(NOTE: This blog post has been updated and expanded as of 05/30/18)
What makes a good website “good”? There are many factors that go into making a website good, but I can sum it up simply in a single sentence:
A good website gives users the information they need as quickly and easily as possible.
That being said, we can get more specific. Here’s a short list of what makes a good website “good” — we’ll dig into each of these items in this post and explain what we mean.
A good website is:
- Mobile responsive
- Fast to load
- Filled with useful, valuable content that’s easy to scan and read
- Filled with calls to action that tell the user what to do next
- Designed beautifully while avoiding excessive visual distractions
- Designed simply (no fancy videos or effects that distract a user)
- Easy to navigate
- Filled with internal links that allow users to easily move from one piece of content to the next
- Built on a content management system that’s regularly updated and maintained (like WordPress or Drupal)
- Hosted on a quality host that prioritizes loading speed
This list flows entirely from the principle I listed earlier — that what makes a good website so good is its ability to give your users the information they want without throwing up roadblocks, and to do so quickly. Let’s talk about that a little bit before we dig into each item listed above.
What Makes a Good Website Good? Its Ability to Fulfill User Intent
Your website has one job — serve information to a user. If your user is coming from a search engine, they usually have a specific question they want an answer to. If they’re coming through some other method, they may have a different intention — to make a purchase, for example.
In all cases, a good website serves them the information then need when they ask for it. That’s the only real job of your website.
Now take this with a grain of salt — from your point of view, your website may have many different jobs.
For instance, you might want your website to:
- Sell products/services directly
- Attract large amounts of traffic and then send it to affiliates or advertisements
- Generate leads for products/services
- Inform the public and collect donations (common for non-profits)
Your users could give two figs about all that. They’re coming to your website for one thing, and one thing only — information.
Now that information could come in the form of a product or a service, and the only information they’re seeking is how to actually make a purchase. But that’s rare. In most cases, for most visitors to your website, people are there to get some sort of info.
A good website gives users the information they need as quickly and easily as possible
Maybe they want to learn more about your products or services.
Maybe they want to figure out how to contact you or how to apply for a position.
Maybe they want to learn more about some subject that you’ve written a blog post or an email about.
Maybe they just want to find out more about you and your company to see if you’re someone they want to do business with.
Whatever the case, anything that impedes their goals is going to make a website bad.
That list above? If you want to make a good website, you need to follow that list — if you want to make a crappy website that no one wants to visit, then do the opposite.
Let’s talk about the importance of each item on that list and really dig into the factors that make a good website good.
A Good Website Is Mobile Responsive
Google loves mobile, and if Google loves it, it’s generally because they think users love it.
And guess what? Users love to access websites on mobile devices.
In fact, mobile traffic recently overtook desktop traffic for websites worldwide. And Google (and all the other search engines) have begun mobile-first indexing, which essentially means the mobile version of your website is now more important than the desktop version.
If you have two versions of your website, the mobile version better be fully functional — if not, you’ll pay for it with lower rankings for your content.
But beyond that, if your website isn’t easy to use on mobile, if mobile is an afterthought, then your users (most of whom are likely accessing your website through their mobile devices) are going to struggle, and if they struggle, then your website isn’t going to perform well, because they’re not going to come back to your website (or even bother to navigate through it).
You’ll lose traffic and fail to build an audience if you annoy your users, and that’s no good.
A Good Website Loads Quickly
If your website takes 87 years to load, users are going to click away. Modern users have no tolerance for slow websites. If your website takes more than even a few seconds to load, they might simply click the back button and try another.
Get this as deep into your head as possible: Most people don’t give two figs about your website, no matter what it is you sell or what information you have — they will find another website if yours won’t load.
Websites that load slowly are no good at all.
A Good Website Has Awesome Content
Remember, people are coming to your website primarily for information — they generally don’t make a purchase until they get a lot of information about the product or service, and they often don’t even get to the point where they want to make a purchase before getting to know your business and what you offer.
People come to your website because you have something of value. Even if you already have an awesome product, people want to learn about it. Your website needs to have good, informative content that’s chock-full of value.
If someone comes to your website, will they find what they seek? Will they read or watch your content and be impressed, feel like their question that led them to your website was answered, and come back for more?
They will if the information on your website is high quality. That means it’s carefully researched, contains links to relevant sources, answers a number of questions thoroughly, covers the topic completely, and helps them figure out where to go next to learn more or take action based on the information they just consumed.
A Good Website Is Easy to Read and Scan
Content is great and all, but if you don’t have headings or subheadings, if there are no bullet points, if all someone sees is a huge wall of text, they’re probably not going to enjoy the experience of reading much.
Sometimes this can work (people expect a wall of text if they’re reading a short story, for example), but in the vast majority of cases, people are looking to find a single answer, or perhaps a few, and don’t want to read every word on every page.
“People want instant gratification and quick fixes.” This is the perennial truth of writing for the web: People are only going to read a portion of what you write. Modern users look at most pieces of content the same way they look at an instruction manual — they’re scanning to find a particular answer, and for many, that’s all they need.
Even those who dig deep are going to scan the bottom part of the article. People just don’t have time these days to read everything, but even when they do, bullet points and headings make the experience more palatable.
A Good Website Has Calls to Action
This is a simple one, but it can’t be ignore. If your website doesn’t specifically call users to action, which is to say, if each piece of content doesn’t specifically tell people what to do next, then users are going to:
- Leave your site because there’s no clear instruction on what to do next
- Leave your site because they’re unaware you have more awesome content for them
- Leave your site because they have other things to do and you didn’t give them a reason to stay
A call to action (CTA) should be on every page, on every piece of content. It should tell users what to do next. It might look something like this:
“Now that you’ve read this blog post about marketing, read our next post in the series about advertising.”
“To learn more about custom roofing solutions, download our comprehensive ebook on the subject.”
“To learn more about our line of minivans, click here.”
“See why so many customers prefer central air to other HVAC solutions — read the reviews now.”
These CTAs tell people where to go next to continue learning, and they also push people down the funnel toward making a purchase (in some cases) or toward another piece of content that you want them to read (thus increasing the chance they’ll become long-term readers).
More than that, CTAs communicate to your readers that there’s more value to be found — and they tell users specifically where to go to get that value. Each CTA above sends people somewhere so they can take some sort of action to get something of value — users appreciate being told what to do next.
A Good Website Is Beautiful
Let’s not forget design. A good website looks good. A good website is attractive without being crazy. A good website doesn’t have to be drop-dead gorgeous, but the more visually pleasing it is, the more people are going to be able to focus on what they’re really there for — the content.
People don’t trust ugly websites. We can debate what the word “ugly” means until the cows come home, but you know it when you see it. That’s why hiring a professional to design your website is generally a good idea.
An ugly website is going to keep people from consuming your content or looking at your products — they’re going to think you’re a scammer, and that is the last thing you want.
A Good Website Is Simple
Beautiful design is important, but a good website doesn’t go crazy with it. It’s one thing to have a few graphics on your website — it’s another to fill it with flashing images, videos, and fancy transitions that ultimately only serve to slow down the site and detract from the user’s experience.
The same can be said for the content itself. If you have a ton of content, its organization needs to be simple and straightforward. If users struggle to figure out how to get from one piece of content to the next, you’re gonna have a bad time.
A Good Website Is Easy to Navigate
Can your users easily figure out how to find the information they need? A good website is going to have a clear navigational structure. All menu items and sub-items are going to be logically organized, and nothing is going to be hidden.
It’s often the case that low-quality websites have hidden pages that don’t appear in a menu, or have a secondary menu that’s hard to find. Another navigational problem shows up when sub-items aren’t logically grouped with the main menu item you would expect.
For example, if my website has a menu like this:
- Commercial Roofing
- Residential Roofing
- About Us
Where would you expect to find the sub-item “School and Non-Profit Roofing”?
It wouldn’t make much sense under the residential side of things, but it would make a lot more sense under commercial roofing. Depending on how many users come to the website looking for this information, it might make the most sense to put it at the top level of the menu.
It definitely wouldn’t get found much if it appeared under the About Us item.
A Good Website Has a Logical Internal Link Structure
Any good website is going to have a clear internal link structure. What that means is that you’ve spent time considering all your content, thinking about what the most important pieces are, and then you’ve decided how those pieces will link together.
Internal links are simply links on your website that point to other pages on your website. If you have a series of articles, and one of those articles is more important than the others (or is more popular, or is one you’d like to rank higher), then pointing other articles you’ve written to it (by linking to that article) helps search engines understand the importance of that content.
It also makes your users happy — those links help your users get to the next piece of information they need.
A Good Website Is Built on a CMS (Content Management System)
A good website isn’t going to be hand-coded — it’s going to be built on a content management system (CMS).
The reason is simple: What constitutes best practices for websites changes over time, content changes over time, ownership and management of a website changes over time, and a hand-coded website is extremely expensive to change and update over time.
When you build on a commonly used CMS (like WordPress), the first thing you’re doing is expanding the number of people who can understand how to use your website and upload content (critical if you run a business and may not always have the same employee in charge of your website).
The second thing you’re doing is ensuring your website can be easily updated over time. CMSs are continually updated, which means the tools for easily updating your website are baked into the system that supports it. For example, when search engines began favoring mobile-responsive websites over desktop versions, many new WordPress themes were created to fill that need.
People with old WordPress websites had little trouble updating to a new, responsive theme. People with hand-coded websites had to essentially have someone build them a new website from scratch — something most businesses can’t afford.
CMSs also have plug-and-play functionality, meaning you can easily download a plugin to add functionality that your website previously lacked. Suppose your website didn’t have a store set up on it — no way to sell products. Now suppose you decide you need one after a few years.
With a CMS like WordPress, you can download a few plugins, play with the settings, and suddenly you have a store. A website developer can do it for you too, and it won’t be prohibitively expensive because all the tools already exist to make it happen.
If you have to pay someone to build a custom store experience for your website, you better have some deep pockets.
Ultimately, this improves the experience of your user as your website is able to evolve over time and always keep up to date with the latest search engine requirements and web trends.
A Good Website Is Hosted on a Quality Host
The importance of good hosting goes back to the first item on the list — page load speed. You can only control a portion of the speed of your website — ultimately, your host affects a great deal of how quickly your website loads.
A good host is also going to help you if your website gets hacked. Every minute your website is down because of a hack is a minute that your users can’t access it.
Remember, every second of load time counts. Make sure you have an awesome host that loads your site quickly.
What Makes a Website Good for You?
All of the above makes a website good for your readers, but that doesn’t mean it’s doing what you need it to do.
At its heart, your website is an investment — you deserve (and need) a return. Otherwise, why bother? Unless you’re a very nice person who loves putting free info out into the world (while paying for it), your website should strike a balance between making life easy for your users and making you some money.
Think of your website like an employee — if they’re sitting around and doing nothing, it’s either time to replace them or time to give them some meaningful work!
Every employee is there for a reason—every employee has a job. You don’t just hire a salesperson and have them sit around doing nothing because “every business should have a salesperson.”
That would be crazy. And it’s just as crazy to have your website sitting around doing nothing because “every business should have a website.” It needs a role in your business.
Whatever that role happens to be, whether it’s to generate leads, sell products, or just generate traffic, if your website isn’t doing what you want it to do, then it’s not a good website for you…
And it doesn’t matter if it’s a good website for other people if it’s not doing anything for you.
So while you’re thinking about your website and what you can do to improve the user experience, spend just as much time (if not more) thinking about how you can make your website good for you, the person spending all this time and money on the website itself.
Watch This Video to Learn More About What Makes a Good Website Good
In this video, we review a single website in-depth, searching for what makes it good, what makes it not so good, and how the website can be improved. Watch it now.
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