By Monica Pitts

Some sites are like mean girls.

Some websites are quite lovely on the outside and a bit like mean girls on the inside. They’re shallow. They lack the things they need to be compliant and well-rounded.
When I say compliant, I mean compliant with many things: Google, user expectations, the government. There’s an educational gap we need to forge. Here’s a checklist to see if your website is a mean girl or a compliant, well-rounded powerhouse.

1. SSL Certificate
Most major web hosts offer an SSL certificate with your hosting space.

The main purpose of SSL Certificates is to protect your website and any sensitive data transmitted to and from your site, like credit card, username and password information, identity specifics and more. But even if you’re not collecting that information, you still must have one.

If you don’t have one, Google may block your site or stop serving it in search results altogether. And that, my friend, is a really bad deal. So get one.

2. Cookie Notification
Cookies are a type of message given to a web browser by a web server allowing websites to store information on your machine.

While most cookies are only site-specific, major ad platforms like DoubleClick, Google Search Network and Facebook Audience Network have cookies on lots of websites. And because they serve ads all over the web, they can track users’ behaviors across many sites. As they combine those user patterns, they can develop rich user profiles about visitors. Some folks are creeped out about this.

So now we have some pretty specific rules we need to follow as site owners to keep everyone safe and happy (especially if you’re in California or Europe). There are varying shades of grey being implemented. You can pick your own shade. But at the very least, you need to let visitors know you are using cookies on your site.

3. Tracking
You need some way of tracking visitor behavior on your site. I suggest Google Analytics. How people act on your site will help you make decisions about how to make your site better and tell you if your other marketing efforts are working.

4. Privacy Policy
If you collect information from your website visitors using an email form, gather donations, allow people to register for events, signup for your mailing list or track user behavior with a system like Google Analytics, you are legally required to have a privacy policy.

As the privacy laws change, and they are definitely in flux right now, your privacy policy needs to adjust as well. For this reason, we generally utilize an online service to build and host privacy policies for our sites and those of our clients.

Just put a link to your privacy policy in the footer of your website, and you’ll be golden.

5. Unique Page Titles that Make Sense
Page titles are important because they tell Google and potential web visitors what they can expect to learn on a page.

The title referenced in search listings and browser tabs is actually pulled from the code of your page. Those items pull and display the Title Tag from your page; some people also call it the Meta Title.

Search results are like an ad you’re trying to get someone to click on. Make sure you have a page title that makes sense and tells people what’s on the page.
Also note, the SEO gods frown upon using the same title more than once on a site – so you’ll want to keep each page title unique and relevant to the page’s content.

6. ADA Compliance
There are so many different components to this that I’m not going to go into all of them here, but I feel like it’s my responsibility to point out that as the site administrator, you have a responsibility to make sure that your site is usable by everyone.

At the very least, you can:

  • Make sure the colors you choose for the words and the background of your site provide enough contrast that a color-blind person can read your content.
  • Use modern coding techniques like divs to build your site (not tables, those are so 2000), so a visually impaired person’s screen reader software can easily read the website content in the correct order.
  • Don’t just put a bunch of text on the page as an image screen readers can’t read that either (and neither can Google, BTW).
  • Make sure your links actually look like links and have enough color contrast from the rest of your content that they’re easily recognizable as links.
  • Don’t make stuff that moves and blinks so fast it makes people have an epileptic seizure.

Ensuring that your website is ADA Compliant doesn’t just ensure that people with disabilities can use it. It makes it easier for everyone to use.

7. Fast Loading
A fast-loading website is the perfect marriage of Form and Function. You have to make sure the things you can see load quickly and the things you can’t see load even faster.
Google’s algorithm is now insisting on fast-loading sites. Slow-loading websites are dropping in search rankings.

So, for now, take the time to check your website’s load time using a few free testing tools like Google Page Speed Insights, GTmetrix, or Uptrends.

Lay your website’s inner mean girl to rest.
Use this list of website must-haves to lay your website’s inner mean girl to rest. You deserve a site that’s beautiful inside and out…and so does the rest of the web!

Monica Pitts is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of MayeCreate Design. She spends her days constructing a marriage of form and function; creating art with her design team to grow businesses through websites and online marketing. Monica considers herself an artist, marketer and web dork with the ability to speak geek and English.