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What makes a good website?

A great website doesn’t just happen – many websites are either complex, under-funded and politically sensitive corporate projects, or personal showcases somewhat lacking in professional polish. This article gives some rules of thumb for quality content and explains how good website design attracts and retains target users.

Good content

Aims
Quality content starts with a clear vision for the website, backed by stakeholders with clout. What is the main overall goal of the site, and who are the target users? For example, a business-to-business e-commerce site selling products to small business owners in a selected geographical location. Selected text and images will appeal to target users and be refreshed regularly. Readability is essential, including excellent spelling. For example, a high contrast between text and background, short headings and a web-friendly font such as Verdana would be ideal Avoid jargon and dull brochure-ware copy. A line length of 12 words per line optimises legibility. Orientation is easy on good websites via intelligent information architecture. For example, you could have a maximum of seven top-level website sections to avoid confusion, short navigation headings and menus that avoid obscuring content. Authenticity helps build relationships with target users. For example, staff profiles, customer testimonials and reader comments. Credibility is crucial, especially for business start-ups. Good websites give address details on every page, offer multiple contact methods and display endorsements from professional or trade associations. The best sites seek and implement user feedback.

Good functionality

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) practice helps target users to find a website in the first place. For example, a short web address, relevant metadata, key-phrase strategy, indexing, link building, conversion efficiency - and multilingual SEO as appropriate. Sites track visits using packages such as Google Analytics to inform their SEO strategy. Web pages load fast - ideally within one second, or up to eight seconds maximum - on good websites, by calibrating the typical connection speed of target users. Cross-platform compatibility allows site access using different browsers, screen sizes and operating systems. For example, mobile versions of newspaper websites such as Thetimes.co.uk can be viewed using devices such as phones and tablets. A pleasant look and feel means that websites are easier to use: like a limited, harmonious colour palette and an uncluttered arrangement of page elements. Web accessibility is more than a legal compliance issue around disability – sites following Web Content Accessibility Guidelines afford a better user experience generally. For example, text descriptions of non-text content, navigation aids, helpful use of colour and form labeling. Finally, social media integration allows website owners to extend their presence to other online channels. For example, cross-referencing web content on Facebook, LinkedIn, RSS web feeds, Twitter and YouTube.

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