We all naturally form opinions about the websites we visit. Some of them we love so much that we come back several times a week, and others leave us with a bad experience that causes us to never return. But what is it that determines whether a web design is good or bad? As individuals we each have our own opinions and we’ll never completely agree on which websites are good and which ones are bad, but most of us will base our feelings on similar factors. Here is a look at 7 factors that I feel are influential in this determination.
Every website needs a well-defined purpose. Website owners and bloggers who have a solid understanding of what they expect to get out of their site will be able to work backwards in order to determine how the site should be managed, what content should be included, what messages should be communicated to visitors, and really everything involved with developing and running a website.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty common for site owners to rush through the process of setting up a website and the true purpose is sometimes overlooked. Without knowing specifically what you hope to achieve, you will lack direction, your efforts will be scattered, and your chances of making a positive impact with your site will be poor.
A purpose should be fairly specific. Instead of saying “I want to improve my business by having a stronger presence online,” consider something like “My website will become the most consistent source of leads for my services and it will help me to improve communication with potential clients.” With the second purpose, you now know specifically what you want to achieve with your website, it’s just a matter of finding ways to make that happen.
The purpose of a website functions in essentially the same manner that a mission statement aids a business. It sets the tone for all of the activities and it gives a context that should be used to help in decision making. If your business already has a mission statement, I suggest also developing a separate purpose for your website. The website’s purpose should serve to support the mission and make the business more effective in achieving that mission.
Your website may have a purpose, but is it clear to your visitors why your website exists? It’s easy to get caught up in adding all kinds of new features and building fancy websites, but sometimes overload can produce a jumbled message to visitors that produces confusion.
One of the goals during development of a website should be to achieve clarity that will show visitors what they can get out of your website and why they should care. Clarity applies to all different types of websites. E-commerce sites need to clearly communicate to visitors what can be purchased and why it should be done through their particular website. Blogs need to communicate to new visitors what the blog is all about and what types of content they will receive if they subscribe. Service providers need clarity when they are communicating the details of their services to visitors.
Clarity is sometimes achieved through simplicity. Cutting out the noise and the clutter on a website can make the primary message more easily understood by visitors. One of the reasons for using a minimalistic design is to assist in the level of clarity.
For any website to be successful, people need to be able to use it. Design and appearance will never replace the need for usability. The usability needs of a site will partially depend on the nature of the site. For example, a large e-commerce site needs to have an effective search function, logical categorization of products for browsing, a user-friendly shopping cart, etc. A blog or any type of website with lots of text will need to provide excellent readability, good navigation between articles, etc.
Any site that lacks usability will struggle to keep visitors on the site and to encourage repeat visits. Most of us internet users are impatient and if we find something that makes us work too hard, we’ll simply leave.
Accessibility and usability often get lumped together because they somewhat overlap, but they are two distinct issues. An accessible website will not force visitors to use a certain browser, exclude handicapped users, etc. If users can’t access your website, it’s obviously not usable either.
Effective websites will be widely accessible. The difficulty with accessibility is the amount of factors that are outside of your control. However, it is possible to have an attractive, information, and helpful site that is still accessible.
Because visitors ultimately determine the success of a website, they should be the focus during development. Often times, however, designers or website owners get distracted by their own wants and needs for the website, and the users are forgotten or put on the back burner.
A user-focused website will be both usable and accessible, but it will be much more than that. A website or blog that is focused on users will build content that interests and helps users, and the desires of visitors will always be important in any decision involving the development of the site. A poor website will do the opposite, it will focus on the needs of the owner and attempt to force visitors to fit in the same box.
Website navigation affects both usability and accessibility, but it is important enough to warrant its own spot on this list. When developing a new website or working on a redesign, navigation should be a primary concern. Unless you want visitors to view one page and then leave your site, you’ll need to make it as easy as possible for them to find what they are looking for.
Most websites and blogs today use fairly common navigational techniques that are expected by the average visitor. Typically, the site will have a primary navigation menu that will link to the most important pages on the site, and other links will be added to the body of the page wherever appropriate. Sitemaps, sitewide searches and FAQ pages are all very common and visitors will look for them when they don’t know where else to turn.
Blogs also have their own unique navigational trends that blog readers tend to appreciate, such as a list of categories, links to the most recent posts, links to the most popular posts, and links to related posts.
In addition to providing visitors with an easy way to move through the site, navigation is often used by designers to create more visually-appealing websites. Although navigation provides designers with a great opportunity to improve the look of the site, attractiveness should not come at the expense of usability and accessibility.
When developing the navigation for your website, think about what pages are most likely to be wanted by visitors, which pages are most critical for the purposes of your website, how visitors will want to move from one page to the next, what visitors will expect in terms of link location and pages linked, and how many clicks it will take visitors to get from your homepage to any other specific page.
Last but not least, the appearance of a website will be a determining factor in its success. Not every website needs to be an award-winning design in order to achieve it’s goals, but it should appeal to it’s specific audience and it should present a positive, professional image.
Trends in web design are constantly changing, and chances are if your site hasn’t been redesigned since 1999 it’s painfully obvious to your visitors. Most website owners prefer to freshen up their design or completely change it every couple of years to avoid this type of situation.
The design of the site should complement the content of the site, not overpower it. The design should also match stylistically with the message and the purpose of the site.