With the vast difference in functionality, purpose and style among websites run by small businesses and entrepreneurs, it’s not very practical to suggest a certain formula that every website needs to follow to be successful. There’s just simply not one magical strategy that works best for everyone, every business, and all of our different needs.
But there are some basic underlying principles of web design that do apply to pretty much everyone—freelancers, bloggers, online stores, service-based businesses, and everything in between.
Here are five things we recommend every website should have:
This little guy is the small icon that appears in your browser, specific to your website. In the screenshot below you can see the favicons for Google, Facebook and Five Design Co.:
Favicons also show up in your browser’s bookmarks bar, browsing history and other places across the web (and, Google just announced they’ll be showing up in search results too).
Customizing your favicon adds to the professionalism and branding of your website, as well as helps visitors to recognize the site in a list of bookmarked pages or a window of many open tabs.
To customize your favicon, you’ll need to create a 32x32 pixel image (in Adobe Creative Cloud, Canva or similar) and upload it to your website’s favicon settings. In Squarespace, which we build on, this is found under Design > Logo & Title > Browser Icon (Favicon).
If you don’t upload a custom favicon, your site will use a default icon—for example, sites built on Squarespace will use this default cube icon. (Recognize it?)
2. Opt-in form
There are many different reasons people operate professional websites, but most in some way entail selling/providing products or services.
Utilizing opt-in forms on your website is an essential way to grow your “list” (such a buzzword in online marketing, and for good reason!) by capturing information from visitors who stop by your site and happen to like your content.
Building a list of interested visitors means you can continue to have contact with these people in the future. These new visitors who enjoyed your content are now potential clients who may want to purchase something from you in the future—whether that’s a new product you’ve yet to launch (or maybe even thought of), or an existing product you offer that they just haven’t been introduced to or weren’t ready for yet.
It’s unlikely that every person who lands on your website will be ready to purchase or receive what you’re offering them the exact moment they first encounter you, but by establishing a longer-term professional connection with them (via your list), you’re able to continue offering value and perhaps reach them at a time that they’re seeking what you have to offer.
Opt-in forms can exist in and of themselves (a simple “Sign up for our list!” form), or they can be accompanied by an offer that may make them more enticing—otherwise known as a lead magnet.
Lead magnets are usually free (so, often synonymous with “freebie”) and could be something like a checklist or worksheet, a discount code, an ebook, a free course or a free consultation with you.
Here’s a free Website Checklist we offer to our site visitors!
We have a few legal template options we recommend for the websites we build.
4. Social sharing image
If you run a business or are an influencer or expert in your field, chances are it greatly benefits you to gain exposure to new prospective clients or audiences. One of the simplest, most effective (and most affordable!) ways to gain exposure is through social sharing—i.e. one of your readers/followers/fans re-shares a piece of your content to their audience.
Free marketing is great! Now, let’s make sure that whatever they’re sharing is set up professionally to give you a great first impression to your new audience.
This means: customizing your website’s social sharing image so that when someone shares one of your webpages or blog posts on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) it’s properly branded and optimized with key information.
On Squarespace, blog posts shared to social media are automatically branded with their thumbnail image and post excerpt. However, other pages on your Squarespace website are shared with a more generic site-wide “social sharing logo.”
You can customize your social sharing image under Design > Logo & Title. (Side note: Also be sure you’ve customized each of your pages’ page description, which will accompany them wherever they may go around the internet—such as being shared on social media.)
(aka Some way to continue engaging with your content or services)
Most websites exist to encourage some type of continued engagement beyond just looking at one webpage. Whether you want potential customers to contact you, or you want them to read more of your content or view more of your products, or if you even want to send them elsewhere (like your social media), you’ll want to clearly provide opportunities for your website visitors to go to these places.
We suggest including plenty of nicely branded buttons linking your viewers to other places they’d like to continue engaging with your content or offerings, such as your list of services, your shop page, your newsletter opt-in, your Instagram profile, or your contact form:
Another example of providing opportunities for continued engagement is a Related Posts reel. See an example of this below, where we link to other relevant blog posts that readers of this post might also be interested in. (Hint, hint! 😉)
Though there are certainly many more important elements to include on your website (including these additional ones if you have a blog!), these are five of the most important—and the most applicable to everyone.
Want to create a beautiful, functional & professional website to grow your business?
Get our free checklist for optimizing your Squarespace website: