10 Web Design Best Practices and Tips for Small Businesses

If you don’t have a  dedicated website for your startup or small business, you’re in danger to fall further behind your competition.

This is particularly true if you’re starting a new business.

Your business must be online to succeed.

Without a central digital home, you’re scattering your efforts and missing an incredible opportunity to engage and connect with your customers and potential customers through a dedicated site.

Your customers ultimately will want to learn more about your company’s products and services, and a dedicated website will help them do so.

Today, we’ll cover website design best practices and tips. We’ll point you to great resources and examples and highlight recent changes in web design. And if you already have a website but are considering a website redesign, it’s a good idea to start with your homepage.

Here are our top 10 tips to help you create an awesome website design:

1. Keep the design simple, fresh, and unique.

Your business website is a key part of your brand identity.

It is the first impression a visitor will form when they visit your site for the first time.

If you use an off-the-shelf template and your website looks like thousands of other sites on the Internet, you’ll miss an opportunity to create a unique impression.

Why would a potential customer remember your site when she has seen dozens of other sites that look just like your site.

We regularly hear from business owners who initially created their website using one of the existing template sites. As their businesses have grown, those business owners realize that they need to stand out from their competition. The template sites no longer meet their needs.

This is not surprising.

The homepage is typically the most important page on a business website – your potential customers will likely see that page first when they visit your site. Moreover, because most small business and startup sites have fewer than a dozen pages total, the homepage is an important anchor for your overall site. It must answer several important questions – including who you are and what you do. Template sites simply can’t do this properly. Some of the templates look visually pretty, but functionally, they lack many elements that make a website useful and informative for potential customers.

Consider the impression you want to make and the message that you want to communicate to your customers and potential customers.

As you consider your site design, be sure you have a professional logo design. A logo created from clip-art or a template won’t be unique and will create a poor impression. Even worse, it may expose you to substantial legal risk.

Some business owners invest in new website design but forget to create an original logo (or to update their old clip-art based logo). This is a missed opportunity.

When you consider the content to include on your homepage, keep one very important fact in mind: users typically read only 28% of the words during an average visit. Don’t overload your homepage with a lot of text and images. Consider the most important content and images you want your users to see and get rid of everything else. Many people mistakenly try to include too much content on a homepage – and this creates confusion and poor user experience.

Add less, not more.

Consider too that your visitors might be visiting from laptops and mobile phones, so try to avoid designing pages for a large monitor size or pages that use more complex features.

Tip: For a more sophisticated look, consider illustrations. Although images have dominated web design, more sites are incorporating creative illustrations in their homepages. Illustrations can often engage the user in more personal ways.

Advanced Tip 1: Once you design your homepage, you can run very simple tests to figure out which buttons, colors, and pieces of content earn the most clicks. After all, marketing is as much a science as it is an art, and proper use of marketing psychology can fuel success. For more about A/B testing, I recommend you read 7 Dead-Simple A/B Tests You Should Run on Your Homepage.

Advanced Tip 2: Particularly on your homepage – but also on any pages where you’re trying to persuade the user to take some action – think about what action you want the user to take and create a prominent “call to action” button. For tips on creating effective calls to action, I suggest you review 10 Techniques For An Effective ‘Call To Action’. You should incorporate minimal textures and subtle gradients, where appropriate, to highlight different areas of the site.

The call to action (CTA) on your homepage is an important element to draw visitors deeper into your site. You should consider a few important factors when you design your CTA, including: (a) location (above the fold – visible on the monitor when the page first loads is typically ideal), (b) make sure the CTA stands out from the other content on your site, (c) create a link to another page so that your call to action will draw the visitor deeper into your site, (d) create a less-emphasized alternative variation, (e) and test design, content, and placement.

It’s important not to overload your homepage (or any page, for that matter), with CTAs. Pick one or two and focus on those. If you have too many, you’ll confuse people.

2. Showcase your products and services.

You’re selling a product or service. Make sure that you clearly showcase that product or service on your homepage.

We’ve seen many small business web designs that failed to effectively show their products or services and many others that tried to showcase far too many products or services on one page.

You have only a few seconds to make a first impression and you should make sure that the impression you make is professional.

If you’re selling products and your customers will buy the products online, you need to make sure that the product photos – or graphical images and descriptions – are clean, crisp, and appropriate.

You can have a great site design, but if your product photos look terrible, your prospective customers will think twice about buying your products. Look at how well-known online stores present products (Amazon, Apple, Zappos are all good examples).

If your product or service is web-based, consider using images of phones or computers and embed your showcase images within those images. That will help people anticipate how they’ll engage with your product or service.

Tip: Don’t overload your site with photos or graphics. Although it’s been said that a picture can say a thousand words, pictures can also confuse and diffuse attention.

Pick a few good product shots and feature those products on the homepage. You can feature your other products on interior pages.

3. Pay Attention To Site Load Times.

People are impatient when browsing websites and slow load times impact conversions (getting people to buy your products or services).

If your site design is graphically intense, you need to make sure you’ll have the hardware infrastructure and bandwidth to support the designs.

This is especially critical if you’re serving a large customer base and expect substantial traffic to your site. You can improve your site load times by picking good hosts.

The cheapest monthly hosting option does not typically offer the best value. It might be cheap but is also likely to be slow and unreliable.

Tip: want to compare how quickly two sites load in comparison to each other? Here’s a free tool you can use: whichloadsfaster.com

4. Make your site easily accessible.

Consider how people with certain disabilities – such as color blindness) can learn about your products and services if they visit your site.

Also, consider how people with slower internet connections will view your site. This is especially important for small businesses catering to local clients – accessibility is one of the best ways to endear your business to such clients.

Tip: Keep the web design and navigation consistent throughout the site. Don’t create unrelated designs for different pages on your site. All the pages should have a similar overall layout and design. This is one of the most common reasons business owners will consider a site redesign for 2016.

5. Organize your site to provide a better user experience.

Search engines prefer websites that are properly organized.

People also prefer good organization. Keep in mind that when your prospective customers visit your site, they’re typically looking for specific information. They’re rarely going to read entire pages – they’ll skim headlines and small portions of text and look at photos or graphics (but not all of them on the same page).

A properly structured site that presents information in an orderly and organized way will be much more successful than one that appears chaotic.

Tip: Use bold, easy to read fonts and bullets to present key information or to stress things you want the readers to notice.

Add text color to stress the most important information, but try to keep your use of text color and fonts to a minimum. You want to emphasize, not confuse.

Keep in mind that most people will ignore content if the headline above the content doesn’t interest them – so don’t ignore good headlines (more on that in tip 6 below).

Advanced Tip: action buttons/links should be clear and unambiguous. For example, “Save” is not the same as “Submit.” Consider a user’s expectation when they click a button or link and make sure that your labels properly set those expectations. Whenever possible, make sure your copy reflects complete sentences and not isolated words or phrases. For more about effective CTAs, I recommend you read 17 Best Practices for Crazy-Effective Call-To-Action Buttons.

6. Content is important.

You probably already know that search engines index sites based on the quality of the content (and links). The more content on your site, the more attractive your site becomes for search engines (more about search engine optimization in tip 9 below).

People also like content.

In fact, poor content can quickly cause a visitor to leave your site. Don’t ignore headlines – they can be very powerful and can mean the difference between a visitor reading the rest of the content and leaving your site.

Keep the content fresh and current. If your 2016 website has content dated from 2013, your visitors may quickly leave your site.

Tip: Study your successful competitors – especially those that have been in business longer than you. Look at their websites and study how they present their products and services to their customers and potential customers. Study their site colors, voice, use of graphics, illustrations and photos, and the overall site organization. Don’t be afraid to use bolder colors.

Advanced Tip: Consider using larger, more readable font sizes for your content. As screen resolution has improved, many displays show smaller fonts in a too tiny to read size. Take a look at some of your favorite websites and consider which font sizes you prefer for viewing/reading. With few exceptions, you probably prefer sites that use larger fonts.

7. Understand the difference between design and development.

To build a website, you’ll need both design for the site and development of the site. Although some freelancers can do both, the skills for design and development are typically different and you may want to leverage different people for each part of the job. Freelance web developers tend to specialize in frontend or backend work.

Frontend developers tend to focus on the client-side – what your users see when they visit your website. Backend developers usually focus on the interaction between the server and the databases.

Backend developers often work on a number of things, which include scripting to permit your users to interact with the site, web server configuration, and developing e-commerce features, such as a payment system. Good freelance web developers are skilled in multiple areas, including web design, information architecture, usability engineering, web content management systems, web server administration, database administration, software engineering, project management, network security, and search engine optimization.

Tip: If you decide to hire a freelance website designer and/or developer, you should look for at least three people (or shops) and ask them for detailed quotes. You should also remember to ask for a few examples of their prior work so that you can evaluate their style and experience. Crowdspring has some of the most talented web designers in the world – we’d love to help if you want to consider us as one of your options.

8. Consider the domain but don’t obsess about it.

Your domain will communicate important information to your visitors. It might tell them what your business does. Or it might simply be an effective way for people to easily reach your site.

If you’re unable to find a URL that matches your business name, you can consider changing the name or finding an alternative URL that includes the name – or one that complements the name.

Tip: Consider how the URLs on your site will look to search engines and people. Where you can (this is not difficult to do when you use content management systems – such as a WordPress blog), use natural-sounding names for your URLs and titles.

9. Don’t forget search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

For a small business, efforts spent on one marketing initiative typically take away from other marketing initiatives. Search engine optimization and search engine marketing are highly specialized fields and require a substantial investment of time to learn.

But SEO and/or SEM campaigns can provide great leverage to small businesses and as a result, should not be ignored. If you’re new to SEO, this is a terrific guide from Moz: The Beginners Guide to SEO.

10. Use a responsive design.

Mobile devices are accounting for an increasing percentage of web traffic. In fact, some businesses, like Facebook, have more people accessing their sites via a mobile device than a desktop computer. This trend has been going up for years and will continue. There’s no turning back.