Key Elements Every Website Should Include
The main purpose of the majority of websites you will find on the net today is to increase sales and generate more business and revenue. In order to have achieve this you will need to make sure that your website includes a number of vital elements that can help make the website both a successful and profitable one.
I’ve been developing websites for the last 15 years, and during that time have come to understand that there are a number of very important elements that need to be included on every website for a business, regardless of the type of services they offer or their actual location.
Below I will go through the various elements that I believe to be the most important for any successful website.
A Balanced Homepage
This is often the first page that people will arrive on so you need to make sure you make a good first impression. With just seconds to create a positive experience, it is vitally important that your homepage not only loads quickly, but has the right amount of information to get the visitor interested and wanting to read more.
If you fill your homepage with 4000 words of text, it is more than likely that no one will read all of it. If you only have 40 words of text, then it will be pretty difficult for a visitor to know what your website is about and what you are offering. Try to find a balance between the two. Give your visitors the basic information of what you do and where you are located ( if your business is location based ) and then allow them to navigate to other pages on your website where they can find more information about specific elements of your business.
Your homepage should have a few images that are related to your business, but try not to have too many as it will only increase loading time. I tend to use 3 nice large images at the top of the page – either as a slider or static header image, and then a couple of others within the main content of the homepage.
You should try and use the homepage to showcase your expertise in your specific market or niche. Tell people why you are the best at what you do, and provide them with a clear overview of what you do, where you do it, and why they should come to you.
Clear and Easy to Use Navigation
The navigation element of a website is extremely important, and is what will determine whether or not visitors will click to read other pages on your website. Even if your website has 47 different pages, you do not need to directly link to every single one from your menu. Keep the main menu as simply as possible, so people will know where to click to find more about what they want to read.
I usually keep the main menu of sites I develop to around 5-8 main menu items. Drop downs are then added to the sections where there are subcategories that need to be displayed such as on an E-Commerce website, where one of the main menu items could be “Kitchen Appliances” and then you can have a drop down menu listing various appliances such as Kettles, Toasters, Juicers, etc.
Some of the standard menu items I use are …
Home | About Us/Profile | Our Services | Location | Contact Us
These are usually the items I will always have in main menu of a website. If the site has a secondary menu, such as in the side bar for example, then I add some of the more important subcategory pages here. In the past designers may have been tempted to include keywords as part of the menu text, but nowadays it is preferable to keep the menu text as short and simple to follow as possible.
You’ll have noticed that themes and templates for websites are now mostly always responsive in design, meaning that they will work will on all types of device, from regular desktop and laptops through to tablets and smart phones. One thing to be aware of is that the way the website is displayed will vary from device to device. What might look great on a desktop might not look so great from your smart phone.
Before purchasing a responsive theme or template, try and view it from both a desktop and a smart phone so you will know exactly how it will display. Most websites that sell templates have the option for you to see how it will look on multiple devices, so if you ( or your client ) is particularly fussy about the final appearance, properly test it first before buying the theme.
The number of people accessing the web via mobile devices has constantly been on the increase for the last 5 years or so, and there is no sign of this pattern slowing down. You’ll be amazed how many websites I still come across that are completely mobile unfriendly, and when viewed on my phone not only look awful, but are also virtually impossible to use. You risk losing what could amount to more than 50% of your website visitors if you site doesn’t work on mobile devices.
A concise Call to Action ( CTA )
Your website needs to have your CTA as visible and as obvious as possible. Depending on what you want from the visitors to your website, you need to make sure that you have a clear CTA that will guide your visitors to take the action you desire.
Whether you want people to call or email you for more information, sign up to your newsletter, request a free sample or demo, ask for Facebook likes and shares, or make a purchase directly from your website, you need to provide them with the means to do so.
Many sites that are looking for phone calls from potential clients will have a large CTA near the top of the screen with their phone number and short message such as “Call us right now for a quote” being displayed. This part of the site will usually be different in colors to other parts simply to make it stand out more and be more obvious.
If you are running an E-commerce website, then make sure that you have the shopping cart, as well as the “Add to Cart” option being displayed prominently on all of the relevant pages. If you are displaying information about your products or services and want to get people to contact you about them, then make sure you have some nice attractive CTA buttons that tell people exactly what you want them to do. “Click for More Information”, “Request a Demo”, “Contact us for details”, etc.
There are lots of free tools online that you can use to help with your CTA. If your site is made with Wordpress then you will find loads of different plugins, some free and some paid for, that can help with you setting up your CTA properly and effectively.
One site that I use frequently for many of my clients, when we don’t use Wordpress, is Get Site Control. On there you can find a number of free widgets to gather leads, get signups, request social media likes and shares and much more. For a small site with a standard amount of traffic the free option should be more than sufficient to start with. You can always upgrade to a monthly subscription in order to have access to other tools or more advanced settings for your widgets if required.
I’ve come across countless websites in my time where I have struggled to find the contact details about the business. It’s quite amazing that people have websites that are the showcase of their business, yet they still manage to hide their contact details away on a single page somewhere on the site. If the main goal of your website is to increase sales and business, then you really should be making your contact information, such as address, telephone number and email address as easy to find as possible.
I usually place this information in the footer of the website, and have it displayed on each and every page. Alternatively, I might have this information being displayed in a sidebar. Wherever it is displayed, I make sure that it appears on each and every page. As mentioned earlier, a lot of people will usually enter a website via the homepage, though this is not always the case, especially with a website that has been well made with good on and off page SEO. If someone arrives on your website at a specific page, then it is good practice to have your contact details displayed on there, rather than make the visitor search for it.
In addition to the standard contact details of address, telephone and email, I would also always include links to any social accounts that are related to the website, such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Another related contact aspect is for your site to have a contact form. There really isn’t any excuse for not providing your visitors with a quick and simple to use contact form. Not only can you specify the information that you want to collect, it is much easier for someone to use than to simply put a mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org link on your contact page. If you site is using Wordpress then there are lots of free plugins you can use to create a contact form, while most HTML templates will usually include a contact form as part of the overall template and design.
Clear and Constant Typography
There is nothing worse for me than visiting a website where they are using a different font face, color and size for every single piece of text on the website. I’ve got nothing against different font faces being used, as I often use different ones myself, but when someone has three paragraphs of text on their website and each paragraph is using a different font, size and color, then it is something that really hits a nerve with me.
Try and limit font faces to 2 different styles. One for the headers and one for the content. By keeping the typography under control, you will provide your site visitors with a much more pleasant experience. Many templates and WordPress themes will use Google fonts, which is a practical solution as the majority of browsers will be able to properly display these fonts. However, if choosing a slightly more obscure font, try and test it on a desktop/laptop browser as well as a mobile, as there is a chance that it won’t look the same on all devices, and their sizes could also be pretty different to what you might be expecting.
Your font colors are also very important, and you should make sure that the text can be clearly read against whatever color background you have. Light grey text on a white background may look nice and stylish to some, but I personally find it quite difficult to read, and much prefer a good contrast between the font and background colors of a webpage. Also, try and make sure that the colors you are using do not clash. For example - Red text on a green background is a color combination that is guaranteed to make me close the website within seconds and find another one that doesn’t give me an instant migraine.
High Quality Images
There is nothing worse than visiting a website and seeing poor quality images on it. It should be an offence to use images that measure 300x100 pixels being stretched to 1500 pixels in width and used as part of your homepage header. If you don’t have any high quality images of your own, then there are plenty of free image websites that you can visit and download images from there to use.
For some types of business, such as landscapers, accountants or even an SEO companies, you can easily find lots of generic free stock images to use on your website. However, if you are a hotel or restaurant, then you really will need your own images to properly showcase your business. Speak to a local photographer and see if you can come up with a deal where they will take photos of your business for you at a discounted rate, while you allow them to use the photographs for their portfolio. It’s a win-win situation for the both of you.
There are lots of sites where you can find free to use images on your website, though make sure you do read the terms and conditions first before using them. Simply do a Google search for “free stock images” and you will find lots of great sites to use. Additionally, if you are looking to purchase more professional and higher quality images, then perform another Google search for “buy stock images” and you’ll find many sites offering high quality images for sale.
Page Speed & Loading Times
One very important element of any website is the time it takes for the page to load. Most people will wait for around 3 seconds for a page to load before giving up on it and finding an alternative website. There are lots of reasons why websites are slow loading – the server, the coding behind the page, the use of large sized images and many others.
There are a number of different tools online where you can test your website speed and loading times. I generally use a combination of GTMetrix.com and Google’s Page speed test. Though none give definitive results, you can usually work out what is causing the website to load slowly and make the necessary changes.
If you are using WordPress then there are a number of plugins that you can use to help improve your loading times. I usually use a combination of a cache plugin and another that helps optimize and reduce image size. One thing to remember, that with Wordpress sites, try and only use plugins if they are really essential to the website. If you are using a lot of them, then this itself will be one of the reasons that your loading times are slow. If you are not using WordPress, then you can edit your .htaccess file and include some statements for caching. There are also a number of online tools that you can use to resize and optimize your images if you don’t have any software of your own to use such as Photoshop.
If you don’t want to, or are unable to make the necessary fixes yourself, then you should be able to find someone who offers a service to optimize your website for speed and who can take care of the necessary work for you.
Well Written Content
Though this one is pretty obvious, there are lots of sites I have seen that look very impressive but the actual content on it looks like it has been written by a 10 year old ( no offence intended to any 10 year olds reading this ! ). Whatever your business is, or whatever you are selling, you want to get grab the attention of your websites visitors, and keep them interested. It’s not easy for everyone to produce great content but with a little planning and understanding of how to write, you should be able to have prepare something sufficient enough to use on your website. The alternative would be to outsource the work to a professional if this is something you can afford to do.
I’ve come across various clients in my time who want to have as little content as possible on their sites. “Just a few words on the homepage is all I want people to see” is something that I’ve heard many times. Most of the time, I can persuade them to see why the site needs a little more than 10 words per page, and more often than not, they let me get on and do my job. However, there are some who insist that they don’t want text on their website. They believe that just showing some images is enough. I know that they say “a picture says a thousand words”, but in terms of a successful website, this is simply not always the case.
I’ve also had clients who have provided me with their own text to use, which in some cases has taken keyword stuffing to new limits. You need to make sure that your text is written for your site visitors, and not the search engines. Long gone are the days when you could rank top of page 1 simply be repeating your main keywords 100 times throughout your website.
If you are selling a service, explain exactly what it is that you offer, and why your service is better than that of your competitors. If you are selling a physical product, try and give as clear and concise description as possible, as well as answering any potential questions that you think someone might ask. Whatever type of business you operate, you will need to clearly explain why you are the best choice, and why using your services or buying your products will be more beneficial than going to someone else for them. Using high quality images of your products of services alongside the text is the best way to get your message across to your visitors.
Something I’ve found to be effective when dealing with a lot of text on a single page is break it down into smaller sections, with subheadings and also the use of bullet points. This makes it a lot easier for people to digest and who may want to simply skim the page, rather than reading every single word on it.
Good On-Page SEO
The last key element that I want to talk about is your on-page work. If you can get your on-page SEO right, then this will make things a lot more easier when it comes to ranking your website for your desired keywords and search phrases.
There are lots of small things you can do to your website that will ultimately help it rank a website. These include the use of header tags ( H1, H2, H3 etc ), unique meta titles and descriptions, alt tags for your images and various others. If you are using WordPress then there are a number of popular SEO plugins that you can download and use. With a few tweaks in the settings, you can have your sites nicely optimized and then hopefully starting to rank.
If you are building a static HTML site, then you will manually need to go inside the code and make a few small changes. This isn’t as difficult as you might imagine, and once you’ve done it a few times, it then becomes pretty easy to copy and the process with other websites you might be building or working on.
On-page alone isn’t the only aspect of SEO that you will need, but it is the first place to start, and once the foundations are firmly in place, you’ll find that the amount of off-page SEO required should be lower than it usually would be.
In conclusion …..
Building a website is not difficult. With so many platforms available and tools online such as Wordpress or WIX, anyone can create a rather decent looking website and have it up and running very quickly. However if you want to have a successful website, then there are certain aspects of the site that you will need to pay attention to.
I’ve tried to list the main elements here in this article which are things that I have used and worked with over the past 15 years.
Before starting any website, you need to know what the goals of the website are. What are the objectives that the owner wants to achieve ?? Is it more sales, signups or their phone to be ringing ?? Once this has been established, then you can start planning out the structure of the website, the CTAs and the content and presentation.
There isn’t one formula that will work for every website and all types of business, but you will find that in general, most will follow a standard pattern and will incorporate a number of the key elements that have been discussed here.