How to Make a Great Website

It's not just about technology. Good websites can be built with bad website builders and bad websites can be built with good website builders. Great websites are about simple principles— that you probably already know intuitively.

Websites need a goal

Don’t build a website because you "need" one. Build a website because it accomplishes a goal for you. A few example goals:

Then whenever you add something to the website, ask yourself: does this help accomplish the goal?

Typography is design

The secret to a great looking website is typography— websites are mostly text after all.

You don't need to find an unusual, artistic font— instead already popular fonts like Open Sans, Roboto, Merriweather or Lora are your best bet.

Avoid jargon

People glaze over when they see jargon or technical language on a website.

Write plainly and humanly.

Use Don't Use
stop discontinue
show exhibit
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A word about SEO

When you search best website builders in Google my website, Site Builder Report is ranked number one— beating big companies like GoDaddy and Wix.

How did I do it? I’ll tell you— but you might roll your eyes. Here's how:

Create really, really valuable content for your visitors.

That’s it. That's the best long-term SEO strategy. Seriously. It sounds simple but it's devilishly hard.

Of course there are some fundamentals you should know (Moz's Beginners Guide to SEO is a good start) but there are no magical shortcuts with SEO. It just takes work.

Note: There are plenty of crappy SEO consultants out there. Avoid the salesy ones— in fact, avoid anyone who promises SEO results or speaks with authoritative certainty.

Seek out consultants who aren't afraid to say there are no shortcuts or easy answers.

Launch your website sooner than you think

Being published is like oxygen for websites. The sooner your website is live, the sooner you'll know what works (and what doesn't).

Your website is not a work of art— it’s something that should accomplish a goal for you. Perfect is the enemy of good enough.

Stop planning. Start doing.

Many people waste too much time planning a website. But most questions are too hard to answer until you've actually begun building the website.

Start building early and you’ll be surprised how quickly answers come to questions like How much text should I write for this page?

With design, less is more

Keep things as simple and clear as possible.

White space is good.

Whenever you add something, ask yourself: does this absolutely need to be included?

Pictures > Words

Show, don’t tell. Pictures are worth a thousand words.

Doubly important for ecommerce websites.

Write like you're talking to one person

Imagine you're explaining your company over coffee with a friend. How would you talk? What words would you use?

That's how you should write.

Make important info obvious

For example, the following should always be easy to find:

What technology should I use to build my website?

This matters less than you think.

While some website builders are better than others, you can actually get by with many of them (or with a CMS like Wordpress).

Choose something you feel comfortable using— it's the words you write and the images you choose that will make the most difference.

Use less technology

If you get stuck on a hard technology problem always take a step back and ask: is there an easier, low-tech way to get this done?

Websites must be mobile-friendly

People spend more time on mobile devices than they do on computers:

So your website has to be mobile-friendly.

To test this, just browse your website on your phone. Does it look like the desktop version? Do you have to pinch and zoom to see everything?

Rules for navigation

Don't make your visitors think— navigation should be quick and easy to use:

  • Keep it in a typical location. Most common: the top-right corner.
  • Try not to be creative with link names. Conventional names are good because visitors know what to expect:
    Good Bad
    Contact Talk to Us Now
    Volunteer Get Involved
    Team Our People
  • Keep link names short:
    Good Bad
    Contact Contact Us
    Services What We Do
  • Having 4 or 5 links is ideal. Try not to have more than 7 links— you don’t want a wall of links.

Don't be afraid to be human

If you’re not a large corporation don’t pretend to be one. Own your smallness.

Make it clear that there is a real, live human behind this website. People respond to that.

Include a picture of yourself

A good way to act human is to include a picture of yourself— it will build trust quicker than any slick design.

What’s the difference between a CMS and a website builder?

Wordpress is a CMS. Wix or Squarespace are website builders. Here’s a graph explaining the difference:

My recommendation: Use a website builder if you’re building a conventional website. Even though I'm a web developer, I still use Squarespace for projects like my band's website. It's easy to manage and there are no headaches maintaining the website.

If you're building something a bit unconventional, you might want to try Wordpress— it’s more flexible. But be warned: building something unconventional is never easy unless you know how to code.

You probably don't need a custom web design

Ninety-five percent of websites can be built with Wordpress or a website builder. Unless you’re reinventing the wheel, you don’t need a custom web design.

I explain more here.

Use Google Analytics

Google Analytics is what most people use to track website stats. This is an excellent guide to getting started.