Almost every small business website we audit is backwards. How? Their website focuses on themselves, instead of their customer. And they end up with a classic small business website that’s nothing more than an online brochure.
So when we sat down to assemble a list of crucial elements that every small business website needs to succeed, it’s no surprise those elements were all customer-centric.
In this article, you’ll learn exactly what those elements are and how to apply them to your own small business website.
- It’s Not About You
- How to Make Your Small Business Website an ROI Engine
- Element #1: Focused, uncluttered visual design that’s easy to navigate and focuses the user’s attention
- Element #2: Clear headline that speaks directly to your customer and communicates your UVP
- Element #3: Clear messaging, specific to your audience’s needs, that leads to a CTA
- Element #4: Email opt-in form with an irresistible lead magnate
- Element #5: 3-5 well written blog posts addressing key issues for your audience
- Element #6: An About page that sells
- Summary, Key Takeaways, and How to Apply to Your Own Business
It’s Not About You
Here’s the truth: your website users don’t care about you — they only care about what you can do for them.
And that’s okay. Remember, your business exists to serve your customer… and so should your website.
So be careful not to design your small business website as a simple online brochure. Instead, turn your website into a real marketing tool.
You want all the elements on your website to work together in order to tell a story to your audience, to make an emotional connection, to demonstrate empathy, and to communicate solutions.
Tell your prospective customer what kind of transformation they’ll get when they work with you.
Unfortunately, almost every small business website we audit gets it backwards. Their websites tend to be filled with “about us” or “what we do” type of design and messaging.
Try it out. Think of a service provider located near you. Now take a look at their website. Is it all about the business, or does it attempt to speak to their customer? Does it present a product or service without much context, or does it present a solution by demonstrating an understanding of the customer’s challenges?
I’m looking out the office window now. Across the parking lot is the office of a local high-end custom home builder and I just pulled up their website.
Landing on the front page I see a full-page image slider, a top menu navigation bar, and just below the image slider a headline with supporting copy.
Although the images (of custom homes they’ve built) are beautiful and the nav bar approachable, the headline kills the mood: “Why Us.”
I’m already bored.
It’s not that “why us” content shouldn’t exist on their website, they simply put it in the wrong place and presented it at the wrong time.
A new website visitor is likely at a stage in the buyer’s journey where they’re still looking for a solution for themselves… and isn’t looking for “why us” content.
Instead, this home builder should go with a headline that speaks directly to what a prospective customer wants in that moment, something that addresses their program and hints at a solution. Perhaps something like…
Turn the Montana Home You’ve Dreamt of Into Your Own Montana Dream Home.
LOL, that one’s for free folks!
Well, regardless of much you like my made up dream home headline do you see the difference?
It’s customer-centric messaging.
How to Make Your Small Business Website an ROI Engine
When we refer to a “successful” or “well designed” website, we mean a website that’s specifically designed to lead the user to a desired outcome — such as an email opt-in, demo request, trial signup, or purchase.
In other words, a well designed website is a website that’s designed to convert.A well designed website is a website that's designed to convert Click To Tweet
Instead of settling for a small business website that provides only a static experience, design your website to produce a specific result, one that generates a return for your business.
If you want to design a website that generates a real ROI, instead of settling for a static online brochure, here’s six elements that will set your website apart from your competition.
Element #1: Focused, uncluttered visual design that’s easy to navigate and focuses the user’s attention.
We’ve previously talked about how to make a good first impression with your website with good visual design, and that means low visual complexity and high prototypicality.
This element is what your web designer calls the user interface (UI). You want your UI to be clean, familiar, and easy to navigate so it can communicate your message clearly.
Your UI design should help your customer find what they’re looking for quickly and lead them to the next step in the process.
Take evernote.com, for example. You’d expect a clean, well organized design from a tool designed to keep you organized… and I think they deliver.
Their homepage is uncluttered, free of distractions, quickly communicates the tool’s benefits, and funnels a new user into the next step: “sign up for free.”
Element #2: Clear headline that speaks directly to your customer and communicates your UVP
What is your business’ unique value proposition? What is your customer’s burning need, problem, or challenge and how does your business solve it?
If you can succinctly answer that question, you’ve got your homepage headline.
Of the six elements mentioned here, this one is the most important.
This is your opportunity to let a new user know that you understand exactly what they’re going through and hint at how you can help them.
Your headline is the hook you’ll use to capture a user’s attention and make a connection. Get this part wrong and not even a fancy UI will save you.
Check out this headline from Fathom Analytics…
Give your customers back their privacy — Fathom Analytics provides simple, useful website stats without tracking or storing personal data of your users.
There are a couple of brilliant elements that make this headline effective, so let’s break it down.
But first, judging from the tone and content of the headline, it’s important to point out that Fathom’s target audience is likely already “problem aware.” That is, their prospects already understand the need for this kind of solution.
Notice that none of their copy attempts to frame the problem. They never say, “most analytics software is a problem because XYZ…” Instead, their customer already understands the problem, which means Fathom can go straight to presenting a unique solution with their headline.
However, taking a closer look at their language, they’ve done a couple of clever things here that gives us some insight into their audience.
First, they leverage a hot button topic: internet privacy. It’s currently a big issue and this element alone will draw attention.
But also notice the language, “give your customers” and at the end, “your users.” By making the language personal they’ve both encouraged their prospect to take responsibility for solving the problem, as well as given them the power to make change.
They’ve suggested to the prospect that they should be like a shepherd watching over the privacy of the their online flock — and they’ve presented Fathom as the tool that will make it happen.
If I had to bet, I’d guess Fathom has determined that although their audience is problem aware, they may need a really compelling reason to move away from the major free analytics tools to a paid solution like Fathom. So, they make a personal and emotional appeal designed to nudge them over the edge.
They also address another key concern their audience may have by using the phrase “simple, useful website stats.”
In case you haven’t noticed, Google Analytics is pretty complicated, and may be overwhelming and overkill for a lot of website owners. Fathom targets this concern by delivering a solution that’s the opposite: simple and useful.
So what’s the moral of the story? There’s a lot of thought that can go into an innocent looking headline like the one above… and for good reason.
The key to a good headline for your small business website is understanding your audience. The better you get to know your audience, the better your headlines will be… and the better your conversion rates will be too.
Element #3: Clear messaging, specific to your audience’s needs, that leads to a CTA
Continuing with the copywriting theme, the third important element is, well… all the language that comes after your headline.
Just like your headline, your copy should address a need, goal, challenge, or concern of your audience and lead directly to a clear call-to-action (CTA).
Importantly, don’t make this copy about you or your business. Instead, make it all about your customer. What is their need (tell this back to them so they know you understand) and how can you meet it?
Then, what’s the next step they should take to get the solution? That’s your CTA.Copywriting Pro Tip: create customer-centric messaging by writing your homepage copy in the second person Click To Tweet
Let’s look at more examples.
When I describe Stripe to a client whose taking payments online I usually say something like, “Stripe is the best.” There are lots of payment gateways out there, but for online businesses most developers will tell you… Stripe is the best.
Unsurprisingly then, Stripe has assimilated that characterization into their copywriting.
They reinforce their leading position by claiming they’re “The new standard…” and it’s “the best software platform for running an internet business.”
Then they give the user two clear choices for what to do next: they can either “create an account” or talk to a person.
And, just to be extra clear, they double up on the exact same CTA near the page footer.
Even if the user decides to take a side trail by exploring more of links in the nav menu, they still know exactly what to do when they’re ready to get started: create an account or contact the sales department.
But let’s get away from software and take a look at something different.
Click over to Trade Coffee. I’ll wait.
Their messaging and CTA tells me Trade is for coffee geeks. Specifically, Trade is…
400+ of the nation’s best coffees, so fresh they haven’t been roasted yet — just say when.
If you’re a lover of premium, specialty coffee all you have to do is click, “Let’s Do It!”
In fact, scrolling down the page you see that nearly every CTA button on the homepage is the same — Let’s Do It — making it ultra clear what the user should do next.
Click the CTA button and you’re directed to an onboarding questionnaire that creates personalized recommendations just for you.
Trade has determined that sifting through 400+ specialty coffees could lead to overwhelm and providing an onboarding process for the customer nullifies that important potential objection.
Thus, clicking their primary CTA is practically the only thing a user can do next.
Element #4: Email opt-in form with an irresistible lead magnate
Imagine being able to market directly to a highly engaged audience, without an intermediary, and develop a meaningful connection that not only converts them to a paying customer but a creates a lifelong, raving fan?
That’s a dream scenario, right?
Well, that’s exactly what email marketing allows you to do.
No paid ads. No Facebook algorithm. You’re able to interact with your audience in a way that drives direct revenue.
So how do you get leads to join your email list?
You need a prominent email opt-in form that advertises an irresistible “lead magnate” or “opt-in bonus” — a valuable resource you can give away for free, in exchange for their email address.
Your email opt-in can take many forms (I know… nice pun). Here are a couple of good examples…
Chris Ducker embeds his email opt-in directly in the page in a prominent position — it’s the first thing a visitor sees — and offers access to a free comprehensive resource for anyone looking to build a personal brand.
Spearmint Love is an eCommerce site selling kids clothing.
Instead of embedding a form directly in a webpage, they saved that page real estate by going with an entry popup and using a discount as their signup carrot.
The popup displays as soon as a new user lands on the site and grays out the background — so you absolutely cannot miss it.
Element #5: 3-5 well written blog posts addressing key issues for your audience
At some point this week you got hooked.
You knew it as soon as you started reading. It yanked your eyeballs down the page, as if you couldn’t read fast enough.
You could feel the mild adrenaline rush from anticipating the golden nuggets of information you were going to pull out of the post — and the big difference it was going to make having an answer to your problem.
When you had finally consumed every last word you bookmarked it and shared it with your friends. You’ll be going back to that website again.
That’s the same experience you want your customers to have when they read your blog posts.
Welcome to content marketing.
Content marketing is low hanging digital marketing fruit for most small businesses and, after email marketing, should be your next objective.
Providing your audience with content they care about does two important things for your business:
- It establishes authority. Your audience will see you and your business as a go-to resource in your space and will be more likely to purchase your product or service (not your competition’s) when the time comes.
- It helps drive traffic. Good content gets shared, so taking the time to create valuable content can generate new leads for your business.
I love what growthlab.com does in this regard.
Growth Lab is a site that teaches how to start and grow a business online, and landing on their front page you can see they put their money where their mouth is.
Just about the only two things a user can do on their front page are 1) sign up for their email list and 2) read a blog post.
While your business’ site may not be as content heavy, featuring a handful of valuable blog posts will radically transform how your audience thinks about your business.
Element #6: An About page that sells
Does the last element seem cliche?
Perhaps it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
In fact, when we analyze client websites we often find that the About page, after the home page, receives the highest number of page views.
Internet users are used to getting just about any kind of information they want, and your prospects are no exception. Your audience wants to know who you are, why you’re the one to go with, and they want to see the proof that backs up your claims.
Give your customers the opportunity to know you and like you and you’ll see your conversion rates climb.
Here’s a section of the About page from Derek Halpern’s socialtriggers.com. Pay special attention to the questions at the top of this section.
No doubt those questions were swiped directly from audience feedback and directly address their common goals, challenges, and concerns.
Including them on the About page indicates to a site visitor that Derek understands who they are and that he’ll likely be able to help.
In fact, directly below those questions a visitor sees a “what to expect” section which offers a value proposition that promises to do exactly that.
(Also notice how the headline and supporting copy are written in the second person, literally addressing the user.)
TL;DR: Summary, Key Takeaways, and How to Apply to Your Own Business
If you’re in the process of upgrading your own small business website… bookmark this page, use it as a guide.
Pull up your website and do a quick evaluation, examining all six elements in the context of your business’ particular goals.
Is your website an online brochure, or does it properly address the goals, challenges, and problems of your audience?
Does your website tell of a possible transformation and offer real benefits to your potential customers? Or is it littered with “about us” and “what we do” copy?
To quickly audit your own small business website, ask these summary questions of each element as you conduct your evaluation.
- Is my website’s UI simple, clean, and free of distractions? Does it help funnel the user to the next step in the sales process?
- Does my homepage headline directly address my customer’s burning need, goal, challenge, or concern?
- Is my supporting page copy customer-centric — written in the second person — and does it nudge the user toward a specific call-to-action?
- Does my website encourage the user to opt-in to my email list with a prominent form and by offering a valuable resource in exchange?
- Does my website provide my audience with a handful of free content that will help them meet a goal or solve a problem?
- Is my “About” page another step in my sales funnel, continuing to communicate benefits to my potential customers?
Your most important takeaway
If you only remember one thing from this article it’s this: design your small business website to be customer-centric.
Whether is the UI, copywriting, CTA, or lead magnate… focus on addressing your audience instead of talking about yourself.
Making that one change to a customer-centric small business website model is the easiest way to increase your conversion rates and grow your business with digital tools and marketing.
And if you’re wondering how to best understand your customer’s goals and challenges… turns out we’ve written an article on that. Check out The Secret Sauce of Small Business Digital Marketing.