This checklist is intended to assist small business owners. It outlines the must have elements for your website so you can ensure it has the best chance of succeeding online.

This is the first in a short series which aims primarily to benefit small businesses with regards to their websites and online success. Consequently it might also help if you’re a web designer building small sites for businesses on a budget.

This small business website checklist will be most relevant for small sites or simple ecommerce sites because it’s a general checklist, but it’s amazing how many bigger (and often expensive) websites belonging to large companies fail to adhere to some basic web design fundamentals.

The list below will enable you to quickly check the most fundamental elements are in place on your website and it should take you no longer than 30 minutes to carry out the checks.

You’ll be able to easily check many of the items on the list visibly but some might require you contacting your designer.

Whilst it’s actually possible for you to check everything yourself by looking through the website’s source code and checking all the settings in third party applications like Google Analytics we won’t cover how to do so here in order to keep the checklist as simple as possible to work through.

I’ve expanded upon the elements which are present on every page of the site like the header and footer and given a simplified list for the body content as it’s so subjective from site to site and to cover every eventuality would mean a massive checklist.

If you want a professional website review of your site there’s many companies who offer that service. For a full design and SEO audit you should expect to pay in the region of £500-£750.

Header

Ensure your logo is on the left and links to your homepage

This is where users look first when they visit your page and where they expect to see your logo. By placing your logo where it’s expected to be you can establish immediate trust and gain instant brand recognition before the user’s journey continues.

You should also make sure it links to your homepage as that’s what’s become common practice. If your logo doesn’t link then it may well appear broken.

Paradigm Flow

Paradigm Flow is actually a large company in the oil indsutry but even global giants don’t often defy the norm of logo placement and it’s unwise you should either. Users will see the dotted map first and might assume it’s their (awful) logo.

If you include a search box it should be top right of the site

If you don’t want to include one in the header area itself then the top of a right hand sidebar is acceptable.

Econsultancy header

Econsultancy ticks all the boxes in its header and, while the contact details aren’t included, the contact link is prominent.

Make sure your contact details and a contact link are prominent

Again if you can’t fit these into the header itself then in the top of a right hand sidebar is acceptable. Make sure you have a contact tab in your main navigation or as a small link top right in the header like Econsultancy did above. Arguably your social profiles links should be here too.

WhoIsHostingThis

I quite frequently use the WhoIsHostingThis tool now but to begin with I wasn’t convinced they were legitimate as there’s no visible contact information. It’s far from optimally hidden within the about us menu.

Content

There’s so many variations on what content a website could contain it can’t all be covered in a generic post like this as each one merits its own in depth checklist but here are some general must do’s for you to run through.

Some are determined by usability findings, some determined by Google, some based on what’s proven to boost trust and sales, and some based on what a user expects to find and where they expect to find it making it easier for them to use your site without any friction.

I haven’t specified whether to place the body elements in your sidebar or main content are so you can decide that based on your theme, layout and site objectives.

Body

  1. Social proof in the form of (real) testimonials.
  2. Prominent Calls To Action (CTA’s).
  3. Make sure the text is readable & suits your needs.
  4. Link to other relevant sections of the site to make a user’s journey easy.
  5. Add social sharing buttons especially if they show the page has been shared often.
  6. Promote your most popular, recent & related content.
  7. Add ‘trust signals’ like accreditations, client logos and your team pics.

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

  1. Ensure your images have alt tags on them and included keywords (naturally) in the filename.
  2. Use clear to read keyword rich URLs.
  3. Ensure your Title Tag is 70 characters or less, unique to each page & contains your keywords whilst reading naturally.
  4. Only 1 H1 tag on any page and include your primary keyword.
  5. Keyword and variations of it throughout remainder of body text.
  6. Submit and maintain an up to date sitemap to Google.
  7. Check rel=canonical is in place for top level category pages and to prevent duplicate content on pages.
  8. Optional: Write meta descriptions for key pages as whilst it won’t effect your rankings it may help with clickthroughs from the search engine results.
  9. Optional: Add Open Graph Protocol and Twitter Card information.
  10. Optional: Add schema markup code for office locations, product and event information etc.

    If you want to dive into basic on-site SEO a bit more check out the ‘On-site related topics’ section on SEOmoz.

Ecommerce

  1. (Real) customer reviews
  2. Blatant return/refund policy (the footer is a good choice).
  3. Prove it’s safe by showing security certificates.
  4. Show the types of cards or payment services you accept.
  5. Ensure you’ve got a description for each product & that it’s unique.
  6. Bundle additional products for extra sales.
  7. Optional: Spend some time helping customers avoid the pain of purchasing.
  8. Trust signals like live help, delivery guarantees, etc..

If you want to see a good example of this list Wish.co.uk do most of it very well.

Footer

Even when companies get highly creative with their website’s footer there’s some information which it’s pretty standard to include.

There are obviously exceptions to the rule, one being in the instance where your website scrolls down infinitely like some sections on Pinterest. In that case the user would never reach the footer in which case you should make provision for this information elsewhere.

Here’s the key information you should be concerned with including in your footer:

Include a copyright symbol, current year & company name

It’s been standard practise to include this for ages. For example:

Copyright © 2013 E-consultancy.com Limited

Ensure the year updates automatically (a very simple bit of code) or your site will appear unmaintained and you’ll have to remind and possibly pay your designer to update it each year.

Econsultancy footer

Remove any theme or template credits

Many off the shelf design templates come with links and credits to the theme designer or reseller such as any Theme Forest or StudioPress WordPress templates.

Not only could this be detrimental to your on-site SEO and it also looks unprofessional and cheap since any custom theme or bespoke design wouldn’t include these.

Theme Footer

Check any agency site credits

It’s quite common for an agency to place a link to their website but you should check the link points directly to their main website and not to some kind of promotional or gateway page and is not surrounded with links promoting their other clients or services.


Bluesquare
Provide contact information

If a user has scrolled all the way to the bottom of a page then wants to get in touch don’t make them scroll all the way back to the top of the page (or even have to navigate the site) to find your contact information. At the very least provide a contact link.

Alternatively if you want to make this information more prominent feature it just above the footer on a row of it’s own.

Contact Details

Social media profiles

As a follow on from point five above, Including links to your social media profiles is also quite common and whilst it might not scream unprofessional a user might have purposefully checked the footer for that information or you might just convert a lost lead on site into a new follower off site.

Koozai Footer

Privacy policy & terms & conditions

It’s common to include links to your privacy policy terms & conditions & legal disclaimers. Not only does it instil trust in a user by making the information easy to find but it’s so common practise to find these links in a footer it might raise eyebrows if not alarms bells if they’re not present.

If you have an ecommerce site you should check your terms cover the distance seller regulations which are applicable to you.

SEOmoz

SEOmoz ticks pretty much all the boxes in their footer & include a prominent ‘Try it for free’ call to action.

Optional: provide a prominent call to action

One could argue that users who have scrolled to the bottom of your (potentially long) page are highly engaged having read the entire page or post, so you may wish to optimise your footer with additional CTAs, such as a newsletter sign up form, hire us now button or visit the store link.

Analytics

Even if your site is brand new or without much traffic right now you’ll most likely want to have today’s data to refer to in the future.

If you don’t capture it as you go along it’s gone for good and if your filters or goals are not setup you may suffer from incorrect or a sever lack of data down the line so please double check this is done properly.

Make sure analytics tracking code is installed

Pretty much everyone is aware of Google Analytics (GA) tracking code and the standard version is still free and unless you have a strong reason to opt for an alternate platform this is the one you should be using.

It’s very quick and easy to install regardless of platform so it shouldn’t cost you more than 30 minutes of their time.

Don’t just assume your web designer will install it for you as part of the site build make sure you organise this with them.

IMPORTANT: Make sure the GA account is one you are an administrator of and that the agency hasn’t created your profile within their account and just given you access. It’s probably a better idea if you set this up yourself and just send your web designer the tracking code to install just to be absolutely sure.

Goals & Funnels

Goals and funnels are extremely useful for measuring your conversions and how well your site is fulfilling its objectives.

Goals can be objectives like the user:

  • Reaching a specific destination like a ‘thanks page’.
  • Spending a certain amount of time on site – their duration.
  • Visiting a certain number of pages – pageviews.
  • Performing an event – such as opening a PDF.
  • And so on.

Funnels let you see the various stages of the user completing a goal such as the different steps involved in making a purchase.

IMPORTANT: Whilst some goals can still be reported on after they have occurred others cannot so it’s important you set them up in advance. If you don’t track these goals as you go along you may never gain access to the data in the future.

Filters

Filter allow you to include or exclude specific data from your reports.

You might for example want to exclude users who’ve visited the site from within your office locations (as you know they’ll be your staff) or you might want to segregate visits to different parts of your site if they operate as different departments who want to have their own data sets to work from.

IMPORTANT: Whilst some information can still be filtered after a visit occurs others cannot so it’s important you set them up in advance. If you don’t filter out certain traffic as you go along you may never be able to remove it in the future.

Google

These items are specific to Google as opposed to being general to SEO although arguably it’s the search engine which you’ll probably be most concerned with.

Given Google’s reach and therefore importance these are worthy of your attention.

Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools (GWMT) “provides you with detailed reports about your pages’ visibility on Google”.

It’s imperative you set this up. Most web designers will assume this to be the role of your SEO team so make sure you ask for this to be completed or you can quickly do it yourself using your Google login. The same one you used for GA earlier.

Having a GWMT account means Google can tell you about any specific problems its having accessing it your site, if they believe your site has been hacked and delisted from the search results (SERPS), view and query your links and traffic sources (according to Google), let’s you submit sitemaps, tell Google how you want your site to appear in the SERPS and much more.

It also lets you know if you’ve received a dreaded penalty.

IMPORTANT:  Even if you don’t know what to do with this information right now it can be very useful in the future when planning your SEO campaigns so take 5 minutes to set this up.

(Optional) Adwords

As you might never decide to advertise on Google using their advertising platform, Adwords this suggestion is optional.

But just in case you might in the future you would do well to install ‘remarketing tracking’ code at this early stage so that you can come back and use it when you have enough data.

Remarketing (also sometimes called or possibly confused with retargeting) is used to display adverts to users who’ve been on your website before. You can group users into lists depending on what pages they visited enabling you to target them with specific products or services you know them to be interested in down the line.

Even if you don’t think you’ll ever need this it’s better to have the information and never use it than not to have it and be desperate to use it.

It’s quite quick to set up from within an Adwords account and an easy but thorough guide is available here.

Conclusion

I hope this guide has given you enough information to check your website is adhering to best practise. As I mentioned a short general guide like this can’t cover every possible type of page or content but we’ve covered the universal rules which should normally be followed.

If you’re interested in gaining a deeper understanding of all the elements which can potentially make up a webpage here’s a much fuller list we recently put together.

I hope you enjoyed the checklist and if there’s anything you think should be included or have any queries please get involved in the comments below.

I look forward to seeing you in the next part of the series where we’ll provide a template you can use to protect your online assets.