Ten top tips for creating an effective website

Cambridge Public Health webiste homepage

By Simon Hall

If you need an appealing, informative and effective website, but you're a start up, small business, sole trader, charity, or on a limited budget, here are 10 top tips for how to do it...

My company Creative Warehouse has produced several websites lately. 

They were created for a range of clients, from start ups, to small businesses, to a University of Cambridge department. 

But what they all have in common is the customers didn't know the ins and outs of website design, build and writing, and so needed a partner to help. 

I appreciate what a stressful experience that can be, and how it sometimes feels:

 Where do I start? What do I need to think about for best results? Where do I look for support? Who can I trust?

We all understand how important websites are in the modern world. 

They're a shop window for your company or organisation, which you're often judged on.

Sometimes they can even make the difference between success and failure.

So I thought it was worth setting out some important points to bear in mind when producing a website.


Website key messages

I go on about this an awful lot in communications, but forgive me, I'm going to have to do so again.

Your key messages are more critical than just about anywhere else on your website.

People are busy and impatient.

They're likely to spend only a few seconds looking at your site before deciding if they're in the right place for what they want. 

Which means you have to make it clear what you do instantly.

And not just that, but you have to do it in an interesting, appealing, and intriguing way, to encourage them to stay and have a look around.

Not to mention consider doing business with you.


The key message for the Cambridge Public Health site was:

Improving the health and wellbeing of our societies together


For Creative Warehouse it's:

All your communication problems solved with style


See how both say exactly what it is they're all about instantly, and hopefully lead a visitor into wanting to find out more.

Both core messages are prominently displayed on the sites as well, right at the top, and in big, bold text. 

People don't have the patience to have to hunt around, so give them what they need up front and direct.


Less is more on websites

Here's something else I bang on about a lot in the world of communication. 

I know you love your company, organisation or project. Which means I know you want to tell the world all about it. 

But, just like the blabbermouth at a party, too much talk puts people off. 

Modern websites tend to be rich in lovely images, but sparse in text. 

So say what you need to say and stop. 


Don't forget that generally you don't sell on a website.

But what you can do is start a conversation. 

People can always get in touch if they want to talk further, which is where the real business is done.


And that reminds me. Make it simple for potential customers to contact you. 

A floating contact icon is easy to do, and our preferred way.


Website images

A quick mention, as I've largely already covered this. 

Think carefully about the photos you use.

Try to make them striking and appealing, and avoid stock shots if you can. 


Images of you and your team doing their thing, or some of the work you've done, with lots of happy and proud faces, are always more effective than generic photos. 

Get into the habit of taking photos as you go about your work. 

It's easy in this smartphone era, and you'll soon find they come in very useful.


Mobile first websites

Don't forget that most people will experience your website on a phone in these mobile dominated days. 

Which means it's critical that it's optimised for mobile viewing. 

When we work on a website, we take a mobile first approach, only shifting to how it looks on desktops and tablets later.

(Although that has to be done, of course, and the site has to look good there too.) 

We find that a mobile first approach is the most effective way to create a website with a true wow factor. 


Video on websites

Try to get a video of some kind on to the homepage of your website. 

A heat map will show you that visitors to your site will generally go to a video first. 

They're also powerful for talking about your company, saying more than just words can, as with ours.

Testimonials are a key part of any video, so remember to collect them as you work with customers.


Even if you're just starting off and can't produce such a comprehensive video as ours, you can always record a hello and welcome like mine for the Creative Warehouse site.

Such videos are easy to make with a plug in microphone for your phone, and a small tripod.

They don't cost much and are well worth the investment.

You'll probably find yourself using them time and again.


A website KISS 

Don't panic, I'm not moving in on you! 

KISS is one of my favourite acronyms in the communications trade: 

Keep It Short and Simple

What I mean is to watch out for jargon on your website. 

Every trade has it, from high science to the media, with our talk of 2-ways (interviewing a reporter), OOVs (newsreader talking behind pictures) etc. 

But a website is for general consumption, so you need to check for jargon and technical talk and translate it into plain English when required. 


Take a tip from journalists to help your website work well. 

Put the most important information in first, near the top. 

Most people won't read the whole of a page, so give them the best bits first.

See what we do on the Creative Warehouse site.

We hook the reader with our key message, then go on to say what we do and why we're worth working with (hopefully!)


Readability on websites

While you're on the writing of your site, don't forget to keep an eye on its readability. 

You don't want long and wordy sentences like this, which seem to go on and on, and then on some more, and then on some more for good measure, and then find something else to say, and then something else etc etc.

Keep your sentences short, sharp and simple. 

Like this.

As I've mentioned, most people will probably be reading on a phone. 

The screens are small.

So the sentences should be as well.

That's how it needs to be on the web.

Here endeth the lesson.



Website keywords

Even though you're keeping it short and simple, you need to think carefully about keywords.

These are the words you use on your site which helps Google understand what it is you do, and so gives you a chance of appearing prominently in search engine results. 

To help, think about what your customers would type into Google to find you. 


For Creative Warehouse, notice how our site talks about start ups, media, websites, core messages, design, pitching for investment and customers, video production, all that kind of thing. 

We also repeatedly mention Cambridge, because most people will look for a company based in their area. 

Headings and titles are particularly important in search engine optimisation, so make sure to get your key words in those.

See how I've used the word website in each heading in this blog?

That's to help it appear high up on Google when people are searching for information about how to create a good website.


Website layout

Don't forget to make your website easy to read, and navigate. 

If you hit us with a barrage of information, that's an invitation for a visitor to click away never to return. 

Use lots of white space, headings, pretty pictures, a kind typeface and gentle colours. 

Another of my favourite sayings in communications has it this way:

 Less is More


Remember, you're trying to tempt a visitor into starting a conversation with a view to doing some business, not sell from the start. 

That's offputting.


Website content

The homepage is most important, so make sure to put all your best material there.

That could be your achievements, biggest projects, case studies or testimonials. 

But again remember to keep it short and simple. Impress, don't overwhelm. 

You can always expand on a particular subject later, perhaps if you use a case studies page, as we do at Creative Warehouse.


Apart from that, you should list all the services you offer, and an introduction to your team. 

A little about each, their background, experience, and a sense of their character tends to work well. 

Plus a photo, of course. 

Your values are also worth mentioning.

They're so important in a modern world where ethics are a critical part of people's purchasing choices.


Finally, I would recommend a blog. 

They're fun to write, a great showcase of what you've been doing, and they help keep your website fresh with new content, which search engines like.

But if you're going to blog, commit to writing regularly. 

It doesn't look good if a visitor scans your blogs and finds nothing has been added for months. 

I blog weekly, which I find works well for me and Creative Warehouse.


And just a word about where and how to build your site.

I'm not here to sell any of the many platforms which are available to help, although I'm always open to sponsorship offers! 

But if you're on a limited budget, think about whether you need to pay, or how much you can afford. 

Most platforms do roughly the same things.

If you're not trying anything too advanced, you probably don't need some of the more singing and dancing features and their associated costs. 


Finally, I hope this has helped, but if you'd like more support with your site please get in touch via the Creative Warehouse website.

We've made a lovely range of clients very happy with their sites, and promise to look after you impeccably as well, whatever your needs or budget. 


I'm a tutor, lecturer and coach in Communications and Business Skills at the University of Cambridge. I also run my own media, public relations and design consultancy, Creative Warehouse, work in government, and across the private and public sectors.
I can offer communications support in all areas, including:
Branding, reports, investment pitches, presentations and speech writing ~ Conventional and social media ~ Websites ~ Photography and videography ~ Public speaking ~ Crisis communications ~ Building your personal brand

Simon Hall Communications