What makes a good website.
From a business perspective there are only two kinds of websites: There are websites, and there are websites that work, it’s pretty cut and dry. This post explains this school of thought so you know what goes into crafting a good website.
A website that works needs to deliver tangible benefits, it can benefit the business owner, the audience or a combination of both. On the other side of this spectrum a website can also deliver negatives to the business owner and audience alike, perhaps only delivering benefits to agencies, contractors and providers.
It is good practice to view Digital as a medium for specifically tailored respective content as we do with print, TV and radio media. Digital Media has gained a reputation as inexpensive, quick and easy to publish when compared to more traditional forms of media.
This perception has more than likely contributed to the misconception that ‘just about anybody’ can build a website that works. This is just not true, ‘just about anybody’ is only able to build website. A website that works is the A-league for digital as a medium, and similarly, ‘just about anybody’ can play baseball at a given level. This ability doesn’t necessarily secure them a spot on an A-league team in the U.S.A.
Creating a website
There are four key methods for creating a website: DIY, contractors, buy online and in-house teams.
There’s plenty of tools out there for ‘just about anybody’ to build a website. Business owners can use platforms like WIX or Squarespace to build a smart looking website in an hour, I think that they are also free. Otherwise there’s always Themeforest where a functional world class theme can be picked up for $50 – $90 USD. These tools could be pitfalls for people that don’t know what makes a good website.
As far as contracting is concerned you can look at a myriad of ‘just about anybody’, and agencies website creation services.
Business owners that don’t want to get their hands dirty don’t have to look far to hire a ‘just about anybody’ who’s offering their website building services. Take a look in the Services For Hire section of your local online classifieds, or just search Google. You can get a student, visual designer, graphic logo artist, admin assistant, print designer or computer programmer to build a website for you. You need cross your fingers that they are well versed at what makes a good website. It could be cheap or a fair investment for something that doesn’t actually deliver you any tangible benefits.
There are plenty of agencies to set you up with a new website or improve an existing website. They can be specialist digital agencies, advertising/media agencies or technology agencies. Some are experts in what makes a good website, others may only know a little. Prices with agencies vary, and a fair investment in their services doesn’t guarantee that you end up with a website that works.
Another method for obtaining websites from providers on the web is the online store that sells them for an upfront transaction. Again, some are experts in what makes a good website, and others may only know a little. The value proposition with some of these websites may might be the software running them. The thing to be mindful of here is locking yourself into one particular platform, when this not to the website owner’s benefit it is known as “technological debt”.
Websites don’t have be inexpensive to build and run either, big business and organizations have been spending inordinate amounts on their in-house team and websites. Only for the executives to scratch their heads and wonder why they just can’t seem to “get digital right”, like the dot-com start-ups they envy and try hard to mimic. Significant coin is invested in platforms and technologies, buckets of money is thrown at specialists like: System Administrators, Application Developers, Designers and Digital Marketers alike.
Good or bad instructions from the website sponsor, and in some cases whoever else has their finger in the pie, is typically followed people that build websites. Often this is a key contribution to the failure in building a website that works.
The modus apperandi in building websites is typically set and forget or build it and they will come. The work is completed once the website is live, the budget is spent and the project is complete. On the other hand, websites that work are built, maintained and evolved.
Websites that work
There are three key facets that comprise websites that work: One is highly obvious to all it’s the interfaces/web pages. Another is quite an obvious consideration for your technology provider it’s platform and technology stack. However the third is quite nebular but it’s the fundamental facet behind websites that work.
Back to the media simile for the third key facet, the secret sauce behind a website that works is the Digital Content that gets put into a website . The core objective behind website creation: is producing, publishing and optimizing content specific to the internet as a medium. Iterative optimization of a website’s content is key to websites that work. We monitor, measure and analyze audience behavior on our website, to ensure our value proposition, interfaces and content is performing in a manner that provides the best user experience (UX).
Think of the platform and technology facet of a website as The Refrigerator, and the interfaces/web pages as The Container that goes in to the fridge. Along this context, think of our digital content as The Cuisine, which we put into The Container that goes into The Refrigerator.
Website owners get caught up on ensuring that they get the very best Kelvinator refrigerator and Tupperware containers. And accordingly, the vast majority of their website creation budget and schedule is spent on state of art refrigeration and food containers. Digital content is a mere after-thought, and rather than exquisitely crafted cuisine going into the container and fridge, we end up with spoilt inconsamible food going into the containers to be passed off to consumers who know the difference.
User Experience Design (UxD) and building websites that work is a craft that has been developing for the past twenty years. It’s a discipline that as yet doesn’t have a common place name agreed to and used within in the internet industry. Part of the problem there are many specialist areas of expertise contributing to websites that work e.g.
- User Researcher (generative & user testing);
- Interaction Designer;
- Information Architect;
- Interface Designer;
- Usability (engineering & accessibility);
- Front-end Developer;
- Application Developer;
- System Administrator;
- Graphic/Visual Designer;
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO);
- Website Copywriter;
Although there’s no established name for the craft itself, the underlying principles, patterns, processes and practices have tenets that are well established best practices. Tying this all together with the specialist areas of expertise, across the three key facets to produce good digital content is the craft of making websites that work.
When interviewing a digital professional about your next project, discuss the two obvious facets: the platform and the interfaces/web pages. But for a website that works they also need to be knowledgeable and passionate about what gets put into the container that goes in the refrigerator: the cuisine or website content.