Defining the “Good” in a Good Web Site

How do you define a good Web site?  You may know it when you see it.  You may even have a few Web sites in your mind–sites that you visit or use often–that you would hold up as examples of “good.”

If you ask most people–especially marketers–about good Web sites, they’ll usually tell you about sites they consider to be good.  They may, from a different angle, be prepared to talk through the different virtues of Web sites that they tend to like based upon its strategic model.  Fashionistas might love GILT because of its unique approach to selling luxury goods at big-box discounts.  Sports fans might point to as a “good” Web site because it always has up-to-the-minute content.  Movie lovers might hold up Rotten Tomatoes as a good Web site because of its inventive approach to aggregating movie reviews.

There are other examples of what defines good which can be more abstract–judging or grading a Web site based upon its aesthetic appeal.  For example, some use terms like “clean,” “professional,” or “interactive” to explain why they like a particular site.

Defining a Web site in these terms can be somewhat dangerous because they are subjective in nature.  And as a marketer starts imposing these personal preferences upon a Web site project, s/he runs the risk of missing the mark.  What is “clean” to one person might be “cluttered” to another.  And who is to say that a Web site that someone likes because it is “clean” should be modeled in another Web site project where perhaps that approach is not optimal.

Whatever the case, everyone has a different view of what is good.  And the good is usually based upon personal preference.  People confuse what is “good” with what they “like.”  And that can be dangerous.  Why?  Because one person’s personal Web site preference might not be appropriate or suitable for other target markets.

The Craigslist Web site is a very successful site, but not one that most people point to as an example of good design.

The Craigslist Web site is a very successful site, but not one that most people point to as an example of good design.

One interesting example is Craigslist.  It is widely known as a very successful, heavily used, and widely-regarded Web site.  But its design is not one that most marketers would embrace.  Wired Magazine even published a recent feature where it suggested that the site needed an “extreme makeover.”  So does that mean that the site is not “good” because it doesn’t have the design most of us would choose for ourselves?  Certainly not.

So let’s define the word ‘good’ as it relates to Web sites.  And to do so, let’s abandon aesthetics and functionality because they are fairly subjective.  We can’t all agree on these areas and they are difficult to both articulate and measure.  To define “good” in a good Web site, the following definition is appropriate:

A good Web site is one which accomplishes the purposes for which it was intended.

Embracing this definition forces a marketer’s hand.  It challenges the marketer to define a Web site’s purposes first–design and functional considerations should come only later.

Along the way, specificity and measurability play key roles.  It is a best practice to identify specific outcomes that you would like to see (i.e. we would like to increase subscriptions to our email newsletter) and to measure activity and progress.  Without this type of approach, one can’t really verify whether a purpose is being accomplished.

So as you think about your current Web site or if you are contemplating a new Web site project, experiment with this definition of good.  It will likely challenge your thinking and help to clarify what is really important.  In the end, a Web site that simply looks exactly what you’d like it to may not be very good at all.