This blog post offers website building tips from an Intuit Web Advisor. For more information on building a small business website, see our free Online Marketing Toolkit for Small Businesses. It offers guidance on topics from building a website to search engine optimization to social media marketing.
For many potential customers your website is the “front door” to your business – it’s the very first thing they know about your company. As a general rule of thumb, you have seven seconds to make an impression.
As an Intuit Web Advisor, I counsel small businesses that use Intuit Websites about building their websites – from using the tools to creating the right design to getting found on the web. Many of the small businesses I talk to know they need a website. Some believe it’s just a cost of doing business. I advise small business owners to think of their websites as an important part of an overall online strategy. A website helps position your business in the manner you want, and build your brand.
I think there are four key guidelines every small business should bear in mind when building a website:
1) Have a clear Purpose for your website
2) It’s important to Make an Offer
3) Focus on One Big Thing, and
4) Design Effectively
The first question you should ask yourself is, “what is the purpose of my website? What behavior am I trying to elicit from the visitor?” Whether you are a retailer, service provider, consultant or guru, you should look at your website as a means to cause visitors to act. If you tee up an action and a visitor takes it, you’ve just forged a valuable connection with that visitor and potential customer. Oftentimes, the call to action is an offer.
Make an Offer
It’s best to make your visitor an offer on the homepage. Other pages on your site should be information rich with text, images, video, and other multimedia. Information about your products and services across your website will put the homepage offer into proper context. If you are a service company, you might offer a free estimate or a free report. You may offer the visitor a chance to self-subscribe to a mailing list for your newsletter. If you are a product company, you may display a featured product on the homepage with a ‘Buy Now’ button.
Does this approach work for every small business? No; there are some exceptions. For legal and other reasons, some businesses cannot make offers on their websites. Examples include medical and legal practices. Others feel that an informational site is all they need to attract business. For this type of business, it is still advisable to make an ‘offer’ to join a mailing list for important updates or to receive a newsletter or a report. This helps you connect with prospective customers, and gives you a strong base of leads to market to.
Focus on ‘One Big Thing’
As I mentioned earlier, your primary purpose is most likely selling a product or initiating the conversation to provide a service. To make this simple, you should have ‘One Big Thing,’ or singular benefit that you offer. Take General Electric (GE) for example. GE sells thousands of retail, commercial, industrial, and medical products, in addition to providing financial services and acting as an entertainment conglomerate. General Electric’s website has ‘One Big Thing’ on its homepage that ladders up to the company’s mission – a focus on its new “GE Show” campaign. The execution is similar with Apple, Home Depot, Best Buy and many other companies with large product catalogs. The specific, singular ‘Big Thing’ will change over time, but it will always be tied back to the overall ‘purpose’ of the website.
In addition to the “One Big Thing,” you will want to offer other ‘shiny objects’. Think of a newspaper article with a primary topic, and a sidebar of related stories. A service business uses exactly the same strategy. If you are a contractor, you could arrange your website as follows:
- Purpose: To sell home construction services using ‘green’ techniques
- One Big Thing: Free Kitchen Remodel Estimate
- Sidebar of related services: Offers for a Sustainable Building Products Report, an Energy Audit, and Financing Options
Effective website design ensures people who are looking for a business like yours find your business online, and visitors act as you want them to (e.g. sign up for the offer on your homepage). Here are three tips to design effectively:
- Balance Search Engine Optimization (SEO) with aesthetics. A visually attractive site makes ample use of white space and images. But if you want search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo) to treat you well, you need lots of words related to your business. The desire to have a visually appealing site and to show up in Google searches seem to conflict, but that isn’t the case. You want a minimum of 300 words for a page to be indexed well by search engines, but this can be done creatively to maintain your site’s design. Take a look at how text is placed ‘below the fold’ at www.intuit.com.
- Follow the Rule of Seven. The Rule of Seven suggests that people should not be presented with more than seven items to choose from at any time. So, navigation menus on websites should not have more than seven selections. Allow navigation to top-level categories and then have ‘drill down’ pages for more information. For instance, on a website for an accountant’s practice, you may have a menu option for Services. Within the Services page, a visitor can learn about specific services the accountant offers like Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, and Forensic Accounting.
- Let Your Work Speak for Itself. Website owners often believe the purpose of the site is to tell their story. Your ‘story’ is the quality in the products or services you provide. Let others tell your story. Link to associations you belong to, awards, articles, accreditations. Capture positive feedback from happy customers in ‘testimonials’ on your website, or link to positive reviews of your products and services on your Facebook page or online review forums.
Lastly, you should always compare your website with the competition. You better believe prospective customers are making judgments about your business based on how your site looks versus the others they are visiting.
An effective web presence for your small business cannot be created overnight. But if you work at implementing the four elements discussed in this post, you will be one step closer to having an effective website for your business.