queries, it’s imperative you use a keyword research tool (such as moz or ahrefs) to help you determine their search volume. They’ll also provide you with data about how difficult it is to rank using certain words or phrases, as well as provide you with related terms.
The URL is the uniform resource locator (the web address). There are several things you want to keep in mind when coming up with one for your website — and for every additional page you add in the future, such as blogs and landing pages. First, you want to keep it simple and easy to remember. You want both search engines and humans to understand it. You also want to use a relevant title, as well as include your primary keyword in it. Use hyphens to separate words and keep it all lowercase.
Title tags are the headlines you see in search engine results pages. They are one of the most important SEO elements, since they showcase the relevance to the user’s search query. Use your primary keyword and limit it to 60 characters. This will help you avoid having it truncated in either desktop, tablet, or smartphone screens.
Meta descriptions are the short summary or explanation of the content that shows up in SERPs under the title tag. Including well crafted ones in each of your web pages increases the likelihood that a web user will click on it. They also provide you with the opportunity to elaborate on what the site is about and to include secondary keywords that don’t fit into the title tag.
Remember reading somewhere on this page about people going online from their phones? Well, not only is this essential for a good user experience, Google and other search engines also take it into account when ranking sites. Because if your site is optimized for all screen sizes, more people are going to visit it, and the more people visit it, the higher your rank.
Internal and External Links
Search engines index pages after crawling website content. In order to do this, a software program (called a website crawler) is used to follow all links leading to other pages. This happens whenever you create a new webpage or update an existing one. Include internal links to help search engines identify the architecture of your site, and use descriptive text that lets the reader know what kind of content they’ll find if they click on it.
By the same token, external links let web crawlers know that the webpage content is relevant for specific search engine queries.
Image File Names
You may think that naming an image JPEG.421 isn’t a big deal, but it can actually affect your SEO rankings. This is because search engines can read this; so make it easy for them to index your content by separating words with hyphens and using relevant keywords.
Alt Text for Images
Search engines cannot see images, but they can read alt text (alternative text). Website builders and CMS platforms include a text box under uploaded images for you to include a short description of the image. Use this opportunity to incorporate keywords.
Once you launch your website, you’ll want to keep track of certain elements to determine whether your site is performing well. These include:
You want to track a lot of things regarding website visitors: How many visit your page, how they interact with your page, and how many are return visitors. A low number of visitors means you need to improve your SEO strategy. A good one may mean you’re doing well — as long as it’s providing you with qualified leads. You also want to track first-timers and repeat visitors so that you can implement smart content for a personalized user experience.
Bounce rate refers to the percentage of people who leave your site soon after clicking on it. If you notice that certain pages have a particularly high bounce rate, you’ll want to address why. Common reasons include slow loading times, broken links, confusing navigation, or weak calls to action. Change one of them at a time to see if that fixes the problem.
The term conversion rates refers to the number of website visitors who take a desired action. This could be subscribing to your blog, enrolling in a webinar, downloading lead magnets, scheduling a call, requesting a demo, or making a purchase. If your rates look fine, your site is performing well. But if you notice that some CTAs are mostly being ignored, try changing their color, shape, placement, or text. And as usual, remember to only test one element at a time.
Traffic sources refers to where people are visiting your website from. This could be from search engines, social media posts, backlinks, or whether they typed your URL on their browser’s address bar. The reason you want to know this is because it helps you identify the channels your target audience uses the most. This enables you to craft more targeted marketing messaging.
It’s important for business owners to know that building a business website and seeing results don't happen overnight. On average, you shouldn't expect business website results for at least 3 months. If it takes less than that, this is cause for celebration. It means your business is doing something right!
But if after 3 months your business hasn't seen any of your desired results, it’s time to reevaluate your site. Look at the metrics for each page to identify possible reasons. They will always come down to SEO and user experience. Revise all elements described above and speak with an experienced web design team to figure out how to move forward.
Now that you know what it looks like in theory, let’s take a look at some business websites who are doing this right in practice.
It’s not surprising that Apple comes on top when it comes to user experience — and their website is no exception. They incorporate plenty of white space to make it easy to read. There are no distractions. You came to research their products and buy them when you’re ready, and they guide you through that process seamlessly: Click on any of the icons at the top of their homepage to find the type of products you’re looking for. Or click on Buy if you’re already part of their cult following and are ready to make a purchase.
But if you’re not ready to hand over your credit card, they make the research process easier by providing you with a helpful comparison chart. No need to open 50 tabs or jump from page to page to get the information you need. Everything is as easy and simplified as possible.
Bose’s website is visually appealing, functional, and easy to navigate. The large hero images are eye-catching and highlight their products perfectly. Bold typography with a lot of visual hierarchy keeps you attentive to the page. The featured products section right under the fold makes it easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for.
In addition, phrases like noise cancelling headphones and smart speakers are strategically placed keywords with a high search volume.
Trainual is a SaaS website that also incorporates plenty of white space to provide a distraction-free user experience. The site loads ultra fast. Their navigation bar is simple and straight to the point. Each webpage is consistent with their brand colors, navigation, and CTA placements. And even though their homepage has sparse content above the fold, it still incorporates keywords with a large search volume, such as SaaS, onboarding, and training.
Designing an effective business website is all about being customer centric: What would make things easier for them? More appealing? Most helpful? Then expanding on each element to make them feel happy to have found your site — because once they do, they'll keep coming back.