There are websites of all shapes and sizes, but most of them are not created equal. Some companies invest time, effort and resources into their website, creating a useful tool that makes the business more efficient, meets marketing goals or fulfills some other very important function. Other companies don’t invest what it takes and end up with a site that doesn’t meet objectives or fulfill its role properly. They get a website that’s not so great.
But what makes a website great? If your organization is willing to invest in a website, what should you expect in return? This article will discuss the various components that make certain websites stand out among others.
They attract visitors
Great websites attract people to them. How they do this can vary. Many of them rank well with search engines. They are listed on the first page when a user searches for a key phrase that is meaningful to the business that owns the website. Some websites use online advertising such as Google AdWords, email campaigns or banner ad networks to drive traffic to them. These websites also drive referral traffic. They contain useful information or functionality so other website owners will want to link to them, driving traffic their way.
They convert visitors
Great websites do something with the visitors they have attracted. They convert them into something useful for the business. If it’s an e-commerce website, it converts visitors into paying customers. If it’s a services website, it converts visitors into leads. If it’s a non-profit website, it converts visitors into donors or volunteers. Whatever the purpose, great websites are useful to those that find them and, in turn, convert visitors into something useful for the organization.
They are organized
Businesses that make great websites spend a significant amount of time working out how they are organized. We call this “information architecture” in our field. Great websites are organized well and content is clearly labeled and easy to find. These websites are easy to get around: users know where they are, where they are headed and they know how to get back if they need to. These websites are uncluttered and straightforward. On a well-organized website, there are very few things that get in the way of the user’s goals.
They are professionally designed
Ask a junior designer about how important design is and they will tell you how important that element of a website is. Ask a senior designer, and they will tell you that the design should hardly be noticed at all. Great websites are professionally designed, not “over designed”. The design looks professional but its purpose is to support the content and goals of the business, not to stand out on its own. On a great website, every design element, every graphic, every color and every texture has been thoroughly thought through and is only included if it serves a purpose more important than itself.
They follow standards and best practices
Great websites are beautiful on the outside and inside. Behind the interface, these websites have beautiful code. The code they use is lean and it follows modern coding standards and best practices. The code is easy to understand, it’s commented well and it’s built to be scalable and flexible. Great websites work well on all different kinds of browsers, including those on mobile devices.
They are accessible
They have great content
Great websites have a clear and well thought-out content strategy. The content is organized, written professionally and serves a purpose. The content uses a single voice and writing style. Content on great websites contain clear calls to action that persuade visitors to complete tasks that the website owner has outlined. For more about content, see Andrea Richeson’s article about writing for the web.
They are supported
A great website has someone behind it, usually multiple people, who support the website and keep improving it over time. Someone manages the content, keeping it fresh, updated and relevant. Someone else manages the technology, updating the code to follow the latest standards, and updating the content management system, as well as other third-party software, to the latest versions. Finally, someone else supports the future of the website. This person (or group of people) continually comes up with ways to improve the site, to expand it and to make it even better than it already is.
As you can see, great websites have many things in common. This is, by far, not an all-inclusive list. Other features of a great website may include:
- A memorable and concise domain name
- Quick-loading pages
- Analytics software with easy access to site traffic reports
- A site search feature so that users can find information that isn’t included in the navigation
- Security to protect sensitive information
Did I miss anything? If so, let me hear about it. I look forward to your feedback.
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