What are the elements of a successful website?

What makes a website good and what makes it great? How can you build a website for your business that serves as a comprehensive resource for your target audience while also converting them into customers? How do you build a website that combines marketing and sales and continues working for you even when you are off the clock?

We have been building successful websites for our small to mid-sized business customers for many years. If you think your website could be working harder, showcasing your unique service or product, and converting more visitors into loyal customers you are probably right!

A great website will do all of those things and it may be the case that yours could use a significant rebuild, or maybe just some tweaking.

Design

How many websites are there on the internet? A bajillion? Pretty sure that is not a real numbe, but as of January 2018 the estimate is at 1.8 billion, which is a very real, and very large number.

You won’t be competing with all of the websites out there, but you do want to stand out and offer a great experience for your site visitors. You will want to put your own spin on the look and feel of your site, but there are a few overarching elements to the design of successful websites to always keep in mind.

Visitors to your website are going to make a snap decision the second they land on your homepage. If they don’t like it, it takes just one tap to search for something else. You have split seconds to grab the attention of a visitor and keep them on your site.

Design will play a big role in whether someone decides to stay and look around.

Use Your White Space. A cluttered website is confusing and makes more work for the user as they will have to sift through all of the information in order to get to what they need. Don’t be afraid to include white space in your design. Areas without text or images can help people focus in on your message.

Include Images and Graphics. Images are a huge and important part of any website. People expect to see high quality, professional images and photographs when they land on your site – there is simply no room for amateur graphics anymore.

This doesn’t mean you have to spend a small fortune to have your website look professional and polished. It’s possible with the technology available today to take your own high-quality photos that will display well.

In addition to your own images, consider including stock photography. Stock images have come a long way in recent years and there are many websites that offer free (!) high-quality photos to download.

Read the Images section below for a deeper dive into how to take and find great photos and images for your website.

One of the best ways to determine if your site is designed well and easily navigable is to have someone who has never seen it before to go through it. Have someone try to navigate your site, on different types of devices and give feedback on their experience.

It can even be a good idea to provide them with a few tasks i.e. “go to this site as if you were looking for tax preparation services and tell me how easy it was to find what you were looking for,” or “What was your first impression of our business when you landed on the homepage (fun, professional, venerable, friendly, cutting-edge, warm, etc.)?”

It can be extremely revealing when you have a new set of eyes on your website.

Imagery

There are a lot of options for imagery on your website. Depending on your business and audience, you may be able to use some really affordable options and still have a beautiful and professional looking website.

Many of our small to medium sized business clients include a mix of professional and amateur photography, as well as some well-chosen stock imagery.

If your business depends on the quality and beauty of your images, then it is definitely a good investment to hire a professional photographer. Photographers will be able to make your product look its best, whether that is a consumable good or an interior shot of a suite at your boutique inn.

If you want to take some of your own photos for your website, there are a few tweaks you can make them look great! Once you have some high quality photos that you want to use, it helps to use software to crop, adjust, or even add filters.

Photoshop is a favorite of graphic designers, but there are also free or low-cost online services available such as Canva or Crello. Sometimes cropping or adding text onto an image can take it from average to outstanding!

EXAMPLES

Stock photography also has a place in building a successful website. Fortunately, over the past several years the options for free or low-cost stock photography have grown and there are great choices for beautiful and captivating photographs.

If you’re groaning internally at the thought of stock imagery, take a moment to look at some of our favorite sites for free stock photos – the quality and variety available is outstanding and can really add to the overall feel of your site:

  • Pexels
  • Unsplash
  • Pixabay

Messaging

You’re building a website – what do you want to tell the people when they get there?

Make sure the messaging on your site is clear, concise, and easy to consume. You may have a great story and a lot to say about your product or service, but it’s important to reduce your message down to easily consumable bites.

Most people will be getting to your site because they are trying to solve a problem or need and a search has led them there. Whether that is just learning about your service, or knowing about it and they are searching for more information such as hours or pricing.

Ensure that what you have to offer is upfront and clear on your home page. A beautiful photo or well thought out slider is great visually, but is it telling people who you are, what you do, and how it will help them?

It’s ok to keep your information short and simple. Online viewers are used to scrolling quickly, often on small devices, to pick out the pertinent information and find what they need.

Make this easy for viewers by keeping your sentences short and clear, making use of headings so that things can be found quickly while scrolling. Save the longer and more involved information for specific pages for those who have navigated deeper into your site to find out more.

Structure

If you’ve made your site attractive enough to get a visitor to stick around, now you need to ensure that they can easily find what they are looking for.

Is your information easy to find and located in a logical place? Will visitors to your site be able to easily find what they are looking for?

Make sure your homepage contains enough information so that anyone interested in what you have to offer will be able to find relevant information fast.

Here are a few hard and fast rules to follow:

 Menu: Provide a clear menu structure that is available in the same place on every page. Top menus (what you usually find at the top of a website) should contain the highest level information possible. Keep top menu options to seven or less so you do not overwhelm people at the start. If you have a lot of pages and services or products to offer, take advantage of drop-down menus to further categorize your pages and offerings.

Contact Information: Whether you are hoping to get people to actually contact you to convert, or you are providing the information for customers who need to contact you – provide your contact information on every page and make it easy to find.Give several ways for a visitor to contact you and be transparent and clear about your hours of operation.

Once you have the basic structure down, ask yourself – what do I want the visitor to do? The answer is different for everyone and will depend on your type of business. Whatever you want your visitor to do – buy a product, become a member, donate, contact you for a quote,etc. – make it very clear and easy to do. The best way to do this is to include calls-to-action, or CTAs.

CTAs

CTA’s are clear directives that tell your visitor what to do next! They can include images, buttons, emojis, arrows, etc. How they look will depend on your brand aesthetic and the message you are projecting on your website.

EXAMPLES

What all CTAs should have in common is that they stand out more than the other text and imagery on your site, and they make it clear as to what you want the reader to do.

Without a CTA that stands out, a visitor might not find the next step quickly enough and you risk the chance of losing out on converting them to a customer.

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process or art (it depends on who you ask!) of preparing a site researched buy a search engine such as Google or Bing.

There are multiple aspects to optimizing a site for search engines. When optimizing a website you need to consider the following three elements:

  • The technical aspects of the site.
  • The relevance of the content on the site.
  • Citing and linking to other websites

All three of these aspects are equally as important need to be considered when building a new site or optimizing an existing one.

The reason SEO is so important is that it enables search engines to consume and understand what your site is about.

When done properly SEO presents the site to a search engine so that it can understand the intent of the site. Is this a website that sells a specific product, increases awareness for an organization, acts as a social sharing platform, etc?

Website User Experience (UX)Design

The user experience is all about designing your site to engage visitors in a way that allows them to easily determine what your site is about. It enables them to and locate information that they are interested in and complete a goal.

What goals do you have for visitors to your website? Is it to purchase a product? Contact you? Become a follower and subscriber?

Your UX design should accommodate the different ways that visitors approach a website so that they can find out the information they are seeking in a way that makes sense to them. Some visitors like to use the menus to peruse a website while others are more direct and will immediately be looking for a search box that will take them directly to their end goal.

A good UX design can make the difference between an attractive site that doesn’t convert visitors to customers and an effective site that works as a tool to grow your business and reach your goals.