What Makes Great Websites: an Overview of Best Practices

December 11, 2020

As discussed in a previous article, there are several reasons why building a website could be a worthwhile venture for you and/or your business.

But once you’ve given the green light, how and where do you actually get started?

Some might opt for the kinds of templates you can find here, or here, or even here.

Templates are a significantly cheaper option than hiring a designer that often make perfect sense for bloggers, photographers, freelancers or penny-pinching startups that want a website up and running ASAP.

But of course, there are quite a few drawbacks associated with using templates. 

Beyond the limited possibilities for customization, which are important not just to establish a unique brand identity but also to tailor the content and structure of your site to optimize conversion rates, templates are known for coming with quite a few annoying technical limitations (no on-page SEO options, messy code).

At the end of the day, what this all boils down to is that templates completely miss the bigger picture... 

The point of having a website isn’t to simply have a web presence, it’s to have a dedicated tool to help you grow your business (more on this below).

Plus, is it really cheaper if you’re the one spending time building it instead of focusing on what actually makes you money? Purchasing a template for your website means setting everything up yourself, and regardless of if you use a template or not, building a website is a lot of work!

So, if you’re convinced that the construction of your website is better left to professionals, whether you’re a web designer yourself or you’re a non-designer interested in building a website for your business, grab a pen and take note of the following aspects of great websites, as you begin your journey toward building something purposeful:

1. Business-driven design

First and foremost, great websites are designed to compliment and serve business objectives.

There’s an astonishing number of new websites being created every day. As such, it’s no wonder people fall into the trap of building a website simply out of a fear of missing out, and the agencies warning business owners to build a website or risk being left in the dust don’t help either.

But your mom must have told you when you were younger, “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it a good idea”. She really nailed that one.

Amy Poehler Mom GIF

It’s true, this kind of thinking leaves you with no solid ground to reason on. If you ever reach a crossroads, the only basis for choosing one way or another is by comparing yourself to other people. You’ll be moving forward without any rhyme or reason of your own, and as far as websites go, you’ll reduce any possibility of distinguishing your brand and/or outdoing the competition.  

Instead, when building a website, any design decisions should be backed by what’s good for business. 

What are your main sources of revenue? Where do you see the most potential for new revenue streams? Who are your customers? What are their expectations?

Good websites keep business objectives in mind and provide elegant solutions to meet them.

2. Usability & accessibility

Great websites are designed to meet the needs and expectations of the people who use them.

Your content structure should be concise and labels should be clear so that people can actually find what they’re looking for. Pages shouldn’t be chock-full of text and images that don’t provide any value to the experience, and you should take advantage of any opportunity you have to guide users through the experience.

I once had the pleasure of staying at the W Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was told that the service I received was of typical Asian standard, but if you’ve ever been yourself, you’ll know what I mean when I say the service was absolutely incredible.

On just my third morning at the hotel, I was welcomed by one of the hotel’s receptionists with an enthusiastic “Good morning, Mr. Benjamin!” before being personally escorted to the breakfast buffet where she then asked, “would you like the iced double-shot americano, like usual?”. 

oh my god wow GIF

Why, yes, I certainly would..!

I don't know how she did it, but I know I didn’t tell this woman my name, and considering the fact I usually can’t order the same thing anywhere else without getting strange looks, I certainly didn’t expect her to remember how I like my coffee.

In my view, designing a website to be user-friendly and accessible is capable of producing a similar sense of delight in your users - it’s really just good customer service, and positive experiences get people talking and keep them coming back.

3. Visual identity

Beyond being informative and accessible, great websites also have unique visual identities that make lasting impressions.

I’m sure it’s happened to you before: You click on a link to visit a website, and within seconds you’re already aiming for the ‘back’ button to get the heck out of there.

Awkward Erm GIF by Dyo

But how did this happen so quickly? Did you really take the time to read and process the information that was being presented before arriving at the conclusion that the website didn’t provide what you were looking for?

Odds are you made a snap judgement based on a “gut instinct” - but don’t worry, we all do it.

Great websites are properly structured, spacious, and symmetrical, featuring beautiful colors, fonts, and images that influence users’ gut feelings, finding the perfect balance between spunkiness and sophistication, audacity and elegance, modernity and familiarity to create an immersive and pleasurable experience that communicate the values of your brand and stays at the top of users’ minds.


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