By Tim Russell
I’ve written a lot recently about web design, SEO, and content. But one thing I haven’t covered is small business website essentials. The key features all small businesses should have on their websites. Obviously, this is going to differ from one business to another but whatever sector you’re in. There are in my opinion seven key features that every company should have on their site if it is to be an effective tool.
Firstly, and most obviously, you need a good homepage. Indeed for many businesses, a single homepage alone can be enough. One-page websites became fashionable a few years ago and are still popular, particularly in the tech sector.
Either way, there are four key elements that come together for small business website essentials on your home page.
Logo, Branding & Message
First of all, there should be no doubt exactly whose page this is! Make sure your logo and company name are prominent, that the homepage uses your corporate color scheme, and that it’s clear to the user within a few seconds of them landing on your page exactly what service or products your business provides. Those first few seconds are where the customer is won or lost. And if your identity and offers aren’t clear, visitors will quickly go elsewhere. Here’s a great example. The second we land on the page, we can see the company name and know exactly what it is they do:
Whilst users may be impressed by slick design and cutting-edge interactivity, what really matters is your navigation. This means how easy it is for visitors to find what they’re looking for. So clear navigation and menus are definitely a part of the small business website essentials on your homepage. How essential? Just look at this Hubspot survey:
Your navigation – usually a top menu – should be very clear, not have too many items, and use sub-menu items where necessary, with each item clearly labeled to avoid ambiguity. We’re going to blow our own trumpet a little bit here and use our own homepage menu as an example!
We’ve only got six items in there. They’re all clearly labeled and it’s very easy for the visitor to find exactly what they’re looking for.
Product or Service Summary
As we said above, within seconds of landing on your page, visitors should know what you’re offering. And further down your homepage, you should provide a short summary of your product features or service offering, along with a link to find out more. Here’s an example of a homepage that very clearly summarises what the business does:
The last thing your homepage needs is good and clear Calls-to-Action, or CTAs. These can be anything from getting people to click on a link to another page, follow a social media link, complete a contact form, sign up for a free trial, download a brochure or white paper, or subscribe to a newsletter. The key thing is making sure that you harvest as many visitors’ contact details as possible. And of course, get them to stay on the site for as long as possible. Here’s a good example from Problogger:
That’s the above the fold area of the page, and I can count at least five CTAs already! You should also put more CTAs further down the page to make sure you do all you can to get your visitors to take some action.
Blog & News
With content marketing proving to be one of the most effective and affordable strategies for small business, having a regularly updated blog and news page on your site is essential. Whereas the rest of your site may change little once it’s up & running, your blog will be updated at least weekly. And this will provide the regular fresh, relevant content that Google looks for when it’s ranking websites. I’ve written – and will write again – about content marketing and blogging elsewhere. But briefly, this is the place where you should be posting:
- Articles about your business sector
- News about your business sector
- Company news & announcements
- Opinion/thought leadership articles
- Anything else that may be of interest to your target customers
Your blog/news page should be as ‘sticky’ as possible, ie it should keep users on the page and give them plenty of interesting stuff to click on.
This is a great example from DesignOnline – there’s loads of content on there that will keep interested visitors clicking and reading for ages, as well as relevant links and social feeds in the sidebar.
And when users click on a blog, the layout should be clean, easy to read, have relevant pictures to break up the text, have links to other blog posts and pages to keep the bounce rate low, and have a CTA or a signup form.
This example from Lattice is very clean, nice to look at, has social links and a CTA, and plenty of hyperlinks to other content on the site, and is a textbook example of a simple but effective business blog.
Your About page is where you talk about who you are, rather than what you do. It’s where you establish trust, where you put across your company philosophy, ethos and character, and where you convince visitors that, as well as providing a product or service they need, you’re also the kind of people they want to work with.
What you choose to put on the About page is up to you, but at the very least there should be some kind of philosophy or mission statement about WHY you do what you do; maybe a history of the company, especially if you have an interesting story to tell; and profiles of your founders and other team members to personalise the story.
This is a good, simple example of an About Us page – it tells us the company’s story, why they do what they do, and who they are. When written in an informal, chatty way, it suggests they’d be good people to work with. It really needn’t be any more complicated than this.
These can either go on your About page or have a page of their own, but testimonials are absolutely key to a small business website. Here’s why:
- 92% of customers read online reviews before buying (Big Commerce)
- 70% of people trust reviews and recommendations from strangers (Nielsen)
- 88% of consumers trust online testimonials and reviews as much as recommendations from friends or family (Big Commerce)
- 97% of B2B customers cited testimonials and peer recommendations as the most reliable type of content. (Demand Gen Report)
Testimonials are key to establishing trust and letting people know that you’re a reliable company that delivers what they promise. You can praise your own products all you want, and if you’re a persuasive copywriter that may be enough for some customers. But nothing beats having real customers evangelizing about your company to others.
You should also look at embedding reviews on third-party sites (eg Trustpilot) on your own site. And remember, the occasional average or poor review isn’t necessarily a bad thing – people mistrust blanket 5* reviews, and a complaint, with clear evidence that you dealt with it efficiently and promptly, is often a better marketing tool than a good review!
Here’s a good example from FreeAgent, where they share real testimonials along with feedback from Twitter:
Products & Services
You’ve told people what you do and given them a summary of your products’ or services’ key features. But if they’re going to buy, they need the full details. So your site needs to showcase your products or services in a way that informs and persuades the visitor, makes it clear what the price is and what’s included, and makes it easy for them to buy. Key elements to include might be:
- Product images, descriptions & specifications
- Service features & inclusions
- Pricing & packages
- Customization options
E-commerce is a subject for another blog post entirely, but if you have clear product or service descriptions and pricing info, as well as an easy buying process, customers will be more likely to buy.
Here’s a great example from Fitbit:
Each product is displayed very clearly with pricing, and if I click on an option, I get taken to this page:
I can get a closer look at the product, watch a video of it in action, learn more about the features and available accessories, and, when I’ve decided, buy it simply and easily. A textbook example of how to sell a product online.
Finally, and very importantly, we come to the small business website essentials for the Contact Page. It’s essential that you make it easy for people to contact you. Whether they’re potential customers, existing clients, suppliers, partners and so on. You should include some or all of the following:
Forms make it easy for visitors to contact you, provided their inquiry isn’t urgent. And companies like them as they can link forms directly to their CRM system and harvest data in an efficient way. Forms should be as simple as possible and ask for the bare minimum of information. Usually a name and email should be enough at the initial inquiry stage. You can ask for the rest later.
Live Chat or Chatbot
For people with immediate inquiries, a chat window is a great way to interact with visitors. Provided you have someone watching it all the time! If not, think about using a chatbot. They’re great for when it comes to dealing with common questions or triaging inquiries to channel visitors to the right person to help them.
Physical Address & Map
If you’re looking for walk-in customers, then of course a business address and map are essential. Even if you’re not, having a physical address (rather than a PO box or no address at all) gives your business additional credibility.
Phone Number & Email
Having a phone number is optional, but if you do have one, again make sure someone’s there to answer it. Existing customers appreciate being able to speak to a real person if they have problems. And whilst email isn’t essential, for some people it’s their preferred method of communication. So think about including an email address. But again, make sure someone’s monitoring it and that emails are replied to promptly.
You should also link to your social media accounts on these pages. And remember, Facebook Messenger is rapidly becoming a very popular way for companies to handle customer questions and queries, so think about using it.
Putting it all together, here’s a great example from Morroni:
So there’s your checklist of small business website essentials! Obviously there are plenty of other features you could build into your site. But if you’re following our advice on Growth-Driven Design and launching as quickly as you can, these are the basic pages you’ll need. Keep following us for more advice on web design for small businesses!