Ugly sites: Does design matter?

Does your blog design affects the number of page views and time spent on the site?

Well, it would depends on the objective of the blog and the purpose your blog serves to your visitors.

If the main objective of you blog is to showcase your portfolio, or as an extension of your persona or to serve as your brand name, then yes…. the design does matter. An unprofessional looking site would affect the first impression and your branding.

For example, you currently are or you wish to you position yourself as an influencer.  You are always on top of the latest fashion and lifestyle trends and your readers look forward to those sharing from you. A well designed blog would define you.

Another scenario is with company websites. There are two gift shops that I have personally visited who have their own website. They basically enabled ecommerce services and the both the sites are very professionally done. You can tell that they have invested a substantial amount as both the sites involved heavy customization.

When you go to their website, you would think that their shop would be elegant and classy as their website. Basically, both the shops are small shops, and they have tonnes of items to sell which are all over the place.

One of the shops is located in Chinatown, which is still within an old shoplot with minimal renovation and the items are not neatly arranged.

Both shops have sales assistants who could not converse fluently in English. Yet you will never would have guessed judging from their website.

However, ugly sites or sites that does not have fanciful design may still do well when….

1. The objective of your site is to provide information to your visitors
When I am doing research and googling for information, I often arrive at new sites for the first time. No matter how beautiful the site is, I would bounce off the site if I am not able to search for the information that I want or need.

A case in point is Wikipedia. If I am googling for information and I see a Wikipedia page in the search result, you bet I would definitely click on it. Wikipedia is not the sexiest site – the site contains words and words but it has build up trust in most users.

In recent years, many people start blogs to make a profit. They outsource everything… from blog design to content writing to freelancers who sometimes compete for the job below minimum wage. Or they know a thing or two about design and can create the most awesome and beautiful looking website.

But the content does not lie. The moment the content is not good enough or of mediocre quality, visitors would just bounce off.

It is the same as for us humans. Most of us spend a lot of time and money in order to look good and impress. Well, it gets us through the first impression. But if they moment they open their mouth and sounds like an idiot or talk nonsense, the other person would no longer be impressed.

2. Device used by your visitors
Based on my Google Analytics, I am seeing more and more readers who are accessing my blogs via their mobile devices. Frankly, all blogs looked similar in a mobile device.

With many bloggers now enabling AMP on their blogs to cater for mobile users, AMP pages all look the same. Hence, the design becomes almost irrelevant.

What is most important is your site must be mobile responsive to cater for the increasing number of population who are surfing net on their mobile devices instead of desktop.

3. Navigation and usability
Regardless of the design, content and usability are important factors that would attract and retain your users. I have managed intranets full time 10 years for 2 different companies.  Each time, we have not been allocated with sufficient resource to build the best intranets that we could.

Once, I had to run an intranet which was build using notepad programming and frames. Basically the left side has a fixed frame and the right side would display the information you required when you click on the left navigation bar.  Yet, my intranet was frequently accessed by my staff because of the ease of navigation, content and usability.  Even after we upgraded to another site, some of my older staff still preferred the ‘notepad’ intranet.

You may be surprised…. but often the most usable sites are sites that what most people considered as ugly sites.

Many websites and blogs today are build using page builder… the simple act of drag and drop. I have initially bought and experimented with Divi theme, termed as one of the most popular themes in the planet.

Granted, Divi is awesome when it comes to creating portfolio and professional looking sites. If you are willing to learn yourself, you can create a website with expensive looking design for just a few hundred bucks instead of paying someone a few thousand or tens of thousands to build a site for you. They have the most detailed tutorials, both in their blog and in YouTube.

Unfortunately I decided that Divi is not for me. My brain has been hardwired with having navigation menus and sidebars throughout the site to make it as easy as possible for visitors to search through information. That means boring looking site structure.

I have later tried Elementor plugin and integrate it with Thesis theme which also is able to build drag and drop sites.  No doubt the site looked more well put together, but again, I find the navigation structure a challenge. In the end, I have removed most pages with page builder function and reverted them back to the original boring looking site which you are seeing now.

Same approach online and offline

I guess I take the same approach on my sites as I do with my life. By nature, I do not like to dress in designer clothings or put on makeup.

During the early stages of my career, I had thought that appearances are important and had spent a lot of money on expensive clothings and shoes. Later, I realized that it does not matter to those who mattered…. like my bosses, department head and sincere colleagues.  What matters is the quality of the work that you deliver, your dedication and your attitude.

It is the same as users- the purpose that most people visit websites and blogs is to search for information. If you have the information that they want, they would stay longer. If not, you can have the best design in the world but it would not stop them from going away.

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