Over the years many have contemplated the counter-intuitive ability of “ugly” sites to win huge market share – think eBay.com, Amazon.com, DrudgeReport.com, PlentyofFish.com, CraigsList.org, MySpace.com, or usability expert Jakob Nielsen’s Useit.com.
In our adventures in website optimization we’ve developed our own grand unified theory of why ugly web design works:
1) Value – Your visitors want a DEAL. Never, never, never forget that . . .
We’re a nation of Walmart shopping, McDonald’s value meal eating, 2-Buck Chuck drinking coupon-clippers.
If your website looks BMW-fancy your visitor is going to assume BMW-pricing.
Make your visitors think that they’ve found the last great deal – look a little pathetic and rough around the edges and your visitor is going to assume that they’re not going to be taken advantage of.
2) Trust – Nobody likes advertising, or advertisers (except their wives) . . .
Eliminating stock-photos, fancy graphics, and high-brow design elements can help your cause and make you feel more ma & pa trustworthy than a corporate-titan in training.
“We trust things more when they look like they were done for the love of it rather than the sheer commercial value of it.” – Robert Scoble
3) Accessibility – Build for technology two cycles back . . .
HTML5, the latest CSS tricks, and your kickass integrated flash design have NO PLACE in a website designed to sell when older technologies can do a comparable job.
One of our clients receives in excess of 15,000 visitors a day to their website – about 70% of that is coming from various versions of Internet Explorer.
Yet nearly 27% are using outdated versions despite wide availability.
So unless you enjoy building 10 versions of your site stick with simple and build for compatibility with browsers, OS, screen resolutions, color palettes, etc.
4. Flexibility – Don’t paint yourself into a corner . . .
What do PlentyofFish, CraigsList, and DrudgeReport have in common?
They scaled to huge numbers of visitors with tiny staffs – keeping your site flexible enough so the CEO can change the homepage content may not be aesthetically appealing, but it sure does beat a static beautiful website.
A website that’s easy to change, update, and experiment on is better than one that relies heavily on advanced CSS, Flash, images etc that you can’t change quickly.
5) Function – Get your users where they want to be as your priority . . .
When you’re running a commercial website just by virtue of having arrived, a user is a qualified visitor ready for you to close.
Keep it simple:
a) Make sure your homepage is crystal clear to let a user determine if your website will fulfill their need.
b) Let users get where they need to go in as few clicks as possible.
Any design element that detracts from your focus – will lose the user – one of my favorite examples of this is from a Marketing Experiments study on email:
Of the three emails above B outperforms the other two design-element laden tests by 62%!
It’s no surprise that the winning test lacks over-blown design elements & complexity, keeping it simple collects the sale.
EDIT – My example above reflecting “ugly” vs. “pretty” tests had room for improvement, as pointed out by my friends over at Hacker News. A crisper example of true “ugly” working can be seen on Mr. Green‘s site.
That’s all folks . . .
We’ve battled designers and CMO’s day in and day out for nearly a decade but overwhelmingly following the 5-rules laid out above drive results that simply win.
Contact us today for conversion rate optimization if you’d like to learn more about how we can convince your CMO that ugly’s the way to go by beating him at his own game with our website optimization service.