Spotting a bad website is easy, but working out what makes a website good can be something of an enigma. While a bad website will have a confusing page structure, with a cluttered layout and low quality information, the essential elements of a good website are harder to spot and isolate.
So, what makes a good website? At Tech.co, we’ve spoken to experts in website design to help answer this question, and give you the best chance of success with your own website.
The verdict? We’ve found that the best websites literally require users to think less. They do this by ensuring they understand and meet their users’ needs in a clear, easy and efficient way.
With this in mind, one top piece of advice would be to sketch out your website before you start making or updating it. Consider how users are going to get around your site, from the homepage to every other page.
There are also standard principles at the heart of good website design. These include making sure your site works on computers, mobile phones and tablets, and ensuring consistency of visual elements, including your fonts and images.
Now, there’s no silver bullet for creating a great website. But, if you stick to these 7 principles when creating your next blog, ecommerce site, portfolio or business website, you’ll find creating a good website is easier than you think.
Clear purpose – Make sure you know what your site is for, and importantly, not for
Clear audience – Identify who your site is aimed at. Do you know what your audience looks like? What they enjoy? Do for work? How old they are? What other sites they use? All of this information, and more, is crucial for building the best website.
It’s absolutely essential that when you’re building your own website, you understand exactly what your site is going to do. For example, if you’re looking to create a site to sell products, selling products should be your absolute priority. With every decision you make, you should ask yourself – is this going to help users buy my products?
A great example of a site (well, an app, really) that understood its purpose was Snapchat. Its purpose was to facilitate fun, irreverent visual communications between 15-20 year olds. And, Snapchat’s initial design made it clear that it was designed to let kids share photos and videos, with a big, simple camera button to take your own photos and an easy-to-navigate way of accessing the content your friends had sent to you.
Then, Snapchat became obsessed with a new purpose – to monetize its platform. It relegated the stories and images sent by actual users in favor of sponsored content, from publishers such as Vice and the Washington Post. Cue immediate backlash and a drop in its user base, which it’s never recovered from. The moral of the story: Always remember your site or web app’s primary purpose if you want to be successful.
2. Clear Audience
Identifying who is going to be using your site is also crucial to building a good website. If you can understand what sort of people are going to be visiting your site, reading your blog posts, buying your products, or taking a look through your previous work, then you can build the site to suit them.
Establishing what your audience looks like is easier than you might think. Start off with good old common sense. For example, if you are selling artisan soap, then your target audience isn’t going to be 15-20 year-olds, like Snapchat’s was. Instead, your users might be 30-50 year-olds with more disposable income to spend on soap.
One useful tip is to break down your target users into different groups, by creating what is known as a persona. These are generalised, fictional people who represent a group of users.
The best way to create these personas, especially if you’re just starting out, is to research your market.
Look at other websites similar to yours: Is there another soap company you’d like to emulate – Burt’s Bees, for example? If so, find out what kind of people visit Burt’s Bees.
Survey your users, or target users, to find out who they are and what they’re really like.
Talk to family and friends about your site, and its competitors, and the impressions they give.
If you’ve already made some sales, or have an existing readership, then you may have data about your website’s current audience. You can access this through tools like your payment platform, or Google Analytics.
Armed with this information, you can adjust your content to either match the needs of your existing audience, or attract a new one.
Do they want to buy fancy soap quickly and move on? Is price more or less important to them than ingredients? Do they only buy from brands they have an affinity with? Might they even want to have a repeat soap order? Now you’ll know.
3. Straightforward Navigation
Once you’ve established the purpose of your site and your target audience, you can create a site structure and navigation to make it as easy as possible for this audience to get around (and fulfil the site’s purpose).
Remember we said that the best websites literally don’t require users to think? Site structure plays a huge role in reducing the cognitive effort needed to get from page A to page B.
A good example of a website that gets its navigation spot on is Virgin Atlantic. As soon as the page loads, you’re greeted with a route selector. Once you’ve picked your route, amending the flight options and booking can take fewer than 15 clicks. It’s remarkably simple.
By contrast, try cancelling your Amazon account. There’s no way to close your account from the My Account section, and even on the Contact Us pages; the process isn’t made clear.
Both of these are intentional: Virgin Atlantic wants to make booking flights as easy as possible. Amazon, on the other hand, wants to make closing your account as difficult as possible. So, when creating your site, you need to make it as easy as possible for users to get to the main bits of the site you want them to see – whether that’s buying a product, making an appointment, or sending you an email.
Here at Tech.co, we recommend using website builders to create your own website. The best website builders make it easy to create a navigable site structure, with different page categories and subsections.
4. The Right Style
When it comes to picking a design style for your site, you’ll need to think about your site’s purpose and your site’s users again. Consider the differences between these two menswear websites: OiPolloi.com and MrPorter.com. Both sell clothes to fashion-conscious men, but the way in which they do it is completely different.
Mr. Porter offers a clean, fuss-free website style, designed to showcase the high-quality, luxury products it sells, and the service it delivers. Oi Polloi, on the other hand, offers a different proposition – it offers a friendlier face, sure, but it still might feel intimidating to those not familiar with the brand. Oi Polloi’s site is less aloof than Mr. Porter’s, but at the same time, it is specifically designed with an ‘in-crowd’ in mind.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on general web design trends. For example, scrolling textures and ‘flat’ elements are great design styles to keep your website looking fresh in 2019, as well as making it easier to use.
In general, you should avoid design styles based around skeuomorphism. Skeuomorphic design refers to objects that are designed to mimic the style of real things, whilst offering a different function. For example, the site below mimics a notepad and paper calendar for its reservation booking section. Neither of these elements are mobile-friendly, and they can make your website seem kitsch, which could put off some users.
An example of skeuomorphism: avoid this when designing your website.
5. High Quality Imagery
Once you’ve got your site’s general design nailed down, you can move on to the individual design components.
All the best websites feature images, and whether it’s to showcase products they’re selling, create a certain mood, or illustrate something else, they need to be high quality.
Blurry images, or an overreliance on joyless stock images, will make a website seem amateurish. Instead, you should pick a style and stick to it. Take a look at the images on Apple’s site. They are all clear images that reflect the brand, and are targeted towards the users of that specific product.
For example, the MacBook Air’s page features images on a light-colored background to emphasize that the device is light and transportable.
The Mac Mini, on the other hand, uses darker, moodier images to reinforce that it’s a powerful device for professionals.
6. The Right Fonts
A typeface might seem relatively inconsequential. However, users spend most of their time on a website reading (or at least scanning) text, meaning it’s an essential part of the website you want to create.
Wired and the Guardian, for example, both use serif fonts (the ones with the little lines on the end of each letter) to emphasize that they are serious publishing businesses, with an established presence and serious journalistic weight. However, Wired, drops the serif fonts in its headings and standfirsts. Why? To make the biggest impression on the page. Sans-serif fonts are typically more attention-grabbing and easier to read.
The Verge, on the other hand, sticks to sans-serif fonts throughout. This is probably because it publishes a range of stories – including sub-300 word news articles, all the way through to 2,000+ longreads – and it needs a font which works for them all. Sans-serif fonts also seem more modern, with cleaner, less cluttered designs.
When building your site, you should try out different font styles to find the right one. Remember to always keep your site’s purpose and users in mind. Opting for unusual, heavily stylized fonts is fine for brand names, but you don’t want long paragraphs of text in cursive style fonts.
7. The Right Words
So, you’ve picked your design, you’ve got your images sorted, and you’ve found the right font (or fonts). Now you need to fill your site with the right words.
Again, users and purpose are at the forefront of any copy you craft for your site. You’ll want to make sure it’s engaging, easy to read, and has a consistent tone. If one page on your website is written in the style of a Buzzfeed listicle and the next page written like a legal contract, your users will be confused and turned off by your site.
Make sure your copy is to-the-point and clear. If you’re selling products, give your users the information they need to know about the product. If you’re trying to drum up customers for your business, consider getting testimonials from other customers, and being clear about the service your business provides.
Whatever you’re doing, your copy should point users to an action without overdoing it – whether that’s buying a product, making an appointment, or enquiring about a service.
Make Your Own Great Website
If all of the above sounds complicated and intimidating, it shouldn’t. Millions of people create and manage their own websites using website builders, such as Wix and Squarespace.
Website builders make it super easy to create well-designed websites with templates, drag-and-drop editors, and plenty of tools and plugins for extra features.
Some website builders, including Wix, can even create the basis of a website for you with their artificial design intelligence services. Squarespace, on the other hand, makes managing your site structure a piece of cake, and offers some of the best professional-looking website templates on the market.
We've Put the Best Website Builders Through Extensive Tests – See Which Ones We Recommend
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