I’m often asked by friends and acquaintances who own small businesses what I think of their website and what they can do to make it better. Over the last 25 years I’ve been designing graphics and websites, and today I spend the majority of my time creating small business websites.

So what do I look for when I review their websites? I’ve created this simple list of the most important components of a great small business website. E-commerce websites have some additional components, but online retail businesses can use these criteria as a foundation. The first four items are timeless design and marketing concepts, and the last on this list is a constantly changing subject.

1. First impressions

When people come to your website, it’s really important that they know your business focus or product immediately. People bounce around the web quickly these days (1.4 seconds on average), and if they don’t think they’ve found what they’re looking for, they’ll click right out of your website and you’ll lose the business. Your branding should be clear as well. If a customer knows you, has seen your advertising or has been given your business card or a sample of your product, they should be able to tell they’re in the right place.

A professional-looking website tells the world how you run your business, so this is probably not the time to let your brother-in-law who dabbles in IT put a website together for you. Make sure the design is modern and clear. A timeless design can buy you a few years before another redesign.

Style is everything when choosing a design. What appeals to your demographic? Or even better, what appeals to your ideal demographic?

2. Is it easy to find what you’re looking for?

Organize your web pages in a way that makes sense, also known as user experience. Visitors want to access everything quickly and easily. The fewer clicks the better. Remember what I said about how quickly someone will leave your website? Well, they’ll click right out if they don’t find what they need ASAP!

I have a theory that people use the menu on their computer and they’re more likely to scroll on their phones. Why not make all of the menu items accessible by scrolling down the home page with a little blurb about each page? I honestly think some people don’t even know how to use the menu on their phones. I won’t laugh at you if you’re one of them, so here’s the scoop. Mobile websites often have three little lines at the top that show the menu if clicked. (By the way, this is called a hamburger. Can you see it?)

And don’t you dare hide that phone number or your preferred way of contact. Put that front and center, or make a button in your mobile version. Don’t lose a customer because they can’t find a way to contact you quickly!

3. Mobile responsiveness

Speaking of mobile phones. Did you know that over half of web browsing is done on phones these days? (OK, you weren’t surprised because you see all of those people with their heads down over their smartphones…)

If a website is easy to read on a phone, it probably looks different than its desktop version. This is called a responsive website. I can’t believe how many websites these days don’t have a mobile version. This is a really good sign that you haven’t updated your website in a long time and it isn’t giving a good impression to visitors, let alone making it easy for them to read. Also, if your site isn’t mobile friendly, you will slowly lose any google ranking because websites with mobile responsiveness are preferred in google search results.

4. Calls to Action

If someone is clicking around on your website and what they find is interesting, they’ll want to contact you. Let’s make it easy for them to do so? Placing some contact buttons and forms throughout the website makes for more interaction with your visitors.

For those visitors that need a little incentive, why not make something available to them for free in exchange (ex: e-book) for their email address? This way you can contact them in the future if you have a sale or new product. Developing an email list with services like Mailchimp, Constant Contact or MailerLite is easy. Keep your business name on their mind by sending news, tips and coupons.

You can also track what buttons and forms are being used in Google Analytics, so you can either try some new methods or keep doing what works.

5. Search Engine Optimization

Last, but definitely not least, is search engine optimization (SEO). This is a subject for multiple long articles, so here’s the super short version. For starters, you don’t want to spend time and money creating a website if nobody can find it. At a minimum, your website needs to be optimized for your brand name.

Research the keywords that your potential customers use when they’re searching for your product or service and use them in your website’s headlines, page names and image names. (But don’t overdo it!). This helps search engines know what your business has to offer. In turn they’ll bring up your website in searches. Search engines like a lot of words in your content to really get to know you better, so make sure you write a good amount. Think of it like this, the images are for humans and the words are for search engines.

Break up your text with subheads (containing keywords!) so the text doesn’t feel so long. You’ll also want to make sure that you create SEO page titles and descriptions (also with keywords). These appear on the search results page, so write something that will entice people to click your link!

In addition, there are several things you should be doing outside of your website to encourage search engines to rank your site, such as social media, Google My Business and links to your website from other websites. Again, a subject for many lengthy articles.

Now that I’ve given away my secrets, it doesn’t mean you can’t ask me what I think of your website and how to improve it! I love being a website detective and discovering ways to improve your online presence. I’m passionate about giving businesses a professional image and supporting their success! Contact us at creatives@harmonygraphicdesign.com.