Strategic Web Design: Referral Business Websites

February 19, 2019
By Pam Berg

Business goals depend on all kinds of factors, like industry, region, competitors, budget, and team. But despite so many variables, our agency has found that there are two strategic website categories that will deliver the desired results: referral business websites and inbound marketing websites.

If your overall goal is to convert word-of-mouth researchers through content that cements your credibility, you definitely need a referral business website.

If an inbound marketing website might be more up your alley, check out our other post in this strategic web design set!

What’s a Referral Business Website?

Referral business is the dream for many companies, because of its reduced overhead in inbound marketing and sales.

Not to be confused with a referral marketing program, a referral-driven business has minimal need for inbound or outbound marketing because of a great company reputation and customer happiness. They just need digital proof to prove the rumours true.

We frequently work with companies in trades like electrical, plumbing, or roofing, which have been around for decades and their phones ring off the hook. Their customers are loyal brand ambassadors, telling friends and family to use their services.

A referral business website provides proof for those who hear about a company and want to confirm its legitimacy before making contact. It’s all about trust — a professional, thoughtful, and modern user experience that lives up to that strong reputation.

illustration showing two people chatting over instant messaging

How is a Referral Business Website Designed?

A referral business website intends to paint a complete picture of the company’s work and values through immersive credibility content. The audience is mostly researchers doing their due diligence, exploring the services and proof pieces to make sure those online and peer reviews are for real.

In order to satisfy the high expectations of visitors who have a clear intent to convert, the website needs specific trust-building content areas — and a smart UX design to get that content found.

Priority content

Case Studies

Case studies are the number-one type of proof, trust, and conversion content. They help a researcher imagine exactly how your product or service could help them, by seeing it in action on someone with a similar need.

Although referral business websites aren’t as dependent on SEO as inbound marketing websites, case studies also satisfy the need to regularly produce optimized, engaging content to stay on top of your search ranking.

There are many further benefits to designing a case studies area or projects gallery for your website:

  • Tell a visual story of how your product or service solves problems
  • Create emotional connections through relatable, humanized success stories
  • Legitimize your claims through tangible results
  • Portray real people or businesses you’ve worked with
  • Demonstrate your expertise and skill
  • Amplify your brand storytelling

We’re big advocates for WordPress web development, which makes adding new case studies in a custom page template a breeze.

Want more proof about the power of project galleries? Check out 9 Reasons Case Studies are Killer Marketing Tools!

Clients, testimonials, and memberships

Another great way to convince visitors of your business cred is to showcase your clientele, industry memberships, and authentic customer satisfaction.

For B2B companies, a page devoted to clients or partners is often a crucial addition to their referral business website. You can simply showcase logos, or go deeper and include write-ups with links to related case studies. Another option is to build a client logo showcase into the Home or About pages.

For B2C businesses, your web design can include testimonials. These can live on their own page, be featured as static or rotating content on your projects page, or dish out accolades on the Homepage. Check out HubSpot’s post with examples of awesome testimonial pages.

A similar credibility feature is live customer reviews from external websites, embedded into your website through plugins or code. You can feature content from TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, social media, and more.

Both B2B and B2C companies can also benefit from adding relevant industry and business membership logos or credentials to their Home, About, or Work pages. Like adding certifications to your CV, this supports exactly why you can be trusted to do the work you do.

Company story

If people are taking the time to do research, they’re going to explore all facets of your business. Beyond what you do and who you serve, they’ll want to know exactly who you are. That’s why a deeper About area is important to a referral business website.

Which details are relevant to your niche audience? In some cases, you’ll want your mission and values up front. For other brands, full team member profiles create the right level of trust and transparency.

You might do with a single About page, or need more than one landing page featuring About-type content (ex. a separate Team page). You could also use a set of templated detail pages that allow visitors to dive deeper into top-level information housed on a primary About page. This works especially well for companies with a long and fascinating history, a large staff with full professional bios, or numerous community partners and activities.

This deeper About content will solidify the truth of your brand’s reputation.

Email and contact collection

Although a referral business doesn’t always need to build their customer base through their website, there’s still plenty of reason to collect email addresses and include contact forms:

  • Share company updates, such as new products and changes to services
  • Remind customers of regular needs, such as refills, updates, routine maintenance, or seasonal concerns
  • Share promotions
  • Remind customers of your existence and their satisfaction, prompting re-engagement or referral to family and friends

The design for a referral business website Contact page and form is also critical. That information must be readily available and simple to complete in order to finish the conversion started by the trust and credibility content.

Access to contact details with one tap/click capability should be visible from all points of the website, specific to each stage in the journey if applicable — such as contact to request a quote vs. contact for general inquiries, vs. contact about a job opening.

Recruitment and culture

Speaking of job openings — recruitment is often a priority for companies handling so much direct business. We’re regularly called upon to help businesses improve their appeal as employers. For recruitment, About and Careers pages matter most.

Showcasing company culture is an important piece of the web design for enticing new hires. What information is presented should be driven by the target audience. You might talk about benefits, career and educational training, and company values, or show photos of team bonding events that play up a positive workplace.

Search Engine Journal shares examples of companies with exceptional About pages.

SEO is also a key part of reaching that demographic, to capture searches done by people who, unlike your primary audience of referrals, might have little or no awareness of your business.

Integrating live job postings and custom application forms into your website’s design and development is a helpful way to reduce the drop-offs that can happen when visitors are required to use third-party sites to apply — plus it cuts down the time and energy involved in wading through applications done through a general contact form. You can use a free tool like Typeform to easily create a professional job application form.


One final component we often recommend for a referral business website is a Resources area to demonstrate your thought leadership. Different content that highlights your expertise for potential partners, customers, and industry peers complements the visual proof in your case studies:

  • Blog posts
  • White papers
  • Reports
  • eBooks
  • Archived email newsletters
  • Downloads

Secondary Content

Although referral business and inbound marketing websites have different primary goals, they’ll often still have a lot of the same content. The main difference is in the way that content is presented through UX and UI design, with the content your audience needs most getting centre stage in page design, menus, lateral navigation opportunities, and optimization.

A referral business website may not prioritize SEO, social media, martech integrations, or custom landing pages, but that content is still essential to most digital marketing strategies and will be included in the web design and development.

Measuring Referral Business Website Success

Even with plenty of new business, you should be analyzing traffic and performance data to make sure it’s delivering as a resource for conversions.

Here’s where to check up on your referral business website in Google Analytics:

  • Direct traffic — a lot of your traffic will be coming via Direct visits (typing your address directly, clicking from dark social shares like Messenger or WhatsApp, clicking from personal email forwards, etc.) so look at your Direct traffic performance to ensure it’s resulting in contact/conversions
  • Dwell time — as a research tool, you want people to be spending a lot of time engaging with your conversion content; look at the All Pages report to make sure case studies, testimonials, and other key content shows a decent average time on page
  • Contact — the objective is getting people to make that phone call or email, so make sure you have good goal tracking set up on your Contact page to measure its success (and to tweak for drop-offs during the contact process)

Need a better referral business website? We’re always happy to chat and offer insights. Don’t miss the other post in this set, Strategic Web Design: Inbound Marketing Websites.

Pam Berg

Pam has backgrounds in journalism, computer forensics, and public libraries, which add up to the perfect mindset for digital strategy. She's been a professional content writer for over 20 years, and working with clients in SEO and analytics for 8 years. Her Instagram feed is equal parts horses, waffles, and drag performers.

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