What is the essential part of a website? There’s no easy answer to this question. When you get to it, a website is a complex machine of hundreds of moving parts that must work in sync to create a perfect whole. Some features, however, are more critical than others.
Let’s examine some of the most critical pieces of a website and see if we can determine which parts are the most important.
Is Your Domain Name the Most Important Part of Your Website?
We might as well start from the top. Right? One of the most foundational parts of a website is the domain name.
In fact, without a domain name, can you even really have a website?
Sort of. Domain names are not required to have a website. The way the internet works, every website has a unique ID number, like a phone number. This number is the IP address. If you know the IP address of a website, you can type that in and get to the website. For example, if you type http://22.214.171.124 into your browser address bar, you’ll arrive at Google.
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Domain names are convenient references because nobody wants to remember unique numerical strings for every website they care to visit. In a sense, it’s similar to the contact listing in your phone for a phone number; you don’t need to remember the number, just the name of who you want to call. The primary difference is that everyone’s phone would have the same name for the same person’s number, with that information stored in third-party servers called name servers.
Domain names are important, indeed. They’re a massive part of getting people to learn and recognize your brand name and consistently access your site. They are not strictly necessary or even required to have a website, but your website obviously won’t perform well without one.
Is Your Web Host the Most Important Part of Your Website?
Can you run a website without web hosting?
You can buy hosting yourself, a free host, or a “no-host website platform,” sort of like WordPress.com, but these still use web hosting on their end. You can, technically, run a website from your home computer, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have hosting; it means your computer becomes the host. (This is a terrible idea, by the way.) Just because you aren’t paying for it and you aren’t configuring it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Web hosting is very important. The difference between a good web host and an inadequate host is immense. A good host serves your content near-immediately, offers protection from traffic surges or attempts to attack your site, and ensures fast, consistent responses to users who want to use your site.
In a way, your web hosting is the most important part of your website because you don’t even have a website without it. Except, it’s only partially the most important because it’s largely interchangeable. There are dozens of high-quality web hosts available, and any one of them will work fine for your site. Can a critical piece be so easily interchangeable? It may come down to what you consider essential: functionality or uniqueness.
Is Your Homepage the Most Important Part of Your Website?
Every website has a homepage. You end up on a specific page when you type in the URL (or the IP address). It’s the page with the pure URL, none of the subfolders, page names, or anything else. It has to be there. Right?
Well, technically, no.
Your website can have an index page at the top level of the host, but this is not a requirement. In fact, throughout the history of the web, many websites don’t have homepages. Usually, sites without a homepage allow users to create their subpages and don’t care to have a homepage because everyone using it already knows about it, and it’s not there for the public.
There’s also a valid argument that the standard concept of a home page is dying. Think about it; when you visit a website, are you there for anything on the homepage? Probably not. A homepage is either a gateway you pass through to reach another part of the site or a glorified index of content you can use to find whatever has been published since the last time you were there.
- Wikipedia is an excellent example; how often do you ever see Wikipedia’s homepage compared to the Wiki page of what you were looking for?
- The Netflix homepage gives you two options; sign up, or sign in. There isn’t much information or content on the homepage beyond that; it’s all hidden behind it.
The exception is sites like Facebook or Twitter, where the content is in the algorithmically-generated feed of posts from your friends and followers. The “homepage,” in this case, is your feed, and all of the stuff that’s generic to the homepage is largely set dressing.
In both cases, the home page itself isn’t very important for a website. In many cases, it should exist for some SEO purposes and as a landing spot for anyone just typing in your domain name and looking to navigate around on their own, but it’s not the most important part of a site.
Is Your User Experience the Most Important Part of Your Website?
Now let’s dig into something a little more esoteric: your user experience. How does a user experience your site when they arrive?
The user experience is a nebulous concept encompassing everything from graphic design elements to your layout to your accessibility and more. It’s important because a poor user experience makes a site miserable to use, so people won’t use it. Conversely, a good user experience is nearly invisible. They think about it when it’s terrible, but when it’s good, it’s invisible. People rarely think, “wow, this site feels good to use,” when browsing a site with a great user experience. Like how no one thinks, “wow, this site is fast!” when they’re on a fast site.
A good user experience is a very important element of a site, but is it the most important? It’s in the top five, but I wouldn’t consider it the “most important.” If your content is good enough, your product is compelling enough, and your service is critical, a user will push through a bad user experience to get to it. There are many examples of this, from Reddit’s terrible conversation threading to sites with drop-down menus with thousands of options to more exotic UX problems.
It’s difficult to say that user experience is essential for a website. It’s more like a multiplier; if the core components of your site are good, a good user experience makes it better for everyone.
If your core offering is terrible, a bad user experience makes the site unusable.
Is Your Meta Data the Most Important Part of Your Website?
Metadata is strung throughout your site. Some of it is inseparable, like HTTP headers and code frameworks. Other portions are take-or-leave, from image metadata to Schema code.
Some metadata is required to have a site that works. What we commonly think of as metadata, though, is usually not. Page titles and meta descriptions, schema code, alt text for images, and metadata are not essential.
Various design organizations highly recommend them. They’re beneficial for SEO, marketing, and search visibility. In some cases, they may even be required by law as part of accessibility guidelines.
However, you can generally have a website without most metadata. It might perform poorly on search engines, but it will exist, and some big sites can even rank well despite poor adherence to best practices. But there are more important parts of your site.
Metadata may be growing more important – Google seems to be pushing for more adoption of Schema as a ranking factor, for example – but it’s still a relatively minor portion of the totality of a website. The site can still function just fine without it.
Is Your About Us Page the Most Important Part of Your Website?
How do your users know who you are? How do they know where you are located, your history, or how to contact you?
Depending on the business or the site, people put this information in different places. Some have one dedicated page for company info.
Some put some of that info in a site-wide footer and keep others on dedicated pages. Some create an About page, a Contact page, a History page, and more.
The sheer variance tells you that a website has more essential parts than this. It’s critical for specific users in certain situations, but it’s not that meaningful for most general users.
It also depends on the purpose of your site. If you’re a web-based business and a web service, it probably only matters to some people where your headquarters is located. Most people probably want that information if you’re a physical retail outlet. How you present it comes down to how you expect your users to use your site and what they want to get out of it.
Few people care about how your company started, who is on your board of directors, or where your HQ is located. It’s an important page to add to your website, but it’s far from the most important page. Take the example we listed above; if you visit the Netflix homepage, there’s no “About us” page linked anywhere on their site. You have to search Google for it, and you’ll end up at a hidden page on a subdomain.
Is Your Content the Most Important Part of Your Website?
Content is not load-bearing on a website. There are plenty of websites out there that focus on a single task and operate just fine.
Even a massive mega-site like Amazon doesn’t have a blog that matters; it’s all about the focus feature of being a store, even if the product descriptions some businesses produce are arguably akin to content marketing posts.
On the other hand, content marketing is how the vast majority of businesses today can gain visibility and traffic. Without content, you have nothing to share, nothing for Google to index, and nothing to tell anyone what you do.
You must be aggressive with social media marketing, word of mouth, and paid promotion if you want to operate without organic/SEO/content marketing.
This example is one of the most notable examples of something that is either essential (and, in a way, the most critical part of a site) or, in some ways, unnecessary. So, content is required to grow a website, but it’s not required to operate one.
Some people start businesses first and use what tools they have for effective marketing, whether or not that means content. Others start with a blog first and gradually monetize it into a business. Again, this is about how people will experience your brand, use your service, or engage with your site. Both approaches can work just fine, even if they have different considerations.
So what’s the most important part?
Is There Such a Thing as a Most Important Part of a Website?
This discussion illustrates that a website is not like a tower, where its single most crucial part is the foundation upon which all else is built.
Websites are like engines, with dozens or hundreds of parts operating in conjunction with one another, where functionality will falter or fail (perhaps even catastrophically) if any of those elements are missing, broken, or incorrect.
Much like a mechanic knows how an engine works and how to make all the pieces operate smoothly, we’re experts in the “engine” of the web. As a top design agency, we’re highly experienced in creating websites for all types of businesses, and we’re more than happy to help you do it too.
Your website can’t exist without you, your drive, and your goals. Websites are living, breathing organisms that need maintenance, housekeeping, upgrades, improvements, and optimization. Some people forget about their websites or neglect them for years, only for sales and web traffic to slow down over time. Both people and search engines can tell when a website hasn’t changed or improved in a long time. The person behind the driver’s seat is you, and as the owner, you’re the only one who can change your website’s outcome.
Whether you’re planning to build a website or redesign your existing site, we encourage you to contact us today to make your vision a reality! We’d love to hear about your business and what you’d like to see in your website’s future.
Tim Woda is the CEO and founder of White Peak Marketing. He has been on the founding team of five successful start-ups and his digital marketing campaigns have acquired more than 800 million customers for his start-ups and White Peak’s client companies. Tim has been featured by The New York Times, Fox News, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and more. Under Tim’s direction, White Peak was selected as one of America’s Top Digital Marketing Agencies for 2021 by MarTech Outlook magazine.