10 Guidelines for Developing a High Performance Website

In this article, we will cover the major factors in developing a successful modern website that people can find and use easily. Are there more than 10 factors to consider? Of course, but we have hit all the big ones here. If you follow these key guidelines, you really can’t go wrong. We are not big fans of long, needless introductions, so here goes:

Website Design

While it is true that “Content is King”, presentation is always critical. When you meet someone for the first time, you want to make a good first impression. The same should be true for your website, as the overall look and feel of your site is the first thing your visitors will notice. Not only does a website need to look professional and industry-appropriate, it also needs to clearly and professionally communicate to your key message to your core audience. Here are a few design basics:

Simplicity

An all too common mistake many people make is placing as much content as they can on one page. Cramming too much into each page mainly creates confusion and information overload. Visitors quickly get frustrated if they have to scroll through rows of links and images to find their desired content. By keeping web pages simple, your website will be user-friendly and will provide a more productive and enjoyable browsing experience.

Consistency

Visitors to your website shouldn’t feel like they are visiting a new website each time they open a new page on your site. Consistency among the pages on your site makes navigation a much easier task, so it is important for all website pages within site to follow a certain layout in order to maintain a theme and uniformity. Naturally there are exceptions for specially-themed landing or special event pages, If the layout of your website pages is not consistent, your website will look disorganized – and won’t properly reflect your organization’s image online.

Color

Color selection can often make or break a website. You know it’s true, as we have all visited websites that are simply painful to look at. When choosing colors, use a consistent palette of colors that don’t clash and make sure there is a strong contrast between the text and the background. Of course, your color selection should mirror you corporate or company colors to help maintain, you guessed it – consistency.

Code vs. WordPress

This isn’t really a performance or best practices issue, because either website platform will work just fine, but instead it’s more of a practicality and flexibility issue.

Custom Code

Some web developers will tell you that whether it’s HTML or PHP, nothing beats writing your code from scratch. It is true that if you code your own pages, you have complete and total control over how they look, act and respond. The downside is that when changes or updates have to be made, you have to know how to write code, or be proficient in software like Adobe Dreamweaver.

With custom code the scenario that typically unfolds is that you need an emergency change made to your website, and your “code” guy is at the comic book convention for 3 days. Then the replacement code guy doesn’t understand the original code, says it’s “bad” and heads off to the comic book convention himself.

Utilizing WordPress

The short version: WordPress is template or “theme” based so it’s easier for users or site administrators to make additions and changes on the fly. You don’t have to know code or learn elaborate and expensive software. It’s also browser-based – so you can log on and work on your website from any computer. Users simply drag and drop photos or files, add or change text or other content within pre-defined parameters and hit the “update” button.

Since WordPress is template-based, you obviously do not have as much control over the look, design and other features as you would with custom code. That being said, there is probably a “theme” available to meet just about any website look or need. A bit of food for thought: as of this writing, approximately 37% of all new websites launched are in WordPress.

Navigation

There are few things more frustrating on-line than not being able to find certain content on a website quickly. If the visitors find it difficult to navigate from one page to another, they will give up and leave the site. Keep in mind, attracting these frustrated visitors to come back to visit the site is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Pages should be well-organized with topics or tabs listed clearly across the top of the page so that visitors can easily browse through the different sections on the website. Depending on the industry or purpose of the website it may be a good practice to list duplicate links vertically along the left hand side of the page.

For an example, go to www.holdrite.com and click the “Products” tab at the top of the page. You will notice that the same product links are listed vertically along the left hand side of the home page below the Search boxes – to make it as easy as possible for visitors to go directly to desired products. Is this for every website? No, but it’s worth noting.

Browser Compatibility

Remember when Netscape was just about the only game in town? Today, there are various Internet browsers in use, so it is imperative that your website loads properly on the main browsers – which include Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome.

In theory, all browsers are supposed to render webpages the same way, but sometimes they just flat-out don’t – often seemingly for no real reason at all. Make sure to test your website thoroughly on multiple browsers to make sure everything loads and appears correctly. It’s always best to catch and correct these problems ahead of time instead of relying on complaints from visitors down the road. Or worse, if they don’t complain at all and never come back.

Responsiveness

People will access your website using a wide variety of devices – including smartphones, tablets, netbooks, laptops and desktop computers. Consequently, it has now become critical that websites scale and display correctly on different screen sizes. Most recent WordPress templates/themes are scalable, but if you are going the custom code route, cover the scalability issue with your web developer right out of the gate. It’s a major hassle to make a hard coded website scalable after the fact.

This is officially a big deal. According to Google half of web searches are now done with mobile devices – the majority being smart phones.

Content

As time goes by, the main factor that drives a website towards becoming successful is its content. Even if a site is beautifully designed, it is no more than an empty shell without content. A good website has both great design and great content. All of your pages require unique, original content that will make them worth visiting.

If content is not updated often, potential website visitors will have little reason to return. Adding and updating content on a regular basis can be accomplished via a blog on the site or a “News” or “What’s New” section area. You can post white papers, eBooks or thought leadership articles that users can download.

Once again, let’s go back to Code vs. WordPress…unless you can rely on a webmaster or have one on staff, a WordPress website platform is probably your best choice, because additions and updates are much faster and easier to accomplish via your browser.

For more on website content development, visit tsadvertising.com/content and download “The 5 Secrets of Content-Drive Marketing” eBook.

Speed

Even though bandwidth availability and download speeds have increased dramatically overall, there are still many pockets of “slowness” out there in the world at large – so any website should be designed to download quickly. Forget the elaborate splash page that takes 30 seconds to load just to eventually say “Enter Here”. In today’s fast-paced world, patience is rapidly becoming a quaint practice of the past.

Visitors want websites to load quickly to look at photos, articles or watch videos immediately. When a website has too many large images or large videos within it, it will take longer to load – which can invariably lead to frustrated visitors leaving your site.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

SEO – AKA “The Big Mystery” – or many would like to have you think. Let’s face it; many SEO “gurus” these days are the snake oil salesmen of the new millennium. Pay them a hefty monthly fee and magical things will start happening. Then nothing changes and you fire them in three months.

For starters, real SEO is based on research and is an on-going process built around best practices, great (and current) content and other factors that work in harmony together to increase search engine (namely Google) presence. There is no magic software, button or short-cut – just proper strategy and execution.

For starters, you have to create a consistent “trail” for the search engines to easily find something. For a best practices example return to holdrite.com, click the “Products” tab. You will see “Acoustical Isolation” listed. After clicking “Acoustical Isolation”, you will notice that the words “acoustical-isolation” are part of that page‘s URL. This is good. (“Acous-Iso” would be bad). Now kook at the page itself: the exact words “Acoustic Isolation” appear as the headline.

So there is the trail: the “Products” tab, the page URL and the page itself each contain the exact phrase “Acoustical Isolation”. Of course, there are numerous other factors regarding SEO, but this example is generally helpful.

Google Analytics

It’s seems like it’s Google’s world, and we just live in it, right? Google Analytics is what is used to keep track of how each and every page on your website is performing. Although there are multiple search engines in the world and multiple ways to track website traffic, activity and user behavior, Google is king of both – so roll with it for now.

Basically, when you create a Google Analytics account a tracking code is generated which is then installed on each page on the website by your webmaster – or in the case of WordPress sites the code is installed in one area that automatically populates the code throughout the site. A wide range of data is then collected that can be filtered and exported for review in in a variety of formats. For more information, check out google.com/analytics

Marketing Automation

Everything is up and running, the SEO and the Google Analytics are happening…now it’s time to take things to the next level with marketing automation. It really doesn’t make sense to have all these people come to your website and browse all over the place…and not track where they go and what they do. With marketing automation, a tracking cookie is placed on the browsers of visitors to the site – which can then collect and store a surprising amount of information and user behavior.

Traffic reports with a detailed list of website visitors are generated daily. Tracked information is also fed into a database where it can be filtered and prioritized for automatic marketing outreach efforts such as targeted emails. For more information check out: tsadvertising.com/marketing-automation

Wrap-Up

That’s about it for this junior website manifesto. There is more to tell, but if you keep these 10 guidelines in mind when conceiving and developing your next web project, you will be well on you way to creating a successful web presence. If you have any questions, need help with a website project or want to hear a motivational speech, contact Total Spectrum at 714.637.3600 and ask for Jim Bogenreif.