Monday

The Surprising Truth
About Ugly Websites



Ugliness has nevër looked better. I have spent the last few days examining a
surprising trend in web design that has made ugly websites look absolutely
irresistible. No, it's not the bolded, 18 point Times New Roman font
shouting at me as I access the page that has me excited, nor is it the harsh
colors that have actually managed to make my eyes hurt and distort my
vision. In fact, it's not even that logo which is so pixelated from being
processed, resized, saved, and edited so many times that it appears to be
blurred to protect the identity of the company who owns the website that has
me singing the praises of ugly websites. What is it?

Ugly sells.

That's right – ugly websites are surprisingly effective in making monëy.
As
a person who puts business before technology, a profitable website
is a
website that is an unbelievably attractive website to me.

The Case of Plenty of Fish

I was struck by an example of just how effective ugly websites can be this
past week as I was browsing through some web related news. I stumbled across
the story of Plenty of Fish. This is a very plain looking website that
offers a frëe online dating service much like Match.com (but without the
subscription fee). There was nothing specifically impressive about the
website that stood out to me, in fact the site was actually rather ugly.

What caused me (and I am sure several other people) to take a second look at
the website was its reported earnings. It is reported that this website
brings in over $10,000 from Adsense – in one day. Yes, you did read that
correctly. For those of you counting, that is $300,000 per month and nearly
one million dollars in just three months.

The example of Plenty of Fish led me to consider how an ugly website could
be so successful. As I looked around, I suddenly realized that this was not
the only successful ugly website. Ebay is unbelievably ugly; Craigslist has
nevër won an award for innovative design, and IMDB has nevër even bothered
to format their text out of the default Times New Roman. What is it about
ugly websites that makes them so successful?

The Ability to Convey Trust

A while back I wrote an article on Controlling Your Visitors Eyes. The main
point to this article was that you have less than a second to convey your
marketing message to your visitor, and that every aspect, from your font
selection, to the colors, navigation, and layout of your website plays a
part in conveying your marketing message.

When I wrote this article, I had beautiful, CSS designed websites in mind.
The idea that an ugly website could present a positive message nevër crossed
my mind. Yet the fact is, ugly websites do have the ability to present the
perfect marketing message. What is that message?

You can trust us. We are a family run business and do not employ a marketing
team. Our website is simple, but functional. Most importantly, our goal is
to serve our customers, not necessarily learn HTML.

As Internet professionals, we often forget that a large part of our society
is actually afraid of the Internet. Although online shopping is growing,
most people still have concerns about online security and the impersonal
nature of the web. Most people do not know how to surf efficiently and use
only the default tools that are given to them when they take their computer
out of the box.

And this is one reason that ugly websites can sell. The lack of
professionalism and a polished look leads one to believe that they are
dealing with an individual. Websites cannot be trusted, but individuals can
be trusted.

Function Over Förm

Although the above theory holds true in many examples, I believe there is
more to the success of ugly websites than just conveying trust. Many of the
websites that I referenced above have one underlying trait that can be
attributed to their success: they are extremely easy to use.

Google is probably the best example of how functionality over förm can lead
to success. When Google initially launched, every other major search engine
was in the process of transforming themselves into a portal that would offer
users all the information they could possibly want, and probably more than
they really would want. Google, on the other hand, made their website
ridiculously simple. There is one purpose to Google – to search the web.
Nothing else was there to distract you from this one goal. It certainly did
not hurt that Google was able to serve up relevant results, but the
simplicity of the system was key to winning over users.

Sites like Drudge Report and Craigslist can also trace much of their success
back to their functionality. Drudge Report is a very simple website that is
essentially a collection of links to news stories. Most of the time, the
Drudge Report does not even link over to content on their own website. Users
who wanted an interesting collection of links to various news stories could
find them all on one simple page. Craigslist also boasts simplicity. The
website is simple to browse, simple to post, and simple to use. Because of
its simplicity, it grew.

The general lesson here is simplicity. A beautiful website may draw a user
in initially, but a simple website will keep your users coming back. If one
of your users gets lost trying to navigate your website, chëck out of your
web store, or find simple contact information, then you unnecessarily are
increasing the chances that this user will simply leave.

Ugliness By Application – Not By Rule

Although ugly websites are often easier to use and can convey a unique sense
of trust, ugliness is not a rule that should apply to all websites. In fact,
the vast majority of websites can be improved by adding formatting and
focusing on good site design principles.

There are two general rules that you must keep in mind when building your
website: 1) What type of message will resonate with my visitors, and 2) Is
the site easy to use?

Knowing the answer to the first question is knowing what type of visitors
you are trying to reach. Are your visitors web-savvy and thus looking for a
well-designed website? Are your visitors uncomfortable with the impersonal
nature of the web and just looking for a simple website that is easy for
them to use? Are your visitors scared of using online payment processing, or
do they prefer the convenience of paying online where they do not have to
talk to a person?

The second question is a rule that should apply to every website:
functionality is more important than the design of your website. This does
not mean, however, that a beautiful website cannot be easy to use. What this
does mean is that you should nevër sacrifice the usability of your website
for a fancy design effect or a more visually appealing website.

In Conclusion – It's Not Necessarily Ugliness That Sells

As website owners, it is very easy to get caught up in the design of our
websites. We want to present our businesses to visitors in the best way
possible, and as we get familiar with web technologies and design
techniques, it is easy to focus solely on the design of a website from the
standpoint of what looks good rather than the message our website conveys.

What we need to keep in mind, is that websites are meant to be used – used
for reading, used for networking, used for shopping, etc. Websites, like any
other marketing tool, convey a message and are an invitation for visitors to
trust us. Our design needs to reflect this.

Take a moment today to look over your website. Is it really easy to use?
Have you been more worried about the look of your website than its
functionality? Would it be more effective if it were simpler in its design?

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3 Comments:

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Peter said...

Happy Blogging! It looks like you've found your INNER BLOG!

 
At 12:39 PM, Blogger Zorn John said...

I´ll be damned! that's exactly what i meant :)

 
At 5:40 AM, Blogger Ina said...

Hey, this is a cool blog with great advice. By the way, I wanted to thank you for commenting on my blog. Never thought that I actually have readers, was writing mostly for my own indulgence but it's nice to know. Thanks again and keep blogging;-)

 

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