The ultimate guide to building a great website

In todays world, building a website is easier than ever. The challenge lies in making your website really great.

Yes, you can choose one of many website builders and get your website running within minutes. But will this be a great website? Will this be at least a good website? Before we anser this question, let's talk about what makes a great website.

In this post, we'll summarize the 4 key aspects of every great website. In the upcoming weeks we'll publish detailed posts covering each one of these points, and we'll explain how Phaistos can help you get those right.

Focus on performance

You might live in a country with a stable and fast internet connection. You might own the latest iPhone. You might even have unlimited data volume. But not everybody does.

Even if you can expect your target audience to have a fast internet connection and the latest device on the market, in the age of shortening attention spans you simply need to focus on delivering your content as fast as possible.

Walmart has observed a 2% increase of conversions for every 1 second improvement in page load time.

Still not convinced?

In May 2021 Google has started factoring website speed into their ranking algorithm. And let's be honest, ranking within the top search results for your target keywords is what really matters. No, creating the fastest website ever doesn't guarantee you a place on top of the Google search results, but it is one piece of the puzzle.

So what should you do to optimize your website speed? We'll dig into this topic in a separate post, but here are a few ground rules you should always follow:

  1. Minify your scripts and stylesheets; enable compression.

  2. Provide appropriately sized images in modern formats.

  3. Lazy-load noncirtical assets such as videos or images below the fold.

  4. Take advantage of client-side caching/use a CDN.

  5. Optimize JavaScript execution times, keep your markup and styles as simple as possible.

Accessibility helps everyone

A lot of us might associate accessibility on the internet with helping visually, motorically, or otherwise impaired people. And while the key focus of creating an accessible website indeed is supporting people with various disabilities, this is only a part of why building an accessible website is worth the effort.

Have you ever tried browsing the internet using only the keyboard while eating with your mouse hand? Have you ever tried to read the latest news under a direct sunlight? Have you ever tried to zoom into a specific part of an image and the website didn't let you do this?

There are very few lucky people that could answer at least one of those questions with a clear "no". And solving similar issues is exactly what accessibility on the internet is all about.

Providing an accessible experience does not only help people with various disabilities, it makes the life of every single person on your website much easier.

So what should you do to make your website accessible?

  1. Use semantic markup and ensure your site structure makes sense even when your stylesheets haven't been loaded (yet).

  2. Make sure users can fully operate your website using only their keyboards.

  3. Don't rely on color to convey meaning, always provide alternative ways to get the same information.

  4. Ensure your text has sufficient contrast ratio and can be read comfortably.

  5. Do not disable zooming.

Great website provides value

You can build the most beatiful, the most accessible, the most unique, and the fastest website. But all that is useless if your website doesn't provide any value to your visitors.

The definition of value in this context is pretty loose — reaching from entertainment, over the latest news, to financial advice. You need to find out what your target audience is looking for and deliver it to them.

Are the visitors of your website trying to find out when the next episode of their favorite show is landing? Tell them. Do the visitors of your website want to hear great stories? Tell great stories. Doesn't matter who exactly is your target audience, you just need to make sure to get the one thing they expect from you right.

Providing value is probably the most challenging aspect of creating a great website. You need to figure out what content is relevant for your site visitors — and that requires great analytics. You need to make sure your site visitors find what they need — and that requires clear navigation (and maybe even a site search). And finally, you need to get your content into the world — and that requires great SEO (among many other things).

Get the user experience right

You can get all of the other aspects right, but if you fail at user experience, your hard-earned audience might not even come back again.

We've all been there — you visit a website and it immediately asks you to enable notifications. Let's dismiss the request. Oh, are they now asking you to disable your adblocker? Okay, let's be nice and disable it. Wait a second, is there a huge pop-up inviting you to subscribe to their newsletter? And you're gone…

This is what many websites do in todays world. And it's a terrible experience.

User experience (UX) is a broad topic which requires a lot of effort to get perfect. Anyway, following a few basic guidelines will help you get at least a decent experience (and we did already cover some of those):

  1. Keep your interface simple and consistent.

  2. Have a clear visual hierarchy and understandable navigation.

  3. Make sure your website doesn't take too long to load.

  4. Your website needs to be accessible.

  5. Follow conventions (no, don't place your navigation on the bottom of your site).

  6. Rembember you're always designing for the end-user.

Can you build a great website within minutes?

Building a great website requires at least some effort. You can use a visual website builder and build a brand new website within minutes, but chances are you'll have to compromise on several aspects covered in this post.

Many drag & drop website builders will compromise on semantic markup and the HTML structure will be rather complicated — which can negatively impact the performance, accessibility and the SEO of your site.

You don't necessarily need to have some coding experience to build a great website. Yes, it is a huge advantage, but isn't really a requirement. We've built the Phaistos CMS keeping those 4 aspects of every great website in mind — focusing on optimizing performance, making it easy to provide an accessible experience, and giving you the tools to analyze what your site visitors are looking for.

And if you need any help tweaking your Phaistos templates, just let us know at [email protected].

Key takeways

Let's summarize what we've learned in this post:

  • Nobody wants to wait more than a few seconds for your website to load. Optimize website speed, make it run smoothly on older devices and slow internet connections, and it will also have a positive impact on your SEO.

  • Doesn't matter who your target audience is — providing an accessible website is a necessity. Keeping accessibility in mind will improve the browsing experience of every single person on your site.

  • Find out what your audience expects from your website and make it easy for them to get the information they need.

  • UX is very difficult to get perfect, but it is fairly easy to get wrong. Keep the users in mind and make their life as easy as possible by following a few basic rules.

That's all I have to share in todays post. Now I'd like to hear from you — what do you think makes a great website?

Let me know at [email protected].