According to a study earlier this year from digital marketing firm UpCity, about 70% of small businesses nationwide have a website. If you own a small business you probably have one, too. But when was the last time you updated it?
This is important, because if your website isn’t keeping up with the most recent design trends, then you may lose business. A 2015 survey from marketing software provider Adobe found that 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout is unattractive.
Your website can’t look out of date. It can’t be slow. It can’t be unattractive. So what are the key things you should be doing?
For starters, your site must be mobile-friendly. Most visitors — particularly younger visitors — are getting their content on their phones. Visitors on these devices need to be able to read your site easily, or they will quickly go somewhere else.
Ross Cohen, the founder and CEO of GetPhound, a website design agency in Conshohocken, said that a “mobile first” design has become extremely important.
“Some businesses, particularly restaurants, for example, get all their traffic from people’s phones,” he said.
Because of the popularity of mobile browsing, homepage design has changed significantly over the last few years. Back in the day, websites had a homepage with many links to other pages. But thanks to the proliferation of mobile browsers, designers today like to keep visitors on the homepage, scrolling down for more content, instead of clicking elsewhere.
“People’s attention spans are limited to scrolling on their phones,” said David Kale, who owns a website design firm, Kale Design, based in Blue Bell. Because of this, Kale said, the homepage has an enormous impact on a visitor’s likelihood of staying engaged.
“The homepage is so critical to get right,” said Kale. “That’s where we spend a lot of our design work because we’ve learned that most of the time people won’t even go into the site. They’ll look at the homepage and make a decision whether to contact you or not.”
What about pop-ups, those little boxes that jump out at a visitor asking whether they want to request information, or that automatically launch videos? Although he thinks they are sometimes important, Cohen generally finds them annoying. He hates it when a pop-up takes up the entire screen and the design makes it difficult for the user to find where to close it.
However, he admits that, if done right, they could serve a purpose. “A minimalistic approach is best,” Cohen said. “A pop-up with an offer, a promotion, even an exit pop-up before [users] leave, to keep them shopping, can be good at times.”
When Kale designs sites, he prefers to use videos on the homepage or in a pop-up. That’s because he, and numerous studies, have found that the use of videos significantly increases the amount of time a visitor stays on a site and ultimately increases the frequency of converting a visitor into a lead who offers information or buys a product.
“Videos are a definite sweet spot,” he said. “We like putting a video that lasts maybe a minute to a minute and a half long right on the homepage. They always seem to have a significant impact on engagement.”
The colors on your site are also important. A survey last year from Top Design Firms, a directory of design, marketing, and development companies from around the world, found that nearly 40% of consumers appreciate colors the most among the visual elements on business websites, with nearly half of consumers (46%) preferring that businesses use blue on their websites.
Cohen likes to recommend dark, “homey” and “delicious” colors — such as black and red — for his restaurant clients and white, sanitary-looking designs for medical and dental practices.
“When I think of a doctor, I think of those sorts of things,” he said. “If I get on a dentist page and it’s like black and brown and green, I’m thinking of, well, deteriorating teeth! Colors really do set an immediate tone.”
Good websites offer lots of chances for a visitor to take action, ranging from requesting a product brochure to chatting with customer service agents. Which is why capturing data from your visitors needs to be a key part of your website design.
Good websites are also search-engine-optimized.
To make sure you site is acceptable to Google and other search engine services, check any links on your site frequently to make sure they are not broken. That goes for links to your own pages and to other websites.
Your site needs to load fast, too. Google gives good insights on page speed here.
You’ll want to make sure your site is secured with an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Certificate — a digital certificate that authenticates a website’s identity and enables an encrypted connection so that users can have some level of confidence that their information won’t be stolen.
And although the dominant, scrolling homepage approach is popular, there’s still a need for stand-alone landing pages on a website to receive — and then measure — the traffic from your online advertising campaigns.
All of this takes time and continuing attention. Inexpensive website builders such as Wix, GoDaddy and SquareSpace can be helpful for some businesses with tight budgets, or those that just need a simple online presence. But most established companies should be using an experienced website designer to monitor and continuously update their site.
“I think that business owners need to put it on their calendar once a quarter to look at their website,” Cohen said. “It doesn’t take very long and there’s always going to be something that needs to be corrected. You could be losing visitors — and business — otherwise.”
Gene Marks is a certified public accountant and the owner of the Marks Group, a technology and financial management consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd.