27 Web Design Tips for 2021 (That Inspire Action)

by | Sep 14, 2021

Web Design Tips for Small Business 2017Your website.

It is hands-down… the most powerful tool in your digital marketing arsenal.

It can make or break your business.

And an outdated website that’s missing key information (or simply looks bad) can drive traffic directly to your competition.

Today we’re going to look at time-tested web design tips (along with some fresh ideas) to help grow your business in 2020 and beyond.

How Web Design Affects Business

Your website is your branding basecamp.

It’s the foundation for your company image.

It determines your fate.

Right or wrong… you will be judged.

By prospects, customers and potential partners for your business. Even by your employees (or recruits).

They judge the quality of your business by the quality of your website.

The looks and layout of your web design.

And the value and currency of your content.

The public perception of your business is driven by your website.

And it influences whether or not someone wants to take a chance on you.

…that maybe you hold the solution to their problem.

…that maybe they should pick up the phone and call you.

…or drive to your business.

…or fill out your contact form.

…or buy something from you.

…or come to work for you.

If your web design is outdated

You can kiss prospects goodbye.

It’s kinda like a restaurant that never replaces its fading or broken sign or never repaints the exterior or restripes the parking lot.

The interior ambiance might be great, the service impeccable and the food fantastic.

But people will just drive on by, because first impressions matter. Outdated looks unkempt.

Like a business neglected.

Outdated Web Design

You know what it’s like…

People don’t want to do business with a business that doesn’t care.

People are finicky. Especially those that don’t yet know you.

They move on quickly when they aren’t impressed early.

Think about your own experience

How do you research companies you just heard about?

Chances are – you immediately Google their business and visit their website.

What’s your first thought when you see a website that looks like it hasn’t been touched in 4 years?

Non-mobile friendly websiteOr, when you land on a site through your mobile phone.

…And ugh, it’s not mobile-friendly.
If it’s really, really worth your while, you will pinch and zoom and slide the site left and right to try to read the text for awhile.

Till you get frustrated.

And then leave the site.

A recent Harvard study determined, “Users make lasting judgments about a website’s appeal within a split second of seeing it for the first time. This first impression is influential enough to later affect their opinions of a site’s usability and trustworthiness.”

What a shame it would be to rank number one in Google, only to have your visitors turned off by your website once they land on the home page.

Web usability and psychology research shows

ONE – It takes just 1/20th of a second (50 milliseconds) for website visitors to form a first impression about your business.

TWOFirst impressions influence mid-term and long-term human behavior. i.e. – whether or not you will get future business.

THREE – In general, a web design is perceived more positively when it conforms to certain expectations based on the company’s industry/product type, as confirmed here and here.

FOUR – Less visually complex web pages (simple web designs) are perceived as more beautiful than more visually complex web pages (according to a Google research project).

According to the same Google study, “Within a fraction of time, people build a first visceral “gut feeling” that helps them to decide whether they are going to stay at this place or continue surfing to other sites.”

To make a great first impression…

Keep your web design simple and within expectations normally associated with your industry type.

That’s not saying…

Your website should be boring and look just like everyone else’s.

It’s not that at all. Your website should reflect the personality of your brand and your style.

But it should be simple.

It should be fluid and predictable.

Think about it.

When you visit an e-commerce website, you expect to see certain things like a list of categories, a search bar, prices prominently displayed, a smooth checkout process.

When those things aren’t there, or they are hard to find, you get frustrated (even though you may not realize it).


You simply leave the site.

Now, think about the websites where you spend most of your time… or where you spend most of your money.

Chances are, these sites are simply and beautifully designed – according to the industry they are in.

Now, let’s talk about what helps you build instant credibility through your website.

Basic Tips for a Credible Website

These are the must-have elements of your website design. This list was developed by Stanford University in their Persuasive Technology Lab. Dr. BJ Fogg is one of the world’s foremost researchers in the field known as the “psychology of persuasion.”

His team of researchers works day in and day out experimenting, analyzing and studying data related to the use of technology to influence human behavior.

These guidelines were created over a decade ago (after 3 years of research involving 4,500 people) but are still relevant today to providing a foundation on which to build. So, here they are.

1. Easy to verify information

  • Be honest and accurate
  • Add links to provide third-party support (citations, references)
  • Include real testimonials and verifiable reviews

2. Show the real organization

  • List your physical address for your business
  • Show photos of your office
  • Include links to organizations to which you belong
  • Include partner badges or third-party validation sources like your link on the state licence bureau or your Better Business Bureau profile
  • Go light on or cut out stock photos altogether. We all know the lady with the headset doesn’t really work for you

3. Highlight the expertise of your company

  • For established companies, include the year it was founded
  • Include specific training or industry standards by which you operate
  • Discuss the professional expertise of individuals or the company
  • Show your people in professional training settings
  • Link to outside articles or places you’ve been quoted
  • Don’t link to low-quality websites. You will be judged by this association as well

4. Show that honest, trustworthy people stand behind the website

  • Show photos of your employees – group and individual
  • Convey trustworthiness by making them known to the visitor
  • Add a bio that includes professional and personal details about family and hobbies
  • Some sites may include photos of employees at work and at play

5. Make it easy to contact you

  • Don’t make your website visitors hunt for contact info
  • Your phone number, physical address (and perhaps email) should be in the footer of your website
  • Include the phone number in your header or other easily accessible location for mobile browsers

6. Design should look professional & match the website’s purpose

  • Design your site to match the purpose of the business
  • Keep design standards within the conventional expectations of the industry/product type
  • In other words, don’t use CURLY-CURLZ font on a lawyer website

7. Make your website easy to use (and useful)

  • Use simple navigation menus, buttons, etc.
  • Don’t get too fancy with graphics or try to dazzle with cool effects that detract from the actions you desire from visitors
  • Clearly link to the most popular information, so visitors don’t have to hunt
  • Keep important information above the fold

8. Update your website content often

  • If your site has not been updated in over a year, people may assume you’ve gone out of business
  • If your site is not mobile-friendly, people may assume the same
  • More credibility is ascribed to websites that have been recently updated
  • If you mention years and dates in website content, make sure they are updated with passing time
  • A blog can help provide fresh content over time

9. Use restraint with promotional content

  • Write in a clear, direct, sincere style
  • Don’t be overly promotional or use hyped up, self-serving text
  • Share proof of claims in your text by providing links or screenshots

10. Avoid errors of all types, even small ones

  • Proofread and fix all spelling errors
  • Update or fix broken site links
  • Fix broken images

A note on grammar…

Grammatical errors should be avoided for general info pages like about us, company history or places where it’s generally expected you will write in complete sentences.


It’s OK to take liberty with grammar on long content pages (like the page you’re reading), because short burst sentences help to keep the reader engaged in your content.

Now, that we’ve covered the basic elements that build credibility through your website, let’s talk about design.

A “Marketing-First” Web Design Approach

If you’ve been told by a web designer…

“We will build you an awesome website that’s 100% unique, something that’s never been done before. We’ll have cool things flying in and buttons that burst into stars or bubbles that float all over the screen….”


The cost for all this custom design will be a waste, and it won’t help your business grow.

You need to take a marketing-first design approach to your website.

Marketing is not about dazzle and amazement.

The truth is…

Marketing is about the customer, knowing the customer, serving the customer with the products, information and services they want and need.

John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing, defines marketing for small business like this – “Getting someone who has a need to know, like and trust you.”

It’s about building relationships with customers. Your website should be a tool to start and grow these relationships over time.

So, think about this for a moment.

When your customer has a need, they embark on a journey. They are looking for a person or company to fulfill their need or to solve their problem.

You need to be a student of your customer and understand what inspires them to take the next action. It’s not common for people to move from prospect to customer in one step.

Duct Tape Marketing HourglassSo think about the little decisions your prospect needs to make to move from just learning about you to actually buying your product or service.

Maybe – 

…they need to decide to read more of your content (to see if you really know your stuff)

…then decide to join your email list

…then decide to request a free inspection or a phone consultation

…then decide to do more research after talking with you

Before, finally making a purchase.

The inspiration for these actions can be influenced by the quality of each marketing touchpoint on your website. Work to make each page of content, image, video and call-to-action a touchpoint that draws the prospect closer to your brand.

Instead of pushing them further away.

Jantsch describes the ideal customer journey in his concept of the 7 Phases of the Marketing Hourglass. This is the journey you want your customer to take.

The 7 Phases start at the point you are not yet known to the customer and finish where they are referring their friends to you. Good web design supports all 7 phases.

So, as you are thinking about your next website, think first about marketing and how the site can help move prospects along in the journey to become your customer.

Your outdated website

Bad Web Design (Avoid This)

  • Blinking text
  • Auto-play videos
  • Background music
  • Gaudy backgrounds
  • Too many font colors
  • Inconsistent font types
  • Long paragraphs of text
  • Excessive image borders
  • Unnecessary page clutter
  • Slideshows with 25 images
  • Excessive keyword stuffing
  • Fancy or hard-to-read fonts
  • Huge uncompressed image files
  • Stock photos of suits shaking hands
Ok, we know that we need to approach web design from a marketing perspective.

But, how do we really amp up its effectiveness?

Here are a few ways…

Next Level Web Design Tips

11. Use your own high-quality photos

  • Don’t copy images you find on Google to use on your website (you could end up in copyright trouble)
  • Your own photos are simply more trustworthy than stock photography
  • Hire a photographer or take some quality lifestyle shots for your website
  • Optimize your photos for fast loading
  • If creating a gallery or product images, make them all the same size and aspect ratio – for instance, all square at 800 x 800 pixels or all rectangular at 1000 x 750 pixels
  • Save them at 72 dpi to cut down on image file size

12. Include happy, smiling people

  • Show happy, smiling people on your website
  • This helps visitors build rapport with you faster
  • People love to do business or visit places where people are enjoying themselves

13. Evoke positive emotions

  • Stir emotion to make a connection
  • People react at a gut level to emotional triggers when they are feeling inspired, awed, surprised, happy, secure
  • Include inspirational images and messaging to help people do more, be more, feel better, etc.

14. Tell stories

  • Stories are memorable
  • Put your reader in the story
  • People love stories about others who have succeeded or overcome obstacles
  • Case studies help people envision the success they will achieve themselves

15. Display trust marks

  • Show logos of your clients to provide social proof
  • Display your BBB badge or accreditation badges
  • Display SSL security or TRUSTe seals

16. Display helpful links and navigation in footer

  • Visitors use footer links
  • Add a helpful navigation menu and other important information
  • Link your address to Google maps for easy directions

17. Make web pages scannable

  • Include headings and information that’s easily scannable
  • Help visitors know get the gist of your website more quickly
  • Write in shorter sentences and paragraphs
  • Walls of text are hard to read, especially on mobile devices

18. Write very long content (in some places)

  • This does not apply to your home page
  • But, long content wins when it comes to SEO
  • The top 3 positions in Google are usually held by 2,000+ word content

19. Make copy action-oriented and include clear call-to-action

  • A call-to-action is a trigger that invites a certain action
  • It’s things like the Contact Us – Sign Up Now – Add to Cart buttons
  • Use more verbs and less nouns in your writing
  • Instead of “Your family will be protected…” – say “You will protect your family with…”

20. Use powerful words in copy

  • Words move people to act
  • Copywriters throughout the decades have identified the most powerful ones
  • Use the word YOU
  • Use the word BECAUSE, because it’s been called the most persuasive word of all
  • Buffer put together a huge list of 189 power words – check it out and use some of them


Now, how can we squeeze even more power out of your website?

Let’s pull out some big guns that really work.

Advanced Web Design Tips

21. Trick out your portfolio

  • Instead of creating a simple gallery of finished projects
  • Create a page for some of your best to go into detail about what you did for the client
  • These pages will not only provide value for your visitors, it will also help with SEO

22. Add a press page

  • A press page shows that you mean business and want to tell the world about it
  • It’s like a style guide for your brand giving resources that encourage blogs and media outlets to share your company
  • Create a press kit with your logo, high-resolution images, videos, etc.
  • Add the press kit and any press releases to your website

23. Implement an SEO plan to rank higher

  • SEO takes time, sometimes months or years to rank for competitive target keywords
  • But considering that some keywords cost $35 or more per click in AdWords…
  • And considering that organic search engine listings receive 85% of all clicks…
  • The value of organic traffic is tremendous when compared to the amount you would need to pay to get the same traffic
  • Rank your website on the first page of Google, and watch your business grow… very fast

24. Add share triggers to get more word-of-mouth

  • Want to help your content go viral?
  • According to Jonah Berger, marketing professor at Wharton School & author of Contagious – why things catch on, there’s a recipe for that
  • After studying huge amounts of data to determine what influences people to share content, he distilled it down to the following elements you should include in your content:
  • Social Currency – we share things that make us “look good” to others. Inside information, the hidden scoop. Did you know type info. Hidden secrets. Things the power brokers didn’t want you to know. Exclusive discounts, or other info that makes us look like we are “in the know”
  • Triggers – “top of mind means tip of tongue.” Associate what you do with another trigger that makes people think about your company or its products. Example, “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.” BOOM! Folgers tied their brand of coffee with the daily trigger of waking up from sleep. An example for a roofing company might be, “every time it rains, thank the stars for XYZ Roofs”
  • Emotion – when our emotions are stirred, we share. Emotions like AWE – WONDER – JOY – INSPIRATION – HOPE – ANGER are powerful motivators. Emotional content often goes viral. Think about those heart-warming videos you share. Remember Susan Boyle?? Or those videos of the Blendtec blender pulverizing hockey pucks and iPhones?
  • Public – people imitate what they see others doing. It’s why fads go bananas, and why some brands gain tremendous momentum. Design products, services, initiatives that advertise themselves. Pink ribbons (and now the whole color pink) for breast cancer awareness. Beards and mustaches during November for men’s health. Things catch on when we see others doing something in a public way. How can your brand leverage this?
  • Practical Value – when it’s “news you can use” it gets shared. Make your content super-practical and highly useful. Create content that saves time, money, enhances success, etc.
  • Stories – people love a good story. But you don’t need to be a novelist to win at this. Write a case study. Tell how your solution helped a certain client solve their problem. Tell inspirational stories that help your reader envision their own success using your product or formula

25. Apply the law of reciprocity

  • Ever noticed how you feel compelled to do something for someone after they’ve done something for you?
  • It’s a wired in feeling of obligation to “return the favor” when someone does something nice for you
  • Car dealers employ this when they offer you a Coke or bottle of water prior to starting negotiations
  • Use this in a credible way. Be authentic and genuine and work to really help your visitors solve their problems
  • Give your website visitors more and better info (that really helps), and they may want to do something nice for you – like sharing your post on social media 🙂

26. Use expectation in your language

  • People tend to make decisions based on the expectations of how others expect them to perform
  • Communicate in a way “as-if” your visitor has already done the thing you want them to do
  • When you say things like “we’ll discuss that during your first appointment” you are helping the person envision themselves sitting down with you for an appointment
  • Even small phrases like, “change your life” or “learn quickly” or “improve your results” can inspire people to rise to the expectation to act
  • Think about how you can weave this into the content of your website

27. Study conversion rate optimization for more ideas

  • Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the study of small factors that influence conversions
  • On web pages small changes can make a huge difference, sometimes doubling or tripling conversions
  • The change might be as simple as changing a button color from red to green
  • Or changing one word in a headline
  • Or adding an image of a smiling person
  • Here’s a list of 100 CRO case studies to give you more web design ideas than you have time to implement

As with all things, what looks good today won’t look good tomorrow. The design of your website should morph over time.

You need to stay current to maintain your company’s image. However, web design is less about looks and more about creating a marketing tool that inspires your customer to act.

And one more thing…

You really need to GIVE your knowledge away.

If you want to set your business apart from almost everyone in your industry, share what you know, the expertise you’ve gained.

Chances are….

Your prospects are already googling questions you could answer for them.

Put your knowledge in writing or in images or in video through your website, and count yourself among the experts in your field.

Now It’s Your Turn…

I hope this guide helps with your next website project.

BUT, I want to hear from you today!

Leave me a quick comment below.

Ask a question or add an idea of your own. I’d love to hear from you.

Owner's Manual for Digital Marketing
Russell Frazier

Russell Frazier is the founder of Visigility. When he's not sleeping, he's usually thinking about how he can help grow your business online. He writes about marketing, web design, SEO and social media.

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