When it comes to running a website, you can’t afford to keep still while your competitors are making those all-important improvements. Advancements in hosting and web design, changing customer expectations and shifts in search engine algorithms are just some of the challenges that webmasters have to tackle to keep their sites fit for today’s marketplace. Here, we’ll look at what we consider to be the essential features of a website in 2020.
1. First-class hosting
Your choice of hosting package underpins every aspect of your website’s performance on the internet. A modern solution, like VPS hosting, for example, can ensure your site is always online, loads quicker on users’ devices and that it can handle spikes in demand without performance being affected. At the same time, a good web host can also provide you with exceptional security and backup solutions, improved compliance with regulations, reliable business email and 24/7 technical support to help you quickly tackle any problems which may arise. It can also make it easier to manage your website and your business with the use of advanced control panels like cPanel or Plesk.
With a first-class host and hosting package in place, a website can rank better in search engine results and reduce the number of visitors abandoning the site, while improving its reputation for being a reliable and secure place for people to visit and shop.
2. Mobile first design
Smartphones have become the most popular way to search the internet, with people browsing on them for twice as long as they do on laptops. Improved public wi-fi and 4G and 5G networks mean they are increasingly used when out and about to find local businesses or to search for information. At the same time, many more people are using mobiles to shop. According to analysts, GlobalData, mobile shopping is the fastest growing area in UK retail and will account for 40% of all UK online spending by 2024, with a value of over £33 billion.
With smartphones becoming such a key technology for consumers, website owners have little choice but to adapt. While responsive websites have been around for years, many earlier themes were geared up to create a desktop site and then simply repurposed this for display on mobile. This way of working, however, doesn’t always provide the mobile user with ease of use or best display. Today, it is important to develop a website where mobile use takes precedence; what Google calls the mobile first approach.
Personalisation has become one of the most important features of contemporary websites and provides benefits for both the user and the business. The process begins when a user signs in and, once done, the website transforms into one which is unique for that person. What they are presented with are the products, offers and information they most likely want to see. This improves their user experience, makes them feel valued, encourages engagement and generally makes them more interested in what’s on offer.
For the company, not only does this mean you are far more likely to make a sale; it also gets customers coming back over and over. It’s a technique that Amazon has mastered and which virtually every other online business wants to emulate.
While major companies invest heavily in advanced technologies, such as AI and product recommendation engines, to implement personalisation, it is possible to do it on virtually any website. There are numerous WordPress plugins, for example, that can personalise the website’s content and product recommendations, many using AI recommendation engines that analyse users browsing histories, etc., to ensure that those recommendations are highly relevant.
4. Ease of use
Customers expect every aspect of a website to be easy to use. This includes the fast-loading, mobile-friendliness and personalisation mentioned above, as well as a raft of other important features. Key here are simple navigation, so that whatever the user wants to find, they can do so quickly, and advanced product search, so that results can be filtered by size, colour, price or brand, etc. The checkout process should also be simple, without the need to fill in lots of information and with payment options to suit the user’s preferred payment methods.
Customers also expect finding information to be easy. This means providing FAQs or knowledgebases, while making it simple to get in touch and get speedy replies. Today, many websites feature chatbots, which have replaced live chat to customer service reps with interactions with AI-enabled software. Although the AI takes time to train, unlike a human, it can work around the clock and chat to multiple consumers simultaneously, answering the vast majority of queries that they ask of it. Importantly for generating sales, it can also initiate conversations and make product recommendations.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the features a website should have, what we have included here are those four which we think are essential to help websites perform well in the modern marketplace. First-class hosting, mobile first design, personalisation and ease of use are vital to ensure your website meets modern user expectations and can compete with other sites.
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