What makes a good website?

Is it fancy animations? – No.

Date: 2019-03-09

Even though we came a long way from the classic 1999s websites with all their beginner's mistakes, animated flame fonts and hit counters, things haven't changed too much. Most websites still suck. And it's getting worse.

So, how to make a great website? Think about your visitors. Don't be an asshole to them. Treat them nicely, respect their time, and they will love you and your website and buy your product.

But first, it's about what you want:

Have a clear purpose

Most websites aren't created just for the sake of having a website. And yet, often that's all they appear to be. The following is probably the thought-process behind many failed attempts of creating a website that's worth their time or money:

Get-rich scheme

  1. Make a good website
  2. It attracts visitors
  3. Make money

Technically, this plan isn't wrong. It's just missing all the useful information. You now have to fill in the blanks:

  • How does the website benefit you?

    Do you want more customers to come to your local hardware store? Do you want to increase the readership of your blog in order to earn more money from ads and affiliate links? The website must reflect the goal. Every element must have a purpose!

  • How does the website benefit the visitors?

    Imagine you're a visitor interested in whatever topic the particular website is about. What do you want from it? Deliver that.

  • How are you going to monetize?

    This cannot be an afterthought. It must be an integral part of the business plan.

    That's okay, I'll figure something out along the way.
    Visitors = Money anyway, right?

    Yeah, maybe. But it shows that you don't have a clear idea where you're going and that's not a good sign.

This is a broad topic and should probably be an article on its own. For now, just keep in mind that a website must know what it wants. A website is not just its UI.

If you're trying to generate passive income with your website, check these guys out: Income School They know more about that kind of stuff than I could ever tell you.

Fullfill the user's need quickly

Hopefully, you agree on the circumstance that a happy user usually means a happy you. If you don't care about the user, you may skip this part. And while you're at it, skip the part of having a website, too. For the sake of all of us.

Gotta go fast

If your website is as responsive as an unemployed alcoholic at 10:00 in the morning, visitors are just gonna knock elsewhere.

There was this particular affiliate website I really tried to like. Supposedly it was one of the few that actually paid out without hassle. They have quite a lot of affiliates to choose from, too. However, each page load took like 5 to 10 seconds. Whenever I clicked a button, I had to wait 5 seconds before anything happened. I clicked again and now it's 10 seconds. Each second started to feel like an eternity. I felt my time just melting away and began questioning my life's choices. In order to avoid an existencial crisis, I closed down that slow POS of a website and swore to never visit it again.

But it's not just about the loading times. Excessive scripting and animations can slow down a website, too. Causing underpowered devices to stutter and just be a pain in the ass in general. Nobody asked for your forced smooth scroll or custom fancy animated scroll bar. What the hell.

Clear navigation

There are lots of interesting and notable ways to be creative. However, website navigation isn't one of those. Just be as vanilla as possible here. Have a standard navigation bar at the top or at the side. That's it.

Here's an example of a proper navigation bar:

A basic Bootstrap navbar at the top of the page. What's wrong with that?

Sure, it doesn't have to be this basic. Especially if the website is about something art-related or is targeted towards children. Just don't go too wild and make sure it's actually:

  • Well-readable using a proper font and colors and contrast.
  • Accessible with all devices. Mobile and desktop.
  • Well-structured! Keep it simple, even if you have lots of content. Nest related items inside a drop-down menu instead of listing ten items side by side. That's a pain to go through.

Answer all the questions

Don't deliberately leave out information. Whatever you're selling, show the price. Whatever you're offering, tell everything about it. Nobody came to your website just to encounter some call for price bullshit so they have to listen to your sales pitch on the phone or wait three days for your lousy email.

I know we have a website and all, but I can sell better over the phone.
Your website is shit then, buddy.

Sure, there are products that require some explanation and may have some edge-cases. But if you're not able to present or pitch it on a HTML5-powered website, using audio, video, interactive animations etc., you're not getting it. Your website has failed.

There is always another website. People are becoming lazier by the minute (because modern, bullshit-free websites are just so convenient). Soon, nobody's gonna call you.

No aggressive popups

I know, I know, it actually works from a business perspective. Bombarding your trusty users with tons of intrusive popups pulls in more newsletter subscriptions and probably drives up sales, too – in the short-term. But that's not how you build trust. That's not how you build a brand.

Google hasn't become successful because it was acting like an annoying merchant at a bazar. In the beginning, it was extremely user-focused and so they arrived at where they are now.

Don't be pushy. Nobody likes that.

No unnecessary animations

When I was in school, we sometimes had to do presentations in front of the class using PowerPoint. Remember those fancy animations? Text shooting in from left and right, text spinning for 5 seconds before coming to a halt and finally becoming readable. That obligatory applause sound at the end! Awesome!

Of course, we all loved that stuff and started using these cool effects excessively. But our teachers weren't impressed. They told us that these great accomplishments of modern technology are unprofessional, distractive, and overall just unnecessary.

I guess most people didn't have the teachers I had back then. So they're still doing it in 2019. Too bad.

Accessible communication

Your website may be perfectly clear. Your product may be so simple that it doesn't require any explanation – at least you and your coworkers believe that. Proper support is expensive, too. So why not just put out some huge FAQ with nested categories and long, exhaustive answers that cover every possible topic?

Because everybody hates that.

Every seen one of those large-company support pages? They usually implement it like this:

Step 1: Lure him in

Somewhere on the website there's a seemingly harmless button. It implies that the user is only one step away from getting in touch with its friendly support team:

Usually, it's sensibly-placed and easy to spot. I.e. inside the navbar or in the footer. So the user has no trouble finding it:

Ah, there it is. I'm just gonna ask real quick if they accept my foreign credit card before I attempt to order the subscription.

And thus he clicks.

Step 2: Deceive

A new page opens up. But there is no contact form. There is no email address. There is not even a phone number. Instead, the user seemingly finds himself inside the FAQ (frequently asked questions) area of the website. Has he been tricked?

I'm pretty sure I clicked the contact button. Let's go back and try again..

He retries, but to no avail. It's the same page once again.

The page the user is on right now is indeed the contact page of this particular website. This is not a mistake though. Smart men have invested countless hours to come up with a way to streamline their efforts and reduce their workload and this is the result of it. I believe it went down something like this:

Hey boss,
I noticed these customer requests are all the same questions over and over again. How about we just make a list of common answers that the users have to go through before they are allowed to contact us and waste our time?
That's brilliant. Someone's getting a raise!

The support department was probably closed down shortly after.

So, in order to get to the actual contact page, first, the user has to solve a riddle!

What's the right combination to get to the actual contact page?

Support Center

Category

Subcategory

Topic

0 of 2 users found this page helpful.

If done right, it finally unlocks the real contact form.

Step 3: Okay, okay.. you won. Kinda.

Now all that's left to do is to fill out some input fields.

Contact Form

* mandatory

Congratulations!

You have successfully contacted Company XY. Unless there's still some kind of bot in place that sends an automated, unrelated response to your query. Anyway, as a reward, you get a chance to receive an answer this week or maybe next.

A simple contact form

If possible, have a simple contact form in place. Demand as little information as possible. Mark non-mandatory fields as optional. Don't use any asterisks at all. Like so:

Other means of communication

Chances are your contact form doesn't have a way to add attachments or the maximum message length is limited. Maybe the user just prefers to send a message using his email program, so it's neatly saved in his system. Provide at least an email address.

Support all devices

You know what's great about websites? They work on any device. This is actually the reason I became a web developer. I don't have to bother with multiple platforms anymore. Everything simply works everywhere. That's awesome, not only for developers, but for users, too.

When a piece of software (e.g. a website) is implemented in a way that it's technically the same on any platform, you have only one codebase to care about. This makes development simpler, cheaper and more secure for everyone.

Make it work on mobile

Currently, many websites are still not working properly on mobile devices. Mostly small-company websites that just don't really care or don't have the time to fix it.

I consider this not having a website at all. Mobile browser usage is rising, fewer people are using desktops every day. This means that fewer and fewer people are able to see those antiquated websites. Remember, there is always another website – one that works on mobile.

Make it work on desktop

Alright.. some companies are taking that previous step a bit too far. Every website must be able to work on mobile, but nobody said that that you may drop desktop support entirely.. what the hell.

Always respect your desktop users. They might not be the best consumers, with their fancy ad blockers and all, but they are the ones writing blog articles and recommending websites and software to their family and friends. They are the trusted guys fixing their parent's computers and installing software for them.

Guess which website will never be recommended by a tech-savvy person to anyone?


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