The ability to write well-formed, semantic code is a good start to any website, but having a fancy code structure doesn’t inherently make a website good.
There are many aspects that contribute to a “high-quality” status for a website, and various experts in the field will rank their importance differently. However, as we’ll discuss more in a few moments, web design experts don’t get to decide when a website is good, the users of the website do.
To get a user’s perspective on what qualities make a website “good,” I interviewed several college students about their internet usage and website preferences. Interestingly enough, many of their opinions mirrored my own. Read what they said in the sections below, along with my advice for utilizing these principles to develop a winning website.
The foundation of any and all good websites is a well-defined, focused purpose. Without a concrete and identifiable purpose, a web project has no direction and will not likely be successful.
“I don’t like when websites look very basic. I like when they’re obviously marketed towards the audience they’re trying to aim at.” Allie Abney
What goal do we hope to achieve with this website? What should the user gain from it? What action do we want them to take? The answers to these questions should drive the entire project, and every decision made should be compared to these answers. If the decision does not agree with the purpose, it’s back to the drawing board.
Visuals, Visuals, Visuals
The first aspect of your website a user will see is the design, and you need to make a good first impression to keep them from clicking the “back” button right away.
“I’m a very visual person, so…if [the website] looks interesting it’ll draw me in.” Shelby Riley
To achieve a visually pleasing design, be aware and make use of time-tested design principles like visual hierarchy, repetition, and white space. That being said, you can also deliberately break the rules sometimes to add interest to your design and emphasize important points.
“I guess I’m an artsy type of person, so I really like the aesthetics of websites.” Madison Link
Make use of impactful images or graphics to engage your audience. Images hook viewers and invite them to read the text.
Quality Over Quantity
This principle holds true for every aspect of website and its design: copy, visuals, colors, animations, micro-interactions. Always focus on providing the highest quality content you can instead of loading your page down with bells and whistles.
“The quote ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ really holds true for me. Sometimes you can get so much from a really well-taken photo, so I would totally rather see a really nice photo [than a lot of text].” Madison Link
Only use clear, high-resolution photos, and make sure they have a purpose. Stock photos are fine as long as they are used meaningfully.
Quality becomes even more important when it comes to copy. Research has unfailingly showed that users don’t like to read on the internet. One study by the Nielsen Norman Group says users will likely only read about 20% of the words you put on the page.
“If [a website] has a ton of words, I’m probably going to be deterred [from looking at it].” Shelby Riley
What does that mean for web designers? We need to focus our message. Use short and simple-but-descriptive sentences that get the point across quickly. Only add copy if it contributes to accomplishing the goal of the site. Doing so means you’ll reach more users and likely increase your response rate.
Solid User Experience
Finally, it is imperative that your website is pleasant to use. In other words, your website must have a really good user experience (UX). This is a broad principle that not only encompasses all of the points above, but also now has its own field of study. UX is vitally important to the success of a website, and a poor experience is the fastest sure-fire way to lose an audience.
Make your website intuitive and user-friendly for all skill levels within your target audience. Keep them informed about what they’re doing.
“Facebook does this really cool thing where if you’re responding to someone, they have the three dots popping up. That’s a really cool [feature].” Steven Osmolski
Make them feel confident and in-control.
“I like Facebook because you can filter for the information you want to see. It’s customizable, and that’s what I like the most about it.” Allie Abney
Jakob Nielsen’s list of 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design is the industry-standard starting point for crafting good UX.
A website is only “good” if it successfully achieves its purpose, and that goal can only be accomplished if the user finds the website to be pleasant to use. Therefore, the true judge of a good website is the end-user.
All good websites start with a audience-centered design and a plan to keep the user happy. Keep the principles above in mind to start your next website on the path to success.