vector newsletter

Common Traits of Successful Web Sites

This one one of the very first newsletters from the VectorInter.Net staff, originally written for presentation at a web site developers conference in 1992. It was amended and expanded over the years, but remains one of the most "correct" editorial pieces we've ever distributed. We posted it here in an early form, so you can see that the technology has changed, dial-up modems are gone and everyone has a personal blog, but the "basics" still apply.

    In the big rush to join the rapidly expanding Internet world, many businesses decided to build a web site "now" and handle the details later. This has led to many ineffective web sites and in a few cases, the demise of entire companies, at the height "success" during the "Go! Go Fast, Go Faster" days of the late 90's. Why? Because successful web sites are not just "built." They are planned, developed and grown. Successful web sites have a strategy, and that "success" can be measured.

    Is your company's web site successful? .... or was it built because everyone else had one?  The "Me too" syndrome is a powerful deterrent to getting a successful web site completed. Anyone can put HTML pages together and call it a web site. That is not an accomplishment. Can you build a productive tool that reinforces a company image, produces measurable results and effectively accomplishes it's objective? That is an achievement. So, if you've ever asked the question "Is our web site successful?", and gotten answers like "I think so..." or "It seems to do pretty well.", then in reality, the answer is, "We don't really know." 

    In the last few years, we've observed others and participated in many web site development processes. There is a common theme among web site projects that continue to get results. No one can claim to know all the answers, but sometimes a really good question can lead you down the right path. The Common Traits of Successful Web Sites are.......     
Trait #1

- A way to measure "Success"

    What does "success" mean in relation to your web site project? A web site is successful if it meets and/or exceeds its goals and objectives. Before you can measure success, you must first identify those goals. That is a really broad definition, but it's the only one that works, because of the wide diversity of uses for a web site. A web site is a multi-function tool. It can do so many different things. You could directly sell a product (e-commerce), provide specific product or company-wide information (service), or list your product inventory (as a catalogue or an inventory control tool), maybe customer service support (CRM) is your goal. The purpose of the web site will determine how its success can be measured. Without a sense of purpose to your web site, you will fail, because you've not pin-pointed specifically what that job was supposed to be. Once you've determined a way to measure the results from your web site, you'll have an answer to the question we started with. "Is our company's web site successful?"    
Trait #2

- Pick a single job or purpose for your web site.

    Among the web sites that are widely considered successful, Another common element is a focus on one main task. Have you ever visited a web site that tried to do everything? These sites almost always fail, because the job is too broad. If you don't have a specific focus or task for your site, chances are good that it won't produce the desired results. Focus on what you want to achieve, and build toward that goal, using suitable graphics, colors, animation, etc. That doesn't mean your web site can't accomplish more than one objective. It does means you must think the process through completely. The Ford Motor Company does this. If you go to , you will find a web site that is focused on directing traffic to where the "surfer wants to go. It doesn't sell cars, list job openings or help you find a dealer. The web site's job is navigation. Each Ford brand of cars or trucks has its own web site. When James Bond and I select the "Aston Martin" button on, we visit a site with a different objective. The web site at , offers me information on those cars, some help finding a dealer near me, service assistance and a social club for car owners. The Aston Martin web site does it's specific job, While allowing  to do its job. To carry this one step further, the Aston Martin Owners Club is at . You see the layered effect. In only three buttons, each easily found, I've arrived where I wanted to be. Why?, because each web site was build for a specific job. That leads me to the next common trait among successful web sites.     
Trait #3

- Simple, easy and logical navigation through the web site.

    There is nothing more frustrating than getting lost in a poorly constructed web site. When the time comes to diagram the layout of your site, be sure to keep the user experience in mind at all times. This may seem like an easily achieved goal, but it is a common stumbling block. Your viewer will appreciate your planning, when they can find the exact information they need in less than four mouse clicks.     
Trait #4

- Provide interesting content

    When you have built your web site with a goal, a single purpose and logical navigation, it is ready for visitors; Right? Not quite yet. You need interesting content. If you want to be successful over the long-term, you must provide interesting or valuable content. Plan from "Day 1" to add, update and grow your web site to keep it "fresh" and interesting. The information, news, games, puzzles, music, price discounts, trivia, or social interaction must be attractively displayed and easy to find. It must also have value to the viewer too. The ability to bring visitors back, again and again, is a key trait of successful web sites. This is where planning can save you from wasting time and effort. Pick a target audience. Design the content of the web site for that audience. If you know "who" you want as visitors, it becomes easier to deliver the content they seek. It is also easier and more efficient to find them when it comes time to advertise your web site.     
Trait #5

- Use a page design style, colors and visual cues that appeal to the target audience.

    A web site should match the visual style expectations of the visitor, or compliment the image of the product being sold. Don't mix the message. I 'm a big fan of Mickey Mouse®. I love the theme parks, the cable channel, the whole kit, but do I want Mickey helping me select stocks on an investment web site? No! It's not appropriate. I love the mouse. I own the stock too, but not on the same web site. Successful web sites are not designed according to what you would like to see, but should be built to appeal to the audience for your product or service. Lets use Ford Motor Company as an example again. If you look at the individual web sites for Aston Martin, Land Rover, Jaguar, Mercury, Mazda and Volvo, you will find each has a different style. More importantly, each has a style that Ford hopes reflects the demographic base of each marquee's ownership base. Ford "talks" to it's customers with a voice that is appropriate for each group. What kinds of people make up your target market? Could you define a profile audience? (What is the gender, age, education, profession, income level, etc, of your ideal customer? ) By serving your audience, you can determine what kind of style, color, and visual cues will attract and appeal to them.    
Secret #6

- Announce yourself to the world. 

    The "best" web site on the Internet means nothing, if your audience never finds it. It is a really big world-wide-web out there, and it is getting larger every day. If you don't advertise your web site, no one will find it. Search engines will draw some attention, but if you are looking for real results, you will have to go and spread the word about your site. ( We discuss simple ways to get your web site into the "search engine results" in the Do It Yourself search engine optimization newsletter.) Advertising has changed dramatically since the "dot-com" crash, but some traditional forms of marketing can still be useful tools for generating interest in your web site. The simplest idea is to put your web address on every piece of printed literature, all of your business cards, letterhead and the advertising you are already doing. Don't forget the door panels of the company trucks. What about displaying your web address inside the urinal in every men's room in town? Don't laugh, It's been done! ( To learn more ways to "promote your web site off-line" in the VectorInter.Net newsletter archives.) You may be able to save money on print ads by reducing the total size of the ad and listing your web address as a source of more details. Radio and TV, newspaper ads, billboards or hot air balloons, whatever you are doing to promote your business, include your web site address. Think of the promotional measures that have worked in the past, and try them again, with your new web site the central focus of the ad campaign. Once you've gotten new visitors, keep them coming back with E-mail marketing. ("E-mail, the killer marketing Application" discusses more ways to increase repeat visitors to your web site, just one of many subjects in the VectorInter.Net newsletter archives.)

    It is true that the creation of a successful web site demands thought and detailed planning, but when you get it right, It is a wonderful thing. The rewards can build and grow your whole business enterprise, to unexpected levels of success. Look at and eBay. Perhaps a web site is more work that you bargained for, but the payoff is well worth the effort....and the next time someone wants to know if your web site is a success, you will know the answer is "Yes! and I know why"

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