One of the biggest problems that small businesses face is ineffective websites. A website is often one of the largest start-up marketing expenses for a small business; unfortunately, many small businesses never see a return on that investment.

Why do most websites have this problem? The average starter website typically:

  • Is not well designed. Sometimes websites don't match the rest of your designed materials or, worse yet, are designed using a template that looks nothing like any of your other materials.
  • Tries to accomplish too many things on each page.
  • Has little or no information of value to your potential clients. Most websites are written all about you and your business—not them and their needs and concerns.
  • Lacks calls to action. You have to give your visitors clear instructions on what to do and how to proceed.

A small business's website should perform a few basic jobs. It should:

  • Extend your brand.
  • Answer your prospects' most-asked questions.
  • Help you to grow your prospect or contact list.
  • Convert your prospects into clients.

Your site can easily do all of this and more. To get started, there are three main elements of the website that you have to address:

Content

Overall, the content, or text, on your website is the single most important element of your website. This content gives:

  • Interested prospects a place to learn more about your services and to get their burning questions answered.
  • Current and past clients a resource for at-their-fingertips contact information and in-depth information about your offerings.
  • Internet search engines some content to index. The search engines read only the text part of your website, not the graphics. So choose a few keyword phrases, and use those throughout the text on your site. Hopefully, your keywords will help your site to rank well!

Design

The design of your website should be consistent with the rest of your brand identity and marketing materials, so that it can extend your brand identity into the online forum. Be sure to include, at the very least:

  • Your Logo: This should tell the story of who you are, what you do, and what makes you different.
  • Your Visual Vocabulary: This is all of the visual elements, in addition to your logo, that make up your business's look and feel. This includes the fonts, color schemes, photography, shapes, backgrounds, and other elements that you use.

It's important that your Logo and your Visual Vocabulary be used consistently throughout all of your marketing materials. If your website looks markedly different from your other materials, then people who have your printed marketing materials might feel like they've landed in the wrong place when they call up your website.

Your site should also have:

  • Appealing information design: Having text content on a site is key, but your text has to be designed and laid out in such a way that it's understandable, easily readable, and compelling. Laying the information in quick bursts, such as bulleted lists, helps people to read your site quickly. And using headlines, subheads, and bold text to break up the copy can also keep visitors interested enough to read all of the text.
  • Consistent navigation design: If your navigation changes from page to page, it will be difficult for visitors to find their way around the site—they can't tell where they've already been easily.

Function

The average small-business website is designed as just an online brochure. But the ideal website will do something else as well, such as:

  • Growing your contact list: Collecting the names of the people who visit your website and are interested in your services is a great way to create a list of contacts for your follow-up marketing (such as sending a newsletter).
  • Answering visitors' questions: Including answers to their most commonly asked questions can help visitors to get instant gratification from your site. Also, having a contact form can encourage hesitant buyers to ask the questions that will help them to overcome their buying doubts and fears.
  • Converting prospects into clients: Using calls to action throughout the site can help convert prospects into paying clients, as will giving visitors clear instructions on what to do next, paired with great benefits to compel them to do so.

If you address all of these main issues, then your website will be more successful than the average website. Instead of just being another ineffective marketing tool, your website will produce results, attract your target customers, and help you to close more sales.

About the Author

Erin Ferree is a logo, print, and web designer who has been making it easy for small businesses to stand out and to be visible, credible, and memorable for the past ten years.

Read more articles on Logo, Graphic and Web Design