I was asked by a student in my WordPress class recently what defined a “professional blog.” I told him it was one that met all the criteria for a well-designed, well-formed site that met web standards. This is a good definition, but lacked specifics.
A message on my phone from an old friend shook me when they informed me that their employer’s site had been selected recently by the Web Pages That Suck team as a site that sucked. They couldn’t figure out why and they needed me. I took one look at their site and screamed, knowing exactly why they sucked. Explaining it to them was another matter. They liked it. It owned them.
Hopefully this blog exercise will answer both of their questions and help you understand what goes into a professional, well-designed, and quality site.
What Defines a Quality, Authority Site?
I’ve done much informal research into what makes someone trust a website and the answer boiled down to, “you just know it when you see it.”
Too many ads and a ugly and cluttered design was most often the response, but people just know.
I’ve been working on the characteristics of what makes a site trustworthy and considered “good” by the masses and experts. The following criteria is what establishes that checklist so far.
- Clean, clear, original, compelling, easy-to-read content.
- Content is well organized. There is a clear difference between Pages (static content), posts (timely content), categories, and tags to help the user navigate through the site.
- Content is well written, interesting, and grammatically correct (spelling counts).
- The subject matter is fairly consistent from article to article, matching site purpose and goals.
- Headings visually divide up topics on a post, subtitles within a post to segment sections in an article.
- All content is left aligned, not centered or indented.
- All links are in properly formed HTML links and not ugly link dumps.
- Legal Policies are in place and easy to find.
- The About Page is titled “About” and not “About-me” or “About-us” and clearly states who you are and what the site is about. It must make the reader trust that you are source and resource.
- At all times, the content serves the reader first.
- Within less than a second, the overall visual impression explains to the reader what the site is about and what they should expect to find on the site.
- Images complement content and design.
- Images are original, in focus as is appropriate, and not FX’d up.
- Images are original, not stock photography.
- Audio and Video does NOT play automatically.
- No popups or interstitials (the name name for popups).
- No moving objects.
- No blinking objects.
- Images are small file sizes and fast-loading.
- Calls-to-Action are clearly presented.
- Comments with easy access.
- No CAPTCHAs or Quiz Tests requiring a response before commenting.
- Native comments, not third—party apps.
- The comment box is integrated into the design of the site, not appearing like an afterthought.
- The site makes it easy to share.
- Subscribing is easy, for email notifications, follows, newsletters, and feeds.
- Social Media channels are integrated into the site’s design and layout naturally, organically.
- The content encourages interactivity, sharing, and comments.
- The Contact Page is “Contact” not “Contact-me” or “Contact-us.” It welcomes someone to contact the blogger. There is no CAPTCHA and it is easy to use.
- Design complements content.
- No clutter. Every pixel countx.
- Navigation is immediately recognizable and easy to use.
- Key navigation follows form and standards, in the order of Home, Blog, About, other navigation, Policies, and end with Contact, leading the reader to the key areas of the site.
- Navigation should be found in the header, sidebar, and footer areas to maximize access to content.
- The search form is easily found near the top of the site above the fold.
- Whitespace and breathing room within the design.
- A clean sidebar with every element and widget specific and necessary to the content and site purpose.
- The site design is not focused on the front page of the site but every page on the site.
- Blockquotes, citations, and other people’s content is clearly indicated and identified by the site’s design.
- The site meets current web standards and web accessibility standards and guidelines.
- The site works a big desktop, smaller laptop, web TV, tablets, and phones of all sizes.
- Three fonts per web page maximum. Four if desperate.
- Colors are easy on the eyes.
- Content fonts are large enough to be easy to read, no squinting.
- Content fonts are BLACK on a light colored background or WHITE on a dark background, not gray or hot pink on orange.
- The design serves the reader first.
What Doesn’t Matter Anymore
Web “experts” will tell you that having a dot com domain name matters. It doesn’t anymore. Some web browsers are experimenting with hiding the address bar, and few pay attention to it in mobile browsers and devices, so it doesn’t matter if your site is a dot com, dot me, or wordpress.com anymore.
Web design experts will tell you that you must pay for a WordPress Theme or hire a professional web designer before your site will have the credibility and respect of readers. Not true.
I’m not against web designers. I teach them in the web design and development degree programs at two colleges. I am one. The point is that putting money into your site comes at a point when you are ready to do so, when you have established your content identity and social personality on the web, your author status. Your authority. Then put money into a well-designed site that reflects your site’s purpose and your identity. Until then, put your money into better things and focus on content development.
SEO experts will tell you…okay, they tell you too many things. For the most part, don’t listen to them. Many are still stuck in the beginning of the century using old techniques and gimmicks that may actually cost you rather than benefit you.
SEO today is based upon organic actions site owners and web users do normally. The million dollar answer to SEO is to use words. While search engines are getting better at converting images and video into searchable data, it is the words that matter. Use them. Use nouns not pronouns. That’s the magic recipe.
SEO is all about content today, not gimmicks, gadgets, or whizbang doo-hickies. SEO is about creative expression and sharing original content. SEO is about sharing in general. It’s about resharing. It’s about connecting.
And clean. For more than twenty years, the consistent web design style has been to keep it clean. Keep it minimalistic. Keep the focus on the content. And keep it clean and easy to use.
Your blog exercise today is to go through this list and check off the ones that apply to your site. If there are items on the list that don’t apply, consider adding time to your schedule this week to fix them, making your site more respectable, cleaner, easier to access and navigate, and more authoritative.
As with everything, the definition of what makes a site “good” and “professional” is in the eye of the beholder. I encourage you to sit in the seat of the beholder of your site, the reader, and see your site they way they do.
No matter what your site looks like, if the reader, your loyal fans, feel like they are being served well and consistently, they will be back for more.
The following are some resources to help you clean up your site and learn more about what defines a professional, good-looking site.
- 39 Factors: Website Credibility Checklist – ConversionXL
- The Web Credibility Project: Guidelines – Stanford University
- What Makes a Website Credible? Top 5 Credibility Signals – Pixsym
- How Clean is Your Web Design? | Webdesigntuts+
- How To Start Your Blog With A Bang – A Beautiful Mess
- 15 Steps That Will Boost The Credibility Of Your Website | Web Design Principles
- Web Pages That Suck – learn good web design by looking at bad web design
- The Definition Of A Good Site | WebProNews
- Do Visitors See Your Website as Credible? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself | Yola