In the old days, back when Blackberry was the hot digital platform, enormous time and effort went into website creation and design. Like sculpted works of art, websites resided in a beautiful online gallery called the World Wide Web (which you reached via a dialup modem and AOL).

Back then, website design and development was dominated by two classes of professionals: Print designers, who brought their aesthetic sensibilities for look and feel to the web; and IT managers, who brought their deep knowledge of coding in nearly forgotten programming languages and early HTML.

Ah yes, the good old days – back before the companies and people who actually OWN websites were able to manage them to drive business results.

As the graphic above illustrates, it ain’t that way in the 21st century. And by and large, it’s a good thing. Because, as one of my favorite sales buddies says, Google can’t see pretty. In other words, on the Internet, success is not about how beautiful your website is. It’s about how well it delivers results that drive the success of your organization, whether it’s a nonprofit or a for-profit enterprise. This great infographic comes from HubSpot, a leader in the inbound marketing game (we are a HubSpot partner agency).

Now before my design and IT buddies get on my case, do not misunderstand me. Great design and solid technical performance are still important; in fact they are table stakes. In other words, if you don’t have those two attributes, you’re not even in the game. And there are enough low-cost, high-quality designers and web platforms around the world that great design and solid performance are available to nearly everyone.

In the 21st century, the Google search engine and the company behind it set most of the rules for being found on the Internet. And guess what, folks? The Google search engine can’t see how pretty your website is. Nope. It’s evaluating other information that frankly, is more important in search. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, guess what? Google can’t behold beauty, period. It reads text associated with images, called ALT tags, not the images themselves. And color, well, it doesn’t see that either. People see all of these things of course, but only AFTER using Google search and typing in keywords and phrases that bring them to your website, where they can decide for themselves if it’s beautiful or if it functions well.

So if great design and technical competency are table stakes, what in the world do you need to consider (and perhaps fix) so that Google and anyone hunting for what you do will discover your website in top search results? Here are my top three critical elements that will drive engagement and results for your website:

  1. Know your current performance metrics. Huh? See nothing about how your website looks. We’re talking about how your website performs. If you said you were going to run a marathon, the first thing a running coach would want to know is what shape you are in, not how good you look in your running gear. Here are some areas where you need to know how you’re doing on the web:
    1. Number of visits/visitors/unique visitors
    2. Bounce rate
    3. Time on site
    4. Current SEO rankings for important keywords
    5. Domain authority
    6. Number of new leads/form submissions
    7. And yes, how about total amount of sales generated?

If you don’t have access to this information, you should add a tool like Google Analytics or HubSpot’s marketing analytics to get better tracking and learn more about your current site performance.

  1. Determine your goals. And yes, “I just want our website to look better,” is rarely a good answer here. Again, a person who takes up running (or advances to more competitive running) isn’t doing it to look better – they have tangible goals – lose so much weight, improve average time to run a mile, improve cardiovascular health, etc. So what do you want your website to do, actually? Most of our inbound marketing clients what their websites to help them engage more deeply with the audiences they care about. And for our for-profit companies, that means help them drive sales. So what do you want visitors to your website to do once they get there? Most often, you want strangers to become customers and then you want those customers to become promoters of your brand. This happens when you create remarkable content that engages people and builds a relationship that leads to you doing business together.
  2. Define your brand. As yes, so if website success is about performance, what is it that your website has to say to the world about you and what you do? In other words, what is your brand or story? This is the fuel that will power your website success. In those bad old days I mentioned earlier, clients wanted to talk about content and too many designers wanted to talk only about pretty. Too many IT wonks wanted to talk code. On the Internet, content is king! Eureka! That stuff that people read is what really matters in website success. Yet the key here is content that is well written and that really tells your intended audience who you are, what you do, and why they need to engage with you.

Yes, Google doesn’t see pretty and truth be told, it never has. That doesn’t mean pretty doesn’t matter. It means that being pretty, but without substance, is no more of a formula for long-term success in cyberspace than it is in real life.

Want to know more about how to create a website that drives results? Download our free eBook on the topic produced by our partners at HubSpot. It includes more about these three tips and four more tips that will make a great difference in your thinking about the potential redesign of your website to improve performance.

And feel free to share your own experiences in the comments below.