If you haven’t done it before, designing a small business website can be daunting.
There are literally hundreds of options out there when it comes to tools that claim they can make the process easier, cheaper or more effective.
This guide will tell you exactly what you need to know to get started.
First, there are some technical terms to do with designing a small business website that are important to learn.
Key website terms
What is a domain name?
A domain name is a website’s unique name, like google.com. It’s how people access the site.
Before you start designing a small business website, it’s important that you find a domain name for your business.
What is website hosting?
Once you’ve created a site, it needs to be ‘hosted’ online before people can visit it. You can do this yourself, but it’s much cheaper and more common to pay another company to host your sites for you.
There’s a lot of website hosting services out there — and not all of them are good.
For small businesses just starting out, a shared hosting package should serve you ok. For those expecting more traffic or wanting a website with lots of images and pages, we recommend a cloud hosting package.
What is a website builder?
Making websites requires writing computer code, which is often difficult and complex. Website builders are tools that let you create a site visually and provide templates to make it quicker.
If you’re new to creating a website for your business, we recommend using a no code website builder. They use a simple drag-and-drop design system, and you work off a template, which keeps cost low.
Website builders come with everything you need to get started, including an online shop function, web hosting, security and other user features.
There are dozens of different website builders available, so we recommend you compare to find the best for your type of business.
What is an SSL certificate?
An SSL certificate is how sites prove that the connection between them and their users is secure and can’t be hacked.
If you’ve ever seen a padlock next to a website’s domain name in your browser, that’s because it has an SSL certificate.
You need an SSL certificate if you’re doing anything with sensitive user information, like passwords or bank details.
What you’ll need to get started
There’s a lot that goes into designing a small business website. You’ll need both a website builder to create the site and then a hosting service so people can access it.
Depending on the website builder you use, however, hosting might already be included, so you can hit two birds with one stone.
If you’re familiar with the process of buying a domain and hosting a website yourself, then services like WordPress, Weebly or Shopify are good choices to start with, as they give you a lot of control over how your site works.
A domain name and URL
Your domain name is your site’s first impression, so it’s important to get right.
If your company is already established, the choice is easy — get a URL that matches its name as closely as possible.
As a general rule, you want your URLs to be as short as possible while still being easy to read. Rather than having lots of words broken up with hyphens, try to keep your domain name to just one or two words strung together.
Lots of hosting sites will tell you the estimated price for a domain name before you buy it, which means you can make a more informed judgement about whether a simpler yet more expensive name is worth it versus one that’s slightly less elegant but much cheaper.
How should you design your website?
You’re finally ready to start actually building your website. But it’s very likely that you don’t know where to start — web designers spend months, if not years, researching the best way to design websites, after all.
There are hundreds of little ways that you can tweak the way your website looks and feels to bring in more visitors and turn them into customers.
But getting the fundamentals right is much more important: if your site looks ugly or is slow to load, people are going to close their browser tab right away.
Here are some basic guidelines you should follow when designing your website:
Keep it simple
The best way to start designing a small business website is to keep it as simple as possible.
Focus on the information the user needs to know, and avoid anything that distracts from that.
Rather than cluttering up the screen with lots of flashing text or pointless widgets, give top priority to the content users visited your site to see.
In turn, this means you should make navigation between the different pages of your site as easy as possible.
That’s why almost every site has a ‘nav-bar’: a horizontal strip at the top that contains links to all the main pages of your site. This means that no matter where they are, the user knows that they can always get back to the homepage easily.
When it comes to displaying content, you should make use of titles, subheadings, and bullet point lists to visually break up the text.
This causes much less stress on the eyes while reading and makes the entire page look more professional.
You should also be thinking about accessibility from the start. There will be people visiting your site who are colour-blind, or have to use a screen-reader to browse the web.
Designing accessible websites is a topic unto itself, but some important tips are to use large, easily-readable fonts and not rely on colour to convey important information. If you use any images, they should have ‘alt-text’ — short written descriptions for people using screen-readers.
On the web, images are definitely worth a thousand words.
Good images provide visual relief for the people reading your site, and they can help give it a more professional appearance overall.
One thing to note with images is that you should make sure their file size isn’t too large. Your users will have to download the images to use your site, and if you make them wait too long, they’re going to get frustrated and leave.
There are lots of ways to find good images for your site. You can, of course, upload images or photos you’ve created yourself.
There are also many websites where you can find royalty-free stock images to make your pages that little bit more interesting.
You’ll often see this saying when reading about website design: “content is king!”
Good, high-quality content is the only reason people visit websites. It doesn’t matter how impressive your animations are or how much money you spent on bandwidth if your content is boring or unoriginal.
‘Content’ is a deliberately broad term, because it can mean almost anything.
The easiest kind of content to create, text posts, is also the most common.
The big advantage of text content is that it’s cheap to make and a natural place to slide in keywords for your SEO marketing.
When designing a small business website, content can also include videos or audio that you’ve made.
Having lots of different kinds of content on your site is a great way to bring in different audiences and increase your overall traffic.
What features should a website have?
Every website is different, and it should be uniquely based on your business. That said, when designing a small business website, there are some features that basically all websites should have.
One of them is mobile accessibility. It’s more common nowadays to browse the internet on a smartphone than a desktop computer, and if your site isn’t designed for it, it’ll break on mobile browsers.
Most website builders will automatically make sure your site is mobile-friendly, but you should still test it yourself to make sure everything looks right and none of your site’s functionality is broken.
Another universally important feature is the ability to search through a site’s content. People usually visit sites because they have something on their mind already, and rather than wasting time trawling through every link on your site, they’re going to want to be able to quickly search for the specific content that interests them.
As a consequence of this, you should make your content easy to search for. This means good keyword usage, as well as clear, descriptive titles that tell the reader what the piece is about.
What not to do
When you’re designing a small business website, there are lots of pitfalls that are easy to fall into. Many people over the years have thought that putting in big, flashy animated images would be a great way to get people’s attention — turns out, it usually just annoys them.
Here are some of the most important things to avoid when designing your site.
- Ugly, unprofessional or hard-to-read fonts. Stick with standard fonts like Arial or Helvetica, and keep in mind that users can override your choice with their browser settings.
- Avoid the use of garish or overblown colours. Putting a bright yellow background on your page will hurt people’s eyes and make them turn away immediately.
- Never have content that autoplays. There’s nothing more infuriating than when you open up a website and it immediately begins playing a video or music track that you then have to hunt down and mute.
Building your website
If you’re just designing a small business website, however, that complexity usually isn’t necessary. Consider using one of these website builders to make the process of quickly getting your site up and running easy and stress-free.
What should be included in a business website?
A business’ website should include all the information that an interested customer is likely to want to know. This includes basic details, like the company’s name, location, contact details and opening hours.
It’s also a good idea to include an ‘About Us’ page to give people an overview of your company’s history, what it stands for and what you do today.
Finally, every business site should include a ‘call to action’ that urges readers to take the next step with the business, whether that’s buying a product, calling a telephone number or signing up for a newsletter.