What makes a good website? 12 essentials to communicate with customers
An effective website is a valuable – and essential – way to communicate with customers, no matter what industry you’re in.
With the right strategy, design and content, effective websites can attract your ideal customers, establish credibility and, crucially, convert visitors into buyers and raving fans.
But it’s no good having a website for the sake of it: you need to know what makes a good website.
What you need for a website to be effective as a communication tool is to establish exactly what it needs to achieve and make sure your site and domain name reflect this. But what does a website do?
“The most important thing is to know the purpose of a website [for your business] and what action you want the visitor to take,” says Wendy Tan White, co-founder of DIY website builder Moonfruit and venture partner at Entrepreneur First, a pre-seed investment programme for Europe’s best tech founders. “Are you looking for leads (emails/calls), providing information (directions/service info), or selling things (transactions)?”
Once you’re clear on what to look for in a good website, depending on the website purpose, you can start to think about what elements and communication channels make most sense for your business.
But what do you need to have on a website?
1. A clear value proposition
Recent studies agree: you have less than 10 seconds to impress and engage a new visitor so you need to know what makes an effective website layout. Your domain name and homepage need to make it immediately clear who you are, what you do and what that visitor’s next step should be.
“Make sure you’re clear about who your audience is and what you want to communicate to them,” says Chiara Pensato, director of marketing at MOVE Guides, a cloud platform for talent mobility. “Dedicate the time and resources necessary to establish your company’s vision and core messaging in a crisp and clear way.”
Once you have this nailed down, be sure to communicate this clearly on your website. When doing this, remember that although you need to think about what to put on a website homepage, not everyone will actually enter your website via the homepage – if you’re blogging effectively, many will deep-link straight into specific articles via social media or Google. So, think about how to orientate a first-time visitor no matter where or how they enter.
A descriptive business name and domain name can help with this, as can a clear and succinct tagline that’s visible on every page (for example, in your site’s header).
2. A coherent brand
Once you’re clear on your business vision and audience, this should inform every decision you make on your website, from the colours and fonts you use, to the language and tone of your site and the content you create. Consistency builds trust and memorability, and a coherent message and experience is key to creating the right impression.
“Always stay true to your brand,” says Pensato. “When looking at each component of the website, it’s important to ask yourself, does this look, feel and sound like your company and how does this fit into your overall journey and vision?”
A poorly designed website does not only look unprofessional, but confusing webpages can actually be a turn-off for visitors. The design and usability of your website can either reassure, establish credibility and increase conversions, or prompt people to leave your site and never return.
3. An about page
When thinking about what to have on a website, an About page is an important page to include: when a potential customer is trying to get a better sense of whether you’re right for them, this is one of the first places they’ll turn. It’s also a great opportunity to tell your unique story, explain what sets you apart from the crowd, humanise your brand and potentially establish what the purpose of a website for your business is.
4. A blog
Blogging is one of the best ways to attract new visitors to your site, establish your expertise and build a loyal audience. However, while this can be a great place to share important news and updates, no-one wants to read an endless stream of company announcements. The most effective business blogs are reader-focused, prioritising content that delivers value to their ideal customers, and speaks to their questions, interests and needs.
“A website needs to be engaging and offer more than just company information,” says Pensato. “We use our blog as a key tool to encourage dialogue on how we think talent without borders can become a reality for all modern organisations.”
5. In-depth resources
MOVE Guides takes this a step further by creating and offering more in-depth and valuable resources. Incentive examples for effective website marketing include white papers and case studies, with the aim of becoming a destination for people looking for industry knowledge.
You could also offer these type of resources as free downloads to encourage people to sign up to your mailing list – another great way to stay connected to potential customers and build lasting relationships.
Pensato adds: “[Aside from our blog], other channels that we see are generating the highest response rate are our customer case studies, industry white papers, fact sheets and user cases that bring our story to life for our community.”
6. An explanation of how your business works
If you’re bringing something new to the market, one of the first things a customer will want to know is exactly how your offering works and is different. Videos and infographics can be a great addition to an effective website layout, helping to convey a lot of information or explain complex processes in a short space of time.
7. Social buttons
Another place users will head to get a better sense of your business is your social profiles. Having social buttons in a prominent place and visible on every page – for example in your sidebar (if you have one) or footer, makes this super easy, as well as enabling people to easily follow you and keep up-to-date with your business.
8. A client portfolio or testimonials
When it comes to doing business online, trust is fundamental to the buying process. Showing examples of clients you’ve previously worked with (with their permission, of course) can help to reassure potential customers that you’re legit.
“Being able to leverage third party validation is essential to establish credibility as a business and earn trust at the early stages of engagement – think customers, press, partnerships, vendors, investors, and more,” says Pensato.
9. A press page
Speaking of press, a dedicated press page or section collating the articles you’ve guest written or contributed to elsewhere can also help position you as an authority in your field. But as with many of these features, it’s only worth doing if it’s something you’ll update regularly.
A sparse press page (just like an abandoned blog) could end up having the opposite effect to that which you intended, raising doubts about how your business is doing.
10. An FAQs page
As your business grows, you’ll begin to receive more and more enquiries. Pay attention, and take note of the questions you receive over and over again. Answering these on an FAQ page can make your communications more efficient and increase conversions (not everyone will take the time to make an enquiry), as well as highlighting potential blog topics and other content ideas.
11. Live chat
While not suitable for every business, live chat can be extremely effective when it comes to converting web visitors into buyers or subscribers. It can also be a useful tool for getting feedback from your audience.
“If you have a more complex service or the human touch helps on buying decisions, [live chat] is a great tool,” says Tan White. “Live chat can be added pretty quickly these days with services such as Olark, and most services offer a free trial so you can measure the impact on conversions before you invest.
12. Clear calls to action
When you know what action you want people to take, using ‘calls to action’ in your menus and other key points throughout your site can help encourage this behaviour. Examples might include: ‘Book a consultation’, ‘Download the guide’, ‘Work with me’ or even ‘Start here’. These can link through to sales pages, sign-up forms or whatever works for your business and goals. You can also test different page layouts and wording using tools such as Optimizely or Visual Website Optimiser.
Crucially, whatever features and functions you add to your website, make sure they really make sense for your business. “There’s no point adding lots of trendy features if you don’t have the skills or resources to manage them effectively,” says Tan White. “When possible, try them out in a low-cost way, and see the impact. Some features, like blogging, may take a while to build up momentum, but then be sure you can commit to doing one article a week for some months before making a call to keep it.”
But how can you really know whether something’s working? It all comes back to understanding your website’s purpose, while also being mindful of the metrics you monitor. For example, 100,000 pageviews a month means very little if none of those people are actually buying or engaging with your brand.
Tan White concurs: “Know what you want to achieve! 20 leads per week or £20,000 e-commerce sales per day, or 3,000 visits and 200 likes per week. Whatever the metric it should drive the bottom line of your business. Once you know what success looks like and how to measure it, then experiment with features that have an impact on that number – this way you have an objective measure of its success. Good luck!”
For a concrete example, watch this video explaining the importance of branding your small business online here.