How to Design Your Small Business Website

Portrait of Shane in front of green background

Shane Eskritt

· 13 min read
Woman placing design elements into the wireframe of a website

What Goes Into Designing a Great Small Business Website?

Your visitors are the single most important thing to consider when building your small business website. All the design work in the world has no impact if no one sees it. Reaching your clientele is paramount to building sales, raising donations, or even filling job postings. It’s especially true online.

With so many sites available at their fingertips, web surfers are fickler than ever. In fact, 89% of users will leave you for a competitor if they have a poor experience on your website.1 No pressure!

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom – building a great small business website is easy when you keep a few key considerations in mind. So how do you build a small business website that brings your services to the next level?

Your Visitors Come First

It’s easy to start planning a website you’ll love, but implementing a site that your customers can use is a better use of your time. The process of building any website starts by assessing what your visitors are looking for. What’s most important to them? What content will they be trying to find? Before you write any sales copy or design a website, it’s important to make your audience the centre of your design.

When you’re ready to create written content, write for people first. If your content is clear, straightforward, and people-oriented, your visitors can get the information they need to act faster. No matter how many clicks you get on your website, if the content is more focused on landing on the first page of Google than being easy to read for your customers, they’re not likely to stay or return.

If you’re creating a website for a local pet shop, include content that pet owners would find essential. You could create blog posts centered around commonly asked questions about animals, or advice for owning a first pet. That’s the perfect way to start building a relationship with your customers. It’s important to ensure your content not only brings value, but that it’s accessible to your intended readers. Diving into technical jargon or tackling difficult concepts in an article that’s about walking your dog will only confuse visitors.

Instead of simply listing your services, explain them in more detail. Not only will your customers appreciate your expertise, but it also gives you an opportunity to appeal to search engines.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself while you write your list of services:

  • What is it?
  • Why is it beneficial?
  • Why do you do it better?

Of course, content is more than just words. We’ll be covering the value of original, high-quality photos and images in its own section.

Operation: Organization

Have you ever visited a website that really wows you because it was a quick visit? Organized websites get your visitors exactly where they need to go without any hiccups. On top of being easy to navigate, a website with a focused look can create a fantastic first impression for those who are just discovering your business.

On the other hand, a site that’s crammed with details can be overwhelming to your visitors. If you’re showing every product you own on your homepage, it can come across as a flyer more than a professional website. The last thing you want to do is cloud the content you really want them to act on!

It’s important to make your site focused so it can be useful to your specific audience. Avoid casting a wide net to try and attract a high number of visitors from the get-go. This is particularly true with written content. By focusing your efforts, you can keep your site from appearing too generic – you’ll come off as a knowledgeable expert instead of a jack-of-all-trades.

The more you focus on a particular subject, the more your content will resonate with your clients. It’s fine to have varied interests and to share your knowledge on multiple subjects, but you should narrow in on at most a couple of topics. In most cases, simpler is better: if you’re creating a website helping car owners repair their own vehicles, sharing information on new industry developments and the hottest new cars isn’t just confusing; it counters your message. Stick to what they want to know.

Make sure the real estate on your website is being used effectively. Employ the power of white space – it’s a reliable tool to draw eyes to the sections of your website that matter. Too little white space and a surplus of text, images, and videos, and the website becomes crammed and difficult to navigate. Too much white space and not enough content, and a website can look empty and even amateur.

If you have a stylized logo that belongs in the spotlight, you should give it just that by surrounding it with white space. A photography portfolio filled with numerous images can easily benefit from white space to visually separate each piece. A page stuffed with products can be transformed with just a little white space between each item. It’s important to keep white space consistently sized across the site so it looks purposeful.

Showcase your core services or most popular products from the beginning and create a strong call-to-action. Your non-core products and services can be shown lower down the homepage or on separate pages. Like spring-cleaning, the goal is to reduce clutter on your website, and drawing attention to the things that matter.

We’ve discussed how you can make your site more visitor-focused by using its real estate effectively, narrowing your content down to a few topics, and using the power of white space. The next key component to having an accessible, easy-to-use website is a well-thought-out navigation system.

It’s important to determine which items your visitors find useful and get them there quickly using a navigation bar: the section of your website that helps your visitors access key topics and information; often found at the top and bottom of your site.

By key topics, I mean limiting the number of items in your navigation bar. If you run a computer repair business, you’re providing your expertise to solve several different issues, sometimes all at once! People don’t need a navigation link for each individual problem (viruses, glitches, missing system files, etc.): they’re looking for a solution from an expert who can diagnose their computer for them and fix every issue.

That’s why you should limit your navigation bar to 3-6 items with concise, descriptive names. One of your links should have a clear, action-based title: like ‘call us’, ‘book now’, or ‘donate’. It should be emphasized visually so it stands out and drives your visitors to take this specific action. If you have more than 6 items, try implementing dropdown navigation menus under each topic.

For example, if you’re a hardware store selling a wide variety of tools and supplies, you won’t be able to cover everything in your store with just six items. Having dropdown subcategories when you hover over ‘Shop’, from ‘Nails’ to ‘Saws’, can save you valuable space on your site. It’s the perfect way to declutter your navigation bar and get your audience where they need to go.

A standard 5-page website often includes a homepage, products and services page, an about us section, a team overview and a contact us page. Of course, this depends on what your visitors are looking for, and what services you provide. For example, you could omit a products page as a not-for-profit.

Your link “home” is typically not listed, instead using your company logo to navigate to your home page. As with everything you do, consider your audience before removing it. A separate navigation link to reach your home page can be appealing to an older or tech-illiterate audience.

Original Photos Go A Long Way

Have you ever noticed the same stock photo model on different websites? Henry’s a cook, a business executive, and a lawyer - he moonlights as a pilot, too. Margaret’s a super spy and a government official all at once, like something out of a movie. You might’ve laughed or pointed it out to those around you. It’s an unshakeable feeling of deja-vu, yet it’s an all-too-common problem for small businesses looking to stand out.

In the world of web, the importance of meaningful product photos and avoiding visual bloat is nothing new. A Nielsen Study from 2010 discovered through eye-tracking studies that superfluous and decorative pictures tend to be completely ignored.2 With an abundance of digital noise in our lives, we tend to tune out what doesn’t matter – what doesn’t move us forward. That’s why purposeful pictures of real-life products belong on your site.

Genuine, original photos of your actual business, services, and products stand out, build trust, and make you seem more authentic. If it’s in your budget, having your pictures professionally taken can ensure you’re showing your products in the best light, literally and figuratively.

It’s quality over quantity, too. Pick a few well-lit and professional photos to show off your products or services. You’d only post the highest quality pictures to your social media, so why do anything less for your website? Don’t make your clients sort through 5 years of shots, either!

To that effect, visual bloat won’t just clutter your website: it may also slow it down on older computers and mobile. It’s no wonder that, even as internet speeds and download times get faster and faster, visitors still prefer websites with a clear focus instead of one stuffed with pictures and text that don’t move them forward. That’s just another reason why your audience should come first in every facet of your website.

Keep It Simple Surfer

A trend you may have noticed so far is the need to keep things uncluttered, clear, and focused. The best way to ensure your message is coming across without visual distractions is by keeping your look uncomplicated. That doesn’t mean your site has to be boring – but as with everything else we’ve covered, your audience needs to be top of mind across your entire site. Creating quality, regularly updated content and having a well-organized site will keep your visitors coming back for more, but some of the smaller, simpler details can really elevate their experience.

Stick to one or two fonts and create hierarchy and variety with boldness, size, and colour – your site will look coherent, and it’ll guide the eye better, too. Choose a font that’s simple to read for the body of your website copy. Using headings and subheads for organization, along with varying spacing and line height for your copy, can guide the reader exactly where you want them to go.

But how do you pick a font? Good question! A great resource for helping you choose fonts and find pairings is Google Fonts. All of these can be used completely free, even for commercial use. Because they’re so popular, many people’s browsers already have them saved from other sites they visit. This means when they visit your site, there’s one less thing to load.

If your business already has logos, signage, and brochures, you should keep things consistent and reuse those fonts for your website. Keep in mind: if your business uses any non-free custom fonts (and there are a lot of them!) you may need to purchase a special license to use it on your site.

Emphasize important parts of text with size, colour, and font weight, too. Font weight determines how bold or thin your text should be. It allows you to emphasize titles and subheads without stuffing your website with larger-sized text. That’s the perfect way to play with white space, too.

Text is just one factor that can make a difference in the look of your site. The use of colour is just as important as text, especially when it comes to identifying your business online.

A great rule of thumb is to use the same or matching colours and shades from your logo and branding to maintain a consistent, cohesive website. It’s all about creating an attractive yet practical browsing experience for your audience. If you can do that, they’re more likely to stick around long enough to read your list of services and give you a call!

In Conclusion

So, let’s recap. If you’re looking to design an attractive yet practical website for your small business, here are some things you’ll want to prioritize:

  • Always keep your visitors in mind when you think about website design
  • Write your website copy for people, not Google
  • Only showcase your core services to reduce visual clutter.
  • Use whitespace to keep your site organized and appropriately spaced.
  • Limit your navigation bar to 3-6 links. Use a dropdown navigation menu if you need more.
  • Use a handful of high-quality photos and reduce visual bloat.
  • Keep it simple, surfer! Create font hierarchy – make choices like font height and weight that guide the eye. Don’t overcomplicate the look or feel of your website.

As an expert in building websites for more than 17 years, I’m here to help you establish the ideal custom-made design for your small business. You’ll spend less time worrying about creating something that best represents your business and spend more time actually running it. Let’s chat today – I’d love to answer any questions you may have!

Citations:

  1. “SerpWatch, Web Design Statistics 2022: Market, UX, SEO, and More” https://serpwatch.io/blog/web-design-statistics 

  2. “Norman Nielsen Group, Photos as Web Content” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/photos-as-web-content/ Stick to the colours in your logo/branding. 

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