That a company’s online presence is important is no longer a point of discussion. That debate was vehemently settled at least a decade and a half ago.

But cast around and there is still tremendous variety – and not the good sort – in companies’ websites. They range from the well articulated and easily navigable to Kafkaesque mazes of incomprehension and poor design.

While there are myriad factors to consider in creating compelling websites, here are some of the most important.

Content: People visit websites for information. Good content makes up for a lot of shortcomings. As Clique Communications Group’s Lead Designer Nehal Ahmed puts it, “Content is the first thing. If people don’t care about your content, they will leave. If your content is good, they will put up with a lot of Humans have an insatiable thirst for knowledge.”

It helps to remember that most visitors to a website are looking for something, not aimlessly wandering around the nether realms of the Web. “In whichever way they have landed on your website, know that users have come here firstly to consume the information that is relevant to them. Whether you’re a product, service company or just a blog, they are only here to know more about what they want to know more about,” says Ahmed.

Navigation: Users demand intuitive access. They won’t put up with an illegible newspaper or a torn brochure. Why then would a careless website suffice? “A great website requires the fewest clicks to find what one is looking for – Google is the ultimate benchmark for this,” says Abu Dhabi-based social media strategist and tech blogger Farrukh Naeem. “A truly engaging website leads its users through its design on a planned journey, effortlessly, no matter where they enter it from.”

Ahmed concurs. “Navigation is second only to content. People need to be in control at all times. People also don’t like feeling stupid. If you’re planning to pour in your own jargon for page names they will to stay away from you (your website). If the navigation is difficult to understand, hard to get to or doesn’t tell them where they are, they will not be ‘engaged’,” she says.

For OMD’s Digital Director Wassim Ibrahim Moumneh, less is more. “A website shouldn’t ask its visitor to do too much work. A minimalistic approach ensures less distraction and more focus on key areas, which is a win-win situation. The message is delivered and the visitor is retained and made happy.”

Suitability for small screens: Mobile subscriptions across the Middle East swung past the 300 million mark by end 2014. By 2015, global smartphone use is predicted to reach 2 billion. Specifically, the consumption of Web content is incredibly mobile-heavy in the Middle East – over 94 percent of Internet users in the Middle East went online using a mobile phone at least once a month in 2014.

Websites should rely on responsive design that can scale down in features and visuals to easily load on mobile screens, but assume regular richness when opened on a bigger screen with a faster connection. Moumneh’s message of minimalism is important here too. It’s even more important to get to the core message quickly on mobile devices.

Engagement: When all other elements have been seen to, the next step is the subjective issue of engagement – both with users and search engines. Successful websites find ways to improve CTR, or click-through rates. In fact, some online content recycling houses like Upworthy rely on captivating headlines to elicit a click-through response as most of their business model.

Good websites should also rank well with search engines. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques and the regular addition of compelling content can help websites rise up the search engine ranks to be listed prominently. After all, there’s little point to a great website that no one visits.

But a truly engaging website isn’t easy. As Naeem states, “A lot of background data collection, analysis and algorithms go into making the website addictive and magnetic. A truly engaging website interacts with its user, and ‘hooks’ its user with intelligent cues and features. Facebook has mastered this art and science very well. Even when you are passing by for a casual visit, you get drawn in with stuff tailored to you.”

Contributed to Zawya Business Pulse