Small businesses no longer have an excuse for providing their customers with subpar digital experiences. Regardless of your vertical or size, your business needs a solid central online hub for your customers. And while your website can be simple, it needs to be effective -- a factor that largely relies on its design.
Thankfully, we have (mostly) moved past the misconception that the job of the web designer is to simply make things “look pretty.” Web designers are certainly responsible for maintaining the aesthetics of any brand. But, the best designers know that their larger goal is to create a digital experience that aligns the needs of the user with the goals of the business.
All too often, companies fail to balance these two goals effectively. A beautiful and clean website that delights buyers but doesn’t drive conversions won’t work for a brand that’s hungry for leads. And a bare-bones experience that only prioritizes quick sales might not satisfy a curious and deliberate customer. For a website to serve as a strong asset to both the business and the buyer, designers need to follow an intentional, purpose-driven path from the beginning.
So here are four simple rules to help get started:
1. Educate the team on the ins and outs of your business.
When designing a website for a small business, everyone on the marketing team needs a solid understanding of the business and its verticals. It might be easy for designers to overlook this necessity and solely focus on more visual elements of brand identity, but it does a disservice to the end product.
This is especially true for B2B companies, which often offer complex products and services to multiple and diverse audiences. A designer can’t truly create an effective website without at least some working knowledge of how the business operates, what it offers and who it speaks to. Developing robust audience profiles of all the various end users of each site -- consumers, business buyers, potential hires and other important stakeholders -- will inform the structure and strategy for the design itself.
2. Identify clear goals.
Before anything else, ask a simple but critical question: What’s the purpose of your website? Hint: It’s not enough to develop a new website or redesign just because everyone else is doing it. You need to identify the goals that your website will accomplish.
No web project is a one-size-fits-all, and even very similar businesses can have vastly different requirements for their websites. What is the website supposed to achieve, and how will that inform its design? Many businesses are looking for conversions, or new leads. Others might prioritize educating their audience above lead generation. Some just want a sexy website -- a place to excite customers and show off the brand. Whatever these goals are, they need to guide every design decision down to the smallest incorporated elements of the site.
These goals need to be clear and measurable, tied to the mission of the business. And while a website can have any number of these, it’s important that they don’t conflict -- otherwise, all will fall short.
3. Map out the user journey.
Now that you have defined goals as guideposts, it’s time to put yourself in your site users' shoes. Where are they coming from -- a Google search, a pay-per-click ad, an email marketing campaign? And what are the relevant keywords that will capture their attention and motivate a click?
And then once they arrive at the website, what messaging do we want to deliver? What do we want them to do? If your target audience has multiple segments, then each persona might have a different user journey or pathway. For example: a business in the healthcare industry might primarily cater to a) potential patients that are searching online for a particular practice or specialty area, but must also accommodate b) healthcare professionals that need to use the website every day to do their jobs, c) potential job seekers that want to browse opportunities at the organization and d) investors that need access to the company’s latest financial reporting documents.
Designers and content specialists need to be cognizant of the vastly different motivations of a website’s different target personas, and guide each accordingly.
4. Prioritize and simplify.
With a roadmap solidified for your end users, the next step is to guide them to exactly where you want them to be. Good user experience is about simplification -- which sometimes means eliminating extraneous content. Behavioral science shows that it’s easier to guide users along if they have fewer decisions to make. If you want your customer to download a whitepaper, for example, don’t clutter the page with other options or calls to -action. A best practice for designers? Limit the number of elements in navigation menus and page layouts to seven. Any more, and you’ll confuse the calls to action you want to convey.
Additionally, highlight these calls to action by making them stand out on the page. We’ve all been distracted by the bright red notification on Facebook, or been tempted by Hulu to start the next episode (again). Whether you’re contrasting with other design elements, using content hierarchies or other strategies, these are strong design choices made to elicit specific, clear responses.
What these responses might be depends on your previously defined goals. One website might highlight a search bar to allow users to quickly find what they want; others might deprioritize the feature to allow users to explore content organically. If you want customers to fill out a form, highlight it in a color that stands out in your palette, and reduce the number of competing elements. All these techniques are effective if purpose-driven.
Follow these four simple principles of purpose-driven design for your business website and users will be driven down a purposeful journey that’s so seamless, they won’t even realize they’ve reached the intended destination. Whether that means converting them into a sales lead through a downloaded piece of content on your site, or as simple as becoming a name they remember for future business relations, know your end goal and let it guide everything you do.