Website basics for small business

The day Google became a verb was a turning point for commerce, forcing small business to take a long hard look at their online presence. Having a website is now non-negotiable. It’s one of the first places potential clients and employees visit to learn more about an enterprise. It’s the anchor that grounds every other sales pitch and marketing endeavour.

If done badly, however, a website can do more harm than good. Nothing is more off-putting than passé design, except maybe bad grammar and broken links. It pays for small business to give their website some thought.

Whether using an off-the-shelf product or engaging a website designer to help, adhering to a few basic principles will ensure a website is a winner.

Blending in is better

Research has confirmed what we learned at high school; it doesn’t pay to be different. Users respond to proto-typicality. That is, looking just like everybody else in a particular website category gives a more satisfying experience to visitors, encouraging them to hang around longer.

For some businesses ‘typical’ might be hard to define. But spend a bit of time browsing sites from the same industry and patterns will emerge. A chemical manufacturer won’t look and sound like a fashion retailer. A professional services company won’t talk to its visitors like an artist might.

Take inspiration from competitors, especially market leaders, when determining the look, feel and language used on a website. But don’t be unoriginal and don’t steal their copy.

It really is just like highschool.

Copy matters

Razzle dazzle design and tech wizardry are impressive, but a website riddled with grammatical errors and clumsy text doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. And don’t get me started on the dreaded exclamation mark.

small business website with bad copy

My 60-second edit of a website with bad copy

A good website that makes visitors linger depends first and foremost on robust design. But once there, users are looking for information. Well-crafted copy that works with the design, not against it, is critical to sealing the deal.

Stand out from the crowd

There’s a reason ‘About’ pages with images and stories about real people are so popular. Whether dealing with consumers directly or with other businesses, the personal touch is important. Sharing something of your business history, ethos and the people behind the masthead will help your business stick in visitors’ minds.

There might be thousands of enterprises just like yours clamouring for market share, but there’s only one you. Spend some time thinking about what sets you apart and tell that story on your About page.

Keep it simple Sherlock

I get it. You love your business and are passionate about your products or services. You could keep an audience captive for hours waxing lyrical about what you can do for them. You think you should list every feature of every product and a testimonial from every client.

Unfortunately, the audience is anything but captive and its attention span is short. Researchers using eye-tracking software have determined online visitors take less than a second to form a first opinion of a website. And with 52% of the world accessing the internet from a mobile phone, there’s no room for an essay.

Reviewing small business website on a phone

Doing due diligence on a phone

When it comes to small business website copy, keep it short, keep it sharp and give visitors pretty pictures to stop them swiping past. Save the protracted prose for the white paper they’ll (hopefully) sign up for via email.

Revisit often

A website is like a linen closet. When you move into a home you stack your towels and sheets in neat piles. You might even sort by size and label the shelves. But over time chaos creeps in till eventually the king-sized fitted sheets are filed with the beach towels. Catering for  unexpected guests becomes a nightmare. It takes so long to make up their room they might never spontaneously drop in again.

Maybe that’s a bad analogy?

In any event, like spring cleaning, a website review should be an annual event – more frequent if a business is growing fast. Examine how information is organised. Check the links on the pages. If there are now more services or products available, ensure these are reflected on the site. Tweak the layout and the copy to reflect any changes in direction. Don’t let the website become outdated.

Focus on credibility and quality

Clumsy copy and jarring website design can undo even the best face-to-face sales pitch. Maybe you don’t sell online and don’t care about your search engine ranking. Maybe you find your customers via word-of-mouth, or telemarketing or by waving a sign at passing traffic.

via GIPHY

While a website may not be a primary sales platform, don’t underestimate its power to convert, or possibly repel, customers.

However you grab their attention, eventually your potential clients will check you out online. What they find there should impress them and demonstrate your ability to deliver on a promise.

copywriting me

Angela Bensted is Brisbane-based freelance writer who likes to listen first and struggle with syntax later. She pitches stories to magazines, sometimes successfully, and helps businesses produce compelling copy for print and online.

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