The best sites look clean and professional but ultimately support the users getting to the information they want.
One example of this concept in action is bhphoto.com. Instead of adding individual products to the home page, they made categories of products with images such as flat-screen TVs and cell phones next to the headings. They did this because they know the likelihood of users being interested in the handful of featured products you select for the home page is far less than them simply wanting to navigate immediately off the home page to the topic they are interested in. So design is about getting into your customer’s head and getting them where they want to go, as quickly as possible. If your sales push is in their way, it may actually hurt you.
Websites can no longer be designed in isolation. Integrate SEO, conversion, and social concepts before you start designing and you won’t have to redo things significantly later. Always be ready to adjust/test on a monthly basis, so the design and content grow with what your users are looking for. A website is never “finished” but is a growing, changing organism that needs to be consistently fed, tested, and nurtured in order for it to produce consistent results.
By letting users tell you what to change based on which pages they hate the most (where you see high bounce rates) versus which pages they interact with the most (time on site and sales are highest here) your website design and development get smarter day after day.
What do you do to keep your website evolving?