There are a lot of details to consider when designing and developing a web site. In reality, it can seem like an endless list – but if you look carefully you’ll see that there are certain elements that are more important than others, elements that are used consistently among the most successful sites.
With that in mind, here are the 15 elements that should always be included on any top web site.
- Good Visual Design – A clean, simple design is all you really need. You can add bells and whistles but more is not always good. First impressions are key and while. While a good design alone will not keep someone on your site perhaps an eye-catching design will grab their attention long enough to take a look around.
- Thoughtful User Interface – The user interface is the foundation of any good functional web site. Your navigation should be easy to spot and consistent throughout the entire web site. How many times have you visited a site and left because the user interface was impossible to figure out?
- Primary Navigation Above The Fold – Part of having an easy to navigate web site is ensuring that the primary means of navigation – links to the key areas of your site – are kept above the fold. Above the fold can be considered the first 500×600 pixels of your page. Be consistent and place both your primary and sectional links in the same spot throughout the various pages of your web site.
- Meaningful Content – CONTENT IS KING! If your site is “pretty” but has no real content, your visitor is not going to stick around for long.
- A Solid About Page – This is especially true if you have a business. People are naturally curious, they want to know the person behind the site. Include information on your background and how it pertains to your own business or area of expertise, etc. Do you know what you are talking about?
- Contact Information – If I have a question, how can I get in touch with you? Do you give your visitor more than one way to contact you – an email or form they can fill in.
- Search – If you have a large site, do you give me a way to search for the information I am looking for?
- Sign-Up / Subscribe – If you have a blog, people can sign up for updates or perhaps you offer a newsletter signup.
- Sitemap – There are two kinds of sitemaps – one for humans and one for the search engines. Creating a sitemap – a structured list of all pages of a web site- and providing a link to it from each page is important. Sometimes the site map is the first thing I head for to find out what might be available on a site.
- Separate Design from Content – The best developed sites use a combination of X/HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), which create a separation of design vs content. Linking to an external CSS file leaves your x/html page clean except for the relevant content and html tags. The separate CSS file is what specifies the fonts, colors, background images, etc. for your site design and you can update just one CSS file and have the change made site-wide.
- Valid XHTML / CSS – With valid code, you are closer to ensuring your site will look good across the different web browsers and will help you with the search engines, too. If your site is built to current web standards, the search engines can easily wade through your content without all the styling tags.
- Cross Browser Compatibility – It’s important that your web site display well in as many of the mainstream web browsers as possible. Just because it looks OK with Internet Explorer does not mean it will display the same way in Firefox. You can easily install multiple browsers on your computer or check out browsershots.org
- Web Optimized Images – When designing for the web, it’s important that you save all your images in a compressed format. Many of the graphics program have a “Save for Web” feature for saving your images.
- Statistics, Tracking and Analytics – Although this element is behind the scenes and not one you’re likely to know about as the web visitor – as a web site owner it is crucial, if not down-right addictive! If your site is hosted with a paid server, you should have this as part of your hosting package. Google Analytics is also a good choice. You will have to apply for this if you don’t already have a Google account.