7 Factors that Separate Good Websites from Bad Websites

We all naturally form opinions about the websites we visit. Some of them we love so much that we come back several times a week, and others leave us with a bad experience that causes us to never return. But what is it that determines whether a website is good or bad? As individuals we each have our own opinions and we’ll never completely agree on which websites are good and which ones are bad, but most of us will base our feelings on similar factors. Here is a look at 7 factors that I feel are influential in this determination.

1 – Purpose

Every website needs a well-defined purpose. Website owners and bloggers who have a solid understanding of what they expect to get out of their site will be able to work backwards in order to determine how the site should be managed, what content should be included, what messages should be communicated to visitors, and really everything involved with developing and running a website.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty common for site owners to rush through the process of setting up a website and the true purpose is sometimes overlooked. Without knowing specifically what you hope to achieve, you will lack direction, your efforts will be scattered, and your chances of making a positive impact with your site will be poor.

A purpose should be fairly specific. Instead of saying “I want to improve my business by having a stronger presence online,” consider something like “My website will become the most consistent source of leads for my services and it will help me to improve communication with potential clients.” With the second purpose, you now know specifically what you want to achieve with your website, it’s just a matter of finding ways to make that happen.

The purpose of a website functions in essentially the same manner that a mission statement aids a business. It sets the tone for all of the activities and it gives a context that should be used to help in decision making. If your business already has a mission statement, I suggest also developing a separate purpose for your website. The website’s purpose should serve to support the mission and make the business more effective in achieving that mission.

2 – Clarity

Your website may have a purpose, but is it clear to your visitors why your website exists? It’s easy to get caught up in adding all kinds of new features and building fancy websites, but sometimes overload can produce a jumbled message to visitors that produces confusion.

One of the goals during development of a website should be to achieve clarity that will show visitors what they can get out of your website and why they should care. Clarity applies to all different types of websites. E-commerce sites need to clearly communicate to visitors what can be purchased and why it should be done through their particular website. Blogs need to communicate to new visitors what the blog is all about and what types of content they will receive if they subscribe. Service providers need clarity when they are communicating the details of their services to visitors.


Clarity is sometimes achieved through simplicity. Cutting out the noise and the clutter on a website can make the primary message more easily understood by visitors. One of the reasons for using a minimalistic design is to assist in the level of clarity.

3 – Usability

For any website to be successful, people need to be able to use it. Design and appearance will never replace the need for usability. The usability needs of a site will partially depend on the nature of the site. For example, a large e-commerce site needs to have an effective search function, logical categorization of products for browsing, a user-friendly shopping cart, etc. A blog or any type of website with lots of text will need to provide excellent readability, good navigation between articles, etc.

Any site that lacks usability will struggle to keep visitors on the site and to encourage repeat visits. Most of us internet users are impatient and if we find something that makes us work too hard, we’ll simply leave. For a more informative look at the topic of usability, see What Everybody Ought to Know About Usability and Web Design.

4 – Accessibility

Accessibility and usability often get lumped together because they somewhat overlap, but they are two distinct issues. An accessible website will not force visitors to use a certain browser, exclude handicapped users, etc. If users can’t access your website, it’s obviously not usable either.

Effective websites will be widely accessible. The difficulty with accessibility is the amount of factors that are outside of your control. However, it is possible to have an attractive, information, and helpful site that is still accessible. For more on accessibility, see 100 Killer Web Accessibility Resources.

5 – User-Focus

Because visitors ultimately determine the success of a website, they should be the focus during development. Often times, however, designers or website owners get distracted by their own wants and needs for the website, and the users are forgotten or put on the back burner.

A user-focused website will be both usable and accessible, but it will be much more than that. A website or blog that is focused on users will build content that interests and helps users, and the desires of visitors will always be important in any decision involving the development of the site. A poor website will do the opposite, it will focus on the needs of the owner and attempt to force visitors to fit in the same box.

6 – Navigation

Website navigation affects both usability and accessibility, but it is important enough to warrant its own spot on this list. When developing a new website or working on a redesign, navigation should be a primary concern. Unless you want visitors to view one page and then leave your site, you’ll need to make it as easy as possible for them to find what they are looking for.

Most websites and blogs today use fairly common navigational techniques that are expected by the average visitor. Typically, the site will have a primary navigation menu that will link to the most important pages on the site, and other links will be added to the body of the page wherever appropriate. Sitemaps, sitewide searches and FAQ pages are all very common and visitors will look for them when they don’t know where else to turn.

Blogs also have their own unique navigational trends that blog readers tend to appreciate, such as a list of categories, links to the most recent posts, links to the most popular posts, and links to related posts.

In addition to providing visitors with an easy way to move through the site, navigation is often used by designers to create more visually-appealing websites (see 45 Photoshop Tutorials for Better Navigation). Although navigation provides designers with a great opportunity to improve the look of the site, attractiveness should not come at the expense of usability and accessibility.

When developing the navigation for your website, think about what pages are most likely to be wanted by visitors, which pages are most critical for the purposes of your website, how visitors will want to move from one page to the next, what visitors will expect in terms of link location and pages linked, and how many clicks it will take visitors to get from your homepage to any other specific page.

7 – Appearance

Last but not least, the appearance of a website will be a determining factor in its success. Not every website needs to be an award-winning design in order to achieve it’s goals, but it should appeal to it’s specific audience and it should present a positive, professional image.

Trends in web design are constantly changing, and chances are if your site hasn’t been redesigned since 1999 it’s painfully obvious to your visitors. Most website owners prefer to freshen up their design or completely change it every couple of years to avoid this type of situation.

The design of the site should complement the content of the site, not overpower it. The design should also match stylistically with the message and the purpose of the site.

What’s Your Opinion?

What factors do you feel separate a good website from a bad website?

Other Posts of Interest:

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47 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Bet365 Craps Gambling, June 2, 2008

    In the first look everyone can separate this thing.Thanks.

  • Kelli Myers, June 2, 2008

    All your points are very true. The first thing that catches a users attention is the design and the placement of the components. Then comes the navigability.

  • Tyler, June 2, 2008

    Nice post. (stumbled) Great points.

  • sir jorge, June 2, 2008

    great post, right on accurate, I wish more designers would read this one

  • Karl Hardisty, June 2, 2008

    While the factors above vary depending on what type of site is being discussed, I do feel they all play a part to some degree.

    With regard to appearance, this is somewhat subjective, but as long as a site doesn’t look bad, this is usually enough. Whilst visitors will enjoy a beautiful site, they can still achieve their purpose on a site that looks ‘ok’.

  • Vandelay Design, June 2, 2008

    Karl,
    I agree with you that most sites can get away with an ok look. I do think a really nice design can help take a site to the next level though.

  • Karl Hardisty, June 2, 2008

    I agree. However as with most things, the law of diminishing returns sets in. I guess what I’m driving at is it doesn’t take too much effort/time/money to come up with a reasonable looking site, yet there are so many out there in desperate need of a facelift!

  • Vandelay Design, June 2, 2008

    Agreed.

  • Brandon, June 2, 2008

    Great back to the basics list. I’ll definitely refer to it while I develop new sites. It’s so easy bogged down in details that you lose common sense! Thanks!

  • Shelly, June 3, 2008

    I have seen some bloggers try to provide too much usability as well, by adding on a bunch of plugins to their blog, which makes navigation more difficult and actually defeat the purpose of what they are trying to do. But I do agree on all main points in your post.

  • Karl Hardisty, June 3, 2008

    Shelly, you make a very good point. This is something I see often, and something I was very careful about when adding plugins to my blog. Admittedly my blog is just a playground, and I’m most definitely not a serious blogger, but it is still good to do things right.

  • JD, June 3, 2008

    Awesome post!
    del.icio.us’ed
    I just finished a post with similar content.
    Good insight

  • Vandelay Design, June 3, 2008

    Shelly,
    I agree. Too much of anything can be bad I think.

  • Sketchplanet, June 4, 2008

    I think the main things that seperate good from bad (if talking about popularity), is developing a niche market, keeping content fresh and relevant and keeping the site display browser friendly.

  • Lucinda Thompson, June 4, 2008

    I agree, so many clients as well as designers get too carried away and forget why they are creating the site in the first place and who is going to be using it. As soon as you forget that it’s all down hill in terms of usability and navigation.

  • Charles Forster, June 5, 2008

    A good list of factors.

    Even though it seems a little obvious and straightforward, a lot of designers get carried away with the look of the site and forget the importance of how it works, both backend and for the customer.

  • diet pills, June 6, 2008

    Separating points from bad websites are authentic . You have just taught me for thinking much on my websites.

  • keya, June 6, 2008

    These facts are important but I guess some webmasters just forget these facts when they start building a personal website or blog when they build.

  • Bryan P., June 7, 2008

    This compilation of tips is very useful.
    Webmasters find themselves trying to create websites they will wow and amaze their prospective clients. They build in catchy flash animations, and other web based technologies to entice clients to hire them.

    This results in sites being over run with plugins, scripts and eventually violating “the factors the separate good sites from bad ones”.

  • Adam, June 10, 2008

    The two things that drive me away from a blog are its design and content. If a site isn’t updated regularly I’m not going to bother reading what it has to say. If the content is garbage I’m not going to stay around and if the design sucks I’m going to leave.

    If the design is nice and the content is updated regularly I’ll stay around long enough to give it a chance.

  • john, June 12, 2008

    - Functionality
    – Informational
    – Ease of use
    – Redundant navigation
    – Ease of purchase
    – Multi-browser functionality
    – Simple graphics
    – Legible text

  • Fredrik, June 15, 2008

    I do find that there are two schools of thought when it comes to designing websites, those that focus on the visual appearance and those that focus on the functionality and I do feel that sometimes the bridge between the two is quite far. But I do agree that navigation is one of the most important parts of your website. There is no place for guessing where your navigation might go.

  • Serena, September 9, 2008

    Thanks for the post! I’m looking for websites that reflect good web writing and those that don’t (for comparison). Do you have any examples you could share? Thanks.

  • VandelayDesign, September 9, 2008

    Serena,
    Thanks for your comment. Sorry, I typically avoid pointing out negatives of other people’s design. Not knowing the situation behind their work I think it could be unfair.

  • Serena, September 9, 2008

    Thanks for the prompt response. Yes, you have a point there about pointing out the negatives. What about pointing out sites that show good style and writing?
    cheers

  • Vandelay Design, September 9, 2008

    When you say writing, are you thinking of general web copy or more like blog writing?

    Here are 2 examples off the top of my head that I feel meet all the criteria mentioned in this post:
    http://cssglobe.com/
    http://sixrevisions.com/

    They’re both blogs, so if that is not what you are looking for this might not be a big help.

  • Pedja, September 17, 2008

    Thanks, very good article.
    I have learned a lot from you.

  • kmjamal, January 21, 2009

    these are some good differences between a good and a bad website.

    Great Post.

  • BenSky, February 26, 2009

    Interesting article, its often the most obvious points that are overlooked!!

  • Knowledge, March 29, 2009

    Great article. This is one which has been invaluable to me during the set up of my blog. Thanks for sharing. -1-

  • Shefali Dhamija, June 9, 2009

    Thanks for sharing this informative article..i would like to add some factors which make a website bad and should be taken care of and should be avoided. These are Lengthy Pages, Passive Verbs, Putting a sign ‘the site is under construction’, Slow Page Loading and No Call to Action.

  • Rakesh, September 12, 2009

    Spot on. i think all the website design must at all times consider the target group before making the websites designed. I have come across many clients who give bazzare ideas but then we have to explain that we need to stick to something that is authentically calling their particular target group.

    All changes when you have correct usage of above and the best target group to your specific web development or website design.
    Thanks for the post guys keep up the good work

  • Joe Schaefer, September 14, 2009

    This is a great list. Truly. I’m glad to see the user put at the forefront of decision-making when it comes to design and development – and even accessibility. But the ability for the site to be ‘found’ seems to have little focus here.

    The way of the Internets seems partly (and it’s an important part) to rely on being found beyond simply referrals. I’m speaking of being search-friendly. And, I agree that not every site needs to be search-friendly – there are certainly instances where referrals, word of mouse, and direct traffic are the sole visitor-givers.

    But, the idea of launching a website should have the idea of consistent ‘visitations’ as a major factor of design and development planning implemented from the start. I know this is the place for comments and I don’t want to seem as though I am writing my own addendum to this article – it’s great on it’s own, I just see it from the traffic angle and have additional info in this article: http://overit.com/blog/web-design-development-lucky-charms-and-seo

    I’d add that the above “Purpose” section is exceptionally on-point, only I’d add to the purpose and information seeking conversations & research – the conversation about how the site will accomplish that from a design AND development standpoint in regards to how audiences find a site.

    Thanks! (and this is not a rant, just a Monday morning and only halfway through the first cup of coffee). ~ Joe

  • Professional Website Templates, September 21, 2009

    I think appearance is getting more and more important, however, keeping the fine balance of not distracting from your content is key!

  • Multimedia Design, September 26, 2009

    I like your point of starting at what is usually the end of the process, the REASON, and working backwards.
    Brilliant post. I’m bookmarking this to use as a resource.

  • Luke Lux, October 6, 2009

    I have enjoyed your article, very well written.
    Thanks to post it!

  • SEO, November 16, 2009

    Great post as always.I got more useful information on this blog.It’s really very interesting blog.Thanks for the information sharing with us.Keep it up.Keep blogging.

  • Canvas Pictures, November 17, 2009

    Very Well written. All points are valid. The first thing that catches a users attention is the design. your blog is very interesting. keep up the good work.

  • Web Dvelopment India, July 31, 2010

    I like your point of starting at what is usually the end of the process, the REASON, and working backwards.All points are valid.
    Brilliant post. Thanks for sharing….

  • zayrog, March 25, 2011

    therese are good points i think and thanks for share.