Design tips for setting up a small business website

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Website Design
by Phil Dotree

It took my business about four months to get our website up, and after the launch, we made both major and minor design changes over the next three months. Initially, I made a lot of minor mistakes that ended up hampering my website's search engine ranking. My website also had some design issues that I could call "user experience problems" if I'm being kind, and "complete visual disasters" if I'm being honest.

I shudder to think about the number of clients my business lost during this period, but during the process, I learned a lot about drawing in an audience of potential customers. Here are a few essential tips to keep in mind when designing a website for a small business.

Keep a simple homepage

You might think that the more information you write about your business, the better your chances of converting Web visitors to customers. However, if your front page is covered in irrelevant information that doesn't demonstrate the value of your business's products or services, you won't keep your customers' attention.

Make sure that your front page has a compelling graphic and a short, brief description of your business. Get the customer's attention by talking about benefits, but keep your total page length to about 300-400 words.

Use a limited number of graphics
Most of your visitors will probably have broadband Internet connections, but if you bog down your page with images, you'll increase your page load times and drive some of your audience away. Even worse, search engines will give your website a lower ranking.

Of course, you'll need some graphics to make your page look professional. Your business's logo should be at the top of every page, and depending on what you sell, you might also have before-and-after shots, product pictures or other images. Remember to watch your page load times, however. There are free tools that can help you do this.

Start with the basics
Set up a simple homepage, an "About Us" page, "Contact Us," and maybe a page for "Service Offerings" or your Web store. When I set up my business's website, I tried to do too much at once. I wanted to have a complicated store, a customer database and other inessential elements, and as a result I ended up waiting months to launch my website.

Don't make this mistake

Keep things simple and add the extras after you've finished establishing the main pages of your site. Use a consistent, simple theme across all of these pages and resist the temptation to incorporate complex elements unless you have an extremely talented Web designer.

Have a blog with unique, specialized content
You're building a small business website because you want more customers, so starting a blog is a great way to show your professional credentials and bring in more search traffic. Write a quick article every day with industry news, tips or anything else related to your business. Keep the tone professional and don't stray too far off topic. Don't worry about keyword density or other SEO nonsense when writing your blog. If you write interesting, unique content, you'll draw in enough visitors to make it worth your while.

Finally, remember that the running theme here is to keep things simple. You can always add the extra stuff later, but by working with a talented Web designer and by taking things one at a time, you can quickly set up a great website that represents your business appropriately.

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