What the best small business websites have in common

Web.com Team

This article was originally published on March 19, 2019. It was updated on December 21, 2021.

It is a good rule of thumb for growing business leaders to emulate what led others to become successful. The idea is that if one follows what others did, they too could have similar results. This way of thinking can be applied to so many other parts of the business lifecycle, but today we’re focusing on business websites. There are several commonalities between the best small business websites, and we’re going to uncover all of them so you can emulate them on your business website!

The best small business websites understand consumer behaviour

Consumers are now doing more research before they buy, so making an investment in your small business website is an absolute must. With 56% of online shoppers and 45% of brick and mortar shoppers reading reviews before purchasing, their expectation is that they’ll be able to self-serve and get many of their questions answered during their research phase. This means your website needs to be modern and give consumers what they want — information to qualify their buying decisions.

In fact, the research online, buy offline (ROBO) trend has taken hold so firmly that Bazaarvoice has seen a 20% year-over-year increase in mobile-page views across 5000 of their brand and retailer client websites. This stat paints the picture that not only are people looking for business websites, but they’re doing it more and more every year. This means that if you don’t have a website, your business isn’t keeping up with the competition.

More than anything, what consumers want is a website that understands their needs, and the best business websites ensure these essentials are handled.

The best small business websites have a clear purpose

The most essential part of your business is its purpose and similarly your website has to clearly express this purpose. Your business and your website needs to thoughtfully address the needs of your visitors, and the best small business websites have this practice down from the start.

A business’s’ purpose should be built around what people are looking for when they come to your website. Of course this largely depend on what type of business you’re in. The differences in the purpose of a dental office versus a the purpose of a restaurant should be glaringly apparent online. For the two examples below, there’s no mistaking what products or services they offer just by looking at their website home pages.

Before diving into a creating a new website, you need to get to know your audience — not just their demographics — but what they’re thinking, feeling and experiencing when they look for your business.

For first website shown above, the actual purpose of the plant-based restaurant is stated! While for the dental website, getting you a whiter smile is both their purpose and value proposition, and that message is prominently stated. These sites are both examples of how business owners can convey a purpose that is aligned with their potential customer’s needs.


The best small business websites are professionally branded

When it comes to designing a website, the best ones for any size business are the ones that look and feel professional. Here are the elements of a professionally branded website, besides having a dedicated domain name:

Bottom line, having no logo is a no go. Your logo helps to identify your brand, and your website needs a recognizable logo that people immediately associate with your company. It should be used on your small business website as well as in all of your marketing and signage and so on.

Even worse than not having a logo is having one that looks dated or is being displayed with poor resolution. The best websites also have awesome logos.  Choose a designer to help with logo creation (or re-creation!) and presentation on your website. If you want to get inspired here are some of the best and worst logos on the internet.

Brand Colors
The most iconic brands have easily recognizable brand colors. Retail giant Target is a great example of using color effectively, as everyone associates them with the color red.  Even the logos featured above are set in prominent brand colours.

The best websites have a defined color palette, sticking to no more than three to five colors including neutrals. Using too many brand colors can end up looking busy and overwhelm website visitors.

Pro tip – use brand colors aligned with your brand purpose. If your brand is about being fresh and modern, your colors should reflect that. Think about the feelings you want your brand to invoke, and choose colors that conjure those feelings.

Website fonts matter more than most small business owners realize. Fonts are one of the only components of a website that affect both branding AND user experience. Having a “bad” font can leave the wrong impression and make your website hard to read.

The best websites have a limited number of fonts and use them in different colors and sizes. Fonts should be used to make a point — not detract from it.

In this example, you can see that while the fonts aren’t exactly the same, they are cohesive and do not take away from the messaging on the website.

Brand Imagery
The final touch on professionally branded small business websites of the highest quality is imagery! Since human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, you want to ensure your website images help convey your brand message and make sense as part of the story you want to tell.

Choose images that both compliment your business and are unique. Keep that in mind especially if you’re using of have thought of using stock photos. Check that your closest competitors haven’t already used the same images on their websites.

The “cream of the crop” websites often have professional photos taken for their site. Unique imagery can help give an edge over the competition. In a small business context professional photography is often used to capture and feature portfolio examples. For example, if you run a lawn care company, you could hire a local photographer to take some photos of your best clients’ lawns or of your team at work.

The Grounds Guys uses a professional shot of their truck and trailer setup, that customers see when they first arrive, on their homepage. Alternatively could use a particularly nice client example on your homepage (and a client examples gallery page!) instead of picking a stock photo that has been used hundreds of times. Not only will you feature a unique image, but you’ll also be showing off your work to potential clients.

The best small business websites use engaging content  

The best small business websites understand that the content on the website is just as important as how the website looks. Your content should be written in a way that shares your company’s unique voice and personality while being interesting and informative.

Here are two examples of content that’s unique to these companies and sets them apart from the competition. The first example from Hashtag Legal makes light of the fact that their clients are intimidated by legal and puts their minds at ease.

Locally-based fuel and propane provider Guy Fuels addresses one of the main concerns of their customers head-on in their content by assuring website visitors   that they’ll be there in the event of an emergency.

Your content should be written specifically for the Internet, because nobody wants to read a website that’s like a preachy college essay. To create web-ready content, follow these best practices:

  • Write short paragraphs: You want your ideas and information to be in small, bite-sized pieces that will be easy to skim. 
  • Choose simple words: Avoid industry jargon or overly technical terms that may make readers decide your product or service is too complicated. 
  • Use subheadings to break up text: People should easily be able to discern where one thought ends and the next begins, so use subheadings to create a smooth transition.

Finally, when creating website content, it’s critical that you keep Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in mind. We always say “what’s the point of writing a website if no one will read it?” Write content that is SEO-friendly, but remember you’re writing for humans, not search engines. If you’re not sure how to do this, consider getting assistance to help determine your keywords, and learn basic best practices for your website’s SEO. At a minimum, ensure your site is included on Google My Business to enhance visibility in search results.

The best small business websites are easy to navigate

Attention spans are shorter than ever, so you need to make it simple for your website visitors to find what they’re looking for in a couple of clicks.

When considering how to set up a website for a small business, it’s critical that you spend time planning out the site navigation. Use a sitemap to organize website pages and how they fit together.

In your main navigation, use simple titles. This is not the place to try to be clever by using complex names for each page as you want people to be able to find what they’re looking for quickly.

Making your logo link back to your homepage is also a key part of a successful design and navigation so visitors can get back to the homepage no matter where they are on your website. Also, be sure to include an easy-to-find search toolbar so people can easily search what they’re looking for within your site.

Ultimately, your website should be designed so that visitors take action. To do that, you’ll need to use high visibility calls-to-action (CTA) throughout the site so visitors have clear next steps. Here are some specific ways to ensure CTAs stand out:

Use high contrast colors so the button draws the visitor’s eye to it. The yellow on this button from the CoCommercial website makes it immediately clear what action visitors should take (Also sidenote, that site is a great resource for small business owners of all kinds!).

Support your CTAs with actionable text on clickable buttons that are framed by engaging headlines that make the next step clear. This example below, from the Janet and Ray real estate website, clearly tells visitors the next step to take.

Remove fear of taking that next step with a guarantee or details on what happens once they complete that action. Meet Edgar uses a 30-day money-back guarantee to help eliminate objections when signing up for their social media scheduling tool.

Finally, make sure your website’s navigation is mobile responsive as mobile traffic continues to grow, and it’s very likely visitors will be viewing your site on a tablet or smartphone. Nearly 60% of Google searches are now done on mobile devices, so being mobile responsive is a must for your small business website.

The best small business websites have made technical considerations

Content Management System (CMS)
Creating a small business website isn’t something that most business owners want to do regularly, so having the right technology in place that can grow with your company over time is key. To ensure your website is easy to maintain, use a website framework that allows you to manage the site. One of the biggest sources of frustration for small businesses is having a website they don’t know how to manage and being reliant on others to make updates.

User-Friendly and Responsive
Drag and drop builders are ideal for this as new content or sections can be added to your site without the need for a website developer. A drag and drop responsive website builder also has the added benefit of using proven technology that you know is mobile-friendly. Your website needs to be able to keep pace with the changing mobile landscape.

Hosted Securely and Backed-Up
As a small business, look for a website host that understands your small business needs because you don’t want to buy a Lamborghini if you need a Toyota and vice versa. Find out how your host can help you have your site load quickly for visitors, perform regular backups and maintenance of your website and address your security needs, such as SSL. The last thing you want is for your website to not be functioning well as this will be a huge turn off to visitors, so ensuring your technical considerations are handled is critical.

Checklist to make your website the best it can be!

In this article we identified what all of the most successful business websites have in common. Using these overlapping components, you can make sure that your website is also set up for success. If you weren’t taking notes as you read, don’t worry. We compiled all of the advice from this article in a handy checklist below. Be sure to print it out and keep it next to you (or your web developer) as you create your small business website or update it.

Consumer Expectations
☐ I understand my consumers ROBO behavioural trends and my website is built to accommodate these
☐ My website is modern in both look and functionality and shows consumers I understand their needs

Your Business Purpose
☐ My business purpose is clear to me and I can express it concisely
☐ My business purpose is written on my website homepage prominently
☐ I don’t often get questions from customers asking what I do

Branding Professionally
☐ My domain name is closely related to my brand name or purpose
☐ I have researched my domain to ensure it doesn’t have a high spam score
☐ I have a professionally designed logo displayed clearly and prominently on my website
☐ My brand colours express the look and feel of my business that are connected to my brand purpose
☐ The fonts I have chosen for my website make sense for the brand and are easy to read
☐ The images I chose for my website express the messages I am trying to convey on each page
☐ I did not rely too heavily on stock photography, nor do the images on my site appear on my main competitors websites

Website Content
☐ The content on my website was written with my customers needs in mind
☐ My content is informative, easy to read and engaging
☐ All pertinent business information is available to help site visitors with what they’re looking for
☐ Concepts are broken up by short paragraphs and subheadings
☐ My website content is SEO optimized with proper HTML formatting on pages

Website Navigation
☐ All of the content on my website is organized so nothing is more than 3 clicks away from the homepage
☐ The information I included is laid out is an easy to understand format
☐ I have created a sitemap to organize my website pages and it’s easy to understand
☐ The titles of my pages used in the navigation speak for themselves and are easy to understand, even for new site visitors who have no idea what I do
☐ There are CTAs on my main website pages so website know what action I want them to take (Learn more, Sign up now, Buy now etc.)
☐ My website is easy to navigate on mobile

Technical Considerations
☐ I have a CMS that allows me to make changes to my website easily as I need to
☐ My website is responsive to any size screen, displayed vertically or horizontally
☐ I use a hosting service for my website that includes security features and automatic backups to ensure it is protected

Remember, the best small business websites are user-friendly, memorable and responsive. By incorporating the suggestions above into your website design, you can create a website for your business that stands out from the competition and helps entice your audience to go from looking to buying.

And now without further ado….here is a…

Gallery of the best small business websites

Of course there are many high quality websites new and old, transactional and mobile, branded or personal…all of which deserve recognition for doing things right. However to really ramp up your small business website inspiration we hand selected websites that won a 2018 Webby Award, in a category that’s relevant, to present to you here.

Best Architecture and Design Website

Best Use of Animation on a Website

Best User Interface on a Website

Best Visual Design Functionality

Best Food and Drink Website

Best Personal Blog Website

Best Professional Services and Self Promotion Website

Best Real Estate Website

Best Shopping Website

Feeling inspired yet? Time to go make your website the best it can be! Maybe we’ll include you in our next post on the best small business websites.

Image Credits
Feature Image: Unsplash/Jon Tyson
All screenshots by author. Taken March 2019.
Image 1: Screenshot Via Crudessence
Image 2: Screenshot Via Oakville Dental
Image 3: Screenshot Via Wayback Machine
Image 4: Screenshot Via Awwwards
Image 5, 7: Screenshot Via Hashtag Legal
Image 6: Screenshot Via Ground Guys
Image 8: Screenshot Via Guy Fuels
Image 9: Screenshot Via Stat Counter
Image 10: Screenshot Via Web.com
Image 11: Screenshot Via CoCommerical
Image 12: Screenshot Via Janet and Ray
Image 13: Screenshot Via Meet Edgar
Image 14: Screenshot Via Web.com
Image 15 – 27: Screenshot Via Webby Awards 2018

  • Web.com Team

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