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.

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  • WordPress is the most popular blogging platform in the world
  • WordPress

    WordPress powers approximately one third of all websites on the Internet.

    It's free, quick & easy to use. Popular with both small and large blog sites because of the short learning curve and huge range of services - from domains to responsive templates.

    Create a beautiful new website in seconds. No experience needed.

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

I've tried not to focus on redundant things like, say, a domain name. However, where I have listed things that might seem obvious I've also tried to explain specific nuances or differences that might give you an edge when designing a new website or upgrading an existing one.

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.

Website Feature: Sales Funnel

Learn how to make your own high converting sales funnels right now.

  • Sales funnel for a blog post
    Chart by AdEspresso
  • Help visitors quickly achieve their objectives while driving conversions.

    Understand how sales funnels can help drive conversions and increase earnings.

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I have seen this work first hand on a company I worked on a few years ago, where a relatively quick and easy change had a profound impact.

More intuitive Web design that accounted for "user intent" improved conversions by 200%.

Remember that not every visitor will have precisely the same intent when they land on a given page so your design needs to cater for a range of needs. People who know what they want and are ready to convert (i.e. buy a product, sign up to your service, subscribe, etc) should be able to do so, whereas people who want to learn a bit more before taking action should also be able to find information that helps them take another step towards converting.

2. Optimized for Search

There are plenty of different ways to drive traffic to your website - like social media marketing, influencer marketing, email marketing, and so on. However, organic search traffic remains arguably the single most important source of high value traffic.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a really broad topic that encompasses things like Web design and server performance all the way through to blogging, content, keywords and competitor analysis.

If you haven't yet created a site, I strongly recommend using a leading website builder to ensure great SEO features come baked into your website. If you already have a website you can learn everything you need to know about what keywords and phrases your site is ranking for and how it competes with similar sites in Google for free right now using SEMRush (although you will need to pay a bit in order to get the most value from the service).

Website Feature: SEO

Research your SEO & compare this to competing websites to learn how to capture more Google search traffic.

  • Analyze competitors' backlinks and SEO using SEMRush
  • Analyze your website using SEMRush for better SEO.

    Understand your niche to make better marketing decisions, capture higher page rankings in Google, make valuable new connections and boost your earnings quickly.

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You are able to use SEMRush for free by signing up. However, the free plan is limited to 10 requests per day - thereafter a paid plan is required.

Use search analytics data to help guide your content creation, capture more valuable keywords and, ultimately, make more money.

3. 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 spans 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.

4. 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.

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

Website Feature: Email

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    Quickly and easily create attractive, responsive signup-forms and popups and dazzle subscribers with beautiful emails designed using drag-n-drop templates.

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 comparison of the leading website builders along with insights into which type of website they are best suited.

7. Media Support

Images, audio & 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 and use CSS to make them responsive.

Here's an example of a YouTube video that has been made responsive by wrapping it in a div with classname video-container (hint: change the width of your browser to see the video shrink and expand to fit the screen):

Here's the video-container CSS class you can use to achieve this effect on your own site:

.video-container {
    position: relative;
    padding-bottom: 56.25%;
    padding-top: 30px;
    height: 0;
    overflow: hidden;
}

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.

You can quickly check your site's performance using Google's Pagespeed Insights. Here's SME Pals' score:

PageSpeed Insights score of 95 out of 100 on Mobile

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. Quality Content

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 your content generates traffic your site will perform.

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.

Website Feature: Content

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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?

Good Security

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

While most decent Web platforms offer responsive design, not all do. It's important to check for responsive design features when considering which one to build a site with.

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For small and home business startups, or traditional businesses without solid Web design skills and experience, a good website builder is the natural choice to create a professional website quickly, and cheaply.

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It's the fastest growing hosted shopping cart solution that is dominating the market due to it's elegant user interface, simplicity, power and speed.

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Five great ways to make your site better

There are a few main reasons why every Webmaster should be constantly on the lookout for ways to improve or upgrade their websites.

For a start, Google takes Web page layout and design seriously because they know it impacts the quality of the user experience. They'll even take steps to penalize sites they think are poorly designed.

The design of your website also determines how well it converts. A conversion might be a sale on an eCommerce site, or a newsletter signup on a blog.

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BigCommerce shopping cart software

Hosted shopping carts, like BigCommerce, offer a quick and affordable way to build an eCommerce site without requiring any technical or Web design skills.

BigCommerce provides cutting edge Web design with great SEO (Search Engine Optimization), mobile support and plenty of integration with 3rd party platforms (like eBay) to help drive sales.

In addition, BigCommerce has already handled over one billion dollars in eCommerce transactions so you can be sure of a safe and reliable platform on which to build your business.

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