Building a local SEO-friendly business website
Website Design refers to the visual look and feel of the website, comprising everything from the logo to the color palette, to the layout of page elements. A high-quality local business website makes a professional impression, appropriate to the company’s industry and geography, engaging an instinctive feeling of trustworthiness. Architecture refers to the structure of the website, including the system of navigation and the way in which certain pages lead to other pages of the site via links.
Good local business website architecture creates sensible, intuitive paths for the consumer, ensuring that he can access all elements with ease instead of getting lost. The website MUST be mobile friendly. User Experience refers to the ease with which the consumer can utilize the website. This includes the speed, navigation, and functionality of the website, as a whole, and also comprises how easy it is to take specific actions, like finding driving directions, calling the business, or placing an order. All three of these components work together to ensure that consumers choose and use the website to fulfill their needs, ultimately resulting in revenue for the business.
What Is Good Local Business Website Design?
Because the world of local commerce includes everything from the independent contractor to the medical enterprise with hundreds of locations, there is no universal standard for how a local business website should look. An independently-owned veterinarian is not going to want to present itself in the same way a national insurance brand would, and yet, virtually every local business model is unified by the need to make a compelling, user-friendly offering with the website that acts as such a critical vehicle for customer service.
In choosing a website design solution, be certain that:
- The necessary skills are present. A ‘homemade’ website can potentially represent a financial saving but is of no value to the business if it lacks the ability to drive transactions. By the same token, third party agencies may misrepresent their skills, creating websites that deliver little or no ROI. Make an honest and careful assessment of the skills present in all design options being considered, and if choosing a third-party agency, it’s generally safer to rely on trusted recommendations instead of cold call offers.
- The solution being chosen won’t limit the growth of the business. Third-party design options range from free-to-expensive, but some severely limit the ability of the business to control and grow the property over time or are built with dubious technologies that hinder search engines from indexing or ranking the website well. Fully research any ‘website builder’ packages or any design agencies to be sure that the platforms and/or contracts don’t limit growth.
2. Who will manage the website?
This second question relates to the ongoing growth of the website.
- Who will add new content and new pages to the website?
- Who will fix errors or hacks if they arise?
- Who will refresh the design as needed?
- Who will be performing ongoing research and SEO work for the website to inform its growth?
Choosing a local business website design agency
Local business owners are literally inundated with emails and calls offering design and SEO services. Unfortunately, the wrong choice can prove very costly for the business. Whether you choose a provider based on your own research or select one from a list, here are some tips that could save you from loss of investment:
- The designer must know the basics of SEO friendly website design.
- The designer must understand Local SEO. A local business website must be built on Local SEO principles from the ground up. Many design firms do not possess these skills and should be avoided. Be certain any designer you hire is conversant with the Guidelines for Representing Your Business on Google.
- The designer must be able to show you past work and, ideally, put you in touch with past or current clients as references.
- The designer shouldn’t make unfounded claims or promises. Avoid agencies that promise search engine rankings or make too-good-to-be-true offers. Design agencies don’t control search engines like Google and can’t guarantee numerical rankings.
- The designer should be very comfortable conversing about website usability. If the website isn’t developed with the needs of human users in mind, it will result in little value for the company.
- The designer should offer a written contract that protects your rights as they relate to the ownership of the website. Avoid any contract that causes you to give up your rights to the website design or content if voided. Be sure you own all properties being developed for your business and are provided with all necessary passwords and files.
- The designer should guarantee that the agency has the necessary time to fulfill commitments and meet deadlines. When you hire a designer, you’re entering into a partnership and the other party must be able to hold up their end of the bargain. Sometimes, local business owners experience frustration when choosing very large design agencies, as they may end up with the feeling of being treated like a number rather than a collaborator. At the other end of the scale, a very small designer may overbook himself and fall behind schedule. Most local businesses will be best served by a firm that is large enough to provide all the necessary skills but small enough to establish a personal, communicative relationship with each individual client.
- Finally, though not a requirement, an ideal designer should also be an educator. A good sign to look for in choosing a third party agency is whether they are blogging or publishing materials that serve to educate the public about best practices. This can be a helpful signal that lets the local business owner know he will receive clear communications about design options and decisions. The ability to dialog can be critical to the success of the project, and some of the best Local SEO and design firms today are also highly respected educators, blogging, speaking at conferences, and promoting their industry.
Next Step: Planning Local Business Website Architecture
Once you’ve settled on a design solution, you’ll be tackling two tasks in tandem. You’ll be planning the site content and architecture simultaneously, in essence, determining what materials will be present on the site and how they will be organized for access and use. Conversions and rankings hinge on usable, technically-clean architecture. And, meanwhile, the architecture of the website hinges on three methods of navigation both consumers and search engines depend on:
1) Main Menus
A website menu is a collection of links, presented in a list. The website menu may run horizontally across the top portion of a website, run vertically to one side of the website, or be present in the website footer. On mobile devices, menus are often represented by expandable icons accessed via tapping. Best practices for the main navigation menu of the website is that it’s consistently placed from page to page across the whole site to ensure usability and that it contains links to the most important pages of the site.
On large websites, it is sometimes necessary to have more than one menu. For example, a large auto dealership with 300 locations may have a unique section of content for each of its physical branches, and a submenu may be created for the purpose of ‘siloing’ the content, granting easy access for particular users to content that has been developed for their specific needs. Good website architecture will ensure that the presence of submenu navigation feels sensible to the user, rather than cluttered or confusing.
3) Other Internal Links
Good website architecture will also include links from within the text content of a given page to other relevant pages of the site. For example, a page about pain management on a large medical center website might link within its contents to the profile page of a doctor at the practice who offers pain management classes. Internal linking of this kind creates helpful paths for the user, strengthens the hierarchy of important pages, and can also have important SEO benefits in terms of spreading ranking equity from one page to another. The purpose of good website architecture is to offer both humans and bots a clear path to desired content, whether the site consists of 10 or 10,000 pages. The complexity of the business model typically dictates the complexity of the website. For example, a one-man plumbing company is typically going to have a much simpler site than a multi-practitioner real estate agency.
Website Usability: the Ultimate Test of Your Architectural Plan
Once you have soft-launched a working version of your new website, one of the most powerful investments you can make is in having users test it. Depending on your local business’ resources, you can either ask family and friends to trial the site while you record their actions or outsource usability testing to an agency that tracks user groups interacting with your website. Objectives of this work can include:
- Understanding how unbiased users respond to your website
- Identifying areas of confusion that interrupt the path to conversions
- Identifying paths that are working well
- Comparing the use of your website to the use of a competitor’s site
For example, a usability test might focus on the main menu of a local plumbing company’s website. Imagine that one of the tabs in that menu is labeled ‘service areas’, pointing to a page that lists the types of services the plumber will perform (unclog drains, fix water heaters, etc.). A usability test might uncover that users clicking on that menu link expected, instead, to be taken to a page listing out the geographic areas the company serves (San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland). From this test, the company might learn that it would be better to rename that link ‘our services’ and to have a different link entitled ‘cities we serve’ in the main menu. By making a small adjustment, frustration can be decreased and the chance of conversions maximized.
Designing a local business website is a major undertaking. Each company needs to create a plan that includes who will design and maintain the website based on an assessment of skills, then plan the content and architecture of the site to ensure optimum accessibility to consumers and search engine bots, and finally, to employ usability testing to maximize conversions potentials.