Three keys to a great website?

A few weeks back I interviewed for a possible new contract. It wasn’t a bad interview, but we didn’t really click, and I didn’t get the offer. But one of the questions I was asked – and it was clearly the interviewer’s ‘killer question’ – was this: what are the three key qualities to a good website? Er, not one I had a stock answer for.

I’m actually quite pleased about the answer I gave ‘off the cuff’; even if I’d had time to prepare, I don’t think I’d have answered it differently. But I’m interested to hear if anyone’s got any better ideas?

Standards, formal and informal. I hope I don’t have to make a case for the use of formal standards: it’s good citizenship, and it should pay dividends in the long run. But informal standards matter just as much. There’s a reason why most websites have a logo in the top left corner, and a search box in the top right: because we (virtually) all do. Visitors will simply refuse to spend time learning your innovative new metaphor for navigation, and will go elsewhere. Make it easy for them, by making them feel comfortable.

Plain speaking. Yes, ‘plain English’, avoiding tech jargon and all that – but I think there’s more to it. Most people spend most of their online time dealing with friends and family (even at work?). Email, instant messaging, blogs, whatever. They are used to a certain tone of communication when they sit down in front of keyboard and monitor: casual, informal, chatty. I’m not saying that FTSE100 companies should have a homepage saying ‘hiya mate, how ya’ doin?’ But if you’re looking for one-to-one engagement, and most of us are, then you need to adopt that informal tone. Lose the pompous authority, lose the vague marketing-speak.

Know your statistics. It never ceases to amaze me how little attention people pay to their usage data.  In there, you will find everything you need to know about your user base. What do they like? What don’t they like? What did they want, and did you supply it? Cost just isn’t an excuse: your website is churning this stuff out free of charge, and a powerful analysis tool like Google Analytics is also free. Any decent web manager should be able to recite details of his/her traffic levels and trends without even hesitating. And then doing something about them.

If anyone agrees or disagrees, or has any better suggestions, that’s what the comments box is there for. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Three keys to a great website?”

  1. Simon,
    Good points, as usual! Sorry to hear you missed on the contract.
    I’d probably replace plain speaking with something like know your users, which is kind of implicit in what you’re saying anyway.
    As you’ll know, many websites are more concerned with listing services or describing the internal structure of a company, than with showing that they (1) know why the user has come to the site and (2) will give what they want with the minimum of effort
    Sometimes plain speaking is the answer, sometimes full-on technical jargon is better – it all depends. Many websites have different types of users, who want to do different things: not many deal well with the variation. FWIW, I saw a presentation by Inquira a while ago that showed an interesting approach to this issue
    Google Analytics is great, though I’m kind of scared how much data they’re collecting… the number of websites with __utma and __utmz cookies is impressive (or frightening)
    Just my 2p…

  2. No sympathy required. I’ve just started on something dramatically more interesting… which I’m sure I’ll mention at some point. 😉

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