I’ve been looking at websites for almost twenty years. I see the good, the bad and the ugly the way most people see different colors. I sat down and tried to distill what it is that makes some sites a success.
It’s easy to paper over some of the weaknesses of a site by buying traffic (I’ve done it for clients), but that’s a Ponzi scheme that just ends poorly. When the money runs out the site is still lousy and the new visitors paper over the fact that there are no old visitors.
I tried to put them in some semblance of order by importance, but there all pretty close to even in terms of success. Here are ten words I have used to describe successful sites:
1. Well-themed and sensical – When you pick a theme for your site it has to be something that has an element of mass appeal. It doesn’t matter how great the site is if the subject isn’t popular enough to attract visitors. And it has to make sense. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading content and wondering why you don’t understand what is being said or why it doesn’t match with the theme.
2. Visible – Visitors need to find your site. You need to have a solid promotional plan for your site, including PPC and viral marketing elements like articles and links.
3. Fresh – You have to update your content constantly. New content gets the search bots to visit, new visits gets more pages ranked, more pages gets more search results and more search results get more visitors. This is especially true for blogs. Blogging is a grind — you need to churn out posts every single day. If you’re not up to it you’re not going to be successful. Since return visitors are a major factor in your success, you need to update the content on any site enough to get them back.
4. Valuable – Since its early days the Internet has always had an element of getting something for nothing to it. This is an important element of any successful site. Even if that something is simply information, you need to give your visitors the impression that they are getting valuable (even insider valuable) information for free just by visiting your site.
5. Informative – You also need to inform your audience. They are visiting your site for a reason — you need to know that reason and write to it.
6. Relevant – I mean relevant many different ways here. First, the entire site has to be relevant. Second, the offers you choose for your audience have to be relevant to them. Third, whatever you write has to be relevant to your theme.
7. Visually Appealing – Sloppy HTML, bad colors, text that is too light or too dark really turns people off. You have 15 seconds to get someone’s attention, and anything that gets in the way will cost you, regardless of how great your content happens to be.
8. Transitable – Nothing annoys me more than getting lost on a site. It reminds me of the old days of voice mail when you got caught in voice mail jail. Tell your visitors where they are, where they can go (navigation-wise) and what else you have to offer on every page. If you have a defined path they are following, show the entire path at the top of the page and highlight where they are along the way. People who get lost will navigate away and not come back.
9. Visitor controlled – Provide a way for people to leave feedback, whether it is a mailto link or a complex rating system for pages. Use that feedback to enhance the site, and ask for more feedback. Your visitors should be intimately involved in the operations and enhancements of your site.
10. Fast Loading – Did you ever swear at your computer screen because the page you were loading took forever? Did you go back to that site? I rest my case.
Go get building.