Top 10 Features that Help a Website Succeed
When people find out about the business I am involved in at Headstand Media, they often ask, “So … what makes a good website?” What is most often driving this question is “How can I make my website perform better for my businesses or organization?”
Based upon the combined experience of the Headstand Media team designing and building hundreds of websites since 1996, I’ve put together my Top 10 List of features that help websites succeed. Here they are:
- 1. Develop a Digital Strategy
- 2. Buy a Great Domain Name
- 3. Organize Your Content
- 4. Create Intuitive Navigation
- 5. Include Critical Business and Contact Information
- 6. Integrate with Social Media
- 7. Build a Mobile Ready Version
- 8. Provide Appropriate Security and Hosting
- 9. Include an FAQ Section
- 10. Use Google Analytics
- Oh, and Don’t Do These Things!
1. Develop a Digital Strategy
Our 21st century world is too complex, changing and technology dependent to fly by the seat of your pants. Every business or organization needs an overarching strategy to guide their decision making regarding the constantly changing world of digital technology. As new sites and platforms become popular, many organizations get caught “chasing the shiny object,” without a clear direction or purpose. Some recent examples of digital media changes are the rapid popularity of Pinterest, or the growing use of YouTube as a search engine.
These examples raise questions like: “Should I have a Pinterest account or not?” “Should I have a YouTube channel and how would I use it most effectively?” Upon what criteria would one make these decisions? You might wonder why a company like Apple Computer doesn’t use Pinterest, or Facebook and Twitter for that matter … yet many other companies do? The bottom line here is how do you know that the money and energy you are putting into digital media are being used in the most effective manner to build your business?
To answer these and more questions, most people need a trusted advisor and partner helping them understand all the factors at play to determine what the most appropriate strategy is for their business or organization. This happens to be the point at which Headstand Media most often engages with new customers. To start the digital strategy process, contact us using our contact web form.
2. Buy a Great Domain Name
What is a name worth? Well, on the web, it can make all the difference. Simple, short, memorable names just plain work better. People remember them. They can play an important role in building great brand recognition. Not only is this important for your business or brand, it is important to be able to get the domain that matches your name/brand. If it is not available, you should consider changing your name or brand, or buying the domain you need from its owner.
If I am going to sell custom clothes hangers online, should I call my business Randy’s Custom Hangers (randyshangers.com), or should I get a more generic domain like: customclotheshangers.com? Maybe I should get both… but how do I use them most effectively?
The answers to these questions are also informed by a digital strategy. In most cases a digital strategy should be developed and is most helpful BEFORE these kind of foundational business decisions are made. In today’s world, the name and the domain of your business plays a huge role in its potential for success.
3. Organize Your Content
When writing a paper for school, a newspaper article or really anything you want people to actually read, the better organized the content, the more likely it is to be read. On the web (and elsewhere, certainly) people don’t read long pages of densely written copy. They skim and scan and make split second subconscious decisions about staying or leaving your page. They might read shorter sections of content that have clear headings communicating what the content is about.
Google understands this maybe better than anyone out there. Their search engine rewards websites that have well organized content, and penalizes websites that don’t. On page 15 of the Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide they offer this advice:
- Write easy-to-read text
- Stay organized around the topic
- Create fresh, unique content
- Create content primarily for your users, not search engines
On page 20 of the Guide they also suggest: “Use heading tags to emphasize important text.” They further suggest that you imagine that you’re writing an outline, putting thought into what the main points and subpoints are, and then using heading tags accordingly. If you don’t know what heading tags are, they are explained in this same document. We suggest that anyone serious about improving their website should become intimately familiar with this critically important document. Download The Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.
4. Create Intuitive Navigation
If the organization of information on a single page of content is critical for success, so is the organization of pages within the website, which is the foundation of the navigation system.
The navigation of your website is very important for search engines and your users. Some helpful tips from Google are:
- Plan your navigation based upon your home page
- Create a naturally flowing hierarchy
- Use mostly text for navigation
- Ensure more convenience for users by using “breadcrumb lists”
- Allow for the possibility of part of the URL being removed
- Prepare 2 sitemaps, one for users, and one for search engines
5. Include Critical Business and Contact Information
How many times have you arrived at a site that you expected to have the information you are looking for, only to not be able to find the most simple, basic information? People sometimes get caught up in the “cool factor” of flashy features, background music, and all sorts of other web gimmicks and forget to include the most obvious and logical things such as contact information, location maps and business hours, menus or products and services listed, and so forth.
Don’t get carried away with the gimmicks. Remember that your website is primarily meant to serve your website visitors, not you and your personal tastes and preferences. If it is a site centered around you, your likes, preferences and ideas, it will most likely not succeed.
6. Integrate with Social Media
The Internet is no longer just a repository of information. It has become the primary communication and relationship connecting platform for the global marketplace. Social media isn’t just about “social” but is actually still human “word-of-mouth” trust, facilitated to a new level by technology. Successful businesses and organizations understand this and learn to connect their products and services into this powerful human trust and interaction network.
Again Google suggests that to succeed you:
- Know and get educated about social media sites
- Reach out to those in your site’s related community
- Promote your site in the right ways
- Master making announcements via blogs and being recognized online
7. Build a Mobile Ready Version
It is clear to anyone paying attention that websites are being accessed via mobile and hand held devices at an increasing rate. Within the next few years experts predict that the majority of web access will be through these devices. A successful website needs to have a mobile version that can be easily accessed and used by mobile users. Google suggests:
- Run desktop and mobile versions of your site
- Redirect mobile users to the correct version
- Switch content based on User-agent
Those who ignore this trend will only find themselves having to catch up in a few years, and for many businesses and organizations, that will be too late.
8. Provide Appropriate Security and Hosting
Many websites are hosted based upon cost or pricing. They overlook the high cost of losing business because a website is down, slow or insecure. In the big picture, $5 per month web hosting may not be in your best interest. Successful websites are hosted on appropriate technology platforms by reliable by reputable Internet Service Providers (ISP’s), at competitive, fair and reasonable prices.
If your site handles sensitive information, or facilitates financial transactions of any kind, you need to make sure the appropriate security is in place and functioning properly. Most ISP’s are very helpful on these more technical aspects of a website. A reputable and experienced web designer or development firm will also be knowledgeable and helpful on this important topic.
9. Include an FAQ Section
Many people are not aware of how many searches are done every day in search engines put in the form of a question. “How do I file a patent?” “How do I file an insurance claim?” These are just a few examples of the thousands of questions asked everyday. It is no longer a good idea to withhold information about your business or organization online. Answer as many questions as you can, publicly and authentically. Some of the most successful websites have extensive FAQ or Question and Answer sections containing hundreds of pages of content.
By providing a section on your website that anticipates the most likely and common questions people may have about your products or services, you not only help them as users, but also help the search engines deliver answers to people asking these questions.
10. Use Google Analytics
It’s amazing how many websites still don’t use this free and incredibly powerful tool. All you need is a Google account (free) to add this feature to your site. By placing a small bit of custom code supplied by Google on your website, your website traffic, visits, referrals, and many other statistics are made available to you 24×7.
Interpreting these statistics correctly can help you optimize your site for increased performance.
Oh, and Don’t Do These Things!
- Don’t use an “Intro” or “Demo” page before your home page loads. Google assumes the first page of a website is the “home page.” If you first page is an animation or video, Google will think your website home page has no content.
- Don’t use background music or any other kind of background loading technology. Not only is this annoying to users, it makes your web pages load more slowly.
- Don’t assume that because you like your website design, everybody else will too. Get a professional opinion and follow good advice about design, user experience and interaction.
We are interested in your thoughts related to our Top 10 list. Do you agree or disagree? Let us know by sharing your perspectives and points of view using the commenting feature below.