The 6 things a good website must do

Design / 31.07.15
Mark Vaesen

A couple of weeks ago I was reading a great blog post by Adam Fairhead and there was something he said that perfectly summed up what a “good” website must do.

His comment was in his introduction to a piece about UX mistakes that make users feel stupid and was – in my opinion – bang on the money.

I found myself nodding in agreement to each of his points, and felt his summary deserved not only a closer look, but also an explanation for those who might be planning a new website, so they can make sure when it’s finished it gets top marks.

Here’s what he said a good website must do:

“It must be easy to find. It must know who it exists to serve. It must anticipate and address their questions. It must be their guide. It must help them solve their problem. It must provide ways to connect with the people behind the curtain.”

So what exactly does he mean?

Let’s look at each of his statements in turn…

1. A good website must be easy to find.

This one’s surely a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often it gets overlooked in the planning stage of a web project.

I accept that not every business needs a website to attract new customers through search. But when we talk about a site being easy to find, you need to consider all the ways your customers might find out about you, and make sure your site’s easy to find from there.

Do your target customers use social media a lot? How can you make sure your site gets found by users on those platforms?

Do you get the majority of your work through word-of-mouth? Then make damn sure you’re easy to find when users go looking for your company name – including any variations. Maybe your business is called Smith Brothers Ltd, but you’re known as Smith Bros, or just Smiths? Make sure you cover these bases and set up the site accordingly.

2. It must know who it exists to serve.

If you want your website to work hard for your business, you need to know who it’s for.

One of the best ways to do this is to create Personas for your users.

Read our blog post: What are Personas?

Personas are life-like personalities that outline a user’s background and reasons for using the website. It helps everyone understand (and refer back to) the real-life needs of your customers and how the site needs to work to meet those needs.

But before you decide who your users are, you need to ask a couple of other questions:

What are the aims of the website – how does it help you achieve your business goals? Is it to increase sales by x, or boost repeat business by y? Or perhaps it’s to raise your brand profile and reposition you in your marketplace – maybe you want to get more of a particular type of business, or move in a new direction?

How does the website make that happen? What do your users get out of the site, or what do you want them to do? Don’t be too specific – it could be “We want users to be able to buy our products” or “We want users to see what work we’ve done before”.

Aim to create 4 or 5 personas and document them clearly. Make sure everyone involved in the project knows about them – the design and functionality of the site is based around these users and what they need.

3. It must anticipate and address their questions.

Everyone who comes to your website will have certain questions they want to answer. You can probably work out what these are when you do the User Personas, and once you know the questions, you can create a User Journey.

How to identity your users’ questions

Let’s say you’re an architect and your user is a property developer looking to build a development of 5 or 6 highly-distinctive executive homes. Her questions might be something like this:

  • Is this architect big enough to take on my project?
  • Are they creatively capable?
  • How big is the practice?
  • How much experience and knowledge do they have?
  • Could I work with these guys?

4. It must be their guide.

So how do you answer their questions effectively? Once you’ve worked out the questions, consider how you might provider the answers.

This helps form the User Journey, which is a fancy name for how they might move through the site.

Using the same set of questions, our Property Developer might have the following User Journey:

  • Is this architect big enough to take on my project? *She may want to look at previous work you’ve done of a similar size to her project, by looking at your Portfolio
  • Are they creatively capable? *She may want to look at other projects in the Portfolio for the private housing sector, to see how you approach design
  • How big is the practice? *She might want to look at information about the size of the Team and where you work, in an About Us section
  • How much experience and knowledge do they have? *She might want to check out some Blog posts to find opinion pieces that establish your knowledge and expertise
  • Could I work with these guys? *She may want to find out about your work ethic and the personality of your business, perhaps by checking out your Processes

You can document the User Journey for each of your Personas like this:

Portfolio > Portfolio (Housing) > About us > Blog > Processes > Contact

5. A good website helps customers solve their problems.

As part of the User Personas exercise we talked about earlier, you should establish what the user is trying to achieve by coming to the site; in other words, what’s the problem they’re trying to solve?

If their problem is “I need to find a suitable architect, who places enough emphasis on design and creativity, to take on my housing development project”, then each of the stages on the User Journey must answer their questions properly. You must (oh, how I hate the phrase) “tick all their boxes”.

6. It must provide ways to connect with the people behind the curtain.

Finally, and most importantly, a good website has to make that link between your user and you – the link that turns them into a customer.

How do you want your customers to connect with you?

Give consideration to how you work best to win new business, and what suits the user.

If you sell indoor plants online, can your customer easily choose the best plant for them, buy it and have it delivered? Or is better for you to advise and guide them through the process? How can you provide them with the tools to benefit from this knowledge and guidance?

If your customers don’t know exactly what they need, but do know what they want to achieve, maybe the best way to turn them into a customer is for them to call you to arrange a face-to-face meeting or a site visit?

Every successful business is about people. People buy from people they like.

A good website makes that happen.