Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve built your business through word-of-mouth, nowadays, the first place your potential customers will look for you is online. Luckily, building a website for your business has never been easier, thanks to the existence of content-management systems (CMSs) such as WordPress or Squarespace. Creating a professional-looking site is as simple as selecting a template and editing it to your liking. In fact, the whole process is now so intuitive that anyone with a little bit of study and creativity can tackle the task without too much trouble.
Less intuitive, however, are the design and user-experience principles that make a site functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Since there are plenty of resources available to help you with the technical side of things, we’ve put together some tips to help you create the best website for your business.
Build a bookcase, not a showcase (customer-centric design)
It’s important that your website design focuses on what your customerswant to find, versus what youthink they need to see. Many websites make the mistake of following a “showcase” design—that is, they’re arranged in a way that prioritizes the owner over the customer. These sites may look nice, but they’re often difficult to navigate and lack essential information. If visitors to your site can’t find what they want, then what’s the point of having a site at all? It’s better to think of your website as a “bookcase” instead—show off what makes your business unique while organizing your content in a logical, intuitive manner.
So, how do you figure out what visitors will want to find before your site even exists? If you’ve been in business for a while, that’s a question you might already have the answers to from your past customer interactions. Think about the questions you’ve received or the information you find yourself offering the most, and work backwards from there. If you’re starting a brand-new business, then our next tip will be particularly relevant to you.
Start with the essentials
Prioritize clearly and concisely showing who you are, what your business does, where to find you, and how to easily get in touch with you. A new website for a small business really only needs a few main pages to begin with, namely:
- an “About” page,
- a product/service page, and
- a “Contact us” page.
These should cover all the essentials for your content and simplify navigation for site visitors. As your business (and customer base) grows, you may add additional pages if necessary.
Make it visual
Consumers love visual content on websites, especially when they break the monotony of massive text blocks. Striking visuals and graphics can greatly enhance your website’s aesthetic. On the other hand, poorly-shot or pixelated pictures can harm your business’s image. Always make sure that any images you use are high-resolution and professionally taken. There are plenty of free stock photography sites such as Unsplash or Stocksnap with extensive libraries of beautiful pictures—use them! Graphics alone aren’t a replacement for good content, but they are complementary to it.
Pay for what makes sense
You don’t need to break the mould to build a great site. Most content management platforms have a free baseline version that you can use to put your site together. The free templates on sites like Squarespace or WordPress look great right out of the box, and are fairly easy to set up. That being said, these versions tend to have limited templates and editing options, with more powerful features usually locked away under the paid variants.
However, that doesn’t mean the free versions aren’t worth using—if all you need is a very basic website, the default templates and formatting are fine. You’re better off spending your hard-earned dollars elsewhere. Simplicity is a virtue in web design, after all.
On the other hand, the very fact that you’re reading this likely means you’d benefit from the additional customization the basic paid packages offer. For those of you who plan to accept payment and orders directly through your website, it’s especially important to use a platform with robust e-commerce functionality built in (which is almost always a paid feature).
Optimize your site for search engines
Gone are the days of painstakingly hunting through webpages to find information. Almost everyone just Googles what they’re looking for and uses the search results to go exactly where they want to on a website. Why does this matter? Well, to put it simply: a well-optimized site will be easier to find for both your existing and prospective customers.
Your existing customers already know what to search for when looking for you, whereas prospective customers only know what they want—they don’t yet know that they want it from you. That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play: done correctly, it should make you one of the most relevant results when someone performs a search using keywords that match your site. Following the tips we’ve listed here won’t automatically land you the number one result in a Google search, but they will get you part of the way there.
While true SEO does require a fair bit of work, there are plenty of resources available for you to learn from, and you shouldn’t need to invest anything other than time.
Do you have any tips from your experience building a website?
Freelance writer and communications professional at the University of Toronto. He’s an avid cinephile, voracious reader, and a terror at karaoke bars.