Welcome to day 2 of our month-long SmallBizSat Q&A series where we ask top small business experts their advice on how small business owners can market and grow their businesses in support of Small Business Saturday.

Today , we are excited to present our second guest, Anita Campbell (@SmallBizTrends), one of the most influential people within the small business community on Twitter, who will offer her insights on building a credible business website.  Read on and find out what business owners can do to spruce up their websites and what elements they should include to make their websites more trustworthy.  And don’t forget to shop local on Nov. 26th 2011!

Q. When looking at a website of a new business, how do you judge if the business is credible or not?

A. People do business with people they have reason to trust not with nameless faceless websites. This holds true whether you’re business-to-consumer or business-to-business, because ultimately a human being must make the decision to buy from your company.

On top of that, your website needs to function like a “virtual” representative for your company 24/7. Would you want to buy food from a restaurant where the staff couldn’t answer your questions, the food looked unappetizing and the place was unkempt? If you’re like most people, you wouldn’t. Likewise, your website should always present your company at its best, because it’s your online representative.

Therefore, make sure your website has as many of the following as possible, to show your business is credible:

  • Company full name (not just your Web domain name)
  • Your own domain name Don’t have your website reside as a subdomain off a bigger site (e.g., NOT: companyxyz.cheapwebsites.com).  It suggests you either just started in business or that you don’t expect to last.  Neither is confidence inspiring.  Instead, you want your Web address to be something like: CompanyXYZ.com. Your own domain name can be had for under $20.
  • Complete address and phone number Ideally these should be at the bottom of each page, but at the very least on a dedicated page in the website.
  • Hours of operation For a retail business or a business with physical premises this is important.
  • Directions and map For businesses with physical premises, this is also important.  Many people will go to a website simply for this information, before visiting your store or office.
  • Contact Us page or form
  • About Us page This should contain enough information so that it is clear yours is a business here for the long haul. When possible, include the founder’s or owner’s name. A compelling “story” about the business’s history or why it was founded adds interest for the media and can attract PR. Plus it makes customers and prospects remember your business.
  • Photos Include high-quality photos of some of your products or your business premises (or at least the sign out in front). Or, if you’re a solo professional such as an accountant or attorney, then a picture of you. People respond to compelling visuals. Make sure photos are not blurry or taken in bad light.  One great photo is better than 6 poor ones.
  • Description of your business, products, services Be crystal clear on what your business does and products/services you provide. The clearer and more specific you are, the more you convey that you know what you’re doing and your business is competent. For many small businesses, this won’t be a challenge to describe. For example: a pizzeria is pretty straight forward and may take little more than including your menu online, and whether you deliver. But in my experience, other types of businesses, such as consultants, don’t always do a good job describing the services they offer and who exactly they serve. Those types of businesses need to take extra care with their Web copy.
  • Customer testimonials Even one testimonial from a real customer is helpful. If you have just one, put it right on the home page. Over time you can add more as the business generates a track record. Move the testimonials to their own dedicated section later on.
  • Seals from industry associations, Better Business Bureau, etc. Web seals that indicate your industry affiliations or the trade associations you belong to, are a further sign that yours is a credible business. The Better Business Bureau seal is a sign of trust among consumers and is especially good for businesses that sell to consumers. Make sure you have permission to use any seals.
  • Media mentions If your company has had any publicity, mention it. Also, publish your own press releases on your site, in a section called “Media” or “Press.” A company that publishes press releases shows that it expects to grow.
  • Lack of typos / grammatical errors Proofread your site! Twice! Avoid glaring typos or grammatical errors, because they erode credibility.
  • Logo While you don’t need the most beautiful logo in the world, having a logo (even just  professionally drawn text of your company name) says your company has brand value.
  • The best design or template you can afford Let’s face it:  you only have a few seconds to make a great impression. If your website appears amateurish, confusing or unprofessional, what does that suggest about the attention you give to the rest of your business? You don’t have to spend a fortune on your website design, but at the very least buy a professional template for a few hundred dollars and pay a designer to customize it with your company colors and logo. Or use an inexpensive  website tool (such as Intuit Websites) that comes with professional templates you can customize yourself.
  • Social media follow buttons More and more customers expect to find your business on social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. If you have social accounts, put the buttons on your website. It’s proof of social validation.

Anita Campbell is the CEO of the online small-business communities of Small Business Trends and BizSugar, reaching over 4 million small businesses annually. She also is the co-author of Visual Marketing: 99 Proven Ways for Small Businesses to Market with Images and Design.

Also, check out what our first guest in this series, Jim Kukral(@JimKukral),  had to say about supporting small businesses.