Well, to be sure, there isn’t a definitive answer, but it is worth considering the various factors that make up a site, what its objectives are, and how successfully it achieves them.
Websites don’t exist in an ‘information vacuum’ – they are managed in order to provide a service to an audience, who themselves have TOTAL CONTROL over what they choose to view, for how long, and how they will respond.
Unfortunately for most website owners then, this shows their site in a poor light – ill-conceived, badly executed, illogical…, anyway, you get the idea.
The problem is that the increasing demands for ‘instant gratification’ on the net means that users want results, and fast, from the sites that they view. Not too many years ago, we web developers used to assume that for a page to be visible within 30 secs was a good performance. Now, however, a site has probably 3, maybe 5 secs in which to load, make an impression and state its business, or the user is back to Google. It’s that ruthless.
8 Factors for a Good Web Site
1. Get the Strategy Right
What is it that you want the page to achieve? Generate leads, acquire subscribers for a list, sell product online, sell product offline? Really you want the site, page by page, to draw users into the ‘sales funnel’, and it is the marketeer’s job to devise the strategy for this. Don’t try to do too much, too soon; treat it like a first date…!
2. Define Success
If you know what you want to achieve, how will you know if you have done it? Set some metrics. If this is the first venture into MEASUREABLE online marketing, a guess will do, then you can judge whether this represents good value for money. It may be 10 leads a weeks, 2 phone calls a day, 500 sales a month – it really doesn’t matter, as long as you have a means of assessing the performance, and whether this represents an acceptable ROI (Return On Investment).
3. Define Your Customer
It’s not about YOU. Get over it!
So many times we review websites that are all about the Company. How wonderful they are, how marvellous their products, how Quality is paramount. So many self-satisfied claims, almost all of which are entirely undifferentiated from their competition.
Once you know WHO you are selling to, you can tailor your message so that it appeals to THEM. Talk in their language, address their circumstances, solve their problems, give them the results that they want. If you did nothing else but that, you would be a Colossus in your market.
4. Select Your Domains
Domain selection is something of an art: You may think the ‘brand’ or company name is paramount, but frequently Google and users will be searching for ‘what you DO’, not ‘what you ARE’. Furthermore, your home page may not be the starting point for the users’ experience of your site, so an understanding of the various ways in which your site may be accessed is vital, and the Landing Pages within your site need to be tailored to receive the specific traffic that you are targeting.
5. Easy on the Eye Candy
Remember the ‘Splash Screen’ – the PowerPoint-style slide that always got in the way of getting to the website? How about sites with so much animation that it takes seconds before everything stops moving enough for you to find the menu? These flashy (and Flashy) effects are really so old-fashioned, but moreover they spoiled the user experience and damaged the site in its Google Pagerank. Even quite minor visual effects can be a distraction, and there are many technical disadvantages to a lot of the ‘Eye Candy’ or ‘Chrome’ that many designers feel is a signature of exotic design. Don’t let the graphic designer off the leash until they understand the importance of the page elements, and can justify each part of the design and how it IMPROVES usability, and effectiveness.
6. Effective Site Monitoring
Absolutely essential is a means of monitoring the site performance. A commonplace addition to websites is ‘Google Analytics’ which are simple to incorporate (don’t get charged a lot for this) and give comprehensive detail on the site’s traffic, and users. Google provides it free. Yes, genuinely free, but in return you are submitting a whole host of data to Google which it then uses to adapt the process of its Search results. There are other solutions, but Analytics is an excellent start, and will also integrate with your Adwords campaign, should you run one in the future.
Also, don’t forget the response mechanism – the telephone number should be used for that website only. No others, including the general office phone; otherwise how do you know the call rate? The same with the email address – make sure that you know not only who is responding to your marketing, but how they found you.
7. Split Testing – a Joy for Life
This is not greatly used except by marketing-savvy site owners who realise that their choice of graphics, copy, response mechanisms etc. may only be their best guess. The way of testing this is to prepare different versions of the pages with say, alternate headlines, or product shot, or calls-to-action. Split-testing software will then run the pages alternately to new visitors so that, with the unique contact points, (see, there is a point to all this) you can determine which is the better performer, and then try another variant. This should be tried and retried. Eventually, you will have the most profitable combination of page elements, ACCORDING TO THE MARKET, not some random choice, or Chairman’s preference.
Few people ‘read’ websites – they scan, hop to headlines, bullet points, maybe scroll down ‘below the fold’ (the bottom of the window) if you are lucky. Make sure that your most important content is at the top, and a call-to-action very visible. Since most users skim the site, use half the copy that you would use in printed material, sufficient though to ‘tell the whole story’ – the ‘short copy’ vs. ‘long copy’ argument is irrelevant if you are targeting your audience with great, relevant, content. However for complex, technical, expensive or ‘grey market’ products, include as much information, testimonials and evidence as is needed to convince.
- Headline should exactly match the search term that got them there
- “You” and “Your” is far better, and more compelling than “We” and “Our”
- Users read only the first few words of bullets and paragraphs
- Users read the tops and bottoms of lists…not the middle
- Keep your first few paragraphs short and inviting to draw in the reader
- Alternate long and short paragraphs
- Paragraphs shouldn’t be longer than 4 or 5 lines long
- Numerals have more impact than written numbers
- Users remember by ‘primacy’ and ‘recentcy’ – make sure your best messages are first or last