Many aspects of web design are very subjective on the surface. Should we use a shadow on that text or a solid border? Should we use this image on our homepage slider or that one? However when it comes to making a truly high quality website, there is a method to all the madness. Whether it’s the color scheme, layout, use of specific images, or placement of calls to action, a truly high quality website built by a marketing focused company has everything in a certain place for a specific reason.
Now I won’t claim to have all the answers — I along with any marketing focused web designer am still learning through trial and error, A/B testing, and meticulous data scrubbing. However over the years, I have learned a thing or two about what truly makes a high quality website. Here are 25 website elements that I have learned are critical to truly having a quality, marketing focused website.
Element 1: Clear Navigation:
A website needs to have a clear navigation menu. That navigation menu the majority of the time falls on the top of the webpage in the form of a horizontal bar, not because web designers are lazy, but because this is where people expect it to be. It needs to be easy to navigate a website. Yes, cool designs are fun and unique, but at the end of the day if the user can’t figure out how to navigate your website they’re going to bounce.
Element 2: Multiple Navigation Menus:
Clients often struggle with determining what to highlight in their navigation menu, so we often revert to having multiple navigation menus in the form of vertical menus or horizontal sub-menus. We understand many businesses are extremely complex, so if you’re in a complex industry, a complex business, or have an extremely large website, multiple navigation menus depending on what part of the site you’re on will be critical in assisting visitors with finding what they’re looking for.
Element 3: Easy To Find Objectives, Clear Calls To Action:
The content that falls in the site’s main navigation menu should contain the core pages of the website. This doesn’t necessarily need to be the traditional “Home, About Us, Sign Up, & Contact Us” but rather is unique to your business and industry. We recommend having a clear contact button and clear service/product button in the navigation menu, and often times we’ve found that less is more when it comes to navigation. Sites that have easy to find objectives in the navigation menu tend to convert and perform better than those with cluttered navigation menus or navigation menus with endless drop downs.
Likewise, clear calls to action are extremely important. This isn’t just on certain pages, but rather throughout the entire website. The homepage, blog pages, category pages, sales pages, and every page on the website exists for a purpose and needs to have a clear call to action to properly funnel traffic to where it needs to be.
Element 4: Site Search:
Every single website needs an easy to use and accurate search feature. Many sites have a search feature, but they return terrible results or worse yet don’t work at all. Often times a content management system or e-commerce platform will come with a strong search feature, but if your business has an extremely large site or is an extremely large e-commerce store, the importance of a quality search feature becomes increasingly important. Custom search bars can be utilized, predictive search can be incorporated, or Google Site Search can be utilized to provide quality search results within a specific website.
Element 5: Core Content Highlighted (Cornerstone Content):
Often times businesses have fantastic pages outlining their business, their processes, and core information about why they’re the best, but its hidden. Every business should have a value proposition explaining why someone should pick them over another company, and that should be considered the business’ cornerstone piece of content. That piece of content should be well written, clear, concise, and highlighted properly in the overall web design.
This is more important in certain industries, especially service based industries or industries where the product/service is virtually a commodity, but no matter what the nature of the business it’s important to have a strong value proposition that is properly worked into the website’s structure.
Element 6: Thought Out Contact Process:
How many times do you find a website contact form that doesn’t ask for your phone/email? Or a contact form that is so long you feel like you’re applying for a second mortgage? Or the worst — you have to dig and dig and eventually Google search for the contact page for a company.
Every website needs to have a clear contact process with a simple contact form. That form should ask for Name, Email, and Message. Optional fields are phone number and a drop-down for Reason for Contacting. Anything beyond that needs to be collected on a secondary form or after you contact the new lead as the shorter and sweeter the contact forms the greater the chance they’ll be filled out. This is always a struggle with business owners as they want to ask 15 questions in a contact form, but in reality a marketing focused site will have a short contact form.
Element 7: Blog/News Area:
Every website needs a blog/news area. You don’t want a blog/news area, you say? Well, if you want a quality, marketing based website then you’re getting one. Let’s be realistic, anyone who knows anything about online marketing knows how critical a blog and news area is. Not having a blog/news section to a website is basically like not even having a website these days — seriously.
In addition to actually having the blog/news area is the importance of updating this critical section of the website, but we’ll touch more on that in another element.
Element 8: Information About Your Company:
If I’m searching the web, stumble upon a new company, and can’t find out anything about that company, I will likely leave. It’s important to post information about the business . This consists of information about the company’s history, the management team, employees, location, structure, and any other important or unique information about the company. Not only is this good information to have, but it also helps build trust in the company and helps show the company is established and not a fly-by-night operation.
Element 9: Testimonials & Reviews:
Every website needs testimonials and reviews. I don’t care if its a SEO company, a car dealer, a dental office, or a trash collection company. Every website needs testimonials and reviews to build trust. Let me throw out a little statistic I learned through another website I own — years ago we didn’t have any testimonials or reviews posted, and we had about an 11% contact rate on the site. After we added testimonials & reviews, that soared to 17% and our close rate on those that contacted us went up dramatically.
Ideally a video testimonial is the best, however a text testimonial with an image or on stationary from the individual is nearly as good. And if you can’t get those, then a simple text based review is still far, far better than having nothing at all.
Element 10: Case Studies & Data:
Much like testimonials and reviews, every website should also contain case studies and data. Many business owners say “I don’t have any case studies or data” and our response is “Because we haven’t put any together yet”. No matter what industry you’re in, you can put together some sort of case study or other business specific data. Doctors can publish success rates, an e-commerce site can publish customer satisfaction surveys, a law firm can publish their success rates or work on a specific case, and so on. No matter what industry you’re in, working with a good marketing focused individual can help you come up with case studies and data to publish on the website to establish yourself as an industry authority.
Element 11: Quality & Unique Content:
This is key. Your website is essentially two things: images and text. We’ll talk about the images later and the text now. Every website should have high quality, unique content that was either written in house or written by your web design/copywriting team. This content needs to be clear, concise, and focus on helping inform your website visitors while funneling them to your goal. This content is one of the most important elements of your website and is one of the things that will ultimately decide if a visitor becomes a “bounce” or a “conversion”.
And likewise, this content should be unique for three reasons: First off it needs to be unique for SEO purposes due to Panda, secondly it needs to be unique so you don’t look the same as your competitor who you stole it from, and third it needs to be unique because it’s just the right, ethical thing to do. Don’t copy content from someone else, rather take the time to formulate quality, unique content for your website that represents the quality you strive for at your business. It is an investment in the website that will pay off.
Element 12: Fresh & Updated Content:
Unique, quality content isn’t enough anymore, it needs to be fresh and updated. This comes in two forms: overall content as well as blog content.
Overall content should be updated and changed as needed. In some industries, copy can stay on the page for years. If a product/service is extremely static, the content may remain the same for years which is fine. But in the majority of businesses, things change constantly. New products/services are introduced, changes are made to existing products/services, and other elements may change from time to time. Make sure someone routinely goes through the website to make sure all the content is fresh and updated to reflect the current state of the business.
And secondly, blog content needs to be fresh and updated. Companies should blog an absolute minimum of once per month. We prefer if they blog at least once per week, and ideally companies would blog as often as humanly possible. Companies with a blog that hasn’t been updated for months are going to have a higher bounce rate and convert much poorer. And likewise blog content attracts links, social following, and long tail traffic, all of which will assist with the website’s ultimate goal: Driving new business to the company.
Element 13: Marketing Based Content:
And lastly, content needs to be marketing based. Many business owners and content writers know very little about marketing or selling a product/service. They’re great at what they do, but not so great at marketing what they do. The content on a website shouldn’t be dry, boring, and lifeless, but rather it should encourage the visitor to want to learn more or purchase the product/service.
Yes, this is easier in some industries than other, but when you have a passionate business owner, a good copywriter can extract information from them that can be lively and leave the visitor wanting to learn more.
Element 14: Clean Coding:
Many websites have terrible coding. When a web developer (or search engine) views the coding of a site, they can often tell extremely quickly how well a site is coded. Why is this important? For starters it’s important so the website displays properly, more importantly its important so the website is easy to change when needed, and perhaps most importantly its important so the site loads quickly. Having website coding that is messy is like that big tangled bunch of cords we all have hiding behind our desks, whereas a nice clean website is like having a glass desk with a laptop and just one little power cable leading to it.
Element 15: SEO Friendly Coding:
This is one of my biggest pet peeves, when a business hires a web designer who doesn’t have a clue about SEO. As a company that offers both SEO and web design, this is pretty high on our list of critical website elements. SEO friendly coding means many things, including but not limited to proper headings, proper titles, proper placement of coding in the HTML structure, clean and concise coding, ability to change SEO related elements, ALT/title tags, and much more. It takes an extra step sometimes to make a website SEO friendly, but the end result always pays off for the business.
Element 16: Great Graphics & Images:
We mentioned earlier that a website is essentially two things: images and text. We already went on and on and on about how important the text is, how about the images? If you think about it, the images on a website and color scheme of the site are really what ultimately grab your attention or not. A site that has fantastic content but terrible design/graphics isn’t going to do any better than a site with terrible content but great design/graphics. In my opinion they’re both needed, and having good, high quality graphics, images, and design help show that your business is credible, offers a high quality product/service, and enhances the usability of the site.
Element 17: A Unified Design:
Ever see a website with a great header/navigation bar but the rest of the site looks like an after thought? Often times web designers spend a great deal of time on things like the header and homepage, and put very little thought into the interior pages and footer. It’s important to have a unified design on the website, and this means that every page and every element of every page is unified (using the same style, fonts, color scheme, etc.). A site with a well thought out, unified design truly will do better, look better, and give visitors a better first impression of your business.
Element 18: Seamless Transitions:
It drives me insane when a website is coded in one platform, the blog is in another, and the e-commerce platform is in a third, and all of them have a different “theme” or design to them. It makes the business look “cheap” — it’s like going to a restaurant and part of the room being carpet, the other part tile, and the third part concrete. Websites can become very complex very quickly, which is all the more reason to work with a professional web designer to make sure you identify the best solution for your situation to ensure seamless transitions across all elements of the website.
Element 19: Cross Browser Compatibility:
This is extremely important these days. Gone are the days of having one web browser to design for, and in comes 2013 with dozens of different browsers by different companies that all render a little differently. Make sure your site is designed for cross browser compatibility and tested in multiple browsers before launch. This will help ensure that everyone sees what they should be seeing and can easily navigate and utilize the website without technical errors. This is also important if you have an old website as it likely isn’t displaying properly in a majority of web browsers today.
Element 20: Smart Phone Friendly:
I know very few people these days who don’t own a smart phone, and out of everyone who has a smart phone I can almost guarantee the majority of them use it to visit websites from time to time. A website doesn’t necessarily need to have a mobile version anymore (in my opinion dummied down mobile sites infuriate visitors more than anything since they can’t access your full content/site) but you should have either a responsive website (one that scales to the device size) or a website that renders properly in tables and mobile devices. This will continue to be more and more important as time goes on, and if you have an old website there’s a great chance it doesn’t work right in smart phones or tablets.
Element 21: Good User Interface/Content Management:
A website used to be a collection of HTML files that only your web developer could edit, however today the vast majority of websites are built in some sort of content management system. Make sure you pick a content management system that fits your needs and has a good user interface. What does that mean? Well, it depends on your business. If you regularly want to update your page content and blog content, WordPress is a great choice. If you need to be able to have a portfolio to display your images, then a customized gallery in WordPress is a good choice. There are numerous content management systems out there (WordPress being the most popular and our favorite) and it’s important to work with your web developer to identify what you need to change the most often so they can build and modify the user interface to facilitate your needs.
Element 22: Opt In Form:
Email marketing is critical in lead nurturing for both product and service based businesses, and every website should have an opt in form for email marketing. No, it shouldn’t be “thrown” onto the page somewhere just to be there, rather it should be designed to fit the look of the site and incorporated in a well thought out location. Some sites use the footer, others use the sidebar, and others use pop-ups, it all depends on how important email marketing is to your business (and in nearly every business it should be pretty darn important).
Element 23: Feature Rich Add-ons:
Make sure your website has all the elements you need! This sounds like a no brainer, but if you can benefit from having an e-commerce platform then opt to spend the few thousand more on having your developer set it up! You’ll make that money back after a few weeks or months of having the platform in place. If you’re spending the time to re-do your website, don’t cut corners on the functionality and add-on elements of the site, it will just leave you feeling like something is missing after the fact and will also leave you not earning as much as you potentially could through the site.
Element 24: Easy Traffic/Conversion Tracking:
Building all these great elements on a website will be useless if you can’t track the traffic. Whether a 3rd party software or Google Analytics, it’s important to have some sort of traffic reporting software in place to monitor critical website metrics. And likewise it’s also important to setup goals and events to track contact form submissions, e-commerce sales, and email opt ins through a website to understand what marketing channels are delivering the best ROI.
Element 25: Personalized For Your Business:
Sounds crazy, but a lot of businesses use template websites that aren’t customized for their business at all. These look cookie cutter, generic, and make the business look cheap. Have a website that your business can be proud of, that is customized for your niche, that is unique to your company, and that your competitors are envious of. Your website is the first impression the majority of your customers/clients will have, make sure your site represents your business well.
And there you have it — the 25 elements that truly make a high quality website stand apart from a mediocre website. These elements will not only help make the website look good, but more importantly well help the website fulfill it’s number one purpose — to help your business make more money.
Now, as a small business owner, you might be saying to yourself “That’s all great, I would love to have those 25 elements, but we simply cannot afford it” and I would argue that you’re 50% right, you can’t afford something, but what you can’t afford is continuing without having these elements on your website. A true high quality website will pay for itself hundreds of times over and over again.