What constitutes a good website?

Dear readers, friends and fellow web creators, I need your help. I would like to ask for your suggestions in the form of comments to this post.

The problem is the stigma attached to the term “accessibility”. Now we know that web accessibility achieves more than simply facilitating access to web content. But a lot of government organizations and businesses don’t see the need to even try and conform to accessibility guidelines.

As part of a group of organizations (the advisory group for the Dutch Web Accessibility/Quality Guidelines) concerned with changing this way of thinking, several of us are trying to compile a list of themes/categories/factors which can be considered building blocks of really good websites, or less-obvious benefits of accessible websites. I’m aware of many, but lots of people in this industry are so incredibly smart; it would be such a pity not to ask.

So I’m asking! The idea is to create a list of things like “interoperable”, “search-engine friendly/findability”, “archivable” etc. to help convince government organizations and businesses that there are lots of non-obvious benefits in conforming to web accessibility guidelines. “Cuts down on bandwidth usage” is fine. I’ll parse the list and try to group like-minded suggestions together to come up with some high-level themes. I will post the results and link to any known follow-up usage or derivative of the resulting list.

Even if you can only think up one thing, please add it to the comments! Ask your friends (but don’t spam :) ). Don’t worry too much about accessibility, just quickly note whatever you think makes a great website.

Care to chip in? What constitutes a good website?

12 thoughts on “What constitutes a good website?

  1. Hi Stephen.

    Great question. A quick braindump on what I believe constitutes a great website:
    I think you can probably broadly categorize these in terms of usability and user experience.

    – The site should function correctly (doh!) and load quickly in a wide variety of UA’s etc.
    – The site’s content should be accessible for as varied an audience as possible. This also means that the content should be easily perused (i.e. texts not too long, proper typographic style etc,).
    – The site should be build on open standards and not depend on proprietary technology
    – The site should have an easy way to get in touch (such as a contactform/email link)
    – The site’s navigation should be simple and intuitive (‘easily learned’)
    – The site’s main objective(s) should be clear
    – The site should have engaging copy
    – Ideally the above is mixed with ‘personality’ (a strong brand?)

    Those are the first things that come to mind.

  2. Only now I read your article properly I realize that your probably looking for benefits of accessible (‘good’) sites rather than merely characteristics, right?

    Are you looking for things like: broader audience (more sales), lower bandwith (less costs), easier to maintain, etc?

  3. Cross-platform zou een categorie kunnen zijn. Je noemt interoperabiliteit al maar de twee zijn niet hetzelfde.

  4. Apart from the list of things you already mentioned… Referring to the non-obvious benefits of building accessible websites, here goes:

    (much) cheaper development/improvement later on
    Less maintenance needed, apart from cheaper development later on
    Better availability on mobile browsers/less work needed there
    Other people can more easily take the data you make available and present them in new, insightful ways
    Accessible, well-built sites are future compatible. They become outdated or obsolete much slower

    Happy now? ;)

  5. @David: great list! And yes, I’m looking for those things as well.

    @Alexander: Great!

    @Kilian: Yes, I am quite happy.

    Thanks for the suggestions so far!

  6. Some things come to my mind, in no particular order:

    • UA agnostic
    • (input) device agnostic
    • content before design (design is just one of many added layers)
    • semantic code, accessible for humans and machines (data mining)
  7. A great website
    a website that reaches its audience in a most profitable manner for it’s goal ?

    Now how’s that for not worrying about accessibility ?
    Questions that arose whilst thinking about this :

    • what actually is a website ?
    • what is good or great ?

    This is , I guess , always related to the targeted audience and the envisioned goal.

    Take css zen garden for instance , is this a website ? Does it need to be accessible ? Is it good or great ?

    Thanks for the question, enjoy it.

  8. I’m so glad you’re not really asking the interwebs what “a good website” is, as your title is suggesting ;-)

    The benefits of (accessibility) standards as I see it:

    * don’t spend money on javascript font enlargers (a A A+), because this is something the UA is supposed to do, so don’t do it in a non-standards way _for_ the UA

    * don’t spend money on read-aloud service, because this is something that the UA should do, should the user be so inclined

    * don’t make your website and in particular your webforms fail (silently) because the UA doesn’t support javascript or cookies: users will a) get very annoyed, b) cost you a lot more money because 1) they will call you to do whatever they tried to on your website and 2) they will complain about it, causing you support tickets on top of that

    * don’t make your website fail in some sort of UA other than a maximized IE browser window on a Windows PC (well… it’s generally not that bad, but a somewhat older Opera or Firefox on Linux will still show some nasty incompatibilities. In fact, there are still some gemeente websites around built on a (cough) not so recently updated SIM install that actually will load the graphic version of the site in Firefox and then drop you down to the totally inadequate text version because the CMS does not believe your browser can handle their magnificent code)

    * you’re not blocking people from accessing information on your website on basis of eye color or belief, why block them because of a visual handicap

    * if you’re a government agency of some sort: Webrichtlijnen are mandatory for every government agency by 1 dec 2010: if you’re not already (almost) in compliance then yes, this will cost money and may force you to select a new cms and/or supplier: deal with it. It really does cost less in the long run.

    * the early adopters and tech savvy will think you’re cool if you pull off a nice webstandards compliant site.

    So, why don’t people already care? Most people don’t care much for technology at all, or maybe just up to the point of “My PC has 3 gigahertz and 1 terabyte of ram” (eh, don’t you mean a 1 terabyte hard drive? No, no, just what I said: 1 terabyte of ram. Uh… yeah…) I mean, people are generally impressed by a turbo and no so much by twin cams and variable valve timings.

    Maybe we should have something like a webstandards F1 or WRC… make people want to have that CCS3 badge slapped on their shiny alloy footers. Make it bragable (is that a word?)…

  9. My reply
    became long enough to put it on my own blog :P
    (and I am hoping I did not totally ‘miss the boat’ with it , that will make me quite the fruitcake)

    Frank Schaap:

    “I’m so glad you’re not really asking the interwebs what “a good website” is, as your title is suggesting ;-)[…]”

    Is Stephen really working in such misleading ways? ’cause here he suggests it again:

    “[…]Care to chip in? What constitutes a good website?”

  10. I applied a bit of a bit of reader discretion… but then again, we could Digg this post or post it to 4chan and get some actual users to chime in. Nothing like some user research involving actual users :-)

  11. Thanks everyone. This post was the result of some members of the advisory group arguing that the only frequently-used “selling points” for accessible websites are those concerning the limitations of certain user groups (like the blind). They feel that these points are not enough to “sell” accessibility guidelines to both government and businesses, as they are not sexy.

    The people making this argument are presumably unfamiliar with material such as the WAI business cases.

    The question was intentionally ambiguous: I wanted to see if we could get some characteristics of “successful”/”good”/”well-made” websites from outside the realm of accessibility benefits, and “map” these to some of the Dutch Web Guidelines.

    I’m closing comments on this one, as I’ve got enough material to see that most suggestions not having to do with branding/design/content will most likely fit somewhere within the WAI business cases. I will post my findings shortly.

    Thanks again!

  12. This is a great question, but one that I found daunting to reply to. But, here goes:

    • The website is succinct and have a clear sense of hierarchy.
    • The code is well-written so that the myriad technologies that can add extra value can gobble it up & do their thing, so updating it is painless for all involved, & other things I think are important, like a11y.
    • The content has relevance.
    • Design accentuates content. If the content is weak, the design will only be able to do so much. I am not a fan of “prettyfying.”
    • Fallbacks for a variety of scenarios should be implemented. No CSS? No JavaScript? No images? Handheld device? Smartphone? The sooner we start remembering that our work is not just on a 1024 x 768 monitor (or 800 x 600, for some sad folks), the better. The medium is fluid. Our thinking &approach must be, too.

    I believe that the more accessible our work is the more flexible it will be. If we keep our markup as lean as possible and move styling & behavior into separate methodolies (css & javascript), then the content will be useful. Microformats & wai-aria are interim patches for what we are currently missing. I’d like to see more power added to the semantic html that devices can then interpret. But, I’d also love to see world peace. ;-)

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