3 Overlooked Features of Standout Small Business Websites

Planning a website can be a daunting process. From deciding between a one-page template or a thoroughly-structured layout to crafting targeted content, choosing to create or revamp your website can leave you with more questions about your business than answers.

To get things started, you might start by researching competitor websites. Looking at the colours, typography, imagery, and content your competitors use is a good way to figure out how you can stand out—but these details don’t tell the full story about what makes them successful.

Where do you begin?

Early on in the website planning process—and before creating any type of customer-focused content—you and your team should know who your website is for, what their priorities are, and what you offer them that your competitors don’t.

A great starting point is developing buyer personas. Hubspot offers an under 100-word explanation of how this “semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer” works, but having an overview of your target customers and their priorities helps you build a site focused on solving their problems.

However, an investment in a company website is ultimately driven by the needs of the business. Whether it’s launching a new product, implementing a full-scale rebrand, or simply a restructuring of the content strategy, at some point, someone decided their website needed a fresh coat of paint, and they expect some sort of return on that investment.

The good news? What’s good for your customers is good for your bottom line. Here are the three overlooked features top-notch small businesses use to optimize their customers’ user experience.

1. They Put Their Customers’ Goals First

Often, the website planning process starts with a sitemap. This sitemap may be the same as the existing website, one based on a competitors site, or perhaps it’s simply a list of important pages jotted down during a brainstorming session between an agency and client. Although these are all great places to begin, the mental models of potential customers and site visitors often look very different to what initially seems important.

Customers might be gathering information about your product to compare against your competition, looking for documentation about the product they already own, or maybe they’d just like to get in touch or place an order.

Looking into techniques like Top Tasks or Card Sorting may help with establishing sitemaps for in-depth projects, but a simpler place to start is with content mapping.

Instead of creating an out-of-context sitemap—start with a list of the 3-5 most important website goals from all your stakeholders. From here, group the content—whether it’s fully prepped and ready to go or still simply an outline— according to these goals. This puts your customers’ goals (like finding product specs or contact info) on the same playing field as more business-centric goals (like building trust, or selling widgets.)

2. They Take Accessibility Seriously

It would be great if accessibility was baked into the mindset of all businesses, but the fact is many organisations do not consider it when making business decisions, or worse, don’t believe they need to.

This is even more true for websites, where creating accessible spaces is put into practice somewhat “behind the scenes” as compared to the real world (where things like braille signage, accessible pedestrian signals, or wheelchair ramps at least give the impression of trying.)

At the moment, there’s a trend that leans towards low-contrast websites—lots of white backgrounds, light pastel colours, and small, light grey text. It’s a design technique that appeals to designers for its modern, minimalist look, and appeals to clients because it can give a friendly, warm, or feminine feel—but often ends up making it hard to find information, and even harder to read.

You can have the best content in the world, but it’s not going to be of benefit  if only those with 20/20 vision can read it! People look at websites in all sorts of sub-optimal environments—outdoors in the bright sunshine, squeezed on a subway train, or while quickly flicking through a dozen open tabs.

Creating an accessible website is often perceived as being too costly or too much effort for the benefit of only a few people. The reality is, accessibility on the web does take some effort and consideration, but it benefits all stakeholders while creating a much more inclusive user experience. Well-written content that’s structured and presented properly not only makes the website easier to parse for those using screen-reading technology, but it also contributes to better SEO results and makes content more useful for everyone.

When designed with accessibility in mind, websites can be beautiful, intuitive, and enjoyable for everyone.

3. They Don’t Waste Their Customers’ Time

Back in the old days of the web (say, the early 00’s), website performance and speed was a critical factor. Most people were still on dial-up, and even those with faster internet still had limitations on their bandwidth. For website designers and developers, it was critical to make sure your website was as lean and quick as possible. We kept images small, seldom used video, and limited complicated scripting.

When creating a website today, there’s an endless number of cool techniques and features we can drop into sites for one reason or another—chat bots, videos, animations, newsletter-popups, sound effects, advertising, slideshows, and much more. This is made even easier on platforms like WordPress, where all kinds of interesting and useful functionality can be added with a few clicks and the installation of a new plugin or two.

It’s tempting to see these features as a panacea; all these things can be useful in improving conversions, engagement, or sales. However, every cool piece of tech we add on to our site comes with a performance cost. It takes kilobytes (or megabytes) of data for visitors to download that information, and their computer or smartphone then uses porcessing power to run whatever the feature is.

Fast internet and fast computers are not as ubiquitous as we like to believe. Over 50% of web browsing is done on mobile, and we’ve all experienced a slow-or-no loading website despite our phones telling us we have *all* the cell reception. Even if the internet connection is speedy, a huge number of people use older, slower phones and laptops that simply don’t have the power to run all the latest whizz-bang technology.

This doesn’t mean your website should be devoid of all imagery and functionality, but a good start is to set a reasonable performance budget (i.e. the amount of stuff you expect a visitor to download and run on each page.) If you’re revamping an existing website, your website statistics should be able to tell you what sort of technology the majority of your visitors are using.

The Bottom Line: Get Curious About Your Customers

If you’re not sure what visitors to your site are looking for, ask them. Email your best clients, conduct a survey of your existing website visitors, or run a focus group—there are plenty of ways to get more insight into what your (potential) customers are looking for.

When it comes to creating a small business website that meets the needs of your customers, remember to put them first. From writing informational copy to choosing between fun widgets, always take time to make sure your content is relevant, accessible, and clear for your customers.

What under-the-radar website techniques are you using to help you better serve your customers?

About the Author

Adrian Trimble is a freelance designer and developer based in Montreal, Canada. He specializes in creating unique WordPress-based projects for a range of businesses and organizations.