10 Prescribed Features for Exceptional Websites
Do you have an anemic website that's not doing its job in helping you engage your audience? Here are ten features we prescribe help you make sure users will get the most out of your site so you can keep a healthy relationship with them:
1) Content-centric layout and graphics
It's all about the content, right? Don't let the trappings of your website get in the way of users getting your message or finding your products. There's nothing worse than a jumbled, cluttered web page. Just like a good efficient work space, you need to keep your web pages clean and organized so things are easy to find. And if you go heavy on the "bling factor" you could end up distracting from what really matters: the content. There's a reason why web and print are trending towards minimalist design.
2) Responsive design
More and more people every day are using their smart phones and tablets to browse the web. Responsive web design is a modern formatting practice which automatically adjusts the content layout for various screen sizes. Does your website show horizontal scroll bars when you shrink the browser window down? Then you need to consider your mobile users and switch to a responsive website setup.
3) Clear and easy navigation
One of the first things that turns me off when browsing a new website is when I can't easily find the information I'm looking for. Having a well thought-out navigation menu is critical, especially if your content is split up among multiple pages. I employ an outline method to plan out the hierarchy, organization and flow of all the site's pages. Use some common sense and put yourself in the user's shoes to come up with what is best for your readers.
4) Effective search
One simple tool that helps users find information is easily is the search field. Make sure to include it on most if not all pages, and for goodness sake please verify that the appropriate content shows up when you perform keyword searches.
5) Tag cloud
All good blogging platforms include a tagging function, so don't forget to tag your posts! Choose two or three keywords for each post, and again put yourself in the shoes of your audience. What words would they be looking for to describe this post.
Once your posts are tagged, don't forget to add a tag cloud to your blog's sidebar so users can see your list of tags. When they click on a tag it will show all posts that you assigned to that keyword.
Also, don't over-do it with the total number of tags and make sure you choose consistent spellings so you don't have separate tags for both "blogs" and "blogging". Just like the rest of your site, your tag cloud should be clean and concise so it's easy for users to find the keywords they are interested in.
6) Compelling visuals
Images - whether static or moving and accompanied by sound - are by far the most effective way to get users' attention. It's also the best way to make a point. And words paired with images get you amazing engagement both on your website and especially on social media. And of course, the images you use on social media should be pointing back to their source - your website.
So whether you create your own original visual content (like we do), or use a service like Shutterstock.com, make sure you include images with every blog post and use images strategically in your social media campaigns (*cough* Pinterest). And please try not to just use visuals that just appeal to you. Think of who you are trying to connect with!
To me one of the most powerful visual components of one's website is the typeface. Modern web browsers can handle a virtual cornucopia of font styles and typefaces, thanks largely in part to services like Google Fonts and Typeface. Since the lion's share of typical website content is text, choose a cool yet non-distracting typeface to display your words.
7) Social and sharing links
Icons that link to all of your social media accounts should be prominent on every page. And give users an easy way to share your blog posts with their friends on their own social media accounts. All WordPress users should use the Jetpack plugin for exactly this function if nothing else.
8) Contact information
People need to get a hold of you. Give them an easy way to do so without having to leave your website by using a contact form, instead of just providing an email address. And don't forget to use tools like CAPTCHA to prevent spammers from harvesting your personal information.
Providing a phone number can be helpful as well. If you don't want to post your cell phone number on your website, set up a free Google Voice number, forward it to your cell phone, and post that number on your contact page. There are great iPhone and Android apps that allow you to check voicemail and even make phone calls using your Google Voice number.
9) Email list signup
One of the best ways to connect with your audience continues to be regularly sending out email newsletters. There are many services which make this easy and also help you create visually compelling emails to send out. We like MailChimp because of its price point, features and its elegantly easy user interface. You can see in our sidebar there is a signup form which we placed by copying and pasting some code that MailChimp provides for us. If you haven't already subscribed, try it out and see how it works.
10) User comments
Are you engaging your audience in a two-way conversation, or are you just spewing content at them? It makes sense that people will be more engaged if they can respond. Having a comments section on your blog posts is the best way to do this on your website. And don't forget to respond to their comments to keep the conversation going!
If you're not sure your website is using these features, or if you're not sure how to make sure your site has them, we can help! We offer consulting sessions where we can help identify where your website can be improved and offer suggestions on how to do it. Please contact us if you'd like to find out more.
How many of these features does your website include? Do you have any other features that you can't live without on your website? Please let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook.
Photo by Marcus dePaula