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How Websites Work for Your Small Business

I’m often surprised at the number of small business owners who want to teach themselves web design, because they think they can save money by building their own website.

I had a web design business for nearly 10 years and the one thing that I know for sure is that technology and the internet change as fast as you can blink.

Web design is an ever-evolving and complex field of study. I would never tell any small business owner that it is better for them to learn as much as they possibly can about it. That would be a great distraction and take too much valuable time away from their actual business.

However, there are some basic principles of web design and production that a business owner should be aware of when working with a designer.

If you arm yourself with some basic knowledge of how websites work, you’ll be able to carry on a productive and meaningful conversation with your designer, communicate your needs and make a more informed decision as to what your next steps should be in the development of your site.

Here are some key insights that I have come to, based on experiences I have had, while working with my own clients and in collaboration with other teams and designers.

Use Plenty of “Calls to Action” Throughout Your Site
Every good website has a call to action that is usually derived from the primary purpose of your site. You should set at least one measurable goal for your website and there should be ample “calls to action” on your site to cue the visitor to take that action.

However, many small business websites have no calls to action at all and lose the opportunity to stay connected to their visitors. Visitors have very short attention spans online, you have to be clear about what it is you want people to do once they arrive on your site.

If you want their email address – give them a reason to give it to you. If you want them to schedule an appointment – make sure you ask them to. Don’t assume that they will know what to do. Use action verbs like “schedule”, “call”, “register” and “watch” or if it’s social – use “tweet”, “like” and “pin” to prompt your visitors to take action.

Make Sure Your Most Important Feature Appears “Above the Fold”
This refers to the part of your website that the viewer can see from top to bottom of their screen. You want to make sure that the most important information, content and/or “calls-to-action” are above the fold – so the viewer does not have to scroll down to find it. The applies to all mobile devices as well.

Let’s say for example, that the main goal for your site is to generate new leads by capturing emails online. Your sign-up box for your email list should be prominent and almost at the top of the page. The viewer should not have to scroll down to find it.

This is something that any good designer should know. They should confirm in the early stages of your project what content is important to you and how to achieve that on your website. If your goals aren’t clear, you could end-up going through endless rounds of costly design revisions.

Pay Attention to Your “Copy”
Copy is the text that you or someone from your team or a freelance copywriter provides for your site. This goes beyond basic contact information like telephone numbers and addresses. This is how you communicate to your customers and prospects and should be handled with great care.

Keep in mind that if your goal is to attract more customers you want your copy to be written in a tone and manner that they will understand. Remember to speak to your customers – not to your peers!

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words. . .But Only If It’s Clear Enough to See
Take the time to invest in good photography or stock photography, at the very least. There are thousands of resources out there at all price points – including free ones. Regardless of where you get your photos and graphics from make sure that you have a “hi-res” file.

“Hi-res” is short for “high resolution”. A designer can’t take a small fuzzy photo and make it large and clear, but they can take a large (hi-res) file, make it smaller and maintain the quality of the image.

A hi-res file should ideally come in a ‘.jpg’ or ‘.png’ format and saved at ideally 300 dpi (dots per inch). If it’s a little lower that’s fine, but you should be able to zoom in on the photo on your computer and not loose much sharpness or clarity.

Remember Free Doesn’t Always Mean Free
If you are going to use photos, videos or web graphics on your site, make sure that you have “the right” to use them to sell your products and services. Rights Management is a big and confusing topic.

We see free stock photo ads and “creative commons” logos all over the web, but you really need to keep in mind that if you did not pay someone to do it for you, then you need to make sure that you are following intellectual property and copyright guidelines.

Sometimes, designers can be lazy about obtaining the right documentation to show you that they have legitimately purchased a stock image or graphic – make sure that they do.

You don’t want to use an image in a product or service, that you make money off of, without the permission of it’s rightful owner, because you could end-up in court paying royalties to the owner down the road.

Ask for a CMS (Content Management System)
This is so important – you don’t want to build your site around a site builder or what is sometimes referred to as “static websites”. They both can look great but each come with a set of headaches that only a web developer can resolve and they don’t save time which usually means that in the end they will cost you money.

Site builders are cheap options that several web host companies provide, but the problem is if you are unhappy with your site or service, you can’t transfer your site’s content over very easily to another host or “framework” (aka another system) like a CMS.

Plus if you want to add more functionality or customize your site, many hosting companies either don’t provide those services at all or they charge you an arm and a leg to do it.

Static sites will be nearly impossible to update on your own and are typically slow. The pages load slower because the content is “coded” right into the very “mechanics” of the page and speed is everything on the web. A slow loading site does not work well when the average visitor sizes you up literally in about 3 seconds.

Studies have shown that 32% of consumers will start abandoning slow sites between one and five seconds (you can learn more about that here). This is why CMSs like (WordPress, Drupal and Joomla) are so popular – they are flexible, affordable, fast and with a little training easy to maintain.

Unless you want to keep a developer on a costly monthly retainer to make updates to your site, I would advise you to steer clear of static websites. They are more trouble than they are worth.

Well I could go on and on about various aspects of web design and production, but these are just a few points you should consider the next time you sit down with your designer or social media or site manager.

Bottom line, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you do not take the time to learn how you can use your website to leverage your business, but leave the “techie-stuff” and “heavy lifting” to the pros – that’s what we are here for.

We’re no different from any of the other service-based professionals out there. We provide you with a service that in the end should help you save time and money.

Question: Do you have a “techie” question you would like to ask about web design or managing your site? Share your questions and comments below and I will make an effort to answer them.

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Note: This post was last updated on May 16, 2020.

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