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So what constitutes a good website anyway?

by Tim Rimington | November 8, 2010

I decided to write this article for the benefit of website managers (or "webmasters") in charge of their company's online presence. In particular, webmasters who may not have a grounding in design or at least an understanding of the importance of design and web site presentation; webmasters who have an emotional attachment to their web site and who may have become "shop blind" to the possibility that their site is no longer the cutting edge presence that it once was.

Chatting to various colleagues recently brought my attention to number of websites I’d not visited before. Most of the sites were design or marketing-industry orientated. All the sites we looked at had a reoccurring theme – a crisp, fresh, modern design and great content. We all agreed that each site looked great and had fantastic page content. But this got me thinking. If you’re not surfing the net regularly then you’re probably not getting much exposure to modern websites. Now while that’s not a crime in itself, it could become a problem if you’re in charge of your company’s website and you believe that your website is “perfectly okay”, if in actual fact it isn’t.

A few years ago I took myself back to college to gain a formal qualification in graphic design. I’d worked in a sales and marketing environment for many years but it wasn’t until I took a “career re-evaluate” building web pages for an eBay ‘power seller’ that I felt I had a creative bug that needed some formal direction. Most of the eBay auction pages I built back then were done within the old Microsoft Frontpage program (cringe!), and at the time I thought the pages looked half-okay. That’s when I decided to take myself off to college to learn how to produce “killer” websites. I never did reach the “killer” stage that some of my fellow students did, but I did learn how to differentiate a good website from a bad one!

Looking back on my earlier design efforts I can now see, with a little design knowledge, that those page designs were haphazard at best. I’d also worn ‘blinkers’ by focusing only on eBay pages and not “getting out there into the real world of design” to truly discover what great design meant. Nowadays I hold a position where I’m required to advise businesses either about their existing website or how to go about building a brand new one. Heaven help me if I’d never taken the time to learn about design, and this now brings me back to those people who are in charge of their company website…

If you have an existing website and it’s more than 3-5 years old, then, like any design - be it fashion, print magazine or otherwise - it’s probably beginning to look very dated. If you’ve got great content that you update regularly with blogs, page updates and so on, then the site may hold up for a little longer. But consider this, your competition could build a modern, fresh website leaving you to look very much like ‘yesterday’ and out of date. If new visitors stumble upon your site after already visiting your competition, and you come off second best, there’s a chance that those visitors will run with your competition purely because they’ve taken the time to maintain a visually strong presence online (who would you rather shop with, the bright and pro-active store or the tired and stale counterpart?). In the eyes of that visitor your competitor looks professional and alert, whereas you’re left looking as if your website is an afterthought (and, sadly, this is the case with too many businesses). As I say often, people are driven by appearance and will judge your business on how it presents itself, be it a shop front, office or website.

So is it time that you removed any emotional attachment to your company’s website and got the honest opinion of a graphic design and website specialist? Because if you don’t, your competitors certainly will.

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