3 Tips to Make a Small-Business Website a Winner

CHICAGO (TheStreet) - Oscar fever has long since faded, but that doesn't mean awards season is over. Nominations were recently announced for the annual Webby Awards, honors handed out by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences to recognize the best work being done online. (You can see a list of all the nominees here).

Befitting the democratic nature of the Internet, there are plenty of small companies and organizations in the running alongside heavy-hitters such as Google, proving that you don't need a massive budget or in-house creative team to make a big impression.
Making a small business website work takes a little bit of humor and some bonuses for customers.

Why do the Webbys matter? A well-designed website isn't just about impressing the digital creative pros. It is a small business's virtual front door, telling potential customers and partners what they need to know about the company's brand, mission and attitude. As the best of the best, Webby-nominated websites can serve as inspiration for others to follow.

With that in mind, here are three different strategies that brought small companies into the Internet's big leagues. Could one of them work for your website?

1. A Clearly-Defined, Appealing Identity

Weekend Sherpa produces an e-newsletter and Web publication that celebrates outdoor adventures, California-style. Each week, subscribers receive recommendations for active weekend outings, tried out personally by Weekend Sherpa's staff, and tailored to either Northern or Southern California.

The company's website reinforces its mission and brand, from the worn travel journal on the homepage to the photos that look like they've been pasted in a scrapbook. "When someone visits our website or opens one of our weekly emails, we want them to feel like they just got out of the car in the mountains and are taking that first breath," says founder and publisher Brad Day. "It feels good, right? We wanted to bring that to an online experience."

Another key to the website's success is its accessible yet authoritative tone: after all, travel recommendations only work if they come from a reliable source. "We put a big emphasis on providing trustworthy content written in a fun, entertaining way," Day says. "But it's not just about being a resource of information; we want to inspire and interest our readers so even if they don't go do an adventure, they still have fun reading about it."

2. A Value-Added Extra

Running her one-woman freelance business, copywriter Lisa Taylor was looking for a way to set herself apart from the pack. Her bright idea? The Cover Letter Customizer, an interactive site that allows users to input personal information and the specifics of their job hunt, then translates those details into polished prose. "I wanted to do something that would showcase my love of this medium, and geeky things like user experience, in my own voice," Taylor says. "Like everyone, I've written my fair share of regular old cover letters. As they are the underdogs of self-promotion, I thought it would be great to give them some time in the sun."

The site not only garnered Taylor a Webby Awards nomination, it has been an effective marketing vehicle for her writing business. "It has been a great lead generator," she says. "My analytics have shown parallel traffic increases between it and my blog/portfolio site, and it has also legitimized my voice and skill set in a way a boilerplate portfolio site never could. The whole experience has been a reminder of what valuable tool the web can be to brands of all sizes, including a brand of one!"

The strategy behind the Cover Letter Customizer is one any business can use. Produce a stand-alone site that fills a need or solves a problem in a clever, easy-to-use way, and you can draw attention to the rest of your business. And if that stand-alone site is nominated for an award, all the better.

3. Humor Helps

The pharmaceutical company Help Remedies takes an eco-friendly approach to consumer health, using biodegradable packaging and minimal dyes. But its main differentiator from standard drugstore brands is design and attitude, selling acetaminophen tablets under the brand name "Help: I Have a Headache" and bandages as "Help: I Cut Myself."

The company's website has the same look as its packaging, with lots of white space and text in bright primary colors. But what gives it an added edge are the humorous, interactive links scattered amid the product descriptions. Click on "Help: I am in a bad mood," and a text box appears with the words, "Tell me about it". Start typing, and all the letters turn into happy-face emoticons. (To find out the resolution to problems including "Help: I've never been kissed" or "Help: I don't know what soda to drink," you'll have to visit the site yourself.)

Using humor not only humanizes your company, it generates social-media buzz as fans spread the word. Obviously, this approach doesn't fit every brand, but for those businesses that want to come across as approachable and creative, it can be a winning tactic.

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

More from Personal Finance

Former U.S. Education Secretary: Voters Are to Blame for Struggling Schools

Former U.S. Education Secretary: Voters Are to Blame for Struggling Schools

Best Back-to-School Sales 2018: Clothing, Supplies and More

Best Back-to-School Sales 2018: Clothing, Supplies and More

The Most Family-Friendly Destinations in the U.S.

The Most Family-Friendly Destinations in the U.S.

The Most Expensive Cars Ever Sold at Auction

The Most Expensive Cars Ever Sold at Auction

What Is a Fiduciary and What Are Their Responsibilities?

What Is a Fiduciary and What Are Their Responsibilities?