A woman multitasking on a Strategically Sound Website, typing on a laptop with a cup of coffee by her side.As a certified marketing consultant, I see web design as a strategic process. Your website is probably the most important marketing piece your business will ever have.

So, it’s critically important to take a thoughtful approach to the project that reflects your small business’s overall marketing strategy.

We use the following 7-step process with website design projects for our clients. Even if they don’t have much to invest in advanced marketing tactics, we take a strategic approach when planning it. You can do this, too—whether you hire a Chicago web design company or do most of the work yourself.

1. Start with Website Goals and a Plan

Any successful project should start with a clear objective—and a plan that follows it. Otherwise, you’re simply shooting from the hip. That leads to wasted time, money, and opportunities.

A laptop screen displaying a target and arrows as an organizational guide.

So, consider what you want your site to accomplish and prioritize those goals. Examples include:

  • Generate leads from keyword searches.
  • Differentiate your products/services from the competition.
  • Build a marketing list.
  • Sell products through the site (ecommerce).
  • Attract attendees to events.
  • And so forth…

You will want to consider what type of website platform (WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, etc.) is best. Consider your budget, ability to update/maintain the site, and the platform’s ability to deliver on your goals. Some platforms (e.g., WordPress) support a high degree of customization and offer more flexibility. Other platforms are designed for users with lower budgets and/or a desire to manage content with little technical background.

Take a few minutes to create a simple website plan. List your goals, how you will accomplish them, and how your site content and structure will support this.

2. Develop a Solid Content Strategy

Don’t buy into the simplistic notion that “people won’t read content.” Bull! Part of my job as a Sonoma County website design strategist is to bust this common–but completely false–myth.

The Internet is the “information highway.” It is designed to deliver informational content, so anticipate your audience’s needs for information.

They don’t come to your website for pretty pictures or general taglines. They want to know who you are, the features and benefits you offer, and why you are different/better than other providers. The answer to these questions should drive your content.

Depending on your audience, your type of business, and the goals for your site, organize your content to meet users’ needs. This will affect what pages you include and what’s on them. One of the first things we do is develop a site outline early in the planning process. Your plan should specify top-level pages (and links in your navigation structure) and any sub-pages that provide further detail. Then, use this plan to write your content.

3. Consider SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

If you want people to find your site in an Internet search, you must consider search engine optimization or SEO. SEO involves tactics to increase your site’s chances of appearing in relevant online keyword searches.

Optimizing your site requires that you research and plan your keywords. Anticipate what words and phrases your customers might enter into a search bar.

A person learning Keywords 101 in Digital Marketing by typing on a laptop with the words "keywords" on it.

Ensure these keywords are reflected in headlines, text, links, and various meta tags, such as page titles, page descriptions, image tags, etc.

Some (but not all) website designers can help with this, and your platform or special plugins can provide tips on optimizing your site.

Most of the sites we develop have at least some SEO treatment today. However, online search has become highly competitive.

As a result, not all small businesses can allocate the resources it takes for a successful campaign. If you can drive leads to your site from sources such as referrals, networking, email advertising, print advertising, mail, or other methods, you may not need SEO.

4. Write Clear, Compelling Website Content

Good content—clearly written, persuasive, yet not overly promotional—is essential to make the right impression. Readers don’t believe superlatives and platitudes like “we’re the best,” “we care about our customers,” or “we’re professional.” Every business can and does make these claims. But generalities like this don’t register with the brain.

Instead, provide information that lets visitors draw their conclusions. Give them enough details so their questions are answered. Find ways to explain, in an almost third-party objective style, why they should trust you and do business with you.

Here are some important content tips, whether you’re writing for search engines or human beings:

  • Use plain, conversational English.
  • Keep sentences simple. Avoid compound structure.
  • Avoid passive voice.
  • Sentence length should vary but average around 14 words. People retain more that way.
  • Keep paragraphs short—just a few sentences. The idea is to give the eye “breathing room.”
  • Use the words “you” and “yours” a lot.

5. Make an Impact with Branding and Page Design

Branding is more than just a logo. Unfortunately, most small businesses often don’t take branding seriously enough.

Your website should be an extension of your business that connects people to it—not look like it’s a different business.

So, use colors and images consistent with your business’s established identity. Your overall website design should have an impact. Avoid trendy, visually dazzling effects that interfere with content delivery.

Presenting images should not be your primary goal unless you are an artist. Work to deliver content in a clean, uncluttered, and professional environment. Design should support and enhance—not detract from—content.

Make the navigation structure easy to find and see, whether in desktop or mobile view. Use plenty of images to make the page interesting for the eye. You can use headlines to separate and “frame” content areas so people understand each section.

Don’t shy away from content (remember, it’s why people come to your site…). Instead, learn to break it up and avoid the dreaded “wall of text” with images, graphics, bullet points, subheads, etc.

6. Lead with a Strong Home Page

For most small business sites, the home page is a critical “front door” to the website. Remember that people generally scan when they enter the home page. So, it’s important to understand how to capture site visitors and keep them engaged.

To do that, I believe there are three main questions your home page must address. These questions lurk in the back of site visitors’ minds as they scan your site:

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?
  2. Why should I trust you/do business with you (i.e., why are you better or different?)
  3. Where can I go on your site to get more information that interests me?

Your home page must provide these answers. But it must do it in a few nanoseconds. Otherwise, your site visitors will “bounce,” meaning they abandon the home page without going any further. You can see how I accomplish this on our home page. We also use a similar approach with most clients’ sites.

Use a large main image at the top of the home page. This “hero” image (or images, in the case of a slider) captures the viewer’s eye and helps make a statement about your business and your offering.

7. Execute Your Conversion Strategy

As noted earlier, you should have a goal for your website. Generally, you want visitors to take some action, which we call a “conversion.” This can be a phone call, filling out a free consultation webform, purchasing something, joining your mailing list, downloading a file, etc.

Make sure the information needed to support conversion is readily apparent. And, of course, provide the form or link that makes it easy for site visitors to take that action.