If you’ve ready my previous articles on proper website design, you already have an idea on what I believe a website should look like and what the design process should entail. Once you establish your site goals, wireframe your site and create the content, and then begin building each individual page, I think there are some important features that each site should always have. There are always exceptions to these rules of course.

Most sites should include a search function

Search Field Examples

Search is what made Google the center of the technology industry. No search functionality on a small website is going to rival Google’s capability, but it is an important feature to add to most sites. The reason is simple, every potential user to your site is an individual to thinks and reacts to your content in a unique way.

Think about different shoppers at a large hardware store all looking for the same thing, a hammer. Each customer will go about looking for the hammer in a different way. Shopper A will walk through the store looking for the large signs that mark each aisle until they see “Tools”. Then they will methodically search that aisle for their product. Shopper B will not bother with signs but will immediately walk up to the first employee they see and ask to be pointed to the hammers. Shopper C will aimlessly walk the aisles until they stumble upon the hammer section. No one is right or wrong here, but your site needs to be flexible enough to cater to each user’s unique way of fulfilling their questions, and adding search is a huge help to that.

Each page should contain breadcrumbs

Navigation And Breadcrumbs

I talked about this in a previous article, but I think it is important to say it again, on larger websites with lots of content, pages should contain some form on indicator as to where the user is, especially a clearly marked indication on how to get back home so they can at least start over from the beginning. Breadcrumbs are a great way to accomplish this. Breadcrumbs let visitors know where they are, even if they land on an interior page.

Forms should use proper input validation

Every form on your site needs to assist the user as much as possible.

  • If a form has a required field, the error generated upon missing the field should be clear and easy to understand. I have seen many sites where the error simply pops the user back to the top of the form (State of Hawaii I am talking about you) and it is up to the user to scroll through and try to figure out what they missed.
    Required Field
  • Complex fields should give the user tips on how to fill them out. If you want or need a date to be formatted in a specific way, for example, you should tell the user how to format it. Say “mm/yyyy” for a credit card expiration date. The field should also constrain the user to this format using input masks so that when they start to type, they have no choice but to type two characters, and then 4 more and that is it.
    Input Masks
  • Where possible, use double entry confirmation fields. For example, when creating a username and password, obviously, getting the password right is important so force the user to enter it twice and the form should automatically compare the two and generate a proper error when they do not match.
    Double Entry Field
  • Helpful hints should be given. This is one of those areas that frustrates people. If you are going to require strong password, for example, you should have a tip next to the password field describing what is expected of the input.
  • You don’t want a lot of SPAM in your inbox, but understand that users hate CAPTCHA. If you feel the need to use a CAPTCHA, make it easy on your users by using a simpler version. Google’s reCAPTCHA is a good version, no guesting letters for phrases, and it works.
    Google Captcha

Photography and images should be professional and unique

No one cares about stock images of pretty smiling faces. I know they may look good, but people want to see your business, your people, and your work. It may be easier to fill your site with a bunch of generic images, but you are not doing yourself any favors. Every company should be able to generate proper imagery that is unique to their business. If not images than charts, graphs, infographics, or custom designed art that is unique to your type of business and tailored to your site’s goals.

Mobile is absolutely necessary

I’ve said it so many times, I have lost count. 60% of your site visitors are on mobile devices, phones and tablets. Your site need to be mobile friendly. Read more about mobile here.

A call to action

Your site, if not each individual page of your site, needs a call to action. I see so many websites who have great information, great graphics, but nothing tells site visitors what to do if they want to engage. You can’t assume visitors will scroll to the bottom to find your phone number and call. You need to tell them what you want them to do. Go back to your site’s purpose and make sure it is clear to the customer how to fulfill that purpose. For example, the purpose of my site, www.pacificiworks.com, is to get site visitors to fill out my request a quote page. Therefore, every page explaining my services offered ends with a call to action which clearly states “Get A Quote”.