Requirements for a useful website

Everyone these days can put up a website.  My mom, the lady that never wanted to touch a computer when I was growing up, has a blog.  But what makes you, the user, want to use a website?

These are the 4 main areas the create a website that people will want to use:

  • Content
  • Ease of Access
  • Speed
  • Style

The above would be my preferred order of priority.  But in reality, all 4 aspects must be there for a well developed website.

Content

This one should be obvious: you should have information here that people care about.  However, less obvious is understanding who it is you’re targeting and what message you’re trying to deliver.  If you’re creating a website to host cute cat videos, don’t also put information about cat food.  Yes, cats are related, but you’re confusing your message.  If on the other hand you’re creating a comprehensive website about the care and love of cats, then perhaps you’ll have cute cat videos, cat food, cat grooming information, etc.  The point here is to understand your message and your audience and focus.

Ease of Access

Your readers also need to know how to get at the information you’re trying to deliver.  I know you’ve spent many painstaking hours crafting a beautiful website.  But for the most part people want to get at the information they’re looking for and move on to other things.  Why are blog software such as WordPress so popular?  One reason is because they organize information in a way that’s most convenient to people.  For your regular readers, the most important messages are on the front page.  If you’re looking for something specific, you have categories and search fields.

Some people make the mistake of using their content as leverage (perhaps unintentionally).  In other words, they believe that the information they hold is so important that users will wade through and discover all the beautiful work they’ve done in search of this precious information.  The truth is there are very few websites that are popular enough to command that sort of audience.

If you make it difficult for people to find the information they’re looking for, they’ll simply look somewhere else.

Speed

This one’s a difficult concept to grasp.  Your website must be responsive.  It’s not that a sluggish website will immediately turn away readers, but it is something that will deter them.

It’s interesting here to note that Google and Facebook, arguably two of the worlds most popular websites load their front pages in under 0.1 second on my Internet connection.  I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I know Google has had some restrictions to ensure that their main page always loads in under some fraction of a second even under a 9600 baud modem connection.  I don’t know if they’ve relaxed this requirement much over the years, but pay attention next time you go to Google how much time you spend waiting.  You’ve probably never thought about it.  Because, quite simply, you’re never left waiting.

Style

Okay, all the above is great, you say, but what a boring website that will be without any pictures or videos!  And that’s true.  Part of what makes a website enjoyable is indeed the style it has in the delivery of its message.

But you must think of a website like a magazine.  The style and artwork used should match the content in some artistic way, but without making it overly confusing.  Going back to the example of the cat-lovers website.  You’d probably want a layout that’s more artistic, cute, and possibly warm colors.  You wouldn’t choose a Wallstreet layout with such a website.

However, you still want to make sure people get a good first impression of your website.  The main page of your website is very similar to the front cover of a magazine.  But with a new medium and new technology, comes new challenges.  Imagine you’re standing at a magazine rack with 100’s of magazines.  All you see are the front covers and you sweep through and decide which one you want to pick up and inspect further.  Now imagine half those front covers are blank.

Those blank ones are the ones that’re still loading.  Maybe they’ll appear in a minute.  But honestly, are you going to stand there for 60 whole seconds waiting for them to show you their cover?  Or are you just going to go on to the next one that catches your eye?

So yes, the main page of your website is hugely important in catching the eye of your audience, so you want to make sure the style and message you deliver is eye-catching to your target audience.  But because of this new medium, you have an element of time that must not be forgotten.

Final Thoughts

Okay, this wasn’t an in-depth article about web design.  But I think I’ve pointed you in the right direction and provided some good metaphors and anecdotes in understanding what it takes to make a good website.  Now go forth and disseminate your knowledge easily, speedily, and with style.

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