Many small business owners neglect their company website. For whatever reason, web design gets overlooked when it comes to marketing strategy and social media seems to be the primary focus because it’s free. For someone working in the industry, this is a “#SMH” moment as web design is one of the most effective services you can utilize for your small business. Without a great website, you’re limiting your reach and ability to increase your brand awareness and reputation. Your website is more than just a place for your customers to find your location or phone number. Your website affects your entire internet presence. But how?
For starters, as many of you know, having a well designed website will increase your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and the likelihood of someone discovering your business on the web. The more organized your website is and the more “best practices” your website follows, the better change your site has to to “impress” Google bots, which help determine your website’s ranking. But, what many small business owners consider is the aesthetic point of view. It’s not overly difficult to put up a website these days, but by doing it yourself (if you don’t know what you’re doing), you are risking not having a professional look and the potential to not develop a clear brand message, which is dangerous as your website sets the tone for your company’s culture, brand, and value. If you visit a company’s website that is one page and barely has any information on it, do you perceive that business as a reputable business with a huge following? Probably not.
Let me give you an example…
My mother’s law firm, Angela Stewart DeLorme, P.C., Attorney at Law, had a very basic website for close to 10 years. Most of her business was due to word of mouth by friends, family, and colleagues in the community. However, when SEO started to become a major marketing strategy for businesses, my mom knew she was in trouble. It was very rare for a client to say, “We found your website on Google and wanted to use you.” A handful of her competitors were showing up higher on the search engine than she was due to a more modern website approach and business seemed to be flowing for them. So, luckily, about that time, I was in my last year of college completing my undergraduate degree, just started Blu Mountain Expressions, and began to really focus on website design, SEO, and UX.
As a natural born designer with an eye for aesthetics, as well as a mind for business, front end UX comes natural to me (UX research and data analysis is a different story… math… ew). So, I offered to redesign my mom’s company website and help her build a new brand and marketing strategy.
After a few weeks, my mom had a brand new logo, a new website that was clean, modern, and responsive, as well as had a Facebook account with a new marketing strategy in tact. Her new website was built with best SEO and front end UX practices in mind. A few months later, we got our first confirmation that the revamped website and marketing approach is working… we got our first, “We found your website on Google and decided to use you.” Now, her website shows up on the first page of Google, and it’s rare for another attorney in the area to show up higher than her. Furthermore, she’s consistently posting on Facebook and getting an average reach of about 350 people and an engagement (post clicks/likes/shares/comments) rate of about 40. For a small town attorney, that’s pretty dang good if you ask me.
So, let me share some of my secrets with you. Usually, when I’m developing a website, I follow a few common principles and ideologies. Here they are:
#1 – A Well Organized Site Increases Customer Conversion/Engagement
If your website is well designed and well organized, your customers will be more likely to find what they are looking for quicker, which will reduce the likelihood that they drop off the site (leave). Furthermore, the more common the placement of certain items, the more likely your customers will have a great user experience. These items can include contact information in a tab called “Contact,” as well as including contact information at the bottom of the page. Or, including social media icons at the top right of your website and the logo on the left side of the page and having the ability to go back to the home page when clicked, as well as having the navigation in the same place on every page. I can’t stress enough how important it is to organize your website with careful thought and consideration. Create a mock up and ask a few potential users how they would find items a, b, and c. If they can successfully navigate through your website without many hiccups, you’re good to go. However, if they are having trouble getting from point a to point b, you may want to consider a potential redesign. Some UX researchers use a test called A/B testing, which essentially tests two groups of people with two different slight variations of a website.
In a study titled, Trust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites, researchers attempted determine what influenced trust among users visiting health websites. They specifically looked at the effect of design elements versus content. When a user mistrusted a website, 94% of the study participants claimed it was directly related to the webs design elements, while only 6% said it was the actual content on the site. While the study was conducted towards the health industry, the data gathered indicates the same basic principles could carry over to other industries. Here are some of the elements that were red flags for some of the participants:
- Busy or complex layouts
- Pop-up advertisements and flamboyant ads
- Small print that’s hard to read
- Boring web design/lack of color
- Slow website intros and load times
In any sense, even if you don’t have the resources, knowledge, or time to perform UX testing, keeping your website clean, organized, and laid out in a fairly common approach should be sufficient in most cases.
#2 – Your Website Should Tell Your Company’s Story and Strongly Represent Your Brand
Look, we all know that if you have a crappy looking website, it’s going to hurt the perception of your brand. And let’s get real… perception is everything. For instance, if you walk by a restaurant and it looks run down, outdated, and uninteresting, would you be more likely to eat at that restaurant (even if you were told their tacos were the best in the world) over the restaurant next door that looks brand new, has a slight shine and fresh coat of paint and extremely inviting? You tell me. The same logic applies to a website. Using the example of my mom’s website, it’s been mentioned on occasion that she has the best looking attorney website in town. Whether or not she is the best attorney in town or not (she is, don’t worry), her website gives her the perception that she is. Therefore, she’s more likely to gain a client who is comparing the attorneys in town simply due to the professional look of her website.
Having a well put together website can really boost your brand. Using colors and elements that match your print marketing collateral can really help connect your brand and help potential customers make connections of brand references they see later. A good example of this could be a brochure, billboard, digital ad, etc. If you happen to use this original squiggly icon on in much of your printed/digital marketing pieces, then the person sees the squiggly icon on your website, they will be like, “Oh! I’ve seen this before. This must be a good brand.” Make sense?
In addition, having a user-friendly website that is inviting helps customers feel confident in your services and more likely to reach out to you. This also increases their brand trust and likelihood for referral in the future. Again, your website directly reflects your branding, so, don’t miss the opportunity to control how visitors perceive your company.
To ensure that your website is perceived as a credible resources, research has shown that these few things can help ensure that your audience deems your website as credible:
- Provide a useful set of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and answers
- Ensure the website is arranged in a logical way
- Provide articles containing citations and references
- Show author’s credentials
- Ensure the site looks professionally designed
- Provide an archive of past content (where appropriate)
- Ensure the site is as up-to-date as possible
- Provide links to outside sources and materials
- Ensure the site is frequently linked to by other credible sites
Don’t get me wrong, while the design of your site is the most important, content is still vital. The participants referenced in the study mentioned earlier indicated that content played a role in 83% of the answers. Also, according to an infographic by ZippyCart.com, the wording you use throughout your website and in calls-to-action have a direct impact on conversion rates. Specifically, using the the word “free” in a CTA when asking people to sign up or download something has been shown to increase conversions by as much as 4.2 percent. However, be careful with using the word “free” too often as sometimes it can create the appearance of being spammy.
Good (which is subjective), USEFUL content still is another important factor of a website. Often times, a company blog that produces timely, actionable posts from time to time increase the brand trust as it’s perceived that the author (more than likely the company CEO/Owner) is knowledge and an expert in the industry. Sharing the blogs occasionally on your social media channels are always ways to increase brand trust as you will be seen as a thought leader in the industry. By acting as a thought leader, people will come back to your website time and time again for advice or when they are looking for something in your area of expertise. And as mentioned above, if you do decide to start blogging, be sure to CITE THOSE SOURCES!
#3 – Build for Search Engine Optimization
When considering a website build or redesign, it’s important to always have SEO in mind. If you think long-term first, it will save you a lot of headache later. Aesthetics can be altered more easily later in the design, but good SEO can’t. Design trends come and go, but your brand and online presence last forever. If you focus too much on keeping up with the most modern design trends and not enough on SEO, you will eventually have a great, beautiful, modern designed website that no one will see because they can’t find it online. However, you also don’t want a website that is so outdated, it will come back in style in a few years (because that means that it’s a 30ish year old design ha).
A trending design practice currently is a parallax design (which is a design that features a single scrolling page that seems to go on forever). Currently, users like it because they can continuously scroll through content and website owners like it because their users are happy and engaged. However, while users and website owners tend to be a fan of parallax, search engine crawlers (the algorithm that search engines like Google use to determine the credibility and rank of your site) don’t. Typically, algorithms are looking for traditional website structure. There has to be some sort of standard, right? If your website doesn’t follow a fairly traditional structure, you may be raising a few red flags for the search bot. Plus, you’re spreading out an entire website’s worth of keywords over a single URL, which could be problematic when users are trying to find specific information and are sent to your website and have to dig for that information, rather than that information present on a page of it’s own. But, don’t let this scare you. There are plenty of ways to get around having a modern website and great site structure.
Another trending practice is to have a responsive website. There’s nothing wrong with being inclusive. If your website is readable across multiple devices, browsers, and platforms, you’re much more likely to reach a broader audience, as well as show up higher in Google. Why would you should up higher in Google though? Well, with Google’s newest algorithm update, when a user is using a mobile device and searching for a business or item, they prioritize those websites who have a responsive (mobile) website. So, if your website only has desktop capability, the odds of you showing up in a mobile search is slim to none. According to an infographic by Smart Insights, 68% of users in the United States are using the internet using a smart phone.
These are just a couple examples of how web design directly interacts with SEO and why you should design your site for SEO first, but there are dozens of other factors to keep in mind. The key takeaway from this is essentially… every design feature has the potential to affect your search rankings. Period.
#4 – For the Love of God, Please Have a “Pretty” Website
For more front end website developers, they tend to be graphic designers as well. For most graphic designers, art and creativity is a huge part of their world. Logos and websites to graphic designs are considered works of art. Yes, artwork is beautiful, but is it always functional? Luckily, websites can be both! …and really should be both. A great website designer has an amazing mind of both logic, art, and creative thought. Most of the time, if you are using an excellent designed website, you won’t notice. You will feel “happy” using the website, be less stressed using the website and will have a great user experience. However, you won’t consciously notice this great experience… because it’s expected. BUT, you will notice a bad user experience and a really poorly designed website. “Practical aesthetics allow websites to turn emotional appeal into solid action.”
Research from QuickSprout indicates that 90% of all product assessments have to do with color. “Color,” writes Neil Patel, is “85% of the reason you purchased a specific product.” It’s a no-brainer fact of any website that color affects conversions. Big time. Although color can be subjective, it has been the topic of many studies and one thing they all agree on is: use the right colors, and you win. Research suggests big font, red in color, and bold is good for headlines, while the color navy (or blue in general) helps develop a feeling of trust.
For most, color usage is a tricky area as mentioned above… color is very subjective. Regardless, to have a beautiful website, you HAVE to learn to use color in the right way, at the right time, with the right audience, and for the right purpose. In one of my Masters courses, I had the pleasure of reading two great books, The Design of Everyday Things and Design <for> Hackers. Although both books aligned with my design practices already, there were some great tips for color usage that I hadn’t been able to quite articulate to people before. Basically, you need to follow these core principles:
- The right way
- The right time
- The right audience
- The right purpose
Going along with color psychology, it’s been found that the tips below can help you make better design/color based upon research from the pros:
- Women don’t like gray, orange, and brown. They like blue, purple, and green.
- Men don’t like purple, orange, and brown. Men like blue, green, and black.
- Use blue in order to cultivate user’s trust.
- Yellow is for warnings.
- Green is ideal for environmental and outdoor products.
- Orange is a fun color that can create a sense of haste or impulse.
- Black adds a sense of luxury and value. (But don’t make your entire website black… then, it will look amateurish)
- Use bright primary colors for your call to action. (Red seems to be the go-to color for the highest conversion rate)
- Don’t neglect white. (White space is your friend… and is timeless and classy)
“The Internet is a colorful place, and there is a lot that can be accomplished by using color in the right way, at the right time, with the right audience, and for the right purpose.”
The Bottom Line
It’s super important to understand the full impact of your website. It’s more than just a place on the internet. It’s an opportunity that should be taken advantage of. From SEO to branding, your website’s design can shape how your audience views your company. Your website can make or break you. So, don’t skimp on the website budget… make an investment in your company’s future.