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What makes a great website?

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Posted by luke on

The web has come a long way since the early part of this decade. And so have websites. The almost brochure like, text-heavy sites of the early 2000s have given way to more graphically driven, interactive websites. Big leaps in technology have obviously had an impact. From the snail-speeds of a dial up connection to superfast broadband, hi-speed mobile networks and high definition displays, we’ve come a long way. However a lot of the common knowledge on what makes a great website is still dated. Or, more specifically, outdated.

Today we’re going to talk about the key fundamentals that underpin a great website. We’re going to go beyond the common ‘rules of thumb’ to explore the science and psychology behind a great website and a great online experience.

So what are the ingredients that go into making a great site? Here are the must-haves:

You’ve got to see it to believe it.

Humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Couple this with the fact that users form an impression of your website in under a second and what you have is the power of pictures. Or, more broadly, visuals. So the first lesson is, don’t tell it, if you can show it. Studies show that the simple act of seeing something allows you to experience it in your own mind. So if you’re looking to tell an engaging story through your website you need good images. And the more interactive the images, the better. The Nike website for example, doesn’t just show you a great pair of shoes, it allows you to change the colour and the pattern on the materials. Making them not just a pair of shoes, but your pair of shoes. And if you still need proof of the power of great visuals consider that Twitter, the home of 140 characters of text, just brought Vine – a video service showcasing 6-second videos.

The good word

If you get the impression that a great site is only about visuals, we’d like to stress the importance of good content. You can have the most beautiful looking site on the web, but if the content isn’t relevant and engaging no one will care. Writing for the web is unlike writing for any other medium. For starters, computer screens are typically read at about 28% of normal reading speed, so you need to write in a manner that gets the important information across quickly. And people don't read a site like a book, they scan. So headers, links and key graphics should work as road signs. Directing your users where you want them to go.

When it comes to navigation, first things first.
And last.

Invariably your site will feature lists or menus. Or at the very least you should have all your information broken into short concise sections for easy understanding.
The easier the navigation, the better. So how do you decide what goes where? Science has the answer.

Research tells us that readers’ attention levels are at the lowest in the middle of a list. The items most likely to stay in short-term memory are the first and the last. So make sure the important information comes first. And last.

Another thing to remember - Short term memory only holds about seven items.
So if your navigation includes more than seven links, break it up. You’ll be remembered for it.

Tweet this. Like that.

People like to do what other people are doing. Which explains why sharing is such a rage. It also means that your website should be designed in a way that makes sharing not just possible, but easy. Add twitter and facebook links to important pieces of information. More importantly, give evidence that other people have selected you, or your product or service. The simplest way to do this is testimonials. Another way to do it is to advertise your following. Perhaps you have thousands of users, or thousands of products sold. Or you have endorsements from people of influence. These are all good things to promote. Links to articles that mention your company, product or service are also good ways to show you’re the preferred choice. Much as we’ve evolved, we still exhibit herd-like behavior and are more likely to go with the majority when it comes to making a choice. So make yourself the natural choice.

Just because you’ve built it, doesn’t mean they’ll come.

The best website in the world will remain a very lonely place, unless people can find it. There’s been reams written about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and we’ve covered it extensively in our blogs here. Search is very, very popular and chances are you landed on this page through a search engine. Ranking high in a search result not only provides the greatest amount of traffic, but also instills trust in consumers as to the worthiness and importance of your site. There’s both paid and organic search options and we encourage you to explore both. In fact, given the importance of search it's well worth getting a professional SEO organization to advice you on SEO for your website. The old saying “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it…” is especially true for today’s online world. So once you’ve done the hard work building a great site, make sure people can find it easily.

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