Making effective websites

Key points to bear in mind:

It's for them not you

You have to find out what your audience wants and then structure your site to make it easy for them to find it. Use their language, their terminology, their suggestions and demands.

Who is your audience?

Do you know what the most popular part of your site is? If so, do you know how popular it is?

It is only when you know who comes to your site and what they want that you can give it to them. Use Google Analytics: it’s free, easy to use and incredibly useful.

User testing can be quick, inexpensive and also fun. Ask a handful of people to use your site to complete some basic tasks. Watch them, speak to them, find out why they had trouble doing some things, ask how they’d like the site to work. You will learn something every time you do this.

Let them find it

Don't blame the search utility, it can only work with your content.

If you can access them look in the search logs – a long list of all the terms that were typed into the search box over a determined period of time. It shows what people are searching for. Spend time with them and they’ll help you to use the most useful and relevant terms on your site.

Jobs or vacancies? Offices invariably develop their own terminology. That is not a good thing for your visitors. Your webpages need to use the right words in their title, sub headings and content – there is no point in having job ads on a page called “Opportunities at Oxford” and then complaining that it does not feature in a search result for “jobs” when “jobs” is not there to be found. Use the obvious terms.


One of the main factors that undermine the professionalism of a site is the graphics – you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. No clip art – it looks amateurish and should not be used.

Use jpg for photographic images, gif for graphics/illustrations/charts. Use a graphics package that lets you see a preview of the image when you are choosing what level of jpg compression to use. Go for quality over size (within reason). An image that downloads in the blink of an eye but looks ghastly is no victory.


Edit, edit, edit. Keep it short, write in plain English, be authoritative.

Look at your webpages: would you read them? When you buy something new that comes with instructions, do you methodically read through the whole instruction manual or just skim through the Quick Start Guide?

People skim-read webpages, so structure your page for this:

  • Use short paragraphs and sub headings;
  • Take blocks of prose and simplify them into concise bullet points;
  • Consider not putting links into paragraphs of text, let the reader read then offer them further info or related links after the text. A link can be more of a distraction, click me I'm interesting, than a help sometimes.

Give them more

The web is predominantly a text-based medium but that's changing. Luckily it is also getting easier to add elements to your site such as slideshows, interactivity, audio and video. It’s fine to write that Oxford has a wide diversity of students but it's better to illustrate this in a video. Social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are free - but time consuming to maintain. See our advice on video and social media.


Websites should, ideally, work for all people regardless of their hardware, software, location or physical or mental ability. Guidance on creating accessible websites can be found on the digital accessibility section of the communications website.