How to Design a Great Website for Your Small Business: for Beginners

A website is a core component of small businesses. But not every small business owner knows how to code or build designs. Our tips and tricks will help you build a functional, professional website, even if you don’t have any experience.

If you’re a small business owner — whether you manage other employees or you’re doing it all — you know the value of a web presence. It helps potential customers find you, offers a way for current customers to keep in touch, and ultimately, it’s one of the major ways to improve your small business marketing.

But if you’re planning to design your own website, what are the most important things to consider? First things first: let’s answer the question that’s on many minds.

What’s the Value of Having a Website?

In addition to a website being a place you can point potential customers to and offer more information, it’s something you can control all the rules for. Sure, you can have a great presence on social media, but the platform controls that playing field and manages the rules and expectations. Between policy, term, and service changes (or even legal changes) you might feel like you’re constantly playing catch up.

On your own website? All those decisions are left to you. You can control your messaging and branding all in one place. Plus, you have complete control over the domain name, what other sites link to yours (and vice versa), and the number of resources you’re willing to commit to it. That means fewer surprises for you or your customers.

How to Choose Between Templated Options

If you’re not a web expert and you don’t have a significant amount of capital to sink into your site, a templated option could be a more manageable fit. Some of the most popular options are WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace, so that’s what we’ll focus on here. But these tips can be applied when looking at any templated hosting options.

Each option varies in terms of the time and monetary commitments required. Most people can find a few extra hours in their week, but money is often a different story. Websites can range from basically free to tens of thousands of dollars (like a custom-built WordPress site).

WordPress and Squarespace are fairly similar in what they offer (including some great templates or themes that cost less than $50), but you’ll also want to consider the domain name and any other perks included in your service.

Wix is more of a DIY approach and is much more hands-on. Unfortunately, this can mean that your site ends up functioning poorly if you’re not familiar with site-building. You often have more control over the visuals but that can also be difficult to execute correctly.

If you’re not familiar with website development, or you don’t have large amounts of time to dedicate to learning, I’d recommend sticking with a more templated option like WordPress or Squarespace.

How Do Most People Navigate a Website?

In the English-speaking, left-to-right reading world, most people navigate a site in an F-shaped pattern.

First, they see the logo on the left side, then scan to the right over the website navigation or menu.

Next, they cut back to the left at a diagonal, where they typically find a headline, image, or body text. From here, most readers continue going back left to right.

However, many people don’t make it all the way to the right side of the screen and instead scan about 80% of your content.

Keep this in mind when considering where to place certain images or forms — or when trying to drive traffic to a certain feature on your page. If someone can’t find what they’re looking for you, they’ll typically scroll back to the top and look for a search field. If they can’t find that, most people will leave.

The bottom line is this: website visitors are often impatient. Many people won’t scroll very far on your page. If you have a call to action (such as signing up for a newsletter or buying a product), put it closer to the top.

A good rule of thumb is to have it less than 600 pixels from the top of the page — that way you’re covering your bases with different screen sizes, different zoom settings, browsers, and more.

How to Set Up Your Pages

Is it better to have a lot of shorter pages? Or a smaller number of long pages? You’ll find both out there on the web, but before you decide, think about the purpose of your website. What are people coming here to find? What industry are you in?

Writers, journalists, and other long-form storytellers may benefit from fewer pages that are longer. Site visitors are coming to read your work and are willing to put in the time to do so. If you’re offering a product or service, chances are your customers are looking for something specific. In that case, you should probably opt for specific pages where your offerings are broken out. That makes it easier for prospective buyers to find what they’re looking for.

How Often Should I Update My Website?

When discussing content updates, it really depends on your goal. If you’re a reporter or blogger, you might be updating your site on a regular basis — whether it’s every day or once a week. However, it’s always a good idea to update content if you’re trying to key in on search engine optimization (SEO). Fresh content is more appealing to Google, which means more people will have the chance to see it. You should also remove any old content that’s no longer helpful and redirect any traffic from those old pages to newer ones.

Security updates, on the other hand, should be a regular part of your website maintenance routine. Cyber security is a constantly evolving space, and the older your security is the more likely you are to get brute-force hacked. Again, don’t be fooled by thinking that just because you’re a small business this won’t happen. It’s simply about hackers seeing what else they can get from you (like banking information).

When a security update becomes available, wait 3-7 days to make sure it’s stable, but then make the update. Waiting too long can put you at a disadvantage and it will take longer when you do make the update.

Can I Still Design an Effective Site if I Don’t Know Much About Coding?

There’s been a big groundswell in this area over the last few years. You can build a site without knowing much about HTML or CSS — that’s really where the templated sites we discussed earlier came into their own. Because of the tools they provide, you can build out a site and you don’t have to know how to code.

You might need to hire someone to tweak your site or improve your SEO performance, but you can create a nice-looking and functioning website as a beginner, even if it isn’t performing at the top level.

Whether you’re hiring someone or doing it yourself, make sure your choices fit. Just because you can do something flashy and unexpected on the page doesn’t mean you should. It could make your page load slower or just create inconsistencies within the page and your brand. And if you’re hiring someone to create your site, be open-minded about the different ways you can reach your goals. There are often multiple ways to get the results you’re looking for. Be willing to go in a direction you didn’t expect and listen to the people who have been doing this for several years.

Need help creating your site? Curious about other small business tools? Let us help. EarthLink offers everything from high-speed small business internet to website development to custom branding. It’s all part of making the right connection.

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