WHAT makes a great website? And is this the same thing for businesses as it is for users?
After creating hundreds of website during my career, I now look back nostalgically at some of the early ones and how the technology has evolved so quickly.
We had huge restrictions in download speeds, resulting in using images in an obsessively sparing way. Screen size was limited to the lowest average – 640 x 480 – and colours were also restricted. E-commerce wasn’t really established and animation of any sort was in its infancy.
It really wasn’t long ago, but it seems like a distant memory.
Now we don’t need to worry about download speeds – enabling us to use a variety of multi media forms on our sites; streaming video, animation and sound.
We have other considerations now such as how well a site works on a smart phone and tablet computer.
We are much more concerned with how well a website is found on a search engine than how it might look.
However, there is one thing that hasn’t changed and that is the fact that a website is never finished.
Unlike a brochure, a successful website should always be seen as an evolving form. Since the technology is ever changing, the website will look out of date very quickly if it is left alone.
If you want your users to keep coming back, there needs to be a reason for them to do so whether that is information or product driven.
Look at well-known e-commerce website, Amazon.
It hasn’t really changed from a design point of view since its birth – but there has been a myriad of small changes, perhaps going unnoticed to us, but all designed to make the user experience easier and more directed to “buy” and of course using the latest technology.
Many of us could learn a lesson from that.
Design gives us recognition and comfort. How many of us have been ‘turned off’ by a favourite website that has radically changed.
Many e-commerce sites find that sales dip massively after a total redesign, believed to be because users establish a relationship or loyalty with the design and its usability.
Like shopping aisles in supermarkets, we all get very cross when things have moved!
A website is a company’s “virtual” front door, so they would be ill-advised to leave it to waste.
So what makes a website successful? I have been researching what others in my industry say.
Many talk about usability, purpose, adhering to web standards, good design, planning etc.
But I say the best rule of thumb is to remember who it is for and make it for them.
Many businesses get so bogged down in detail that they forget what their audience really want.
So my advice is to start with trying to establish what your user will want if they come to your website, then the rest will evolve from there.
You could actually ask your customers – never a bad thing as it will make them feel part of it.
And if they say it’s great the way it is, then asking why is a good start!