After you visit a site and find yourself staying awhile, what makes you stay? A sense of humour helps. Flashy graphics are nice. But the fundamental traits that make a site work are more elusive.
Here are 5 characteristics that can help you tell the difference between a great web site and one that misses the mark.
The visual appeal of a site is important. A high scoring web site will contain clever ideas and a smart design that clearly states it’s message. Design elements include space, colour, graphics and layout which are consistent through out the web site. Creative imagery and correct use of fonts can help enhance the users experience. We discuss the issue of fonts in our article ‘Small Text Syndrome‘. Elements should not cause the page to be slow to load. Often large images or elaborate flash animations will turn users away.
Original and regularly updated content is the most important trait of a great web site.
A website will rate poorly or not reach your business goals if the content lacks substance, is useless or excessive. A effective content manager will understand the information must be relevant to the target audience and well written. Elements of content include products and/or services information, links, tools, audio, video and animation. For a more detailed guide read the article ‘8 points to better web page content’.
Features and Functions
A well built web site contains page code, forms and links that work together and seemlessly. Developers can use a variety of technology to create web sites. Good technology does not have to be costly. Many open source applications can match the features and functionality of their proprietary counterparts. Some of the features include quick loading content and smooth e-commerce transactions.
Features that rule over function will rate poorly with users because it detracts from the user experience. Look for smart features such as feedback tools, icons for common details such as phone numbers, e-newsletters with useful information, calculators, frequently asked questions or discussion forums.
Another important trait a great Web site has is interactivity. Good interactivity engages the user and makes a site memorable.
Users equate poor organisation with poor site design. Well planned sites ensure that information is appropriately organised. This requires balancing the number of levels with page length to minimise scrolling and display time. Sun Microsystems found in their extensive usability study of their home page that users don’t want to scroll.
An element of a well organised site is providing multiple ways of easy navigation. A great web site will incorporate both text and graphics for buttons. Users feel more comfortable if the look and feel is consistently maintained throughout the site. Ask the following questions;
- Is it easy to find key information?
- Does the site help me accomplish intended tasks?
- Are links clearly defined?
- Is the content cluttered?
- Does the site flow smoothly?
- Can I find my way back to the homepage without using the back button?
Standards Compliance and Cross-Browser Compatibility
For most web users, the stuff behind the scenes that makes the web site work is hidden and not easy to understand. This part is often entrusted into the hands of the web site developer.
A great web site should work equally well in the major browsers; Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. Good web site developers use valid code and check that it complies with markup standards. Proper code helps ensure the usability, accessibility with today’s variety of web accessible technologies, such as mobile and handhelds. The easiest way to check a site is by using the W3C Markup Validation Service. A site that is correctly coded is likely to be indexed appropriately by search engines, such as Google.
If the site complies to the standards this ensures the site is usable, the effort has been enforced by attention to detail and Quality Workmanship. This is a true testiment to the professionalism of a web site developer.