What makes a ‘great’ website? It’s a question I get asked often, but it’s not the easiest to answer. In this post I hope to go some way to answering it in a balanced and considered fashion – so here goes …..
A website should do three things:
a) Acquire visitors;
b) Engage visitors and
c) Convert visitors (into sales/enquiries etc.)
It is these factors that should be the basis by which a website is judged. I suspect that if you ask a graphic designer what makes a great website, they’ll insist that it ultimately boils down to what the site looks like. They’ll emphatically point out that good design is about identifying the target audience and creating an aesthetic aimed to appeal and please that user type.
I suspect they’ll go further and suggest that through a process of careful font selection, an appreciation of good layout, a smidgen of creativity and an eye for colour, the designer can compel the viewer to engage with, even ‘trust the integrity’ of the site, and by extension it’s owner. Is this the case? Can it be that simple? Well no, I don’t think it is. I’m not having a dig at graphic designers (being one myself!) but there are other things to consider.
Consider this, Google doesn’t particularly take into account what a site looks like. It’s not swayed by the beauty, or not, of a site design. Okay, I do concede that Google will penalise sites that have a high bounce rate and that if the site structure and layout is a factor in page ranking, but it isn’t the ‘be all and end all’ of how a site performs in a Google search. Remember Google is important, very important. If the site is beautiful but isn’t found by anyone, then the site can’t be hailed as ‘great’ can it?
So, if it’s not purely based on the look and design, it must be something to do with the way it’s built then – the way it’s programmed, the coding that puts it all together? Well, I suspect that if you ask a ‘techie’ developer they will nod in earnest agreement. Now, I’m no programmer so I’m going to be a bit careful here, but I have seen dozens of ‘developer’ sites and by and large they couldn’t be labelled as ‘great’. Yes, they may adhere to the latest web standards, they may also be built using the latest HTML coding, incorporate the cleverest CSS tricks and work on all the major browsers – even IE6! – but that doesn’t automatically make them great websites. Very often these sites leave the viewer cold, as though the user experience has been hastily bolted on as an after thought.
So that’s it then – a ‘great site’ is one that cleverly balances the way it looks with the way in which it has been put together? Well no, that’s not entirely it ….
The final point of consideration, in what I’m calling the 'website trinity' is the website content. Why are so many websites full of such poor content? It doesn’t make a difference what the site looks like or how it was coded if the content is downright poor. Google and the rest of us won’t visit or engage. So often the content is out of date, or out of focus or simply badly authored – and this is usually out of the control of the designer or the developer.
So for me, the trinity of a ‘great’ website is:
a) Good (and targeted) design;
b) Technical excellence;
c) Great (and relevant) content.
Simple … nail those and you’ve got yourself a great user experience. How hard can that be?