6 Must-Haves for Your Small Business Website

Whether you’re a brick and mortar or you’re strictly an online shop, you need a we site. And while many small business owners are starting to come to terms with this, I can’t tell you how many SMBs I’ve spoken to who have spent considerable amount of money (often five figures) on a website that simply “didn’t work.” Either it didn’t do a good job selling, wasn’t spiderable (please don’t build your whole site in Flash) or simply didn’t address any of the things important to wary customers.

Don’t let this happen to you.  Make sure your site will give customers the information they need before you invest in a flashy (no pun intended) design.

Below are six things your website should absolutely have. Are you covering all your bases?

1. Intuitive Navigation

A user landing on your website should not have to spend time deciphering how to work their way around. Instead, it should be intuitive. Don’t put your navigation on the right-hand side, don’t make it all Flash, don’t hide the search box, and don’t make the links so tiny a potential customer would need the physical dexterity of a neurosurgeon to click the right link. Make it simple. Something else to consider: Call things what they are instead of trying to be clever. The place where items go once a user attempts to buy them is a Shopping Cart. Call it a “product receptacle” and they’re not going to have any idea where that link goes. And then they may run away scared.

2. Sticky Content

What separates your site  from everyone else trying to be you is the strength of your content. For that reason, it’s really important that you highlight some of the “sticky” content you have on your site, preferably directly from your home page. What type of content qualifies as “sticky”? Maybe it’s that e-book you created, a business checklist you allow users to download, or the most recent article from your blog. You want to have something that will attract a potential customer and lure them further into your site. If your website is a blog, then consider using something like WP-Sticky to bring attention to the posts or articles you most want to highlight and the ones you think visitors should read first to understand your brand promise or what you’re about. Bringing attention to your best content brings attention to the best parts of your brand. Show it off a little.

3. A Blog

This probably isn’t too surprising, but I’m a really big believer in small business blogs. As an SMB, there is no better way to establish a point of difference, become known for thought leadership or consistently attract links and attention than by putting a blog on your site and using it to share information and/or start conversations. You don’t necessarily have to update it every day, but get yourself on a schedule for sharing quality content with your audience.  Your blog is your company voice and what gives your company a personality.

4. Your Address, Phone Number & Contact Information

One of the most powerful ways for a small business owner to establish credibility is to include a local address, phone number, and a few ways for customers to get in touch with them (e-mail address, Twitter, Facebook page, etc.). By highlighting this information, you show people that you’re real and that you’ll be easy to get ahold of should they have a question or a concern. This information is also super important from a search engine optimization standpoint because it gives the search engines important cues about where your business is located and what areas or neighborhoods you’re relevant to. Make sure this information is highly visible on your website.

5. Reviews

It used to be that online reviewers were simply used as another way to establish credibility, but in 2011 they’ve become much, much more important. With the introduction of Google Places, Google Hotpot and Google placing review information right next to business listings, it’s important that small business owners not only encourage reviews, but also be proactive about getting as many of them as they can. As the Web gets more social, online reviews are being shown to have more weight and prominence.

6. Calls to Action

Users are on your site. Be sure to tell them what you want them to do! You want to create a clear path for visitors to navigate through so that they’re naturally achieving all the goals that you’ve laid out. If you want them to buy something, set up the offer and then show them how to do it. Then take away all their distractions so they have nothing to do BUT click the “buy now” button. If you’re trying to educate the people who land on your site, make sure you’re directing them to the resources and articles your site features. Your calls to action should be as clear and intuitive as your navigation. It’s the only way they’ll work.

For me, those are the six things your site absolutely must include. What do your six look like?

40 Comments ▼

Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

40 Reactions

  1. Hi Lisa,

    No doubt that web presence is becoming a critical area which small business owners must work on. With the world becoming a global village, the website opens doors to customers from all over the world. I really loved all the points you’ve mentioned, all of them are simple but so important. Thanks for sharing!

    Riya Sam
    Training for Entrepreneurs.com

  2. Blogs are always so essential for small businesses but no one wants to be in charge of them. Most of the time it lays in the hands of an intern or a low level employee and everyone is surprised when it doesn’t take off.

  3. Small retail company looking for the best, easiest way and cost effective way to set up company website that includes all the requirements above? Thanks

  4. Lisa great post these six steps are essential and doable for any small business owner. Thanks I glad to read this because I’m in the process of developing my website! Thanks!

  5. Martin Lindeskog

    “you need a we site.” Here is a “b” for you, Lisa! :)

    Great list of things. I will keep this in mind when we set up a shop for a great tasting beverage. I have to check out the “sticky” WordPress plug-in.

  6. Great post – I’d love to see a follow up with some of your favorite small business websites that display these features. Its always easier said than done, so giving props to those who have accomplished this would be great inspiration for the rest of us!

  7. No arguments here. I’d add that having some video content is no longer optional.

  8. I realized recently how important reviews are to a website, especially for Google Places–for example, if you search DC restaurant, the top results have the most reviews. This makes it easy for clients to find you, even if they aren’t looking specifically for your business! The restaurant listed wasn’t a large chain restaurant, or even one I had ever heard of before. These are all fantastic tips–keep ‘em coming.
    –Stacey Acevero, Community Manager @PRWeb

  9. Good list. Another “must have” for a lot of websites these days is a simple feedback mechanism that lets customers easily tell you about any pain-points affecting the customer journey, and ultimately your bottom line. Our customers at Feedbackify (http://www.feedbackify.com) like how our solution allows them to collect this feedback in private (thereby protecting their brand).

    Adrian Halley,
    CEO, Feedbackify

  10. I think this is super useful and would like to add good messaging. I see lots of companies spend wads on design and then mess it up with bad copy. The key thing here is getting to the Central Value Proposition behind your business. It bears noting that your internal perspective on this may not be the same as the perspective of your customers so get a few voices in the room and figure out what your value is. Then talk about it.

  11. These are great tips, Lisa! I’d love to see more. I’d also add how important it is to be sure customers browsing through your site are completely protected from viruses and other forms of malware. I work for Symantec and we recommend small businesses use technology that scans regularly for malware and other threats. You don

  12. Hi Lisa

    Nice post. We do virtual office assistant services and we do have a website for that. You were spot on about the reviews for the site and actions for the reviews. Thanks for providing these tips. It really worked for us.

    Laks

  13. Kip Marlow

    Good post as usual. Excellent ideas about building or tweaking a site is a short format.

    Thanks

  14. Great post, Lisa! That’s what we do for SMBs – and for only $295! Check us out: http://www.w3ventures.biz

  15. Great points and definitely all valid but the best is the “Call to Action”. So many people miss this mark on their website and don’t alert the customer to a product or service that will make their personal or professional lives even better. A call to action should always be fresh and jump out at the customer. Well done, Lisa!

  16. Good points. It’s very important to have an online presence; the website should be streamlined and user-friendly, and the blog should be updated frequently.

  17. Great post! I found it from a link in Tim Berry’s blog.

    I would add that an ‘About’ page is very important to have. Whether it’s about the owner or about the company, let people know who you are and why you’re in business.

  18. Great post Lisa, this are very important keys in running a business… You are really helping a lot here… Thanks for sharing… Can’t wait for your next post…

  19. Lisa:

    Well said. I have addressed soem of these same “must-haves”, and a couple more over in an article just posted on the SMB Research blog, 10 Best Practices For a Better Website, http://smbresearch.net/blog/betterwebsites/.

    Bob Eastman
    Managing Director / Analyst
    SMB Research
    Boston, MA 02205
    (781) 904-0408 main
    reastman at smbresearch (dot) net

  20. Thank you for the very helpful hints for our website. I am always looking for way to increase our publicity. I started Patterson Pest Patrol 14 months ago and have seen our business double what I had projected it to do.

  21. Another has to be SEO. Without it you won’t get much (any) traffic or leads into your business and slaes funnel. I think related to SEO or as another would be Google Analytics. You have to know how many people are coming to your site, where they are going and what they are doing to make more decisions that will help the small business web site succeed.

  22. Carolyn Lawson Low

    Thanks Lisa – nice summary of what’s most important.

    The only think I’d add is that the contact info should be in the same place on every single page. Please don’t make me click back to home for your phone number or email.

  23. You are really right about this page, I think a website is a must have for any business person. Customers expect to see you on the Internet. Many people (that’s customers and potential customers) prefer to search for a company on the Internet rather than search their local Yellow Pages or newspaper. To many, a business that is not on the Internet, for all intents and purposes, simply doesn’t exist.
    I really loved all the points you’ve mentioned. Thanks for sharing it.

  24. Excellent, excellent article Lisa. People who are preparing to purchase or create a new website who haven’t successfully done it before should read this twelve times or at least until it’s incredibly clear and understood.

  25. I always have to wonder if the average small business person can deal with all of the complexities of building and maintaining a web site. I have had all sorts of things happen with my WordPress blog…

  26. Kip Marlow

    Brian- I understand your point. All those complexities become very overwhelming.

  27. Small businesses should definitely get listed and manage their web presence in the free directories around the net where you can advertise your business (and your website if you have one) with pictures and sometimes a more complete business profile.

    Some of the places like Google Places, Yelp, Yellowbot, Yellow pages sites, Ourbis have users reviews, SMBs should make sure their listings are up-to-date and monitor their reputation by potentially replying to some of the negative feedbacks they might be getting, it’s easy for a competitor to write something bad about you.

    Having your own website is a definite must-have, some shy customers might go online to first see what your business is about, make sure you have high quality pictures that will make them want to come inside the store. Videos presenting the different services and staff members are also liked by most people!

    A blog is a good way to have content online, but not if the blog is the only thing on your website. I find blogs are not structured/organized enough for customers to find information easily.

  28. Thank you for the great info. We definitely have a lot of work to do. But, one of the issues I find is that since finding this site, I spend a lot of time diving into other suggested articles ! But, thanks for all the good advice.

  29. I still believe that CTA (Call To Action) is the most important tip that you mentioned. Many people avoid this mark on their site and don’t alert the customer to a product or service that will make their personal or professional lives even better. Just my opionion on this :-)

  30. Lisa,

    I always like you posts and totally agree with you. It is interesting to see how many business owner still neglect those important items. What is your take on having a clean & modern web design?

  31. I think having the localized content is very important considering that Google is placing such a big emphasis on it these days. Along with the intuitive design, I would also ad a crisp, clean layout as many site visitors make a judgement on the website within the first few seconds on landing on it. Nice article! Gary Shouldis

  32. One of the trends I’m happy to see emerging for SMBs websites are more use of tools for advertising in line with content. I think there is going to be increased focus in this area moving forward. The major players like Amazon and Google already use ad-targeting on their landing pages (and have for years), and I’m excited to see similar products coming available to smaller businesses. Beyond that I totally agree with your points – better design. Thank goodness we have seen a uptick in the number of free (or very cheap) wordpress templates for businesses!

  33. Yeah.. that’s all really important but don’t forget about what are you selling. If you have the best offer on the market the best website is not so necessary.

  34. Hi Lisa,

    I’d add that every web page needs a very strong headline to grab visitors attention. Then they need a reason to stay like a special offer or the sticky content you mention.
    No one can ever predict how a web page will perform, so testing different headlines, photos and offers is essential.

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