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Critical features of a Website. Pic by Michael

10 Critical Features of a Good Website

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

Top website builders

Shopify overtook WordPress as the most searched website builder platform in 2020.
Shopify overtook WordPress as the most searched website builder in 2020, with over 1 000 000 brand searches per month.

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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Top Website Features

Click on any section to skip directly to it for insights, tips, tools and resources to help give your website the features it needs to succeed.

  • 1. Intuitive - effortlessly deliver what users need.
  • 2. Optimized - SEO can play a crucial role in your success.
  • 3. Easy to Use - find ways to improve the user experience with new tech.
  • 4. Flexible - adapt, upgrade and maintain with minimal effort.
  • 5. Integrated - modern sites need a range of integrations, from email to commenting, and more.
  • 6. Geared - ensure your website design is perfectly aligned to your business requirements.
  • 7. Media Support - attract customers across all types of media.
  • 8. High Performance - expect about 1% loss in revenue for every 0.1 seconds your pages take to load.
  • 9. Scalable - what works today may not work tomorrow.
  • 10. Quality Content - great content underpins virtually every cent you'll earn.
  • 11. Bonus Features - don't forget about security and responsive design.

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.

    Quickly learn how to implement effective sales funnels for a diverse range of conversions, from email sign-ups to eCommerce purchases.

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.

Consider Using Chatbots to Assist Users

Every time a user is faced with options, or needs to make a decision, there is a risk of losing them. The faster you can help them achieve their objectives, the more likely you are to increase conversions. Chatbots are a cost-effective way to overcome decision bottlenecks.

Live Chat Software

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.

    Don't waste time guessing what it takes to win valuable search keywords. Work out who is winning. Find out who links to them. Build your own backlinks.

    Try it out. Research your site right now.

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.

Consider Using Chatbots to Improve User Experience

For any type of website that is client facing - in other words, must interact smoothly with clients and potential customers alike - it is a good idea to explore a chatbot. Chatbots allow you to set up smooth interactions that help solve visitors' queries by directing them where they need to go (using AI powered chat).

Live Chat Software

In a world where email support and response is slow and clunky, a chatbot can drastically improve conversions and customer retention by making your site, and important resources, quick and easy to access and understand. This is saves on labor costs and improves efficiency in your business as a whole.

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.

Consider Using a Complete Framework for WordPress

Over half a million WordPress website are powered by the Genesis framework.

Genesis combines knowledge in SEO, design, performance, security, support, and WordPress to help you build reliable, beautiful WordPress sites.

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

Grow your own email list and secure a reliable source of passive income that doesn't depend on Google.

  • Start and grow an email list using AWeber
  • Get everything you need to grow an email list with AWeber (free for 30 days).

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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. This is harder than it sounds because most platforms try to offer a wide range of features to appeal to a larger audience.

Consider Shopify for eCommerce

Shopify powers over 1 million eCommerce businesses worldwide.

Shopify Pricing

Shopify offers a 14 day free trial and a range of cost-effective paid plans based on your requirements.

Start an online store for free with Shopify

  • Basic Shopify

    All the basics for starting a new online boutique

    $29/month

    • Unlimited Products
    • Up to 64% Shipping Discount
  • Shopify

    Everything you need for a growing business

    $79/month

    • Unlimited Products
    • Up to 72% Shipping Discount
  • Advanced Shopify

    Advanced features for scaling your business

    $299/month

    • Unlimited Products
    • Up to 74% Shipping Discount
  • ShopifyPlus+

    Enterprise-grade solutions for high volume merchants

    Custom

Save up to 10% when you pay annually or 20% discount when you pay biennially.

Consider WordPress for Blogs

WordPress accounts for slightly over one third of all websites on the Internet.

WordPress Pricing

WordPress has a completely free Web hosting plan and a range of cost-effective paid plans to suit your blogging needs.

WordPress is the most popular blogging platform

  • Personal

    Best for Personal Use

    $4/month

    Add some personality to your website with a custom domain and access to 24/7 support.

  • Premium

    Best for Freelancers

    $8/month

    Build a unique site with advanced design tools, custom CSS, and Google Analytics support.

  • Business

    Best for Small Business

    $25/month

    Power your business with custom plugins & themes, 200 GB storage, and live support.

  • Commerce

    Best for Online Stores

    $45/month

    Open your online store with a powerful, flexible platform designed to grow with you.

WordPress offers refunds on all plan purchases and renewals (for example, Personal, Premium, Business, Ecommerce) within 30 days of payments. Similarly, you can get a refund on domain registrations and renewals within 96 hours from purchase.

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;
}

Grow Faster on YouTube

If you are planning to use YouTube as a channel to market your business or drive traffic, it makes sense to be able to do this as quickly and efficiently as possible using software designed specifically for this purpose. It's worth checking out TubeBuddy.
TubeBuddy YouTube videos
Get your video content out faster, with better quality, to a larger audience and benefit from significantly faster growth.

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.

Consider Using WP Engine for Faster WordPress Hosting

WordPress users experience an average decrease in page load times of approximately 38% after moving to WP Engine.

9. Scalable

Starting a website is one thing. Usually, it's pretty easy. There are plenty of Web hosting services that offer enough server resources (i.e. disk space, bandwidth, email, databases, etc) to get up and running relatively quickly.

The last thing you actually need is to start succeeding and find out your entire Web platform can't handle the growing demands of ever higher traffic volumes and more and more customers. Failing at the point where your business is about to launch into profitability is the last thing anyone needs, after the stress of building a startup from scratch.

A good website must be scalable. It must be able to grow to meet any demand. That means a quality server platform. Free or cheap, shared hosting is simply not going to cut it.

Consider Using Managed Hosting

Managed hosting for WordPress (and other CMS systems) provided a range of server-side features that work behind-the-scenes to ensure your site is always up and running and ready to handle anything that's thrown at it.

Kinsta secure, managed WordPress hosting

Look for hosting services that offer protection against DDOS attacks (don't think it won't happen to you), quality support (one of those things you wonder why you need... until you really need it), threat detection and blocking, disaster recovery, data redundancym and a whole load of features you may not even know existed.

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

Turn your content into an irresistible traffic magnet that drives engagement & revenue on a grand scale.

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Quality content is notoriously difficult and expensive to get right. Either you have to develop the skills in-house, or you've got to find cost-effective, good quality writers to do it for you. It's a non-negotiable for online businesses.

Consider Using Grammarly to Improve Content Quality

Grammarly has over 20 million active users improving their content on a daily basis.

Grammarly

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.

Secure your website with Sucuri

Sucuri offers a 24/7/365 globally distributed security team to keep your website safe.

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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Managing 404 server error response pages

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