9 essential elements of a modern website design

Every business needs a web design that reflects who they are and provides value. Discover the 9 essential elements of a great website.

Jeff Cardello
November 3, 2020
Web design

Whether you're designing a new website or redesigning one, knowing what to include is vital. After all, the first impression is an important one. We put together a comprehensive list of what we believe every business website should consider.

9 effective elements of a good website

Here are the 9 elements that make a successful website:

1. A business website needs a higher purpose

Reaching people with a brand’s message and bringing them onboard as customers are the keys to any successful marketing strategy.

Traditional advertising, like print, television, and radio ads, was once the only means of gaining new customers. Today, social media, digital advertising, and websites are the primary tools that companies use to get the word out about what they do.

Just like any piece of a marketing strategy, a company website needs to have well-defined goals and a way to measure its success. Knowing how a website is going to fit into the overall business strategy will inform what functionality it’s going to require, the content, organization, and how it’s going to look.

A business website may serve a number of different purposes in building brand awareness and expanding a customer base. Let’s look at some common business website goals and purposes.

Lead generation

Sending off newsletters, promotions, invitations to webinars, and other marketing materials are ways to further connect with customers.

A business website needs a call to action to generate new leads by gathering email addresses from their visitors. Email addresses are gathered by taking visitors through a series of steps that brings them to a contact form or by placing a simple signup form in a key place in the web layout.

Magnolia Bakery, famous for their cupcakes and other yummy sweet treats, puts a newsletter signup at the top of their design and presents this pop-up signup form when a visitor first lands on their homepage.

magnolia bakery website

Gathering customer information can also happen in other parts of a web design. In this example below, REI tucks a newsletter signup form at the bottom of the screen.

REI's product page

A visitor landing on a company website through search engine optimization, search engines, or a targeted ad has a reason for being there. Being able to keep in touch with them, even after they’ve left, may pay off in the future. A business website needs to integrate lead generation to make this possible.

Related reads: Website SEO: the ultimate guide to ranking on Google

Brand awareness

A website amplifies a business's voice and identity. It touts the value of its services and products. It tells the story behind it. And it shows how a business differs from its competitors.

Include images, logos, writing, and a design aesthetic that reflect a brand’s identity to leave people with a strong impression about who the business is.

The landing page from the organic skin care company Weleda captures the essence of their brand. Their website exemplifies exactly who they are, with the shades of green that tie into the natural ingredients they use and a hero image that reflects the duality of natural beauty.

weleda website

Images go far in showing what a brand represents. Using a strong hero image, like Weleda, connects people immediately to a brand.

Hero videos are another way to emphasize a brand’s identity and to draw people into a website. So Delicious, maker of non-dairy frozen desserts, sets the scene for their frozen confections with an appetizing opening video.

gif of so delicious' website

Whatever the type of business, a website must communicate the values of a brand and appeal to the sensibilities of their target customers through the aesthetics of its design.

Customer support

Being on hold for customer service, no matter how catchy the music, can be a real test of patience. We want to find the information we need, when we want it, in the least amount of time possible. And if we don’t have to speak to another person, the better.

A business website should include contact information and resources like tutorials, guides, videos, articles, and other content to help customers out in understanding a product or service. It should give them the resources they need and spare them from having to call up a business.

Supplemental content, like this sizing guide from the socially conscious fashion brand Elizabeth Suzann, helps customers in the buying process by giving them what they require to make an informed decision.

elizabeth suzann

A business website shouldn’t be just a long scroll of shallow marketing language. Providing help and guidance gives depth and helps boost customer confidence in a brand.

2. Use a distinct brand voice

Don’t let a business website get lost in the chorus of companies all saying the same things in the same boring way. Whatever the type of business, it needs a voice that reflects its personality.

The best brands have unmistakable voices. Think Geico, Apple, or even Hallmark. They speak in a way that makes them stand out. A company website not only needs to be packed with information, but it needs to say it in a way that keeps people engaged and wanting to read more.

3. Follow structure and organization

Information architecture and navigation need to be laid out in a logical way.

The pathways through the web pages and content of a business website need to be designed so that visitors don’t miss any of the important sections or CTAs. Anything that’s essential shouldn’t be buried in the design.

Navigation should follow repeatable patterns and have a sense of uniformity. Each option should be obvious about where it’s leading. There shouldn’t be anything incongruent disrupting a user’s flow.

Blue Bottle Coffee breaks down their navigation into three simple categories of shop, visit, and learn. These categories and their subsequent links to relevant content provide clarity and direction to anyone wanting to learn more about who they are and the coffee they sell.

blue bottle coffee website gif

The writing that makes up each page should also have a sense of cohesion. Each idea needs to lead to the next. Every concept should build upon what’s come before it, leaving no gaps and providing an overall understanding about a business and what they sell.

UrthBox, a food box subscription service offering a bounty of healthy snacks, does this well on their landing page.

urthbox website

They lead with this description above about what their service gives you, which is followed by sections covering how it works, the snacks they offer, and how to get started. Each section flows into the next by detailing how their food subscription service works.

urthbox products

4. Have a distinct user experience

With so much going into a company website, it’s easy to lose sight of the user experience (UX). But without UX, a web design may as well be a blank expanse of text.

UX is what breathes personality into a design. It combines important elements like the color palette, typography, and visuals to bring a design to life. It’s what takes what would otherwise be a boring arrangement of texts and images and transforms them into a design that makes you feel something.

The following design principles should guide the creation of the UX of an effective website:

  • Simplicity over complexity
  • Order over chaos
  • Usability over technicality
  • Optimizing design for mobile devices

Airbnb’s web layout has an airy and easy UX. With rounded corners, lightweight typography, and key elements like these floating buttons on the search bar below, nothing here is jagged or abrasive. Much like going on vacation, they offer a user experience that’s relaxed and easy.

gif of airbnb's homepage

Whatever the type of company, the user experience should align with who they are and make navigating through it an enjoyable experience.

5. Make ecommerce easy

If online sales are the primary chunk of a business’s revenue, the entire design will revolve in leading customers along the process of making a purchase.

Ecommerce websites need to have plenty of product photos, specs, and details about what they’re selling. A potential customer doesn’t get the experience of seeing a product in person, so they need all of the information that will give them an accurate representation.

Companies like Zappos succeed with brilliant product photos and provide consumers with all of the specifics.

zappos product page

Businesses that don’t offer physical items, like SaaS companies, need to communicate how their products work as well. Screenshots, animations, videos, and concise writing should capture the functionality of what they sell and clearly explain the pricing plans.

Parabola, which offers a software solution for automating processes, offers plenty of graphics and visual representations that show how their software works.

parabola automation

And of course, ease of use must guide every step of the purchasing process. From adding items to a cart to checking out, nothing should stand in the way of someone following through on finalizing their transaction.

6. Keep it updated with dynamic content

We’ve all landed on those websites that seem like dead ends. When nothing ever changes on the landing page and the blog hasn’t been updated for years, it gives off the impression of being abandoned. One almost expects digitized tumbleweeds to blow across these forgotten spaces of the web.

Update landing pages with promotions depending on the season. Keep an active blog. Add new videos. Keep a great website brimming with new and high quality content that people will want to return to again and again to check out. Ecommerce websites are especially easy to keep fresh. Post featured products or specially priced items at the top.

Dynamic content like having a blog may also give a bounce in organic search rankings. It gives web crawlers more information about what a website is about. And it shows that a business is still active.

Martha Stewart does a great job of providing new content that reflects the season and covers the type of topics her audience is interested in. New content appears daily, giving people a reason to come back again and again.

martha stewart's website

Of course, you need a way to manage all of this changing content. Using a content management system (CMS) like Webflow’s will give you the controls to edit, update, and change any dynamic content you need with ease.

7. Have distinct typography

Along with a color palette, logo, and brand voice, typography is a huge part of a brand’s identity. Find fonts that match your brand’s character. Typography should be consistent across a web design, with headers, body copy, and other text following the same styling guidelines.

starbucks style guide

In this style guide above from Starbucks, we see that they use three fonts — Sodo Sans, Lander, and Pike — for their design. Any business needs to formalize the typography they use for a website to give it a cohesive feel.

And typography isn’t limited to standardized fonts. Using a bit of customized typography, like hand lettering or other stylized fonts, can add a bit of pizzazz when used sparingly in a web design.

8. Express a visual identity through color

A color scheme is an essential part of a brand’s identity and must be applied consistently throughout a design. A web design shouldn’t be a collage of unrelated hues splashed across without any sort of intention. There should be a few key colors that make up the color palette.

petsmart visual identity

This is vital for any business or organization. Whether it’s Coca-Cola, PetSmart, or even an institute of higher learning like USC, a brand needs clear guidelines about what type of colors are going to be used. Below are USC’s brand guidelines, showing the colors that all designers need to adhere to when creating for their websites.

USC's identity guidelines

Find a color palette that captures a company’s branding and use it throughout its web design.

9. Provide ways to get in contact

Website visitors should have an easy way of finding out how to contact a business on their website. Include multiple ways to reach a business. This can be done with a customer contact form. Information like the phone number and an email address should be in an obvious place in the layout.

Social media blocks containing Facebook, Instagram, or other profiles are another way to gain followers and interact with people who may have questions or want to engage further.

A business website shouldn’t shut people out by omitting this important information. They should give their audience multiple ways to engage with their business.

A business website is a balance

When designing a business website keep in mind how every piece will function and come together in helping a company to succeed. Practical information, visuals, interactivity, clear navigation, and brand identity all come together in creating an effective business website.

Someone scrolling through its pages are taken on a journey. At the end they’ll have the reasons they need to become customers.

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Jeff Cardello

Advocate for better design and professional writer excited by tech, entrepreneurship, and branding. Writes the occasional joke on Twitter.

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