Critical features of a Website. Pic by Michael

10 Critical Features of a Good Website

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What features makes a website good can be a really subjective thing. What works for one might be complete poison for another.

Regardless, there are certain general traits that the vast majority of websites require in order to be efficient, hassle free and good at what they do. These features can be aspects of the site that make the administrator/owner's life easy, or they can be functional design features that make life easy for users.

If you haven't yet created a website, I recommend that you start with our comprehensive beginner guide to creating a website that goes into plenty of depth on topics such as which website builders to use, how to research domains, as well as design considerations and best practices.

Either way, if you haven't got great features... get them!

Improve your Website

Quick, cheap & easy ways to make your website better right now.

Top 10 Website Features

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is very important, but not mentioned in this list because it is more than a feature of a website - it's part of content creation and marketing too.

If you want to dominate Google search rankings you'll need to learn everything you can about SEO, from start to finish.

Here are the top ten features for a great website...

1. Intuitive

Regardless of what your site does, it should make it abundantly clear what a visitor can expect, and meet those expectations precisely. This can be harder to achieve than you think - generally because you understand what your website is about so it seems obvious to you. Not so for a complete stranger.

One of the best ways to construct an intuitive site is to think about who your users are and what they want. Knowing who is visiting your site (and their intent) means you are able to build elegant sales funnels that help them convert easily and maximize your own profits.

Check out,

2. Easy to Use

The Internet has brought a far more stringent meaning to the phrase fool proof. With so many people of differing abilities, comprehension and willingness to learn you have to make sure that your offering is as simple as possible.

For example, if there's a five step process to achieve something on your site, work hard to see if you can cut this number down. Internet users have notoriously short attention span, and even less patience for slow, complicated tasks. This is especially important for eCommerce sites as cart abandonment is a serious issue and is often the result of complicated checkout procedures.

Check out this list of the best eCommerce Web design to see how they have simplified things.

3. Flexible

A website is perpetually a work in progress. It must adapt to changing demands and perceptions and leverage new technologies in order to remain secure and competitive.

In order to keep up it should be easy for you, the webmaster/owner, to implement changes as you see fit. This could be anything from adding new features to modifying or removing existing ones. This means your Web platform need to have a vibrant and active development community behind it so that updates and development happen constantly.

A flexible website must be easy to extend and easy to update.

Ideally, you want updates to happen without any intervention from you. CMS systems do have active, ongoing development but this often leads to difficult situations when there are major updates. A good example comes from Drupal 6, which offered no responsive Web design (something that is on our list of important features). Webmasters making use of Drupal 6 had no option but to upgrade to the new version, Drupal 7, but this was extremely difficult because there were significant under the hood changes to the platform that lead to a difficult, complex migration.

Check out how the popularity of online website builders has grown, while popular CMs systems have declined. One of the reasons is because online website builders require almost no technical, manual maintenance making it easy for small business owners to operate cutting edge websites.

4. Useful (& Unique)

Well duh!

Of course, websites need to be useful in the sense that they should provide value to visitors. If people want to have a laugh, your content should be funny. If people want to learn something, your content should be accurate and informative. If people want to accomplish something, your site should make it easy for them (including selling products they need).

The trick to being truly useful is to align your conversions with the users' intent. When this happens users get exactly what they want, and so do you. If you can do that with a site that is different from the thousands of others out there, you're going to make a lot of money.

5. Integrated

I don't think it's entirely necessary to plaster your entire site with Twitter, Facebook, buzz, RSS, LinkedIn, blah blah all tightly woven into the fabric of your site. But I do think a website should be designed in such a way that when you choose to put in an RSS feed, or send postings to Twitter, it can be accomplished quickly and easily.

There are more and more integrations that offer streamlined, elegant solutions to common website requirements. Here's a quick list of some of the more popular ones you should consider:

  • Email lists & forms with AWeber
  • Comments and moderation with Disqus
  • Social sharing with AddThis

6. Geared

If your website is a blog, you should be able to add posts in a snap - most likely using a WYSIWYG editor with good image handling support. If you are running a social network of some sort, your site should make managing users a cinch with both broad based and fine grained control over them.

Don't waste time with a generic fit if you need a website geared for a specific role. Choose a platform that is geared to both users and to you, the webmaster. Check out this full comparison review of all of the leading website builders along with insights into which type of website they are best suited.

7. Media Support

Images, audio, flash, video and who knows what other types of media are becoming more and more important. Not that long ago a blog was straight forward text; now, it's not uncommon to have blog posts accompanied by videos or slideshow presentations.

Your website needs to keep with the times effortlessly. For example, YouTube videos aren't responsive - meaning they will break the layout on any responsive website (that resizes to match the dimensions of the device it is being viewed on) - so it's important to wrap them in a bit of HTML to make them responsive.

8. High Performance

You should be able to exert fairly tight control over the performance of your website. You should have a good cache regime in place, information and files should be compressed and aggregated in order to be as efficient as possible and save your server from unnecessary bandwidth and load.

Remember, the faster you can serve pages the better. Oh, and Google uses load times in their PageRank algorithm.

On average, you can expect about 1% loss in revenue for every 0.1 seconds a customer has to wait for pages to load.

It's worth checking out our Web hosting analysis that highlights a range of leading VPS, dedicated and cloud hosting plans that offer great performance, speed and technical support.

9. Powerful Administration

This is arguably the most important aspect because it dictates how well you can stay on top of the various administrative tasks associated with operating a website.

User management, content management, menus, themes, SEO, email and so on, should all be directly under your control (or the appropriate employee) and intuitive and easy to work with. If you find you're spending more time trying to develop features and functionality needed to operate smoothly, it's time to look around for an upgrade.

10. Traffic

"Yes", he says in a mysterious voice, "websites should have traffic". This is the hardest part to pull off - without doubt. But, if you have the previous nine points in the bag, at least you can focus on this little nugget safe in the knowledge that if, as and when the traffic comes, you will be well prepared.

Getting loads of high quality Web traffic that converts well and allows you to make money is the ultimate goal. But it requires a different set of skills and features than the ones listed here.

If your website is properly designed you'll be able to spend most, if not all, your time growing traffic volumes - as opposed to struggling with technical website issues. Growing traffic comes down to a combination of creating great content and building a strong network of relationships with valuable influencers.

What features are missing from this list? Share your most important Web design features in the comments.

Bonus Features

It's been a while since I first wrote this list and there are new technologies and requirements that have appeared on the scene since. Here's a bonus list to help keep you aiming at not online a "good website", but a great one that harnesses cutting-edge tech to deliver a world class performance.

Sound good?

Secure

With hackers creating global scale security issues for websites on a semi-regular basis it is becoming more and more important to stick to security best practices to reduce the likelihood of falling prey to ransom-ware, spyware, malware, viruses, trojans, DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, and a host of other threats.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Remove unused features. Anything not needed should be removed. If you don't use FTP, don't have it.
  • Never use default passwords. Some hacks exploit the fact that webmasters use default passwords for everything. If they can find an unprotected FTP password, why not try it for the root user too?
  • Always use HTTPS for access. SSL encrypts usernames and passwords making it hard for hackers to intercept clear text passwords.
  • Keep software updated. Many Web platforms regularly provide security updates to plug known vulnerabilities.
    Without these updates, your site may be left open to automated hacks.

Most of all. Use common sense, and be security conscious in everything you do. Admittedly, it's not possible to avoid being attacked. If a hack is successful it is useful to be able to detect it quickly in order to take action and limit damage. If you're serious about keeping your Web server secure then it's important to make use of professional security software.

Responsive Web Design

The Internet is in the process of changing from a PC technology to a mobile one. More people access the Web from smartphones and tablets than desktop computers. And, this trend is accelerating all the time.

Against this backdrop, there is little point in building websites the traditional way. In fact, a modern website tends to use mobile first design - i.e. one that thinks of the mobile user experience before any other.

So what does a responsive design look like?

Here's what SME Pals looks like on a PC:

SME Pals article on a PC
and here's what it looks like on a tablet:

SME Pals article on a tablet

and on a smartphone:

SME Pals article on a smartphone

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