If you want your company’s website to stand out, get found, and engage your customers, it has to do more than just look nice and say some friendly words. Here are 15 essential elements every small business website needs to perform well.
- Clear call to action. Your business has a website for a reason, whether it’s to sell your products, catch new leads, provide information, or inspire ideas. Based on that reason, let the reader know right away what they’re being asked to do! Use buttons, forms, or prominent links to get them to sign up for your email list, make an appointment, download a file, or sign up for a free trial. Make it easy, and make it clear.
- Contact information—on every page! There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to contact a business but you can’t find their contact info. Many businesses include their phone number or email address in the header or footer of their page, so that no matter which page a reader is on, they can easily make the step to contact you. It is also common to have a “Call us now!” call-to-action button that floats on the top of each page.
- Mobile responsive design. Look around—everyone's on their phones! It’s no longer just a perk to have a mobile-friendly website, it’s a must. Otherwise, your customers will have a hard time navigating your site, and you’ll also lose SEO momentum. Google also prioritizes mobile responsive sites over those that have not yet made the transition.
- SSL certificate (Secure Sockets Layer). Acquiring an SSL certificate for your site turns your “http://” into “https://”, which indicates a secure site. It both authenticates your website’s identity and encrypts sensitive data communicated to and from your site, discouraging hackers and ensuring that customers’ credit card numbers or sensitive, personal information is safe when they enter it on your site. This is a necessity for any eCommerce site, but it can also affect your SEO efforts, as Google announced that they will be adjusting their indexing to prioritize HTTPS pages.
- Optimized images. We’re talking about page load time. If your site’s images are too large, it will cause your page to take longer to load—which is one of the first things that may cause a potential customer to give up and try another site. Keeping image sizes under 200kb is recommended as long as picture clarity is preserved, though some images, such as a wide hero image, may exceed this limit. Image file sizes can be adjusted in Photoshop’s “Save for Web & Devices” option, or by using various free online services such as pixlr.com.
- Clear navigational path. Customers will get frustrated and leave your site if it is too difficult to find the desired information. Make sure your navigational menu is concise and clear, being direct about where they need to go to find what. Make sure your site search feature works well, that your pages are titled accurately (you don’t want to be too creative—straightforward is often better), and test test test your site navigation to make sure users have a clear pathway throughout the content.
- Testimonials. Think about how often you read Amazon reviews or Yelp ratings. Potential customers want to know what current customers think about your product, and how they’re using it. Even if you just have two or three helpful, realistic, descriptive testimonials, your business’ credibility receives a boost.
- Social media buttons or links. Let your customers know where to find you in the great online conversation. Have prominent icon buttons or even a written out, “Follow us on Twitter!” Also, include social sharing buttons on your blog posts and infographics.
- Analytics integration. Appearing prominently in Google search results depends on more than just having quality content and optimizing your tags and settings. To truly know how your business’ site is performing, you have to see how customers are interacting with it. Are certain pages experiencing a high bounce rate? Which pages of your site are users landing on first? Where do they typically go from there? Setting up Google Analytics and Search Console make up the first step in monitoring your site’s activity and engagement.
- Basic SEO. If you want your site to rank at all, you have to give Google what it wants—which ultimately helps your customers find what they want. This means clear, direct descriptions, titles, and headers that tell the user they’re in the right place to find what they want. Make sure to do keyword research to optimize your page titles, meta descriptions, and your H1 and ALT tags. This helps Google properly index your site while also attracting customers looking for products or services like yours.
- Fresh, relevant content. Effective content marketing is essential for success for today’s biggest brands. You have to create and promote content that is helpful and inspiring to your audience, and you have to do it regularly—on your blog, on social media, in emails. Keep people coming back for more, which also tells Google that your site is staying relevant and engaging its visitors.
- Reliable hosting. For the same reason you don’t use large images or files that increase page load time, you want to make sure your hosting platform is efficient and reliable. If the server is slow in responding, or if there are frequent (even occasional!) service outages giving error pages to customers, that equals a major deterrent from using your site ever again. You also want a hosting company that has high-quality customer service for when problems do arise. At times, the downtime is not always the fault of the hosting server. Automatic coding updates or changes to coding language versions can leave you with a "broken site." In this case, it is also vital that you also have access to a reliable web guru to help get the site fully functional again. Building a site isn't a "set it and forget it" kind of situation.
- Easy domain name. It makes sense to use your company name, such as thebestcompany.com, or something about your products, such as fasterskates.com. But it has to be something easy to remember, easy to type or cut and paste, and easy to say out loud. Avoid lengthy URLs with too many names, numbers, and symbols, like thebestschool-k-12-atlanta.org, or with words that run together or are confusing to remember, like smithsshoesalesteam.com. Think of the greats, such as Amazon, GoDaddy, eBay, etc.
- Custom 404 page. It’s inevitable that at some point, your customers are going to land on the wrong page. Whether it’s an old offer link that you forgot to redirect, an old article Google still has indexed, or they simply type the URL incorrectly, you can use a custom 404 page to still put relevant information in front of your customers, help them get back on track, and keep your primary call to action front and center.
- Backup plan. Disasters happen—whether your business is a victim of hackers, an update gone awry, complete server failure, or your hosting company goes caput. Don’t be left without a backup of your whole site and its content. Some hosting providers may provide an automated backup service, so check there first. Otherwise, a good rule of thumb is If you load new content weekly, backup every week. If you post daily or run an eCommerce site with customer orders, your site may require an automated service such as Vaultpress or CodeGuard.
You’ve probably gathered that most of these essential elements are aimed at a smooth, seamless, engaging customer experience. Similar to how you’d want a customer to feel when they walk in your doors, you want to engineer the same experience for their visits to your business’ website.