Everyone tells you that your startup or small business needs to have a website if you want to compete in your industry or niche. While that is good advice, the truth is that simply having a website isn’t enough to drive sales and ensure successful digital marketing.

In order for your investment in website design to bring you a good return in terms of increased revenue and brand awareness, your site needs to be easy to navigate, reliable and SEO optimized.

The following features are absolutely essential for an effective small business website:

1. An eye-catching header 

The header is the first thing that new visitors to your site will see when the page loads, so it’s vital that yours makes the perfect first impression. Your logo and tagline should be prominently positioned on the left side with your contact information readily visible.

To increase conversions, add a call to action button, encouraging people to call, contact you or sign up for your mailing list. Ensure these prospective customers remain on the site by making it easy for them to navigate to your interior pages with a top navigation and menu and breadcrumb navigation.

2. The right content above the fold

The “above the fold” content is what visitors see in front of them without having to scroll down. Studies have found that users will only read a little more than a quarter of what’s on the page, so it’s important to make the information in this area count. An attractive image or slider that summarizes what makes you the best in your industry is a must in this area of the home page.

You should also put key info that people might want to access quickly like business hours and location above the fold. Adding video or written testimonials or reviews above the fold can help to establish you as a leader in your niche right from the start.

3. Substance below the Fold

Visitors who are looking to learn more about you will naturally scroll down the page to view the content below the fold. While you can be more detailed here, it’s best to keep the home page simple and clean. Add main features about your company or products and provide links to important inner pages. Make sure the content here is top-notch both to satisfy the search engines and your prospective customers.

4. A professional footer

The footer may be the last thing that a visitor sees on your home page, but it’s no less important than the rest of the content. Having a professional footer is beneficial for SEO and helpful for prospective customers looking for specific information.

A complete footer should include full company contact information, your business hours, social media buttons and a navigation menu. A newsletter signup box can help you grow your mailing list to aid in your digital marketing efforts.

5. Essential inner pages

The inner pages of your website will vary based on your small business, but there are a few pages that all sites should have both for SEO and for their site visitors. A contact form makes it easy to get in touch with you, while a FAQs page can help visitors find answers to questions that they may have about your company or your products and services.

An About Us page adds to the professionalism of your site and helps to build trust with prospects. You should also have a privacy policy that describes how you use customer information and browser information collected by your site.

6. A frequently-updated blog

Maintaining a blog is vital for any small business. Research shows that companies that maintain blogs have 434 percent more indexed pages on average, giving them a big SEO boost. Plus, the posts give you content that you can share on social media and through email blasts for digital marketing purposes.

An effective blog should have social media share buttons and a comment feature. Be sure to include a sidebar and a search function to help readers find posts that are of interest to them.

7. SEO basics

Every day, people are using the Internet to search for products and services like yours. With 75 percent of search engine users never clicking past the first page of results, you need to use SEO to increase your chances of ranking highly and driving those individuals to your site. Search engine optimization involves more than carefully sprinkling keywords into your web content.

Your URL structure, sitemap, meta titles and meta descriptions can all help the search engines crawl your site to aid in ranking. Choose a platform that makes it easy to create your own URL and meta information and that automatically generates a sitemap to simplify SEO.

8. A reliable server

Your website obviously can’t be effective if prospective customers get a 404 error when they try to visit, making it vital that you choose a hosting service with a reliable track record. Speed is also essential, as studies have found that 40 percent of people will leave a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Effective web security is also a must, especially when you consider that 86 percent of people indicate that they would not buy from a business that suffered a data breach involving customer credit card information.

9. The best backend

As a startup founder, you have to wear many hats beyond that of the webmaster. Having the right tools available in the backend can make maintaining your website simpler.

Integrating Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools will put a wealth of stats and features right at your fingertips, and a content management system makes it possible to add quality content on the fly.

From a technical standpoint, ensuring that your code is optimized and your site is compatible with numerous web browsers are important for speed and usability.

What you don’t include in your website design is as important as what you do include. Flash elements can cause pages to load slowly and should be avoided. It’s also best not to host videos on your site’s server; use Vimeo or YouTube to keep pages loading quickly. And as a final piece of advice, skip the music. Visitors will appreciate not being startled by the strains of your jingle when the home page loads.

The infographic below, designed by 99MediaLab.com, is a visual explanation of everything you need to know about designing a user friendly and search engine optimised website for your small business.


This post was written by Piyush Mangukiya. Piyush is the Managing Partner at 99MediaLab, a Virginia based inbound marketing agency with a focus on small businesses providing them responsive website design, SEO, social media marketing and pay per click marketing.

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