The golden rules of good web design

Your website is the first impression that many consumers will have of your company. Use these best practices to set yourself apart from the competition

Three employees consulting around a computer monitor


A well designed website can be a great sales tool for small businesses. Yet, despite consumers’ migration to digital media, many small companies don’t realize the importance of a user-friendly website. “They’re still using their old ways for getting business, but a lot has changed,” says Karan Sharma, co-founder of web design agency Kinex Media.

It’s crucial for small businesses to keep up with shifts in consumer behaviour and developments on the technology front. “A website needs to grow and change. It’s not something you can just tick off your marketing to-do list,” says Ruth Maude, owner of Dandelion Web Design. “You want to make sure that it’s accomplishing your goals and that it’s working for you. It’s not just a static thing that you put up.”

There’s a lot to consider when building a website, but here are a few of the golden rules of good web design.

Make it mobile friendly

Smartphones have changed the way people find businesses. Instead of flipping through the local Yellow Pages, the information is right on their mobile device, says Sharma. “Your website should be built for mobile. Most of the search is happening through mobile and it’s only going to increase.” This is even more important now, as Google ranks mobile-friendly websites higher than sites that are not optimized for smartphones.

The key is to have responsive design, which means the site detects the visitor’s screen size (whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or desktop) and changes the layout accordingly.

Think about the user experience

Whether someone is visiting your website from a mobile device or a desktop, the website should communicate the messaging as clearly and quickly as possible, says Daniel Guimond, director of digital and content at Bob, a Montreal-based communications agency.

To accomplish that, Guimond says websites should have quick and concise call-to-actions; an effective homepage that also serves as a one-stop shop, so the user finds whatever he or she came to look for in a matter of seconds; and no dead ends. “Every page should be linked to every other page to make sure the user is never lost and always has somewhere to go,” he says.

Make it personal

Small businesses are built on the personal touch, so avoid stock imagery and include photos of your real team. “If you visit my website you’ll see my staff and me on every single page because it’s an opportunity for you to meet us,” says Chris Hughes, owner of web development company A Nerd’s World. “We know through stats that people are more likely to make a purchase if they see photos of the actual people who are behind the service or the product.”

However, it’s important to separate your personal tastes and preferences from your website. “If my favourite dog is grey with white patches, it doesn’t mean that should be the colour scheme of my website,” says Hughes. He recommends building a website “for Google and your user, not yourself.”

Design with SEO in mind

Search engines are a main source of traffic, so businesses will want their website to get a high rank, says Guimond. One of the essentials of search engine optimization (SEO) is to make sure your website is clear about the products and services you offer. “Use and repeat keywords that your clients are more likely to search and that are relevant in your content,” he says.

A website that’s fast to load is also good for SEO and for the customer experience, notes Sharma. “All the images on the website should be optimized and they shouldn’t be big in size,” he says. “If your site is slow, [users] will leave your site and go somewhere else.”

Many small business owners think there’s a magic formula for SEO, or that you have to somehow “trick” Google, but that’s not the case, says Dandelion Web Design’s Maude. “The reality is, if you’re doing what’s best for the user, then Google is going to love you, because Google is all about a good user experience.”