The 3 most important questions for building a successful website

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told by web development teams that a public facing web site must be okay because there haven’t been any (or many) complaints. True story. Okay…sure, that is one way to measure success. But now that I’ve called this out, most of you will likely agree this shouldn’t be the first metric you look at.

Websites need to be looked at through the lens of our users. I think people take things personally when they visit a website. Web surfers form expectations based on all the other sites they visit as they go about their day, it’s not just about your website. If you want them to come back often, they need to like using your website. It’s similar to anything else in life. If it’s frustrating to do something then you’re not likely to keep doing it over again for very long.

An excellent website that fosters long term loyalty will easily answer three questions:

  1. How easy is it to find what I want?
  2. How long did I have to wait for the pages to load?
  3. Did the website work on my particular device?

You may, in fact, have the most awesome, beautiful GPU intensive website ever built. However, if people can’t find what they want or if they have to wait too long to get it, or it just didn’t work on their device of choice then you’ve lost them. For example, if you are monitoring your website stats and notice a shift from iOS-based devices to Android, then you’d better make sure your website works on Chrome.

Certainly there are many, many other questions to be asked when building an excellent website and, of course, I’m oversimplifying things quite a bit. But the nice thing about these three questions is you can always swing the conversation back to them. Use can use these as a tuning fork to help build a solid foundation for success.

I think we can all take lessons from 3rd party travel websites. These websites operate on thin margins and they have to do only one thing to be successful: sell as many travel packages as possible. There is one thing that is absolutely consistent across the successful travel sites: the primary call to action is always in the upper left hand corner and it asks the three most important questions right up front. What’s your starting point? Where are you going? How do you want to get there? Bam.