What Makes a Successful Website?
There are basically two types of visitor that will visit your website:
Getting the first type to arrive at your website is covered somewhat in my earlier paper on search engines - you get people to arrive at your website by making it known, promoting it to the sector of the general public that is likely to have an interest in the content of your site.
Getting the second type of visitor to arrive at your website is the subject of this paper.
The primary datum for creating a successful website is 'Content is King!' - without adequate content, people will not stay long on your site and they are unlikely to return. It can have all the bells and whistles in the world, be the most attractive design known to man, but without content it is nothing - an empty shell.
Of course, supporting the content there are other items of importance:
Creating Good Content
There are several things you should bear in mind when preparing content. This applies to all content, not just for websites:
Obviously the above guidelines should be used within the context of your content and site. The great thing about content published on the Internet is linking - you can take a phrase in your content and link it to a document that explains that phrase fully. Don't be afraid to use links!
Keep the Content Fresh
Having good content means that more people will actually read it. But once they've read all the content on your site, what then? You need to add new content regularly! And you need to let your public know that there is new content.
One of the easiest ways to achieve the latter point is to have a 'What's New' section to your website. You can have the new items displayed on the default starting page of your website.
Another, possibly more effective way, to achieve the way is to communicate directly with your public. Create a mailing list and ask visitors to your site to 'subscribe' to the mailing list in order to receive email when there is new material on the website. A word of warning here: be prepared to remove people from your mailing list if they request it - many people get lots of SPAM email and some of them get irate when they receive email they perceive to be unsolicited!
There is another way to keep the content on your site fresh - get the users themselves to create the content! You can do this in many ways. One of the most widely used is the message board. People can use the message board part of your site to discuss things related to the nature of your site. Be prepared to spend time developing and maintaining it though - like many things, a message board will only flourish if nurtured if cared for.
Once you have your site content in shape and ideas for developing it into the future, you will find that the number of visitors and page views on your site will continue to increase. Publishing a website is not the same as publishing a print document - it is an ongoing development effort that requires planning.
Moving your Content Forward
When developing and adding new content to your site, one thing to bear in mind is 'Is this what my viewing public wants to see?'. Without asking your public, you cannot know the answer to this question. So use surveys to see what is wanted. Examine your website statistics to see what parts of your site are being read the most. By developing content that is wanted by your public, you are assured that they will read it provided that it delivers!
As a final section to this paper, I want to mention a couple of points that are sometimes made with respect to content and explain them.
Some people have the idea that pages on a website should be very short, that the content should not scroll on the page since users of websites do not use scroll down. I say in reply to this that people do not scroll down because the content is not interesting or is badly written! The idea that pages should not scroll is not unfounded but it is a wrong target. The target should be the quality of the content itself.
A similar point is that people can better understand content if the line length is less than say 10-15 words. I say that people can better understand content if it is well written and that concepts and words used within the content are defined properly as outlined above. In addition, use sensible white-spacing in your publishing style - this means content margins, paragraph separation, distance of titles from paragraphs, etc - and a clear, legible, font. These things make content easy to read, not the number of words in a line.
To summarise the initial question of 'What makes a successful website?' the answer is content, content, content!
Last revised: 22/05/2002