Websites are like storefronts; people walk in front of them every day and decide upon seeing what’s for display in the window if they will enter or not. In general, ugly storefronts attract fewer customers while attractive ones bring more shoppers in. Change the work “storefront” for website and “shoppers” for visitors, and you’ve got a good idea of how it works on the web. Yes, appearances matter. A lot. Here’s why:
Why many ugly websites often don’t do well
I’m not going to lie; ugly websites can work. eBay’s aesthetics is very bland and unattractive, yet it attracts millions of visitors every day. The same can be said of Craisglist. However, their boring design is not the only thing they have in common; they are highly functional databases which rely on content. Their user-interface, although plain, is user-friendly and intuitive. That is why websites like eBay and Craigslist are successful in spite of their crappy looks.
The same cannot be said of most ugly websites. Very often, businesses, freelancers and organizations that possess ugly sites do so because they hired (or got free help from) a web designer of questionable skill. I know what you’re thinking and you are completely right; looks are not everything, especially when you are on a budget. However, design is a crucial element of making a website that is attractive, easy to navigate, functional and intuitive. Consequently, most inelegant websites are not only repulsive, they are also hard to navigate and full of mistakes which render them non-operational in some browsers, glitchy in others.
When your website is ugly and not functional, stuffed with mistakes, it’s no wonder your business is not doing well…
Above is the website of author Robert J. Sawyer. I have nothing against Sawyer. In fact, I have never read a book of his, rendering me completely objective. His website, hopefully self-made (if you hired someone to design your website Sawyer, do yourself a favor, take away this torn from your foot and please fire them asap), is a relic from the 1990s’ internet era, a page made solely with tables. It harbors a look that is extremely unprofessional. Information is hard to find and requires a lot of scrolling and reading. I am not even going to tackle the doubtful color combination or the extra-slim menu on the left which keeps the novels for last (which leaves me wondering how much of a priority selling books is for this author). What I am going to point out however is the message that this website screams to all visitors: “I don’t care about my internet presence, and even if I did, I cannot afford to hire a professional to help me with that.”
When I see a hideous website, I first feel sorry and assume the company is not doing well enough to afford a proper website. Then I consider that they might have hired one that did a very poor job, and feel even more sorry that they got robbed of their money. But is that really Sawyer’s case? Even if I can’t vouch for his writing, I heard Sawyer was a renowned Canadian author in sci-fi literature. He won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for crying out loud! So he most likely does have the means to afford a proper website.
Looking at his book covers which are also very decent, especially in contrast with his webpage, I can only come to the conclusion that he either has very bad taste when it comes to web or he does not care about the experience of his visitors, current and potential readers.
Yes, I can hear you, you have a point; Sawyer is already known internationally, he doesn’t need to care. He can afford to have a poorly designed and coded internet presence. He can afford to have a website from the 90s. But can you?
You cannot afford to drive away visitors
You cannot afford to drive away potential clients, fans or investors, especially if you are trying to build a successful project or business, because of your website’s aesthetics and crippled user-interface. Unless you are perfectly satisfied with mediocrity, you must make your visitors feel welcome by having a website that is attractive and orderly, functional, user-friendly and interactive.
Make it easy for visitors to contact you and find the information they are looking for. Whichever aesthetic you decide to go for, stress the importance to your web designer that the final product needs to be easy to navigate and read. Adding an attractive design on top of that will only help you more.
Avoid being fooled
If you have been fooled by your previous web developer or designer and ended up with a poor product, you may want to revise your hiring criteria; read Hiring a Web Designer, an article we wrote last year, to find out if the web person you are considering can do the job. You may be doing well financially but no one likes to throw their hard-earned money by the window. You will want to look into your web designer/developer’s portfolio most of all, but also ask them about their professional experience and their skills.
If after reading this article you are worried about the look of your website and you are looking for a second opinion, please leave a comment. We read all our comments and it will be our pleasure to reply and give you our opinion. Either way, good luck with your next redesign, whoever you are!