What makes a great website?

In 2020, internet usage absolutely skyrocketed, with many UK service providers reporting an increase of over 50% in consumption. Now more than ever, your customers are online, and your website is your main business asset.

There are many components that make up a great website, and it really is a sum of all parts that ensure your success.

Let’s start with the age old design principle:

Form + {function}

– It has to look great, but run brilliantly too.

Form

Usability

It almost goes without saying that it has to look great. But it’s not just enough to be visually stimulating – it has to connect with your audience. And humans typically have between 0-8 seconds to decide if they like something or not. Make it easy for your users! This is called ‘UX’ (an abbreviation of ‘User Experience’) and encapsulates the entire user interaction not just on your site, but with your ongoing service levels.

One of the hardest things to do, is let go of what you want the site to look like, and consider the touchpoints of your demographic. What age range are they? Where do they shop? What will inspire them? You may have several audience types that will need a slightly tailored experience throughout the site. Be clear who they are, and what they need.

Weird and wonderful menu navigations may look cool – but the majority of your users want to find out how to contact you or read more about a specific service you have. Keep the logo aligned left (it’s expected – don’t confuse people for the sake of it) and use meaningful words: Services | Resources | Contact us and so on. Have your phone number on the header (unless you only want email enquiries).

Set the text content to be ‘snackable’ – your user should be able to scan the page and find what they need from the headlines and highlighted text; not have to read lots of 400 word paragraphs. Breaking apart the text and allowing plenty of clear space allows the user headspace to digest your content.

Style

Would your typical audience shop at Aldi or Waitrose? Do they drink aged whiskey, flavoured vodka or green tea? Tone and style have an important role – in both visual tone and tone of voice – are you chatty and conversational, or edgy and bold, or minimal and to-the-point?

If you are a service based business, try using images with people in – ideally your own team in your offices. Of course it’s not always practical to have your own image library, and that’s where stock images come in. Choose carefully – a lot of stock images look very generic, staged and too glossy – dig a little deeper and source some natural, realistic shots.

Consistency

Hot on the heels of style is consistency – and a well set style sheet will help this – everything from your Heading sizes, typefaces, colours, design elements, spacing image choices – it all adds up.

Consistency gives a slick experience to your site, making it feel effortless – and whilst sometimes bold changes in layout can create intrigue and ‘relative abruption’ they can also confuse your user and lower their overall perception. If a business site felt sloppy, would you expect their work to be sloppy too?

Work with your designer to create a set of graphics / icons that keep the overall feel tied together. Be strict on fonts, colours and image style.

Calls To Action (CTAs)

One of the most overlooked elements – a clear prompt to take an action. Whether that be to download something or get in contact with you. Bear in mind you need to make it visually appealing and ensure it make sense.

Choose a contrasting colour for your calls to action. If your site is mostly grey, find a nice warm colour that complements your colour palette. Consider hierarchy – a filled in bold colour for primary action (Sign up now) and a subtle outline accent (Discover more).

Keep it simple, with a sense of urgency or emotion to it. For example: change ‘Read more’ to ‘Learn now’. Change ‘contact us’ to ‘get started’.

Micro interactions

One of our favourite aspects – things that move! Consider effects on rollover of button clicks – BUT – keep it minimal. It should be enough to  excite but not to distract. Depth in the form of ‘parallax’ images that scroll at a different rate to the main content gives a more dynamic and immersive feel. Subtle animated elements – think of the joyfull ‘pull down to refresh’ wheel on apps, or a fade / slide in of a row of content.

Function

Site Speed

One of the main factors in losing users on your site is loading speed.

If it’s slow to load or parts of the page are taking forever to appear, your users can ‘bounce’ – i.e. leave your site before it has finished loading. It’s a bad experience for your users, but crucially it is now a big factor in how and where Google ranks you.

There are lots of simple things such as compressing your images before adding them to website, reducing the amount of external scripts loaded – think chatbots and social share widgets. They all contribute to a leaner codebase and therefore a fast delivery.

Aim for between 1-3 seconds (or less) – the faster the better! Bounce rates rapidly increase at the 4+ mark.

Is it mobile friendly?

The split between portable device and desktop use is around 72% mobile/tablet, and steadily rising all the time, so it’s imperative your site is easy to navigate and read on a small device.

What’s more, Google will penalise sites that aren’t optimised for mobile devices, so you should always consider a ‘mobile first’ design approach and make sure it is a less cluttered journey – no huge images or tiny text. This is where great copywriting and pared back design really counts. We approach this with a ‘responsive’ design – a layout that adjusts and adapts to the width of your devices screen.

Make it easy for users to find you

There are many, many tricks to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and the search ranking factors change over time, however there are some ‘evergreen’ tips to employ.

Make headings relevant and clear – your main or ‘H1’ title should describe the page content and your H2 and H3 can be more adventurous. Label images with a descriptive tag, aim for 500+ words on a page and make sure you have plenty of natural and varied ‘keyphrases’ in your content – for example, talk about ‘web designers in Northamptonshire’ if you are web designers in Northamptonshire. DON’T ‘keyword stuff’ lots of phrases that make it unreadable – this will increase your ‘bounce’ rate and affect your rankings.

And finally, make sure it is submitted to Google to crawl and index your site, they have tools you can use to flag any errors.

Sam Sayer
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Sam Sayer

Sam Sayer founded DeType in 2012, and runs a growing team of designers and developers, striving to bring businesses to life on screen and in print. Working with a diverse range of business sectors and on an international scale, DeType connect the dots between their clients and their client’s audience.