There are so many factors that go toward making a great website and it really depends on what your version of great entails.
Is a great website for you, one that has killer seo and consistently ranks well in search engine results pages? Or is it a website that is simply a joy to use because it has such great user experience? Maybe a great website has stunning visual design?
Regardless of which perspective you’re coming from, a website can’t be considered great unless it does all of these things (and more) well. After all, what’s the point of having a visually gorgeous website if no one can find it, or find the content they’re looking for if they do reach it?
So what makes a great website then? A great website, at the very least, should excel in the following 7 areas.
- Focus and Purpose
- Site Architecture and Navigation.
- Visual Design.
Focus and Purpose
When someone comes to your website, they should immediately be able to understand who you are and what you do. They should be able to do this via the visual cues and by looking at what information has been prioritised right up front.
Obviously having a clear brand for your business is going to put you well on the way to achieving clarity and focus with your website. But purpose and focus is conveyed by more than just a clear logo. Having a design and layout for your site that is in line with what a user would normally expect from your business type is a great way to quickly show a user who you are. For example, if I arrive at a website that has a white background with single product images in a grid layout, and a large hero image at the top, I can be pretty certain that this is an online shopping site.
You should make sure that your messaging is clear and concise. A well worded tag line and sensibly placed call to actions will help your user be clear about who you are and what they want from you.
Another, super important part of designing a website that has a clear focus is creating a site architecture that makes sense.
Site Architecture and Navigation
Your site architecture determines how the content on your website is structured and the navigation are the signposts that tell people how to get to the information they want.
When determining your site architecture, it’s important to come back to the purpose and focus of your website. If your goal is to sell products, then it is logical to structure your products according to categories that will make sense to your users and to put the signpost to those products in a prominent position. If you goal is to become a leader and disperser of knowledge, then your blog should be front and centre.
Try to limit the number of choices in the top level of your navigation to around 7 or your site will look too cluttered. Too much choice for users isn’t always a good thing. Your job is to guide them to the information you need them to see. If you have a lot of content, then you should consider a secondary navigation menu or a mega-menu. Ensure you also use a font that is clear and easy to read – these are your signposts after all.
Try to get into the head of your customer and spend some time understanding how they search for your products or services and how they make sense of what it is that you do.
One of the mistakes I’ve seen businesses make is to want to lay out their navigation in a way that makes sense to them, but has no bearing on how a customer would approach it.
For example, using a menu item name that is an industry term known to those in your business, but not necessarily to customers. This leads us to content.
The content on your website should be well written and make sense. If you’ve done your job right with the site architecture and navigation, then it should be clear what kind of content the user can expect to find on each page.
If you have a page called, Our History, it’s probably not a good idea to write a lot of content in there about what the future goals are for the organisation. If someone was looking to find out about where the company is headed, then it wouldn’t immediately make sense for them click on the Our History page. A better technique, would be to insert a heading on the Our History page called, “What does the future hold for our company?” and link that to a page called “Future Goals”.
Content, when written for the web, should (often) be shorter in volume, more succinct and presented in an easily digestible format because internet users scan content quickly and will move to another site if they can’t find what they need within a few seconds.
That means using bullet lists, shorter paragraphs and relevant headings. Your goal is to make content easy to read.
A note on content length: Longer content has its place and allows you to provide comprehensive, helpful information to your users. As a bonus, longer articles tend to get shared more on social media (https://okdork.com/why-content-goes-viral-what-analyzing-100-millions-articles-taught-us/), allow you to use more keyword variations, help to build credibility as people tend to link back to helpful, comprehensive content and as a result, Google will place more value on the page.
A pleasing, eye catching design is obviously going to draw users in to your website. However, you should always design for your audience. Good visual design should follow your brand and I’m assuming that you have a brand identity or at the very least a logo. If you don’t, go and get one now!
Clearly, if you’re an educational institution for example and your brand is traditional, professional and clean, then it would make no sense to have a visual design that uses bright colours, fun graphical elements and lots of quirky animations. That would be more suited to a daycare centre perhaps.
Hopefully your graphic designer has selected some fonts that go with your brand and that are easy to read on a screen. A good font pairing can make a world of difference on how users interact with your content. Make it easy and you’re one step closer to keeping them on your site. Ideally one font style for headings and one font style for body text is all most sites need. Too many fonts will distract the eye and make your site appear confusing.
Usually, less is more. Design elements without purpose are also to be avoided. For example many WordPress themes fill their layouts with all sorts of dynamic, eye catching elements that shouldn’t be used unless they fill a purpose. If it doesn’t serve your customer, then it’s just visual clutter.
In 1999 the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released its first set of guidelines – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 or WCAG 1.0 to try to improve standards for website design and development. The guidelines have since been updated and are voluminous, but a good overview can be found here – https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/glance/. A website that has good accessibility is easy to see, read, understand and operate by people of all abilities.
Accessibility includes the following types of considerations:
- Ensure the contrast between text colour and background colour is easy to read. ie: Don’t use white text on a yellow background!
- Don’t set videos to start playing on page load. Let the user decide when they want to play the video.
- Include alt tags on all images so that screen readers can describe the image to a visually impaired person.
- Keep navigation clear and easy to follow.
- Making functionality accessible via a keyboard. For example a user who has trouble operating a mouse should be able to click on a menu item using their keyboard.
- Don’t include elements that flash more than 3 times to avoid causing seizures in affected people.
Something else to keep in mind, is that Google likes accessible websites. It is one of the factors that go into their website ranking algorithms because it aligns with their key mission:
Our mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
So making sure that your website meets all the basic accessibility guidelines will provide a great user experience and improve your site authority, which is all great news for seo.
Search Engine Optimisation is a complex business and achieving that coveted first few spots on google results pages takes time and a lot of effort. SEO companies charge big bucks to improve your rankings and understandably so, (to a degree) as the good ones go into a lot of depth. I don’t claim to be an seo expert, however I do know what basics are required to give your seo strategy the best possible foundation.
Write relevant, predictable and useful content. Your content needs to be written to your audience, so using keywords that your customer base will be searching for is the best way to start, but avoid keyword stuffing. There are a range of keyword research tools out there that you can use to find out what terms your customers are searching for, such as moz.com https://moz.com/products/pro/keyword-research or semrush.com (https://www.semrush.com/features/keyword-difficulty/).
Make sure your content is relevant and predictable, ie: when a user comes to a particular page on your site, the content they find is what they expected to find. And of course the more useful your content is to the user, the more hits and shares you are likely to get.
Responsive! Make sure your website works well on devices of any screen size. See below for more info on this. Google prioritises responsive websites.
Your site needs to have clean code. Whether you’re having your website built from the ground up or using a website builder, the code needs to be clean and well written. If you prefer to have someone build your site from the ground up, then select an experienced developer. Most people tend to use a site builder and WordPress is one builder that has good, clean, well written code right out of the box. You’re already on stable foundations there.
Use a good seo plugin like Yoast and make sure you learn how to use it properly in order to get the best possible results for your website. At the very least, fill out your meta data and keywords for each page and post articles so that google has a better chance of finding and indexing your content.
There are many other factors that make up a good seo strategy, including using H1 tags properly, including internal and external links, length of content that is appropriate to your purpose, sensical permalinks, domain authority and using https, and having fast page load speeds to name a few. But what matters is that you get the basics right and work from there.
In 2019, your website absolutely MUST be responsive. No ifs buts or maybes. This means it has to function and look just as good on a mobile device as it does on a desktop computer. Why? Well in early 2018, Google rolled out its mobile first indexing which means mobile websites will be prioritised when it comes to searching and ranking because it wants to make it easier for mobile users to surf the web.
So how do you translate a 2000 pixel design down to a 380 pixel design? It comes down to prioritising content and visuals, and understanding how user behaviour differs when accessing the web on a mobile device compared to a desktop. For example, a mobile user is usually not going to be that fussed about beautiful hero images, so remove them for mobile devices. Often a mobile user simply wants a phone number so make sure your phone number is prioritised on smaller screens and the user can click on it to make the call directly .
From a technical standpoint, this is done using media queries the developer writes to tell the browser how the design and content should change according to what size the screen is. Most good website builders have responsive built into their interface so that you can make sure the design works on all screen sizes. Divi is certainly one builder that excels at this. To find out more about responsive design and why it’s so important, read my post on responsive design.
What makes a great website: Wrapping Up
TL:DR – A great website comes down to user experience and seo. By keeping your users happy by giving them a site that is easy to use, accessible, with relevant useful content that is easy to make sense of and make sure your seo strategy covers all the basics so that google can find and start to see your site as reputable and authoritative which increases your chances of ranking well.
Focus and Purpose
- The layout and design is similar to what users are expecting to see for your business type.
- Each page contains focussed content.
Site Architecture and Navigation.
- Keep top level menu items to around 7.
- The wording and grouping of content must make sense to your users.
- Use a clear, easy to read font.
- The content is succinct and focussed..
- Use bullet points and headings to guide users.
- Each page contains content that the user expects to find and is relevant and useful.
- The design aligns with your brand.
- The design is not cluttered with unnecessary elements.
- Ideally use no more than 2 fonts.
- Keep accessibility in mind and use this basic checklist. https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/glance/
- Content is relevant and keywords are used appropriately.
- Use clean code.
- Metadata and keywords are included.
- The more boxes you can tick wth seo, the more google (and other search engines) will like it.
- The site functions well on desktop screens, tablets and mobiles.
- Clickable buttons and fonts often enlarged.
- Superfluous content removed.
I will cover these points in more detail in future blog posts, but I hope this has given you a good understanding of what goes into making a great website.