The website. It’s your business’s home online, which means it’s going to be one of the most common ways that potential customers first check out your business. Even small, local businesses are starting to realise they have to have some way to present themselves online.

Otherwise, customers are going to use the extensive reach of the internet to look at their competitors instead. But how do you make sure you have not only a site, but a site that really attracts and retains customers?

Don’t let them get stuck

It’s the very first lesson you have to learn about deciding on a website design. Easy, intuitive navigation is key. Yet there are still many businesses that make navigation mistakes that seem almost too obvious. Mistakes like putting your navigation bar in non-standard locations (like halfway down a page) make them easier to miss.

Clogging up the navigation bar with lots of different links will make it harder for customers to decide where they want to go. Keep your navigation bar in standard places, either to the top, the sides, or the bottom of the page if the bar can stay at the bottom as they scroll.

If you have a lot of web pages, see if you can’t combine some of them into a single page. Otherwise, split them into categories so they can still be accessed through drop-down menus without clogging up the navigation.

Keep it simple, stupid

The idea of a navigation bar with just the right number of links provided at first glance goes to a core of website design. You might be eager to provide all kinds of information to the customer and lots of widgets to keep their interest, but the more crowded a page is, the more likely a visitor is to get sick of it.

Especially if you’re dealing with pages crowded with reams of content and a scrollbar that goes on and on. Prioritize. Stick to the most crucial bit of the site.

Sell a story, not a product

As for the content that you’re producing, you need to go beyond describing what you do and what products you sell. Every one of your competitors does the same thing and will say the same thing. The customer needs basic information on what you provide, yes.

But you can get them more interested by telling the story of what you can offer them in the broader picture. What does your product change their lifestyle? How does your service make their life easier? What’s the potential emotional impact of your business and how does it fit the narrative of their life? This is your brand story and you should stick to it.

Take advantage of multimedia

Content isn’t always the best way to tell a story, however. Nor is it the only way to represent your brand. The imagery of the design, keeping it consistent and thinking about the atmosphere it presents, can establish a brand identity in the eyes of the visitor much quicker.

As for telling a story, whether it’s the story of the business or a demonstration of your products or services, visual narrative video production can deliver that message a lot quicker.

Sometimes, trying to say something through content alone can just be too slow, and visitors lose patience before they get the message. The internet is a multimedia experience. Know which media works best for which message.

Capitalise on the data

Sometimes, the best way to use the elements of a web page is intuitive. But when you’re unsure about how to best arrange calls-to-action, content and the like, you could use a little evidence to support the design.

To that end, you should look at conversion rate optimization methods. Besides running tests to see which site arrangements are more successful, you can look at the data of a website heatmap and see what parts of the site visitors are most likely to use.

Finding the areas that are most effective and placing an eye-catching call-to-action by them can have a great impact. It’s like finding an audience at their most enraptured and offering them to take the leap on that purchase they’re already thinking hard about.

Keep it current

If you don’t want customers to think that they’re dealing with a ghost town of a website and a business owner that couldn’t care less about their online presence, you want to keep it updated.

This might mean changing the homepage to highlight different deals at different times. But providing a site with good content through something like an attached blog can offer all sorts of benefit.

It can make you more visible on search engines, it can display your expertise all the more, and it can convert those members of the target market who weren’t even thinking of converting. Get a content management system on your site and make it much easier to keep the site up-to-date.

Share smarter links

Your website doesn’t work alone. If you’re smart, you’ll be sharing links to it through pay-per-click ads and your own social media. One mistake you don’t want to make is sharing links on a certain deal or element of the business, only to have the link lead the visitor to a hub page or the home page. You need landing pages, designed to develop exactly the content that a visitor is expecting to see.

If your social media message is waxing lyrical about a certain product, the link should take them to a page telling them the value and specifics of that product, not a store page where they have to find it amongst the rest of your range. In general, don’t add barriers that create another step between the visitor and where they want to go.

A website is more than a way of telling people where you are and what you provide. It can be the convincing argument that compels them to be customers. On the other hand, it can be a display of unimaginative marketing and unprofessional presentation that puts them off forever. The tips above are going to help you get on the right side of that divide.

Founding Editor @Alltopstartups, Contributor @Entrepreneur, Columnist @Inc. Magazine and Curator at Postanly (his free weekly digest of the best life and career improvement posts on the web. Subscribe for free.

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