You’ve been looking at websites to get ideas on how to build or renovate your own. Some you like, some you don’t, and you may not be able to put your finger on exactly why. But you need to know exactly what works for a website and what doesn’t. If you look at those websites again and hold them to the standard of the five elements below, you will understand completely why some of the sites worked and some didn’t.

Engaging Visual Design

The visual elements—logo, theme, layout, white space, colors and fonts—are all part of the design. Together they create a first impression, and you want your site to invite people in, not pass your site by. Think of the design in the context of a row of shops on a city street. You walk pass shops that look like they haven’t been cared for—or worse, the owner doesn’t care about the potential customers. No one has cleaned the windows or painted; signs are scrawled in magic marker; merchandise is strewn about. You will move on to a shop that is welcoming, nicely decorated, professional looking, organized. It’s same with websites. A well-designed site is visually appealing, draws in interested visitors and keeps them interested.

Simple Navigational Aids

You have drawn interested visitors to your website. If they can’t figure out how to explore it, they are not going to tarry long. They will move on to a competitor’s site. The navigation bar (aka navbar or menu) needs to be the visitors’ guide. This is no time to get creative. The convention is that the navbar appears horizontally along the top of the page or vertically on the left side of the page, and you need to follow that convention to reduce your “bounce rate” (percentage of visitors who leave the site after viewing only one page) and increase the number of pages viewed per visit. Whether the bar is horizontal or vertical, it needs to be immediately visible, clearly labeled and consistent on all pages of the site.

Then there are the times not to follow convention. When making a list, we put items in order of importance. We’ve been doing that forever, and it’s a good plan for a to-do list. It’s counterproductive for the website navbar. The bar needs to list the most important items first, then the least important are in the middle, and the rest of the most important are at the end. Think about it—do you not see “Contact Us” at the end of almost every navbar? The field of psychology clued us in on that “trick.” Studies determined that, for whatever reason, people notice and retain first and last items on a list.

Calls to Action

So you have drawn visitors to your website and guided them around nicely. The last thing you want is to have them wondering what to do next. You need Calls to Action: invite them to sign up for the newsletter, buy a product, make an appointment for a service, etc. And you need to make that invitation “pop” so they notice it. Size matters, as does placement and color. Keep testing to see what generates the most responses.

CTAs, whether text or visual, need to be in a boldly contrasting color to the other text and visuals and background. They also need to be a reasonable size. This is not the place for a game of “hide and seek.” Your visitors will not find it amusing if they have to search around. Effective CTAs are easily identified, and they are on every page in the exact same spot.

Use action verbs. “Click here” is pretty lame for CTAs. Invite the visitors to “sign up,” “view,” “schedule,” “buy,” “learn more,” “add to wish list.” The best CTAs are compelling CTAs.

Informative, Entertaining and Well-written Content

Most visitors to your website will scan the headlines. Not many will continue reading unless the headline grabs them. After the headline has piqued their curiosity, the introduction has to follow through and tell your visitors why they want to read the content and the content needs to keep that promise. It’s not the place for scientific (or any other) jargon known only by the elite few. “Fifty-cent words” are not going to gain you a loyal following.

The way you say something is as important as what you say—possibly more so. Well-written, grammatically correct content goes a long way to creating a first, and lasting, impression that will serve you well: that you are professional, informed and respect your visitors.

The crème de la crème of content generates comments. Once visitors comment, they keep returning to your website. Returning visitors are noticed by search engines. Notice by search engines bring in more visitors. And on and on it goes.

Credibility

Your website can be work of art visually, a “no-brainer” to navigate and a font of valuable content, and yet, if you have no credibility, it may be all for naught. Testimonials are very helpful when they have the name and a photo of the person praising you, but you can also go far in assuring people on your “About Us” page: Who you are, where you are, how and why you got into this business/endeavor, what your mission is. People like to know about the real people behind the site and that they can pick up a phone, just in case, and talk to you or a representative.