Designing a website with the user experience in mind (known as UX web design) is where form meets function, serving both site visitors and business’ goals simultaneously. It puts visitors, and how they interact with your site, at the core of the design process to create a positive and engaging experience. The principles of UX design are simple in nature and are proven to be a worthwhile investment that can turn your website into an effective marketing machine.
Tip: Just starting out? Begin by getting a good foundation in web design with all the information you need to build your small business website.
Value of UX Web Design
UX web design doesn’t just benefit your audience, but also your business. Strategically creating an intuitive site helps meet the needs of site visitors, reduce potential friction, and in return, more effectively convert visitors into customers. By solving visitors’ pain points, you’re also developing a competitive website that can give your business an edge. Without a good UX, you may be missing a lot of opportunities.
- Your business’ credibility is judged by the quality of your site: Website users say 75% of their judgment regarding a business’ credibility is derived from how well the company designed their website.
- A bad website experience creates a negative effect on your customers: According to 67% of website users, a poor experience on a website negatively affects their opinion of not just one business (in the case of a franchise) but the entire brand.
- People don’t return to poorly designed sites: It takes only one bad website experience for 88% of consumers to be less likely to return to the website.
Note: The above UX web design statistics are provided by Intechnic.
9 UX Web Design Principles for Small Businesses
Many people believe UX web design is complex; however, the principles behind it are actually quite simple. You don’t have to be an expert web developer to implement UX web design. With a number of very simple principles, you too can create a positive user experience for your audience that intuitively helps provide the information people are looking for, where they’re looking for it. In return, you can create a marketing machine for your business.
Here are nine principles to improve your small business website experience:
1. Know Your Audience
You can’t build a website for your audience if you don’t know your audience. The first and most foundational element of UX design is understanding who your audience is, what they’re looking for, what their pain points are, and what motivates them. Start by putting yourself in their shoes and imagine their journey. Then, for further insights, look at analytics reports for demographic data, use audience surveys or polls, and research your competitors’ audiences.
Look at Your Analytics Reports
If you’re not already using a website data collection and analytics tool, such as Google Analytics (free), it’s time to start. Google Analytics is the standard in website analytics as it provides a wealth of information about site visitors, including everything from the number of visitors and which pages they viewed to where visitors are located and the devices they’re using.
This can provide valuable insight into how to design a site. With the insights you learn about your audience, you can create content and cater the experience to a visitor’s interests, demographics, and how they are interacting online.
Tip: This information can also be incredibly useful in strategic digital ad campaign creation. By knowing where your best customers are and what they’re most interested in, you can better tailor ads to that audience and focus ad placement to deliver on the devices they’re using.
Research Your Audience’s Preferences by Demographic
Once you know the demographics of your website visitors, you can research the general expectations of the types of people who visit your site. For example, if your analytics reports tell you that most of your visitors are between 20 and 35 years old, do some research to understand how people in that age category prefer to interact with businesses online.
Some questions you can research that may be useful in learning the design expectations of your audience by demographics include:
- What devices do they use most to access business websites?
- How do they like to interact with businesses? By email, live chat, support tickets, or phone?
- How quickly do they expect a response to their questions?
- What design styles do they most appreciate?
- What design colors most appeal to them?
Tip: For general demographic data, use Statista.com. It offers a wide array of statistics reports answering all sorts of questions. For example, the report below offers insights into the communication preferences by generation. You can then use this information to help you decide which forms of communication to offer based on your unique audience.
Ask Your Audience
One simple way to get to know your audience is by reaching out to them directly. While it would be tedious and time-consuming to ask every customer individually, you can use surveys or polls to collect their feedback easily with survey platforms such as Google Forms and Zoho Survey. There are a number of ways to share your survey or poll with your audience, such as via your website, email, text, social media, and even in-store for brick-and-mortar businesses.
Tip: Keep your surveys short and skip superfluous questions such as age, device type, and education level, as this information is available through website analytics such as Google Analytics. Instead, ask the questions you can’t get answered elsewhere, such as what they like most about your product or service and what they think could improve it.
Do a Competitor Analysis
To get a leg up on your competition, you’ll need to first learn about who they are. SEMRush is a free tool that makes this easy. All you have to do is paste a domain (or URL) in the search bar and it will provide you with a domain overview report, which provides insights such as main organic competitors, and a competitive positioning map report. By understanding your competitors, you can further understand your audience.
Once you have a list of the competitors that are doing what your audience wants, visit their website, put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and walk their path. Make note of any friction points you run into, as well as what they do to make the process easy for visitors. Then, in your own design, solve the pain points you ran into and implement those experience elements that made your time on your competitor’s website pleasant and seamless.
2. Map Your User Journey
After getting a good idea of who your audience is, the next step is to map your user journey. In other words, look at how site visitors will interact with your site. This involves everything from how they arrive at your site to the steps between how they navigate through the site to eventually meet your site’s goal and take your desired action, such as purchasing a product or booking an appointment.
Tip: Think of your user journey like a sales pipeline, where users are at varying stages and your site is designed to meet the needs of people in each of those stages. And as your site meets those needs, it propels visitors to the next stage until they become a customer. Learn more about how to design a website.
Use Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) Tools
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) tools allow you to take a walk in your website visitors’ shoes to learn how they progress from first landing on your website to making a major conversion, like booking an appointment or buying a product. More importantly, it reveals visitors’ pain points. With visitor behavior insights from CRO tools, you can better understand how your audiences interact with your site, and as a result, create a better experience.
3. Focus on Clarity & Simplicity
When visiting a website, a visitor is looking for quick access to his or her pressing questions. Generally, anything that distracts from your visitor’s ability to address their needs should be avoided. That means that you want the visitor experience on your website to be simple and quick to understand.
Here are seven things to keep in mind to create a clear and simple reading experience:
- Simplicity is key: If you can’t explain it simply and concisely, then you don’t understand it well enough. And if you, as the business, cannot explain it, then your audience likely won’t understand it.
- Define new terms: Many businesses use words that are second-nature in their industry and overlook that others may not be familiar with insider language. If you must use technical or industry terms, define them the first time you use them.
- Keep paragraphs short: The more text you put on a page, the less likely it will be read, so keep your copy as short as possible. This includes minimizing paragraphs, which should never be more than five lines long.
- Use short sentences: Similar to paragraphs, you’ll also want to keep sentences short. Sentences over 20 words can be hard to follow, making for a confusing experience for your visitor.
- Remove filler words: In keeping with short paragraphs and sentences, remove filler words like adverbs (e.g., really, pretty) as well as unnecessary transition words and prepositions like “that” and “in order to.”
- Avoid long or uncommon words: The shorter and more familiar the words you use, the more likely your audience will read them. A good way to do this is by replacing multiple-syllable words with one- or two-syllable words.
- Use digital writing tools: Everyone is prone to making silly spelling and grammatical errors, so take advantage of intuitive tools like Grammarly, which does a great job of identifying errors that are easily overlooked.
4. Create a Visual Hierarchy
A visual hierarchy is the arranging of information—both text and images—by importance. This helps to create a less confusing and more enjoyable experience for readers. Some easy ways of creating a visual hierarchy include designing based on your business goals, using a grid design, and mixing colors and fonts to organize elements based on the level of importance and how they connect to each other.
Tip: Always put your most important information above the fold, so that every web page leads with key information. As a result, visitors are more likely to continue reading.
Keep Your Business Goals in Mind
Your website should guide visitors to help you meet business goals. This means all visuals on a web page should guide readers to take action to meet that goal without irrelevant distractions. This creates a clean, clear experience. For example, if one of your business goals is to help readers develop an interest in buying a product, the elements on your product landing page should come together to quickly and easily lead website visitors to that end.
The most common website goals include:
- Driving awareness
- Generating leads
- Generating phone calls
- Booking appointments or reservations
- Increase online sales
- Drive offline sales
Tip: Readers’ eyes gravitate toward images first, so instead of using a stock photo, use a product image to depict key introductory information, like what the product looks like and its benefits.
Use a Grid Template for an Even, Clean Design
Some website templates offer a grid template to help you create a clean, minimalist, and properly proportioned design that doesn’t overwhelm readers. Blocks of design allow you to evenly and perfectly align page elements with plenty of white space in between. This creates a clean and simple design on any device that won’t overwhelm readers’ senses.
Tip: When creating a grid, the space between each block should be at least 20 pixels in width, and your side margins should be between 20 pixels and 30 pixels. This ensures that no matter which device type a visitor uses to access your site, it always looks good.
Use Colors Strategically
Like visuals, colors should be used to direct readers to the key elements on each web page. For example, assign bold colors to key elements like call-to-action (CTA) buttons. In addition, color can help to direct your reader’s eye by using contrast. When you use contrasting colors, it helps information stand out. Finally, you can use color to induce an emotional reaction to your content.
Tips for using color in UX web design:
- Choose a color scheme: Select a few colors to use throughout your site. In general, these colors will be in line with your branding and include contrasting colors.
- Use bright or bold colors for CTAs: Make CTAs stand out by using bright or contrasting colors.
- Incite an emotion using color: Color can have a powerful effect on emotion, so consider what you want your visitors to feel upon landing on your web pages. For example, a children’s daycare center may use fun, playful colors, whereas a dental practice may use soothing blue colors to calm visitors.
- Maintain your color scheme: When you select which colors you want to use, also determine how and when you want to use them. For example, headers may be in blue while the copy is in black and CTAs are yellow.
Use Fonts Strategically
A first, second, and third font style and size helps readers consume information gradually and in a set order. Most designers use a maximum of three fonts (or font sizes), assigning one font to most important information (like headlines and CTAs), one to secondary, scannable information (like subheaders), and a third to body text that offers supporting details.
Tip: For mobile experiences, UX designers remove the secondary font for a less overwhelming experience on small screens.
5. Create an Information Architecture
Simply put, information architecture involves leading with your most important information for both site navigation and web page content. For example, menus should read left to right, leading with the most important or most commonly sought information. In regard to web pages, lead with key information. In other words, start with your main point and build off of that.
Creating and organizing website menus based on website visitors’ needs and ways of thinking is the most basic way of creating a UX-designed website information architecture. A more complex information architecture creates a system by which visitors can browse information or move from one content piece to another in a useful way.
To create an information architecture, first look at your website content from your visitors’ perspectives to decide what information visitors commonly need to know, how they aim to use that information, and what terminology they would recognize for group labels. Then, be intentional about how you display that information to make it easy for a visitor to follow and understand.
6. Create a Mobile-first Experience
Visitors will access your site from a number of different device types, including mobile. Since mobile devices are very small compared to desktops and generally have a touchscreen, visitors interact very differently while on mobile. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to create a quality, UX-forward mobile site.
Here are five ways to improve UX on mobile:
- Use a mobile-responsive design: Small businesses can easily implement a mobile-responsive design using a mobile-responsive website template. Depending on your content management system (WordPress or Wix, for example), many such templates are offered for free or with a price tag small businesses can easily afford.
- Hide superfluous elements: Maybe that image gallery looks great on a desktop but crowds the entire mobile screen. In cases like this, where elements aren’t absolutely necessary, hide them on mobile.
- Use the viewport meta tag: A viewport meta tag automatically adjusts your website content to perfectly fit the screen of the devices with which your website visitors access your site. Our guide to meta tags explains more about this tag and how to implement it.
- Enlarge clickable elements: Double-check that all clickable elements, such as links, menu items, and CTAs, are large enough to click on mobile devices, as it’s very different to use your finger compared to a mouse.
- Reduce website load time: Some ways to reduce your website load times include choosing a hosting plan designed to speed up your website, using a plugin to compress website images, and installing a plugin to allow for lazy loading.
To learn steps and tools for implementing this section’s tips, read the “Make Your Site Mobile-friendly” section in our website marketing strategies guide.
7. Give Visitors a Way to Find Their Answers
When people come to a business website, they come with questions. It could be as simple as “What products do they currently offer?” but often include questions like “Is this the product I’m looking for?” or “How do I get help with a defective product?” And, when they come to your site with these questions, they want answers quickly. In addition to setting up your site’s menu so that it’s simple and straightforward, you can also add a search bar and live chat.
Add a Search Bar to Your Website
A search bar is a text box that allows website visitors to search website content by keyword(s). It often appears in the top right corner of a website’s home page (and often on all website pages). Once visitors input a keyword and press “Enter,” they will be offered a list of content pertaining to that keyword. This helps your website visitors instantly find content pertaining to the topics they want to know about. Fortunately, many site builders include this capability built-in already.
Add Live Chat to Your Site
A chatbot allows small businesses to instantly answer questions 24/7, even when their businesses are not open. They can be easily programmed to listen to customer questions via a live chat website feature, then offer up content to answer them. If customers still aren’t satisfied, the chatbot directs visitors to leave a message for a representative to contact them as soon as possible.
Tip: If you don’t have the manpower to have your live chat staffed 24/7, you can set it up to automatically display an away message outside of business hours. This notifies visitors that you will not respond right away, but it does provide a visitor with the opportunity to leave their question for when you return.
8. Make Your Site Scannable
As much as you’d love to believe visitors will read every word of each page they visit, realistically, they will only spend a few seconds scanning your site to find what they’re looking for. This means your content needs to be highly scannable so visitors can find the information they want in a matter of seconds.
Here are four simple tips for creating a scannable website:
- Lead with key information: Users scan a page the same way they read—from left to right and top to bottom. By putting key information, such as your most popular or important pages and information first, visitors will be more likely to quickly find what they’re looking for.
- Include white space: White space, or empty space, helps make the content on your page stand out. It also helps add a buffer between content sections, which helps ensure a site does not feel overloaded with information.
- Use lists: Where applicable, organize data or tips in bold, bulleted, or numbered lists to help readers understand the gist of each tip at a glance.
- Include relevant graphics: Strengthen the message behind your copy with relevant graphics. Your efforts will help readers quickly scan and find key information as well as retain their attention longer.
9. Plan to Evolve With Your Visitors
The needs and wants of your customers will change with time, and so you should plan for your site to evolve with your target audience. By following your visitors’ path using a conversion rate optimization (CRO) tool, you can collect user insights that will give you more information to make informed web design changes.
Tip: To keep up with your audience and competitors, plan to research them every six months (or so) to learn how their needs, pain points, and preferences change, then tweak your UX design accordingly to better serve your audience and your website goals.
UX Web Design Tools & Providers for Small Businesses
In addition to these principles, there are tools that were created to help you with a variety of aspects of UX design for your website, including design tools that help teams collaborate, provide real-time feedback, keep a project organized, and provide insights to better understand how your visitors interact with your site. It’s worth investing in tools that enable you and your team to seamlessly create a high-quality site built for user experience.
- InVision: InVision is a digital product design platform built to create the best user experience. With collaborative design and prototyping, it’s easier to create quality user experiences, as well as easily share those across teams for feedback and development.
- Figma: Figma is a collaborative tool that allows you to share design work on the web from your browser. It’s ideal for businesses with teams working together to develop a quality website that puts UX at the forefront.
- Canva: With Canva, you don’t have to be a graphic designer to create quality web graphics. It’s a free and easy-to-use graphic design platform that allows you to easily create visual content for your website, helping you to create a web design that is easily consumable and scannable.
- Pastel: Those working in teams and requiring the approval from others will find Pastel to be a great visual web design feedback tool. What makes it unique is that it enables you to invite others to leave visual feedback on your live website, helping you to easily understand users’ feedback and comments and more quickly improve your site’s UX.
- 99Designs: If you’re struggling with DIY design, there are affordable ways to get a professionally designed webpage using platforms like 99Designs. Pricing starts at $599, but unlike other web design services, you will receive a number of designs from different web designers, and you only pay if there’s a design you like.
- Asana: For teams, web design projects can become challenging to organize and manage without a project management tool. One of the most popular options in the industry is Asana, as it’s a simple, yet comprehensive project management platform with free plans available to individuals and teams.
- SEMRush: This keyword and competitor research tool can help you create better web copy that resonates with your audience. Find out what keywords users are searching for, as well as what type of content your competitors are having success with, to help guide you in your content creation strategy.
- Hotjar: Hotjar is an analytics tool you can use to learn about visitor behavior on your site, with tools such as heatmaps and recordings to show you how your visitors interact with your site. With these insights, you can more effectively improve your web design to create a better user experience.
Hit & Miss: UX Design Examples
The best UX designed website designs not only look good, but also work to give visitors a seamless experience navigating your site and finding the information they’re looking for. While there are a number of well-designed sites that look great, that doesn’t mean they necessarily function well by UX standards. A good way to better understand the difference is to look at examples of both good and bad web designs.
1. UX Design Examples for Small Business Websites
Hit: Wild Alaskan Company
The Wild Alaskan Company website is a good example of well-thought-out UX design. It puts the visitor at the core of its design to create a site that is very user-friendly with simple navigation, bold CTAs, and information that is helpful, yet simple and concise.
This website feels like a quality design, but it goes overboard with an overload of information, creating a poor UX design. To start, the hero image uses the text overlay with three exhaustive paragraphs of text—which is long so it’s unlikely visitors will read it. It includes superfluous menu options, such as “Home” and “Join Our Team,” which would be better nested as a subpage under “Contact” or placed in the footer menu (which it does not have). It also fails to provide a CTA, so there’s no immediate action for a visitor to take.
Tip: No matter where a visitor is on any of your web pages, they should be able to have a way to convert. This is achieved by using a sticky header that displays even when a visitor scrolls, as well as well-placed CTA buttons and a footer with helpful links and a way to contact you.
2. UX Design Examples for Service-based Businesses
Truly Nolen Pest Control provides a good example of good UX for service-based businesses. As a business that offers a wide range of services, it organizes the content well and leads with the most common problems and solutions. It also gives visitors a number of ways to easily contact them, whether via the click-to-call phone number, free estimate request, or service order—all from the site’s header, making it available from every page.
Tip: People read left to right, top to bottom, so if you offer a large range of products or services, lead with the most popular products or services. This will help most visitors find what they’re looking for quickly and easily, rather than making them sort through all other options.
Miss: Advantage Testing
Advantage Testing does a good job of building its branding through its academic-style website, though it misses the mark when it comes to some of the basic UI and UX design principles. For example, it has two horizontal menus, creating information overload, which could easily be mitigated by more appropriately nesting the second menu (of test types) under the above “Test Preparation” tab. Also, once you click a page and scroll to the bottom, it fails to provide you with a next step, whether that be a contact, appointment requisition, or a link to related pages.
Tip: Don’t leave your readers hanging at the end of a web page with nothing to do. Instead, direct readers to other pages that they would logically be interested in based on the page they just read, or give them a way to become a lead or customer, such as by using a contact form or the option to call or book an appointment online.
UX Design Examples for Ecommerce
Hit: Southern Tide
Southern Tide provides a good example of straightforward and effective UX design. It incorporates a very simple user interface (UI), which makes it easy to navigate, does a good job of creating a clean aesthetic that doesn’t overwhelm the reader, and leads a visitor through web pages. Results pages are limited to three columns, ensuring that items don’t get lost in the crowd, and notice how each product includes a one-line item description, price, color options, and reviews—but only if there are reviews for that product.
Though there are some good aspects of this website, it does provide a good example of bad ecommerce UX design. The reason is that while its homepage does a good job of feeling playful and fun and the navigation is well-organized, its downfall is how busy it is overall. Product listings illustrate this best as they’re cluttered and lack a cohesive layout. It also fails to list pricing on all listings, and it displays reviews even on products that do not yet have reviews.
Tip: Always keep an eye out for alignment. In the example above, the price does not always display, which is problematic, but also if the product doesn’t have varying color options, then the price gets pushed down so that it does not align with the price on the other listings. It not only looks bad, but it makes it more difficult for the eye to scan, creating a poor user experience.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the difference between web UX & UI design?
In short, UX stands for user experience, whereas UI stands for user interface. UI focuses on the easy intractability of all website design elements that make it possible for the user to progress through the journey that UX design has planned out.
What is the difference between web design & UX design?
Web design is an overarching term that refers to all aspects of designing a website. UX design refers specifically to the user experience and using design in a way that enhances that experience. UX design can apply to other areas beyond websites, including apps and software.
What does a UX web designer do?
A UX web designer researches a website’s design and the audience and company it aims to serve to determine what problems website visitors face and fix them. They map out the entire visitor or customer journey on a website—including the steps visitors take, the tasks they must complete to convert, and how easy the experience is for them—to find pain points to flowing through that journey. They then devise design solutions to correct those pain points.
UX website design is where form meets function for both the business and its site visitors. By putting your visitors, and their wants, needs, frustrations, and goals, at the core of your site’s design, you will better serve your visitors, leading to more conversions. In other words, UX design helps websites become an effective—and mutually beneficial—marketing machine.