When I first started creating websites AOL and Netscape were fighting for control of the World Wide Web (spoiler alert: neither won.) In those days, the web was very different. Dial-up connection speeds and non-existent standards meant that most websites were mostly text with maybe a tiny, grainy picture in the corner that took forever to download. A fancy website might have some bright green or garish red text and scrolling marquee text that moved across the screen (yes, that was really a thing.) Few companies had websites then or even saw the need for one.
Fast forward more years than I care to think about, and the web has grown in ways no one could have imagined. The amount of data transmitted across the internet on a daily basis is staggering. Now, everyone expects every company to have a website and a good one at that, but what makes a good website? Often, it seems people think a good website is one that has lots of pictures and fancy features like sliding navigation, animated slideshows and video. Gotta have video now.
Focus on the User
The reality is that those features can greatly enhance a website, but they can also detract from it as well. For a company or organization, one of the main purposes of their website is to serve their customers or members. If someone has a problem and comes to your website for help, they are not interested in an auto-playing video or a slideshow showing lots of happy people having an incredibly good time. They want to find the answer to their problem and they want it fast. If they have to navigate through a multi-level snarl of a menu system guessing where the answers might be, they will quickly get frustrated.
What makes a great website?
A good website puts your customers first, provides information in a logical manner that makes it easy to find whatever the visitor is looking for, and includes a prominent search feature that is easily spotted. A great website does all of that and includes the occasional slideshow and animated elements to enhance what the website provides rather than compete with it.
There are a lot of websites out there that try to do too much, sometimes just because they want to have the latest fad on their site. As a programmer, it’s fun to work on new, interesting features just to see what you can do with them, but those should never make a site more difficult for visitors to use. Every feature is not a good fit for every website. If it makes the website better, use it. If it doesn’t, leave it out. The site will work better without it and the visitors will appreciate it.
Author Greg Keene is lifelong computer hardware and software enthusiast who has been with Access since 2011 and began his career developing applications and managing a network for the U.S. Postal Service. Click here to find out more about Greg and the rest of the Access team.