How to Design a
Commercial Website

Updated for 2017

These are the guidelines we use here at Words in a Row to design a commercial website, so that we cover all the basics. Each panel below links to pages with even more information on that subject.

This page is intended for those who are designing a commercial website, or are looking to re-design a website that is not profitable, to make it make money. This is not a discussion of "Graphic Design" which is an entirely different subject. Rather, this page discusses how to build a commercial website on a solid foundation and with all the pieces that should be there for it to actually sell what you are trying to sell.

Look at any commercial website as a continual advertisement.
Make your site work as an ad.

How do you make your website work as an effective advertisement?

The User's Experience ("UX") of your website should be enjoyable. This is where good "Graphic Design" can come into play. The graphic design for a rock-and-roll band's website will likely be vastly different than the graphic design of a major department store website, or a local artisan pizzaria website.

If it's not a joyride, at the very least your website shouldn't be unpleasant, confusing, or difficult to navigate.

Don't be afraid to embed some videos that summarize or illustrate points about your product or services. People on mobile devices are much more likely to watch a short video than read a "wall of text".

Your site should give something away.

Some possibilities:

  • Tips and Tricks?
  • "How To" videos?
  • Step-by-step checklists?
  • A Directory of industry suppliers?
  • A dictionary of your industry's terms?
  • Explanatory charts?
  • Handy cheat sheets?
  • Survey Results ("2016 Salaries in Our Industry")
  • White paper? (Must be useful!)
  • Lists of "Ten things to ____?"
  • Lists of "Twelve things to avoid ____?"
  • Recipes
  • Free Consultation?
  • Downloads of utility programs or tools
  • Apps!

There are many more ways to give something valuable to your visitors without "giving away the store". Your sales people and tech support staff can often make valuable suggestions for items you should create and give to your website visitors, which will help to make the sales process quicker or tech support easier.

Many marketing consultants will recommend blithely that you become a "thought leader" in your industry, with only the vaguest of ideas as to how you will then accomplish that. Creating free, useful things for your visitors is one excellent way to move toward that "thought leadership" position.

Some examples from our site:

Some examples from our clients' websites:

A website should make you money. Sell something!

Make at least part of your website a great sales pitch for whatever service or product you're selling.

Your site should build your own email list.

So you can promote to past visitors!

A security certificate, when properly installed, will require a static, dedicated IP address for your website. So you also get the benefits of a static IP address when you have a secure website. (See panel above on that subject.)

But the main benefit you get from installing a security certificate on your website is one of trust. Your visitors will trust that if they give you their personal information, it won't be accessible to just anybody on the web. And Google will trust that your site isn't "fly-by-night" and is trying to protect your visitors. Because having a security certificate is a Google "Trust Factor" as well. (There are several more of these trust factors -- so keep reading!)

Google has publicly stated that they will favor with better rankings those websites that are secure. This is one of a very few things Google has publicly admitted to making a difference in their ranking algorithm. Note: As far as we can tell, they haven't yet actually boosted the rankings of any websites that have a security certificate. But we have observed Google has penalized websites that don't have security certificates. This is especially true for websites that have forms requesting information from visitors. If those forms are not secure (not https://) then it is apparently a violation of Google's trust factors.

Your website should make it easy for people to contact you.

Have a clearly marked contact button or contact form.

Don't hide your company info from your potential customers. Put your company "name, address and phone number" on the website. If you have separate phone numbers for sales, for support, and for corporate, list all of them. This is not only a big step in gaining the trust of your customers, but a Google Trust Factor as well.

Text is what Google indexes. Words comprised of text. Google can't index words that are contained in images.

So give Google plenty of text to index. How much text? 500 words on a page is a good start. 1500 is not too long.

Put text in the body ("ad copy") of your web pages, including your home page.

Put text in the Headings (h1, h2, etc.) that form up the sections of your web pages.

Put text in captions of images, in the "alt" tags and in "title" tags for the images. Also use appropriate text when naming image files. Google does index the text that forms the name of the image. This image name: alfa-romeo-alfetta-gtv6-engine.jpg, would give Google a lot more information than this image name: engine-1.jpg

Note: One of the highest-ranking pages on our own website (about opt-in email lists) is right at 10,000 words long.

At some point in 2015, a tipping point was reached: at that point, more people were surfing the internet on their tablets and cell phones than on laptops and desktop computers. People using mobile devices are now and will continue to be the majority of your website's visitors. So design any website with mobile users first in mind. Since mobile users can't "hover" over boxes or links (they have no mouse!) don't make your website navigation require any hovering. Don't make links too close together (can't tap them with a finger!) Don't make visitors scroll sideways. Make sure your images are "optimized" meaning have the smallest file size possible, and "responsive" meaning they shrink to fit the screen on which they are displayed. Don't make someone using a smart phone with a 350 pixel wide screen download images that are 2000 pixels wide; it'll slow down your website (a lot!) when she comes looking at your page.

Google's mobile-friendly test page will show you some of (not all!) the problems with the mobile friendliness of a web page. Just put in a URL and go! Google's Search Console also will give you some slightly different advice about how to make your website more mobile friendly.

We build websites using the Twitter Bootstrap platform, because it works very well to make websites that are mobile-friendly.

If you build your website using WordPress, be sure to check your site's theme for mobile-friendliness. Many WordPress themes are NOT mobile-friendly.

Fast page loading is important! Important both to your visitors (especially those using tablets and smart phones) and to Google.

How fast? The entire web page, including images, javascripts, style sheets, etc., should load in less than two seconds! Example: the entire page you are looking at now loads in 1.9 seconds on a 4G connection.

Test how long it takes to load your pages on a desktop computer with a wired connection, a laptop on WiFi, on a tablet, and on a smart phone using 3G or 4G. People surfing on their smart phones will not stick around on your site if every page takes 10 seconds to load.

This is another reason that WordPress is not my first choice for building a website — many WordPress themes are very slow to load. Also, the more plugins one installs, the slower the whole website will load.

Search engine optimization ("SEO") should be built into your website from the ground up. SEO is not something you can just slap onto a website the day before it goes live, or throw in as an afterthought later.

SEO must be given due consideration in the planning stages of any commercial website, because it can become extremely difficult (and expensive!) to go back in and do things properly for SEO after the website is live on the web.

Get some SEO consulting when planning any website, so you don't end up having to re-do big sections of work.