What role does your small business’s website serve? Is it a digital business card? A 24/7 salesperson? A page that comes up when someone Googles your name? What exactly do SMB websites need to include in order to best help boost your business?

Your site’s specific function will, of course, depend somewhat on your industry and marketing strategy. But in any case, to be a success, it must help you generate and convert leads.

That’s how we determine a website’s success. So, how can you make sure that your small business’s site is effective? Here are the key elements it should include. We’ve divided them into the two gold standards for successful websites: clear brand identity and ease of use.

Making Your Identity Crystal-Clear

A small business’s brand relies heavily on recognizability and trustworthiness. Your website is critical for establishing both. Even if you’re not directly selling products on your website, prospective customers use it to get a sense of your business. Any discrepancies between your name, social presence, and overall identity could give them pause.

To ensure that your small business’s website is clear and compelling, you need…

1. A relevant, recognizable domain name

The right domain allows you to promote your website on marketing materials and rank higher in search results. It also provides credibility; consumers will be wary of a business whose URL is wix.com/wix-site/brand-name.

Ideally, your domain name matches your business’s name, e.g. Apple.com. That may not always be possible if your business name is long or the domain is already taken. In that case, consider how you can abbreviate your business name in a way that still reads clearly. For example, Bob’s Landscaping and Lawn Repair could use bobslawns.com.

Another option, especially if YourBusinessName.com is unavailable, is to add a verb. This approach is great for small businesses with a proprietary product or service. If your flagship offering is a gadget called Wizzpop, your domain could be trywizzpop.com.

You might also consider changing the first-level domain (the .com, .org, etc.). A non-standard domain such as .biz or .co is often cheaper. However, keep in mind that most users will type .com by default. That may lead them to another website — potentially a competitor’s! Also, some first-level domains, such as .net, are considered dated. Do some market research before going down this road. If you do end up choosing a non-standard domain, be prepared to heavily promote your URL.

Some business owners use an SEO keyphrase as their domain. For example, if “All Clear Plumbing” is offering their services in Atlanta, they may register ATLplumber.com. This isn’t a bad idea, but it could dilute your brand identity as prospects see a different domain than your actual business name. To resolve this, redirect your SEO domain to your main business website.

2. Strong visual branding

Today’s enterprises often operate across channels — your website, social media, print marketing, and perhaps a brick-and-mortar shop. Especially in this omnichannel world, your brand identity should be visually consistent. This boosts recognizability and builds trust among your audience.

Your website should match your overall theme and tone. An incongruent digital presence leaves users wondering if they’re still dealing with the same business. Let’s say you send out a direct mailer that features a bold typeface, bright turquoise and gold hues, and custom illustrations. Recipients type in your URL only to find a generic black-and-white WordPress site with stock photos. That’s confusing — and therefore distracting from their buyer’s journey.

Make sure that your small business’s website has these key visual elements:

  • A color palette and typography that matches your brand identity. Work with a web designer to find the appropriate HEX codes for your CMYK or Pantone colors, as well as web-friendly fonts.
  • An enticing banner or “hero” graphic that users see when they land on your page.
  • High-quality original photography or illustrations that express your business’s values and brand promise. If you must use stock images, choose ones that look natural and incorporate them in a unique way.

3. Verifiable business details

For every legitimate business website, there are a dozen scammy ones. Consumers have learned to be skeptical. So, make sure that your website proves your trustworthiness.

A clear brand identity helps, but you should also include some basic Internet “credentials”:

  • About Us page(s) that include your mission, team members, and board of directors, if applicable.
  • A postal address and phone number. Depending on your business’s and customers’ country of residence, you may be legally required* to post a geographic location, registration details, etc.
  • Your business’s full name, if applicable, as registered with your state.
  • Copyright and trademark details
  • An SSL certificate. This is a legal requirement under various data privacy regulations and de facto for Google ranking.

There should be zero doubt in your prospects’ minds that your website belongs to you and that your business is credible.

*NOTE: The content in this section is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorney to ensure that your website is compliant with all applicable laws and regulations.

Once you’ve clarified your site’s identity, it’s time to make sure it’s as accessible and user-friendly as possible.

Streamline Your Site’s User Interface (UI)

Remember the early years of Web 2.0, when web designers packed their sites with fancy Flash animations and dense grid layouts? So do we — and we’d rather not.

Especially now that most users are on mobile, cluttered website designs are outdated. If you want to drive conversions, you must make your site simple to navigate. A clean, engaging UI is vital to your success!

Here are the steps to take:

4. Align the site structure with the buyer’s journey

The first step toward streamlining your UI is to prioritize your visitors’ needs. Many small business websites begin with a “welcome” message, then present a brochure-like rundown of their offerings.

That can work, but consider how people are finding your site. If you’re primarily driving traffic from social media, does the homepage follow from the messages they see there?

Then, determine what their primary action should be. That’s usually not to read a lengthy description of your small business, so why put that at the top of our homepage? Instead, lead with your value proposition and show them where to go next. (Leverage that bold call-to-action button!)

One of your top website goals is likely to get qualified leads into your funnel. Capture them too soon, and you could end up with tire-kickers. Wait too long, and you’ll lose them. Structure your website to get their attention at the right moment, and make sure they understand what you offer before asking them to take action.

5. Use page layouts consistently

Except for the homepage and the blog page, if applicable, all your site’s pages should have a similar structure. This could be a header image, several blocks of text, and a sidebar, for example. Keep it as simple as possible: mobile users prefer one-column layouts, and that preference bleeds into desktop design as well.

Also, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. After years of web browsing, users expect websites to follow these conventions:

The F-pattern. Most people in the Western world read left to right, so they skim visual displays across the top, then down the left side. Place important website information in the top and left-hand sections. Your main menu should always be topmost.

White space around key elements. Because negative space draws attention to an object within, it helps identify important page elements. By the same token, users will expect headings or buttons with ample white space to be important.

Carets to expand or scroll through content. Anything that looks like an arrow connotes movement. Users will intuitively click on carets to navigate a page, so avoid using them for anything else.

Ensure that each page of your site has a consistent and efficient feel. This encourages visitors to stick around — which makes them more likely to convert!

6. Make everything easy and helpful

Consumers’ attention spans are shortening. Goldfish jokes aside, all you can do is capture their interest as quickly as possible. Thus, you should prioritize your website’s convenience.

What do your prospects want most from your site? To learn about your products? Place an order or check its status? All those pages should be in your main navigation menu.

Don’t be stingy with links to these critical pages. Weave them into your website copy. Add them to the footer menu as well.

Also, make sure it’s easy for your prospects and customers to get in touch. Include a contact form or email on every page. Ideally, your visitors always feel that help is just a click away! (Tip: Implement chatbots for even easier customer support that also saves your team precious time.)

Before launching your small business website, test it with a group of people outside your organization. They can tell you which elements stand out, where they experienced hiccups, and how easy they found your site to use.

Wrapping Up

With those six elements in place, you can clarify your brand identity and optimize your site’s user interface. Both are critical for achieving your website’s goals. An efficient website becomes a power tool in your overall marketing kit. It can be the 24/7 salesperson, a reliable source of leads, a lucrative eCommerce channel, or whatever else you need it to be!

Lisa Rios