In the early years of the Internet, the only way to assemble a great-looking website was to hire a designer or to very carefully do it yourself. In the latter case, you would have to either learn HTML or hire a skilled software engineer to code your website. And in either case, the website would slowly be built, one line of code at a time.

Today it’s completely different. The vast majority of websites for small businesses are now created using one of the free template-based website design services, kind of a plug-and-play approach. You choose your design, drop in your photos and text, and presto, you’re done!

But don’t let the simplicity fool you into thinking that just because you can throw together a half-decent-looking website in a few minutes that you should leave it at that! No way.

How Your Website Looks Really Matters

Your website is an important part of any business today, your door to the world, and usually much more. You want to spend some time strategizing and planning your website. You are really best off doing this before you start to play with templates and design.

You want a website that works well and looks good. But you want much more. You want a website that echoes and does everything it possibly can to support your business strategy.

You don’t want to throw up a website that you are likely to decide you don’t like in a couple of weeks and then redesign it again and again. Customers want to see consistency. Yes, you could totally redesign your website from time to time, but that means perhaps every year or two, not every month or two.

So where do you start in building your website? You could look at what your competitors are doing on their websites—not just how they look and feel, but also what they are trying to accomplish. What are they emphasizing and what are they not emphasizing? Then, you could go back to your business plan, paying careful attention to your strategy, and especially how you are trying to differentiate your business from those of your competitors. Then come up with goals that you would like to achieve from your website, and a strategy for achieving them.

Your list of goals for the initial version of your website might be relatively simple. Perhaps you have some particular enhancements you would like to add later. You might develop milestones for several different dates, such as when you add in detailed specifications of all of your products, customer testimonials, or even more complex functions, such as providing instant quotes or ecommerce capability.

Then, only after you have your goals and strategy down, should you start to think about what will actually appear on the website.

Finally, you should think about the look and feel. Be especially careful to have a very professional look and feel. Make sure all the web pages have some consistency to them, not just in overall design but also in color and typefaces and especially in navigation.

Totally Nail Down the Front Page First

Start very carefully assembling the front page. Get the appearance and functionality of the front page down before going to the other pages. If the front page doesn’t accomplish all you want it to, including being “dressed to impress,” then the rest of the website doesn’t really matter. After the front page is done, go get some feedback from other people, ideally people who might be potential customers. Put it side by side with your competitors’ web pages—how does it compare?

Then once you are happy with the front page, work on the other pages of the website. Next, test every single function on the website, giving special attention to navigation and links, and make sure they all work the way you want them to.

Then have some other people test and share their thoughts on the design before it goes live.

If all of this seems overwhelming, don’t worry—you don’t have to build a magnificent and highly complex website. Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Instead, just start with one page. In fact, for many very small service businesses, a one-page website can work fine. But you want to make sure that your one-page website delivers the functionality or provides the information that you want it to, and that it conveys a look and feel that is appealing and supports your business strategy.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • A good website doesn’t have to be complex, but it needs to look great.
  • Focus on the front page first: if it’s not working, the rest doesn’t matter.
  • For many businesses, a one-page website could work just fine.