It’s December and 2020 is almost (finally) over! It’s also the time of year when small business owners start thinking about the direction they want to go in next year. Typically, this involves either creating a website to get the business online or redesigning an existing website to reflect a new strategy.

But, where do you start? How do you design a small business website?

This question can be broken down into a 6-step process:

  1. Define your target audience
  2. Set goals for your website
  3. Develop creative concepts
  4. Build a prototype
  5. Create your content
  6. Build and launch your website

Before we look at these points in more detail, it’s been assumed you already have a domain name, have hosting sorted and have decided on the platform you’re going to use to build the website.

Define Your Target Audience

This is the first step you need to take when building your website. Unfortunately, small business owners often overlook this step as they want to get on with the fun, creative bit first (and who blames them, that’s the bit we love too!).

However, it can pay dividends later if you define your target audience at an early stage. Think about what your average customer looks like, how you communicate with them offline, the type of language they use and how important they are to your business. We call these groups buyer personas.

More than likely, you have 3,4, or 5 different groups. You should try to rank them in order of importance as this will help you prioritise the type of content to create for each group. This exercise will also help you define the style and tone of your website to ensure it matches the expectations of the audience you want to reach. For example, if you are an accountant who mainly deals with other business owners or MDs the style would be more formal (but not boring!) than a freelance photographer who works events! Their target audiences have different expectations when they arrive on their websites.

Set Goals for Your Website

Many small business owners fall into this trap when building their own websites. And I fully understand why, they’re busy all day running their business and don’t want to spend the evening building a website so focus on getting the content completed first. They see the website as an online brochure for their business.

But, what do you want people to do when they arrive at your website? What value does your content bring to the visitor?

The answers here could be many and varied depending on your industry and business objectives so think carefully about what adds value for both the business and your customer. Your goal could be to:

  • Increase enquiries
  • Increase newsletter sign ups
  • Start selling products through your website
  • Become an authoritative resource
  • Improve interaction with existing customer

Have a clear idea of your goals before you start creating your content. This way, you can tailor your content to match your goals. This is a far more efficient way of working and will give you a better chance of success.

Develop Creative Concepts

So far you have defined your customer and goals you have for the website. But, how do you communicate in a way the encourages website visitors to take the next step?

This is where creative concepts come in. Start by thinking about websites you like, even if they’re not related to your industry. Think about the elements you like and the reasons why. Also, have a look at your competitor’s websites. What do they do well? What sections don’t you like?

The research you conduct during this stage will help you develop a consistent style and layout for your website. The main elements you need to think about are the overall layout and visual appearance, the colour scheme, typography (or fonts) used, navigation and most importantly, the mobile experience.

Most decent website builders and content management systems (CMS) will allow you to build the website using widgets or blocks. Think of them as tiles you can freely move around to achieve the look you want.

Start this process by creating some mock ups (called wireframes) of where you want place each item. Experiment with different layouts and different positions. Wireframes don’t need to look pretty; they can be lo-fi drawings on a piece of A4 paper! As you create each version, ask yourself if the layout seems logical, would you find this website appealing, does it fulfil the goals you decided earlier? If the answer is no, you need to start again.

A note on the mobile experience. Google now takes a mobile first approach to indexing web pages so it is vitally important to make sure you have a good mobile experience. Most website builders and content management systems will have themes or templates that are mobile responsive so they adapt automatically to device they are being viewed on. When you create your wireframes try to visualise how each section will look stacked up together on a mobile device. For most small businesses using a theme or template isn’t an issue (there are some great ones out there). However, changing the core structure of a template is often very difficult and requires serious technical skill. It is often worth spending a little bit more on a premium theme as they offer more flexibility to achieve the layout you require.

website prototype

Build a Prototype

Now the fun bit starts. You can start building your new website. However, don’t go straight into building the full site with all your content.

Start by building a prototype. Take the wireframes you created earlier and use it to build the outline in your website builder or content management system. This is to help you visualise how the finished website will look and feel. If it helps, use placeholder text and images.

As you build the prototype you can check to make sure the functions work as expected. For example, if your goal was to increase enquiries through your website, does your layout make it easy to complete that goal? Is it easy to find your phone number? Is the contact form in the right place? What is the user experience like?

The prototype doesn’t need to be 100% perfect. However, it does need to show that your design concepts work.

Internet users are far savvier today than they were in the past. If your website has too many steps to complete an action or is overly complex, they will go to a competitor and use them instead.

Building a prototype first means you can iron out any potential problems before the website is complete. Always have your goals in mind, you can change things around quickly during this stage if the website isn’t achieving what you want.

Create Your Content

You’ve made it this far and are now at the stage where most people start! However, you have a major advantage over your competition. You know exactly who your customer is, you know what you want them to do, what your goals are and you have the backbone of a website in place to help you achieve them.

This means you can tailor all your content to fulfil your objectives. As you create your website copy there are some basics to remember.

Focus on quality, not quantity. Share interesting and relevant information that will add value to your website visitors. Use statistics, research and quotes to backup any claims you makes as this will help build trust with your audience.

Googles algorithms now work in such a way that they will display pages that displays a high level of Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. This is referred to as Google E-A-T and was introduced in 2018. The main concept is that search goes beyond matching keywords and tries to understand the searchers intent. This mean that you content needs to answer the question that is being searched for and then meets & exceeds their needs.

Don’t forget to refer back to the buyer personas you created earlier. Most small businesses will create content based on what they want to say and not what their audience wants to read. Target your content towards these groups to answer their questions, educate them about your industry and resolve any pain points.

It’s also important that you speak the same language as your audience. If they are technical your website copy can be more technical. However, if the audience would struggle to understand internal jargon or technical language it’s better to write it in a more accessible way.

launch a small business website

Build and Launch Your Website

It’s now time to pull everything together and finalise the build of your website. As you build your website remember that a good website is about more than a static homepage. You want to create multiple pages that describe what your business offers in a clear and concise way. You need to answer any questions potential customers might have and help resolve pain points.

Place strategic call to action buttons throughout your website. These should be relevant to content on the page. For example, if you are selling products on your website “buy now” would be best. Alternatively, “contact us to learn more” will be better suited on your about us page or a service page. Call to action buttons should make it easy for your website visitors to take the next step and engage with your business.

Once you have built all your pages you need to test your website to make sure everything works as expected. Test all the buttons and links, do they take you to the correct page or content? Test the contact form to make sure it sends, gets delivered to the correct email address and that the email you receive has all the information you require.

Also, test your website on different devices and browsers. Most people will have a few different devices around the house. Make sure your websites looks great on all of them and is easy to use. Download different browsers (Microsoft Edge, Firefox, Safari and Chrome) and make sure it loads correctly on all of them. If you need to make small changes to the layout or placement of links do it now before the website is live.

Before you make your website live check to see how quickly the pages load. Page load times are very important and have a big impact on how visitors use your website. Nobody likes a slow website. There are many tools available online to test your website such as GTmetrix and PageSpeed Insights.

However, don’t go chasing the perfect score with these tools as it can be difficult to achieve without considerable investment of time, money and resources. Try to think of real-world use instead. If the page loads in under 2 seconds and all the important content is visible this should be enough for most users. Most website builders and content management systems will have page caching features that will achieve those results for you.

Now press the big red button and make your website live! Congratulations, you have made a website for your small business that is better than your competitors.