We completely understand. As the owner of a small business or leader of an organization, you have a long list of priorities -- and you may have put creating or refreshing your website somewhere around the 47th thing to tackle. After all, you don't visit your own website frequently, so it's easy to overlook the updates it may need.
Your online visitors, however, see your website as a representation of your business -- a stand-in for you. Your online presence should capture the essence of who you are and what you do, while generating what you need (legitimacy, interest, participation, sales).
When you're ready to create a new website or redesign your current one, here are five pieces of advice:
1. Design for THEM – not you.
What about your business is most important to your customers? What makes you stand out from your competitors? Speed? Price? Service? Quality? Once you know, craft your story accordingly.
To put it bluntly, if your customers don’t care about it – it doesn't belong on your site. We designed a website for a small manufacturing firm, highlighting what his oversized competitors simply couldn’t match: his personal guarantee for superior support. Everything on the site – the angle of the photos, what we highlighted in the owner’s bio, the choice of using his personal cell instead of a 1-800 number – showed potential customers that this operation was something special in the industry.
2. Beware the template.
There are oh-so-many great tools to make website creation fast. But stock photos, cut-and-paste logos and easy templates make far too many websites look exactly alike. Your customers should get the same feeling from your site they do when they work with you. And that feeling is conveyed in multiple ways: navigation, design, images, copy, color and even shapes.
One of our favorite website clients is a one-person consultancy who combines block-and-tackle business principles with spiritual awareness. There isn't a single off-the-shelf template that would accurately reflect his business model. Your uniqueness should shine through your website, too.
3. Create what’s needed.
Only what’s needed. Websites range from one-page billboards to complex e-commerce machines. Don’t let anyone talk you into buttons or bells and whistles you don’t need – extra features clutter your site and sully your brand. So, ditch the “BUY NOW!” button if your business is relationship-based. Skip the blog if you don’t have time to keep it updated. Consider the site we built for a local store to showcase their “mom and pop” sensibility amidst big box competitors. The clean design and focused content encourages personal interaction and showcases this small business’s personal expertise and community ties.
4. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile.
Did I mention mobile? Too often small businesses overlook the skyrocketing use of phones and tablets when designing their sites. For example, Google reports that more of its searches now take place on mobile devices vs. desktop computers in 10 countries, including the U.S. and Japan. So if your site isn’t optimized for a mobile device, you are either missing customers, or turning them away due to a poor experience.
Be sure to test your site on multiple kinds of devices, as well as different operating systems and browsers. Our client PreciouStatus knew they needed savvy mobile design – after all, they invented an app that allows families to get their loved ones’ education and health care statuses in the palms of their hands. What would customers think if the company website didn’t reflect the same technical ingenuity and emotional connection?
5. Don’t be afraid to throw it all out the window.
Websites can be like old houses: it's tempting to simply remodel, repaint or replace. But consider the bones of your old website before you invest more time and energy into its upkeep. We’re working now with an association that built a new website on top of two older websites, in an attempt to preserve existing content. The result? A navigational labyrinth of clashing brands and styles, outdated pages and frustratingly dead links. When your reputation is at stake, it’s often best to hit the reset button. Start with a clean slate, and build something that reflects the best elements of your business -- and helps get customers in the door.