Websites are cheaper to run and easier to build than ever before. They’re accessible to businesses of virtually every size and provide a useful touchpoint between both customers and wider internet audiences.
Some 71% of businesses now have a website, representing a mighty jump from more like 50% in 2018, according to Fit Small Business. Site Builder found that some 44% of businesses with no website plan on building one in 2021.
There’s a huge range of options for building a website ranging from super-easy drag-and-drop platforms such as Shopify, Wix and Squarespace that require minimal tech skills to fully bespoke and customisable yet low-cost options like WordPress website design.
Whilst there are numerous routes to building a website, the format and features of modern websites are very consistent. Here are some must-have website features that are important to get right.
Section 1: Homepage
Home is where the heart is and a website’s home page is really no different - it’s the mainstay of the entire website. The website’s homepage is the most important feature of your website, both from a usability, design and SEO perspective. Building a killer homepage is some of the best digital marketing advice you can implement.
Of course, a homepage is actually made up of many features. They can be simple and minimalist, acting as a gateway to the rest of the website, or long and detailed, acting as a landing page as well as a homepage.
1) Cover images, Hero Images and Sliders
Visit practically any business’s website and you’ll find one of these 3 things. Each one usually takes the form of a wide image (often full-width) that covers the screen.
Cover images are just static images, ideally containing information about the business including some brand messaging and a tagline. Hero images are pretty much the same.
Sliders (e.g. Smart Slider) are a more interactive version of the cover/hero image that can alternate between different images. Each of these should contain a call to action (CTA) and a button that takes visitors to a landing page, product page, service page or messaging form.
2) Social Proof
- Updates and news from the company
- New and recent work/products/service updates
- Social media content, e.g. by using widgets that automatically update when you post
3) Internal Links to Other Pages
The homepage also acts as a hub for visitors to access crucial pages, like the blog or portfolio. Most themes allow blogs, portfolios or other pages to be added to the homepage with thumbnails.
4) Important Product or Service Information
One of the most important features on website homepages are business updates and announcements.
The cover/hero image or slides can be used to display important products or service updates, or these could be positioned in their own banner somewhere down the homepage. One example would be new releases, or important company announcements. Coca Cola’s home page cover/hero image displays their latest competition, for example. The next slide then displays other content, like company updates, a new bottled product, and more.
Section 2: Other Pages
The homepage is of critical importance, but a website must feature other pages besides just the homepage. Smaller business websites might just have a handful of pages, e.g. an about page, a products/services page, a contacts page, a blog page and an online store if applicable.
1) The Blog
Website blogs are critical for website SEO. Content is a basic SEO building block that helps rank a site in organic search results. The blog is probably the only place where a website can build a series of substantive high-quality content. Blog posts can be anything from how-tos and tutorials to resources, news, essays, opinion pieces or pretty much anything, so long as it has some relevance to the site and its industry(s) or niches.
The bio/about page is another staple page that people navigate to when they want to find out more about the business’s physical and personal details. This should contain a well-written introduction to the business and what it does, as well as providing a means to contact the business both via email or message and in-person if applicable.
3) Services or Product Pages
Websites should feature service or product pages. These vary considerably based on the business and its products or services. For example, a data company might sell marketing data, data analysis and data engineering services - these sub-services could be made accessible via the main ‘services’ page.
Section 3: Header, Footer and Navigation
Most websites have a header - a top bar - and a footer, at the bottom of the page. These tend to remain in place no matter what page a user navigates to.
The top bar, or header, should contain key links to all the major internal pages. The header also likely contains the site’s logo or other branding. A slick, good-looking and functional header is really important as it appears on every page (usually).
3) Navigation and Menus
Navigation varies between sites, but on all websites, it must be clear and easy to access from every page. Many modern website themes contain a good selection of navigation options ranging from side-bars to floating menus. Make sure that all the main pages of the website are linked to your main navigation menu and that there are no redirects or broken links.
Section 4: Back-End and Utility
Every website has a back-end. The back-end is vital for maintaining the website’s functionality and features.
1) Marketing and Data Analytics
By collecting data from the homepage’s call-to-action (CTA), or an eCommerce store, businesses can analyse various data like click-through rates (CTRs) and conversion rates. Data can be integrated into order management software (OMSs) and customer relationship management software (CRM).
2) Site Health and Speed
Page loading speed is maximally important. This study by WebFX found page load increases of just 1 second can boost conversions and reduce bounce rates. There are numerous apps and plugins designed to speed up websites. By compressing images and cleaning up lines of code, it’s possible to shave seconds off-site loading times.
Summary: Must-Have Features on Your Website
Nailing the business website is some of the most fundamental online marketing advice out there.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of must-have website features but it provides a comprehensive starting point. Most good business websites contain all of these ingredients. There’s nothing too complicated here - it’s easily possible to feature all of these things on any modern website platform.
There is no harm in keeping websites simple and streamlined. Most top brands choose to keep their sites relatively simple - it’s best to keep things clean, usable and accessible rather than dysfunctionally flashy.