Creating an Effective Small Business Website: Key Differences, Design Tips, and Goals
What is a small business Web site? How does this Web site differ from other kinds of Web sites? Now that we are on the topic, what is a Web site? A clear idea on these matters would enable you to talk intelligently with your Internet business consultant, should you decide to hire one to develop your small business Web site.
What Is A Web Site?
A Web site is a set of documents residing on a server computer somewhere, connected to the Internet. These documents would be available to anybody who is connected to the Net, subject to any access restrictions imposed by the administrator of the site.
Each of these documents could include text, images, sound, and video clips. Using text, you convey information. Images could improve the attention-getting value of the page and also convey significant additional information about the topic. Sound and video clips could add even more punch if used sparingly and tastefully.
Website authors typically create the documents first on their computer, each one as a separate Web page. After checking that the pages as a whole would meet the intended purpose of the site, these are uploaded to a server computer.
Small Business Web Sites
What distinguishes a small business Web site are certain characteristics that we could identify in most small business websites. Firstly, they are “business” Web sites, intended to help in carrying out some business. Secondly, most of these websites are marketing devices. They seek to build a brand image and/or sell the products of the small business.
Large businesses also might use Web sites as a brand-building tool. Some might even sell their products through Web sites. However, large businesses do not usually care to sell directly to consumers and their sales sites are likely to be B2B – Business To Business – websites. They might also use Web sites for Customer Relationship Management – CRM – or Supply Chain Management – SCM.
Small business Websites are usually meant for ultimate customers. They contain product photographs, descriptions, prices, and other details. Customers browse through these details, select what they want, place orders, and make payments.
Small business websites are thus marketing tools that require as much care as any other marketing effort. The website must be developed with:
- A clear idea about its purpose
- Layout and content designed to achieve that purpose
What Do You Want Your Web Site to Do?
Few small business websites start out as full-fledged e-commerce websites able to accept orders and payments online. Most start out as ‘brochure’ sites introducing themselves and their products to readers.
Some products are just not suitable for online selling and in these cases, the website might remain a brochure website. Such brochure websites serve the purpose of creating brand awareness.
Such a website, if well-designed and filled with content that inspires trust, could create a good image of the company in the minds of readers. The website might also incorporate communication facilities. Customers could send comments and queries to the company from the website.
Where you are selling products or services that are suitable for online selling, you might decide to have a full-fledged e-commerce site. This kind of small business Web site would incorporate facilities for ordering the products (or services) and also paying for the orders by credit card. These require a great deal more effort (and formalities) to set up. Once set up, however, these websites could do business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
As an intermediate step, the website could provide a toll-free number to place orders by phone. This might bring in a few more customers (or many more customers, depending on the offer and the website).
You must have a clear idea of what you want your small business website to do. Once you have this idea, you could start the Small Business Web Site Development exercise as discussed in a separate article.
Layout and Content
The topic of Web site layout and content has been discussed in the Small Business Web Site Development article mentioned just now. Here, we take only a brief look.
The layout should induce visitors to remain at the site and read the contents. This is best achieved by a simple and tasteful layout and not by flashing graphics and blinking text. A simple layout means that only the essential elements are present – like a logo, clearly presented information, and navigation buttons. Tasteful means few and muted colors (except some patches of brightness to liven up the page), clean lines separating the different sections, and relevance of the graphics and text to the intended message.
The content should seek to inspire trust and confidence. Extravagant claims and promises, hype without substance, poorly written and/or irrelevant materials, broken links, and other kinds of irritating errors – all cause readers to lose faith in the message.
You should also attend to page download times. Large graphics and video clips, for example, increase download times. If a page takes more than a few seconds to download, visitors won’t wait. They would go to a competitor’s small business Web site.
Other content like order and payment pages have been briefly mentioned above and discussed in more detail on the small business website development page.
Your small business Web site would not serve its purpose unless its message reaches prospective customers. You have to get visitors to the Web site, and that to visitors who are prospective customers. This objective is achieved through Web Site Promotion which is discussed separately.