Starting a Website – Features

Starting your own website can be exciting! You have plans and dreams, goals and a vision for what you want it to be. No matter the type of site you want to create, there will be specific features you want or require for your site. This article, which is part of our Starting a Website series, will help you plan your features and avoid a common mistake new webmasters make – overloading their site and users with too many features. Sit back, get comfy, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and read on for the details.

I can remember when I was a kid and my parents would give me the Sears Wishbook to pick what I wanted for Christmas. I would be pointing to everything in it. I did that for my first site too – found and installed everything I could get my hands on that looked cool, fun, helpful and that I thought would interest my users. That was a big mistake and one that nearly every webmaster makes in their attempt for the perfect site.

If you add too much stuff to the site, your users will be confused and overloaded with too many options. This will end up making them either leave in frustration, or click everything under the sun trying to explore and learn the site. It will be counterproductive to getting great content and growing the site. So, how do you choose what to put on the site and what to put on a future wish list?

First, keep in mind that your users want to see content on the site. They are coming there for whatever niche your site is built for. As such, they either want forum posts, blogs, photos, videos, music, etc. If you have an IM chat, but no content to draw them in, they won’t see a reason to join as the IM chat is private – it doesn’t contribute to the site content and only serves to drain resources. Basically, an IM chat is like a tick sucking the life out of your site. Leave the chatting to Facebook to pay for those resources and let your resources go towards a fast site that serves great content to keep your users busy interacting and contributing on the site longer.

Third party apps or plugins. These can be good to add some necessary functions, but make sure what you add is absolutely necessary. In most cases, a start up site doesn’t need a ton of goodies. It needs a ton of content. Add your content first. Make sure you are posting quality content that is unique to your site.

If there are third party apps/plugins you must have, such as a job posting app for a job site, then make sure the resource drain is worth the addition. Every app/plugin will add some drain to your available resources, some much more than others. If you don’t absolutely, without a doubt, have to have the apps/plugins, don’t put them on. You can wait until later to add apps, once the site is established and you see how much you might be earning and what type of server upgrade you can afford.

You might be complaining by now that, “I must have this app/plugin” “My site is focusing on x and all of these features are needed” “I can’t compete if my site doesn’t have these features”. It is true that having unique features on a site can be a good thing, but in moderation. I keep going back to that.

It’s because many don’t listen and that is why their sites end up closing within a year. They load them up with every feature they think it needs, and then the site is slow or crashes as the apps/plugins drain too many resources. Also, there is just so much for the users to see and do that they just space out in confusion, not knowing what to do first. Take a look at one site that earned a spot on a “websites that suck” list, . You don’t want your users to feel like you will when you see that site.

Use the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) principle and keep your site simple for your users to use.

How to tell if you really need that app/plugin/widget

If you answer yes to these then you probably need it:

  1. Is it essential for your niche? (job site -> job posting app, cooking site ->recipe app)
  2. Does it add to usability? (special handicap accessibility, better UI/UX)
  3. Will it help with site promotion? (SEO, Analytics, etc)

If you answer yes to these then you can probably do without:

  1. Will it increase server load without contributing to site content? (IM chat, Shoutbox, mobile app, etc)
  2. Will it increase user confusion? (too many blocks, too much to learn, lots of buttons to push)

Those are a few questions to ask yourself before putting a feature on your site. In the beginning, your users are trying to learn an unfamiliar site. They need to have a simple design and simple features to navigate. This will get them interacting and inviting their friends and family as they become more comfortable on your site.

Once the site is established, you could put a poll or post to ask what feature(s) they would most like to see and then maybe add a feature at that time. Always keep in mind the server resources you have and that any additions will take from those resources. You might need to upgrade your server if adding features. Check with your host regarding the load and their recommendations should you see that it slows down after adding some. Always, always write tutorials for your users when you do add new features.

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