What makes a website “good” in 2021?

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woman on laptop thoughtfully reviewing her website and wondering if it could be better

You might be asking this question for a few reasons:

  1. You paid a lot for a website that looks AMAZING but it didn’t do anything for your business.
  2. You’re wondering if there’s a difference between a beautiful DIY website and a powerful custom website. They both look good and might price out the same over time…
  3. You’ve gotten a few quotes that are WILDLY different in price and you don’t know how to tell which one is best.

I’m really glad you asked. Let’s get down to the brass tacks of what actually makes a website not only LOOK good, but DO good for your business.

1. Good websites aren’t just beautiful– they’re well-designed

Customers, or potential customers, make snap decisions based purely on the appearance of your website. That means having a professional design is critical. But what exactly makes a website look professional? How do you actually get a well-designed website?

That may seem like a really subjective question because they say beauty’s in the eye of the beholder …but your website needs to be more than beautiful. It needs to be well-designed. And while beauty is subjective, design has rules.

So here’s some of the rules, which you absolutely don’t need to be an expert to apply. This section isn’t intended to turn you into a professional designer– but these are the earmarks of a professionally designed website, so you can self-assess whether your current website follows them.

a) Follow universal best practices

There are certain best practices that should be followed for virtually every website, like:

  • Logo in the top left corner
  • Contact in the top right corner
  • Main navigation items across the top
  • Clear statement of unique value “above the fold” (viewable before scrolling)

b) Embrace the familiar

In addition to universal best practices, there’s familiar standards for your niche as well. Since your customers have already seen other websites in your niche or industry, if your website looks too different from these, it will be less familiar and thus (instinctively) less trustworthy.

c) Choose one or two fonts

Fonts should be easily readable while still conveying the personality of your brand. To stay clean and consistent throughout the site, one or two fonts is best. (Three can be done, carefully, but usually the third is a decorative font that adds personality and is used sparingly.)

d) Choose colors carefully

Colors should convey the feelings you want customers to associate with your business. They should be used in a way that ensures content is easy to access. For example, red text on a chartreuse background is a bad idea, as it’s hard to read.

Returning to embracing the familiar above in (b), your color palette shouldn’t be too unique. For example, heating & air contractor websites are dominated by red and blue palettes– if you came across one that was mostly yellow and purple, wouldn’t you wonder at first if you’d clicked the right link?

e) Keep the layout clean and orderly

Layout is another key ingredient of good design. A well-designed layout does more than just fit all the information together in a cohesive way. Good design uses visual elements to keep customers interested enough to stick around to hear your whole pitch, and great design convinces them you’re worth whatever it costs.

There should be consistent values of white space throughout the website, and breathing room between elements should be generous (but not expansive).

Visual interest keeps the reader’s eye moving down the page, like alternating large images alongside text in a left/right, right/left pattern.

f) Use high-quality images

Images should be high quality and add meaning to your text content. High quality means good lighting, composed in a balanced way, and not squashed or blown up beyond original dimensions (the latter makes an image look pixelated). Image styles– for example, illustrations and photos– shouldn’t be mixed.

Ideally, you should have professional-quality photos of you, your product or service, and any staff members. Photos taken with your smartphone will do in a pinch.

Use stock photos carefully and as authentically as possible. For a landscape company, a beautiful healthy tree will illustrate the benefit of their service. But if the tree is obviously not one that grows in their service area, a customer might wonder whether they’re in the right place. So if you’re a local business, be sure to use photos that reflect your local landscape or cityscape.

2. Good websites are credible

A SUPER important element to a quality website that effectively turns traffic into leads is looking credible. And (good news) it’s a lot easier to tell if you website is credible than if it’s well-designed!

There’s actually a study that I find invaluable done by Stanford University which found 10 principles of boosting website credibility. I encourage you to review the original credibility rules for yourself. They’re kind of general, so I have adapted and restated the rules in ways which are specific to the types of websites that I deal with. Here they are:

a) Associate yourself with trusted third parties. You could list brands or organizations that have used your product or service. Or you could show examples of publications that have featured your business, or organizations you are recognized by such as licensing bodies or trade associations. Featuring the logos of these organizations or brands in a small, even row or grid will help users assess your credibility at a glance.

Here’s an interesting tip for ecommerce stores: even if you think you have no brands or organizations to associate yourself with, do you accept credit cards? Great! Show the logos of accepted cards somewhere in the bottom of every page and show your customers that Visa, Mastercard, and American Express trust you.

b) Make it easy to see you’re a legitimate business. A physical address in the footer will do at a minimum. If you are a member of associations that established businesses tend to be in, like the chamber of commerce or the Better Business Bureau (depending on your target audience), show your membership credentials.

If you’re in a trade that is typically licensed and bonded, include that info in the footer and provide any license numbers.

Other trusted organizations include the Better Business Bureau and your local chamber of commerce.

c) Be transparent, honest, and authentic. If you are an individual without employees, say “I” instead of “we.” Don’t use stock photos of people in a way that implies the models are employees or customers.

Include a photo of yourself, especially if you provide a service. An about page with a short bio about you and photos and bios of your team is a good idea too.

Make it easy to contact you by giving a physical address or PO Box. Give a phone number if possible. Both of these things should be in the footer (bottom section) of every page.

d) Always be accurate and error-free. That means avoiding technical errors, like an error message caused by code or server problems, but also ensuring that the content is 100% free of grammar or spelling errors. Periodically test your site for broken links. (Don’t have time to keep these things in order on your website? This is a feature of my website care plan.)

e) Keep information current. If there are dates listed on your website, make sure that they are current– if your blog wasn’t updated in the past year or two, it’s best to remove the dateline from all posts.

Look at the footer of your website– does it have a current “copyright” line? Regardless of what that line actually accomplishes legally (nothing), it should at least include the year we’re actually in.

f) Feature customer reviews. You want people who visit your website to know, like, and trust you. What better way than by featuring the personal experiences of those who’ve already done business with you? Featuring reviews from real customers builds trust and overcomes objections.

If you’ve got great reviews, you can copy or embed them directly on your site rather than just letting them sit on Yelp or social media. Feature them alongside a photo if possible. Use five yellow stars to visually highlight them. Don’t use a carousel/slideshow to display them– users will ignore those and they bloat your website.

3) Great SEO is critical for a website to succeed

Good websites have useful, discoverable content. If a website is beautiful, but no one can ever find it, it’s not a good website.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a broad topic and is a professional specialty all its own. But as with most things in life, 80% of results come from 20% of the effort. So, you can get very decent results from just getting a few basic things right.

a) Your website needs informative, useful content that answers questions people are asking. That means describing what you do or sell, using the same language and vocabulary that your customers use when they’re searching.

For example, a driving instructor might talk about a “road safety course”– but if customers are searching for the phrase “driving lessons,” make sure that phrase is prominent on your site.

An easy way to find out how your customers talk is by reading your customer reviews, or even your competitor’s reviews.

b) Regularly update content. Sites that are updated frequently get noticed by Google more often, which means more chances to increase your search ranking.

This doesn’t mean you need to force yourself to post a certain number of updates per week or month, but when you have fresh, relevant content, be sure to put it on your site– not just your social channels.

A good way to do that is to make a note of every unique question that customers ask, whether by email, phone, or in person. Build up a list of these questions and write out your answer to each one.

c) You need to write enough content to answer questions in-depth. Google favors in-depth content over “thin” content. To go deeper, think about how your service or product benefits the customer, not just a dry description of the features. For example, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, he didn’t say that it had X number of megabytes of storage– he said you could have 1,000 songs in your pocket. Benefits are more compelling than features!

Make it your goal to write around 500 words per page. It’s not that Google requires a certain number of words, but making sure each page has plenty of content will force you to think about what more your customers really need to know. This will ensure that your content naturally includes words and phrases that these customers are searching for online.

d) Don’t use duplicate content. Duplicate content is text that appears on the internet at more than one unique web address, whether that’s another page on your own website or elsewhere on the web. If you copy and paste text that’s already been indexed (discovered) by Google, it will not help improve your search engine ranking.

e) Use Google My Business if you’re a local business. This special listing will give you a chance to appear in the Google Maps search results.

The Google Maps search result appears along with regular results, but it stands out from them–which means it gets clicked much more often. It features a map showing locations of a number of local businesses alongside their contact info, reviews, hours, and other info.

You don’t need to have a physical store location to appear in these results– if you’re a service area business and you travel to customer’s locations, you’ll have the opportunity to define your service area when you claim your business listing. Read my Google My Business post for more info on who should use it and how to manage it.

f) Be consistent with your name, address, and phone number. When listing your business online in places like Google My Business, Yelp, or Facebook, always use the exact same name, address and phone number. If you use different versions of your company’s name, like with or without “inc.” or “LLC,”or you use different phone numbers like local and toll-free lines, this can confuse Google into believing these are separate businesses, or even make your business look suspicious or fake.

g) Make it easy for Google to know what your website is about. This one’s a bit technical. The copy that appears on the pages of your website needs to be organized and marked up properly behind the scenes to enable Google to easily understand it. After all, Google is smart, but not as nuanced as a human– so the code needs to be to their specifications.

To know whether your site is doing this, you need to view your website the way Google does– to look at the code itself. There’s user-friendly tools that do this for you for free– try this SEO checker out, or Google’s own tool here.

If you find issues in your SEO checkup, and you’re using WordPress, you may be able to fix it yourself with the help of a free plugin such as The SEO Framework or Yoast SEO. If you encounter SEO issues you can’t resolve, you might benefit from contacting me about improving your website.

4. A good website loads quickly

This one’s a biggie. Bloated, slow-loading websites are such a widespread problem (have you searched for a recipe lately ???? ?) Your site doesn’t have to be that way!

a) A quick way to get better load times is to compress your images before using them on your website using tools like TinyPNG. It’s also important to correctly size your images based on where they’re being used on your site.

b) If your website has a ton of animations, or elements that move around without the user interacting with them, your website might be very slow. Get rid of animations, slideshows, and fancy page-scrolling effects that are powered by scripts that take a long time to load, and don’t add anything meaningful to the user’s experience.

c) The biggest win, and the easiest from a non-technical standpoint, is to get great web hosting. Don’t be misled by slick TV commercials that promise bottom- dollar prices. Cheap web hosting means a slow website.

5. A good website brings results by focusing on conversions

You’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask– and that applies to websites, too. A website that drives business needs to not only inform and persuade, but also motivate readers to act on what they’ve learned.

That can be:

  • sending an email through a contact form
  • signing up to your mailing list, purchasing a product
  • calling your phone number
  • something else

Give users a logical path through each page, and through the entire site. High up on the home page, your main value proposition– combined with a compelling call to action– captures leads who are already primed to purchase.

For those who need more info, follow up with your main features and benefits next down the page, with links to any sales pages dedicated to individual products or services– which should include contact forms to capture leads who’ve learned enough.

Next up on your home page, share more about you and link to your about page– and the about page should focus primarily on the customer and how you are uniquely suited to help them.

Anticipate customer objections or questions with a glowing testimonial at the bottom of the page, and follow up with a contact form. Your home page is now a compelling funnel for warm AND cold traffic, and you’re on your way to generating more leads!

6. Effective websites collect emails for later marketing

It takes 6-8 “touches” on average to make a sale, but most visitors leave after viewing one page. Collect emails so you can connect with your customers even after they leave your website, to educate, inform, and persuade.

You can’t rely only on social media to connect with your customers, since you have little control over that medium. Instead, attract customers with a valuable offering and request their email in return. Share something helpful and quickly actionable (like a checklist, template, or worksheet), and customers will be happy to hear from you and will think of you when they’re ready to buy.

Email marketing doesn’t have to be sleazy– in fact, it really should be friendly, personal, and valuable to the reader. Just don’t pitch too often; use a light touch. Maybe one out of every four times you reach out, at the most, you can make an offer or pitch.

How did your website do?

I hope you have been able to self-assess your website to see whether it could use improvement in one of the 6 criteria. If you want professional eyes on your website, you can always reach out to me for a free consultation.

Kelsey Barmettler headshot

Kelsey Barmettler

I'm a web designer near Tucson, AZ and I write these articles to help business owners (including my clients) be more informed and empowered about their websites.