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
Advertising ranks amongst the LEAST respected professions and most people strongly dislike being advertised to because they feel manipulated. 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 kick-ass 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 Yet nearly 27% are using outdated versions despite wide availability.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, colour 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. So get out of their way and let them transact!
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.