Website Report Card: Six Ways to See if Your Site Makes the Grade

August 1, 2012 by Niki Hammond

What makes a good website? Of course, the answer depends on what your organization does, who your audience is, and what both of your goals are. But regardless of your strategy, some fundamentals are true across the board when it comes to evaluating whether your site is delivering effective user experiences. Here are six ways your site may pass, fail, or make the honor roll.

1. Brand Consistency


  • Colors, typefaces, and overall website design are consistent with your company's brand strategy.

  • Your content strategy organizes your content to be accessible and useful to your audience(s).

  • Your content is written in way that reflects your brand voice, and reinforces your messaging and positioning themes.

  • Imagery is high-quality, whether stock or your own imagery, and is displayed consistently throughout.


  • You slapped your logo on a pre-fab template.

  • The color palette was selected because it matches the design of your office.

  • The overall experience in your site doesn’t match how you want people to feel about your brand. For example, you're a cloud-based software company that promises a market-changing innovation to help people do something more efficiently; your website is impossible to navigate and loaded with unnecessary decoration and Flash animation.

Honor Roll

  • Your site experience is tightly aligned with meeting your audience’s goals and expectations, while meeting your organizational priorities.

  • You brought in a professional photographer to build a photo library usable across all your communications.

  • You've extended your organization's brand standards to include web-specific communications, specifying custom hex color values that translate well on-screen.

2. Social Strategy


  • Users can easily share your site content on the social networks they frequent.

  • Outbound links to your company's presence on social networking sites are appropriately visible.


  • Your organization hasn't created any social networking accounts yet.

  • You're active on social networking sites, but no mention of them on your website, or you've buried them at the bottom of your site.

  • Mention of them on your website, with huge graphics and bold headlines that drown out your site's actual content.

Honor Roll

  • Users are able to join relevant groups or subscribe to external feeds without leaving your site.

  • Community interaction on your site is seamless with your key social networks, e.g. SSO (Single Sign-On) through Facebook Connect or LinkedIn Platform.

  • Social networking discussions, contests, and promotions are used to drive traffic to your site when appropriate.

  • You use social commenting tools like Disqus to increase visibility, or platforms like BuddyPress to create robust social communities within your own site.

3. Accessibility


  • Your site meets the W3C's accessibility standards.

  • Text alternatives are provided for all non-text content.

  • Text and background colors are of sufficient contrast.

  • Important content is accessible via keyboard functions.

  • Scrolling or time-based material can be paused or stopped.

  • Navigation is clear and consistent.


Honor Roll

  • Your site delivers the highest degree of usability with design considerations and customized experiences for certain audiences, such as the hearing impaired, visually impaired, or elderly users.

4. Cross-Browser/Platform Compatibility



  • Key content is presented only in a format that simply doesn’t work on some common devices.

  • Site layout assumes everyone has a 23-inch monitor.

  • Site layout assumes no one has a 23-inch monitor.

  • You didn't bother with cross browser testing.

  • Everything is broken in Internet Explorer, even by Internet Explorer standards.

Honor Roll

  • Adaptive/Responsive Design is artfully implemented and layout/content adjusts to the user's device*.

  • Everything works perfectly or degrades gracefully in Internet Explorer.

  • Your site works on iPhones and iPads by using Javascript instead of Flash to deliver animated experiences.

  • Your site development plan includes a "responsive images" strategy to deal with retina display (or other high pixel density displays) issues.

*If you're building a website now, this one is a no-brainer and really belongs in the "Pass" category.

5. Search Engine Optimization


  • HTML code speeds indexing by search engines by being well-structured and standards-compliant.

  • Images, videos, and other media are properly tagged and captioned to increase scannable content.

  • You’ve added a modest amount of "link bait;" relevant and useful information likely to be referenced elsewhere on the web.

  • You make periodic adjustments guided by web analytics insights, such as popular keyword searches, bounce rates, etc.


  • Site HTML is badly written even by 2007 standards.

  • No integration with web analytics software such as Google Analytics.

  • Employment of outdated and ineffective "black hat" tactics, such as meaningless repetition of phrases, and generic, redundant, or irrelevant content. And please don't even think about putting black text against a black background. You're not fooling anyone, especially Google.

Honor Roll

  • Content on select pages is not only relevant and audience-specific, but includes keyword threading and outbound links to other useful information.

  • Analysis of detailed web statistics, search engine algorithm changes and industry trends are ongoing and help shape content strategy.

  • You’ve established outreach to increase link-sharing or inbound links to your site.

6. Content Management


  • Non-technical people can easily manage the website via simple, online web forms.

  • Large text fields include a WYSIWYG editing toolbar (similar to MS Word or Google Docs) to allow for basic formatting without the need to type HTML.

  • Images and other media can be uploaded and inserted in appropriate places.

  • Site styles are enforced consistently throughout the site by templates, so content contributors do not need to become amateur typographers.


  • Simple content edits/additions require a web developer.

  • Content edits must be made on a local machine before being published to the web.

  • Site styles are not consistently enforced, making it easier for non-designers to break the site design (intentionally or unintentionally).

Honor Roll

  • A customized editorial workflow is enforced by your Content Management System, allows for different levels of user permission, email notification triggers, etc.

  • Your CMS offers support for multiple languages/character sets/currencies.

About Niki Hammond

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