Today’s leading sites do more than simply look good, they are functional, optimised and interactive places that engage readers from the get-go. If you want to propel your business forward, your website has to meet the same standards as your competitors. Here are the 10 essential features that your site needs.
1. A custom domain name
One of the most important elements for online success is the domain name you choose for your website. If you are not familiar with the term ‘domain name’, it basically means your website address, e.g., ‘mybusiness.com’.
Domain names consist of two parts, the name which goes before the dot (mybusiness) and the domain extension which goes after it (com). When deciding a domain name, you’ll have some choice over both of these.
A key factor in your choice of domain has to be the name of your company as this will associate your website with your brand. Other points to consider are keeping it short enough to remember, easy to type (especially on a phone), and whether to include keywords (smithsbuilders.com) or locations (smithsleeds.com).
How to choose a good domain name
2. Mobile-friendly design
With 60% of surfing done on mobile phones, a mobile-friendly website is an absolute must for businesses. Without one, search engines will downrank your website and any mobile visitors you do get will find the content so hard to read, they’ll quickly abandon your site.
A mobile-friendly website, also known as a responsive site, is one which modifies its display for different devices. So, regardless of which model of smartphones or tablet a visitor is using, everything can be easily viewed and navigated. Aside from display, mobile-friendly sites need to adapt to the technology used by smartphones and be able to load quickly on older, slower 3G networks and public wi-fi.
3. Quick loading times
The speed at which your website loads and responds to customer interactions directly affects its ability to sell. Today, visitors expect websites to perform effortlessly, loading instantly and reacting just as quickly when they click on links and buttons or input information.
Slow loading times have a hugely negative effect on the performance of a website. Not only will search engines rank your pages lower, but there is statistical evidence that users will abandon your site if they have to wait. It is estimated that even a one-second delay in loading time can reduce online conversion rates by around 7%. In retail environments, where profit margins are small, improving loading times by a second could be the difference between success and failure.
There are numerous things that can slow your site down. Getting that right means hosting your site with a reliable web host and choosing high performance hosting with enough storage, CPU, RAM and bandwidth to produce those all-important speeds. On top of this, you’ll need to optimise your site so it works more efficiently and make use of caching and content delivery networks.
3. A well-designed website
In many ways, your online space is just like a physical store. It has to be somewhere that feels inviting and comfortable. It needs to be clean, tidy and well organised with products easy to find and displayed to look at their very best. Customers want the experience to be convenient and enjoyable with help when needed (e.g. FAQs). Remember, besides being a tool for people to buy things, the design of your website represents your brand on the internet and has a huge influence over whether visitors will stay, return and recommend or leave and criticise.
4. Search engine optimisation (SEO)
Search engine optimisation is the process of setting your website up to perform well on search engines. The better you do this, the more chance you have of getting more of the visitors you want to your website. Well-optimised sites can see a massive growth in both traffic and sales.
There are three strands to SEO: on-site, on-page and off-site. Each strand focuses on different criteria that search engines use to rank sites in their search results.
On-site SEO requires you to make your website load quickly, be mobile friendly, easily navigable and be structured in a way that search engines can find and index all the content you publish.
On-page SEO is designed to let search engines understand the subject matter of each page, post and product on your site. This requires you to use relevant keywords and topic words in titles, headings, meta descriptions and general content. To be most successful, you’ll need to research the keywords that customers are using in their searches.
Off-site SEO focuses on improving your website’s domain authority, i.e., its online reputation. In particular, it is about getting other websites with good reputations to link to your site. The idea is that if good sites link to your pages, your content must be good too, and this helps you rank higher. This will only happen if you create content good enough for high-quality sites to link to you, so it is a difficult task to achieve.
5. Easy navigation
Patience isn’t a virtue on the internet. More than half of all users abandon a site within 15 seconds and part of this problem is caused by visitors not being able to find what they are looking for quickly enough.
The solution to this is straightforward. As soon as a person lands on your homepage, or any other page for that matter, the subject matter of the page needs to be made obvious.
At the same time, you have to make it incredibly easy for them to find the things that they want. This means providing search boxes and menus in expected places and making sure that menus are well organised. For menus to be effective, you’ll need to structure your content effectively, putting posts and products into relevant categories and subcategories and linking pages in logical ways. Menu labels and category titles also need to be user-friendly.
Using our seven steps to better website navigation will help you to build a better website or improve your existing one. Here they are:
- Create a sitemap
- Organise your site for your visitors
- Don’t overpopulate a menu’s top level
- Limit top navigation menus to two levels
- Keep menu titles brief
- Make use of footer and secondary menu conventions
- Remember to use clickable call-to-actions
6. Content management enabled
Visitors and search engines both have a preference for websites with fresh and engaging content. It is essential, therefore, that your website design makes it easy for you to manage your content. CMS platforms, such as WordPress, are ideal for this.
A CMS will enable you to publish new content on a regular basis and you can use this to create long-term content marketing campaigns.
7. Great content
Customers need more than a hard sell if they are going to buy your products and use your services. They need problems solving, questions answering and doubts allaying. They’ll want to know the benefits of the product or service and why your company is the best place to go.
Getting it right means creating different types of content, such as product descriptions, specifications, customer reviews, FAQs, pricing options and informative blog posts. The more you can educate visitors about what you are offering, the more informed they will be when making the decision. Additionally, customers are likely to prefer a business that has gone to the trouble of giving them the information they need and this increases the chance of them buying from you.
You’ll never be able to make informed improvement decisions about your website unless you can measure how well it is performing. The only way to do this is to set up analytics tracking. Using free tools, like Google Analytics, you can track a wide range of metrics, such as traffic volumes and visitor behaviour, as well as setting goals and measuring conversions.
With all this freely available information, you’ll easily be able to understand which parts of your website are functioning well and which parts need more development.
9. Social media
Social media can do wonders for extending the reach of a brand to new customers. According to hubspot.com, the number of social network users in the USA alone is expected to reach 257.4 million by 2023 (Statista, 2019). Popular social media sites such as FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn give your business a personality that consumers will love to buy from. For this reason, every website needs to have social sharing buttons on their pages so that readers can spread the word. At the same time, companies should set up social media accounts which can send traffic back to their website.
10. Robust Security
With so many cyberattacks on websites, you need robust protection. A key part of doing this is choosing a web host that provides the essential security tools you need: strong firewalls, intrusion and malware protection, SSL certificates, spam filtering and remote backups. At the same time, ensure that the site itself is configured for security and that passwords are secured using two-factor authentication.
Available from your web host, an SSL certificate encrypts data sent between the user’s browser and your website so that it cannot be stolen. Importantly, having one means that the browser will display the padlock icon in the address bar, showing visitors that your site is secure and that shopping with you is safe to do. This is vital for ensuring trust in your business and for giving customers the confidence to provide the personal and financial details needed to make a purchase.
10. Customer reviews
The modern shopper often needs convincing that a product is as good as you make it out to be and will look for social proof in the form of a customer review. Enabling customer reviews is a healthy option that allows customers to give feedback and for others to read their comments.
Obviously, not all customers will give 5 stars and no-one really expects them (it can make the reviews look a little suspect if all your products have nothing but five-star reviews!) What customers want are honest opinions that will help them make a choice. If a product is constantly getting poor reviews, then it’s helpful for you to know too, so you can stop selling it.
Transparency is essential to creating trust with your customers and is a pivotal element of good customer experience. For this reason, make sure that pricing, including shipping costs, is clear, product availability is shown (don’t sell products when you know they aren’t in stock), shipping times are accurate and that terms and conditions, returns policies, etc. are written in plain English. The more open you are with your customers, the more they are likely to trust your company and buy from you.
If you are considering upgrading your web hosting package, check out our web hosting page