In my opinion, ugly sites can perform very well, and there are a number of factors that can contribute to that:
First, ugly sites are often sites that were originally built back in the 1990s by some business owner who had no web design sense or technical knowledge but wanted to promote his business online. It was much more difficult back then to actually sell online (not many shopping cart scripts existed, and ones that did exist were very expensive). So the business owner didn’t just install a cart and sit back and wait for orders to roll in. Rather, he put valuable and unique content on his site. Over the years, he added and added and added more and more content, and garnered lots of link love, and now his site is very well aged and very well linked.
The MacGregor Sailboatsite is a good example of this. It was built by Roger MacGregor himself, who designed the MacGregor sailboat and who owns MacGregor Yachts. It’s a horrible horrible site from the perspective of design, usability and navigation. It does all of that completely wrong. But it’s packed chockful of everything you ever wanted to know about the MacGregor, and MacGregor owners love that site.
Second, ugly sites are often sites that were built by hobbyists — people who are simply passionate about a topic, and started their site without any intention of making money from it. Before eBay, before CJ, before AdSense, these hobbyists were out there creating volumes of good content about their topic of interest.
They, like the business owner above, garnered lots of link love, and today have well-aged and well-linked sites. Perhaps they’ve added AdSense or affiliate links on their site, and now they realize some hefty income from their hobby site. It’s icing on the cake for them; they didn’t start the site to make money, and if the money dried up they would continue to maintain the site. They didn’t know or care about design, and they still don’t. But they offer some of the best resources for information about their hobby. Non-profit organizations often fall into this category too. A Page About Freemasonry is a good example of this type of site. It was created by a guy who is a Mason and who loves Masonry, and wanted to share information about it. The site is nothing special, design-wise, but it contains scads of good info about Masonry.
Third, ugly sites that are ecommerce sites are often built by small business owners who can’t or won’t pay a professional to build their site. They use whatever free software they can get their hands on, and they do it themselves. They care deeply about their business, but they have no clue about web site development.
These sites can do well because the owner’s personality and passion very often shine through loud and clear. People get a sense for how much the owner cares about his product and business, and so they trust the site enough to buy from it despite its lack of professionalism and design aesthetic. These sites are often created by business owners who are very active within the community of people who use their products — so they’re known within the industry, and people feel comfortable buying from them.
AmmoMan is a good example of this type of site. My word! I would never deliberately design an ecommerce site to look like that! But lots of people who shoot know AmmoMan is a good place to buy ammunition, and lots of shooters have met the owner at various shoots and gun shows over the years.
So…. yes, ugly sites can do very well. But in my experience, whenever I’ve taken on a client with an ugly site and redesigned it, it did better than before. My redesign will typically also improve search engine crawlability, usability, navigation, etc., so it’s not an apples/apples comparison. But it provides evidence that ugliness, by itself, is neither required nor sufficient for a well-performing site. When ugly sites perform well, it’s typically not because of their ugliness but in spite of it. People are very forgiving of ugliness when the site gives them the information they couldn’t find anywhere else, or sells them the product they need at a better price than they can get anywhere else.
And to think that I would spend so much time trying to make my site be “pretty”. Your explanations make perfect sense. The content is what is the “lasting” feature that draws people in and back often. Thanks for a great post!
I also believe that the old ugly sites have better content because during those times only well-researched, studied contents are being published in websites. With the right designing of the website, it will really be as attractive as the newly designed ones and have more substancial contents.
Ugly sites do perform better. That’s because ugly site developers often concentrate more on their content, navigation, optimization and the ability to attract visitors, more than making the site ‘pretty’.
It never hurts to have an attractive site but I’d put more effort into making your site one that first grabs attention and offers useful, unique content. The ‘prettiness’ can come later.
Filmari Nunti says
Ok, lets make ours sites very ugly and see if its works :)).
I think one of the reason besides what you mention its because they are in HTML ..no PHP or ASP.
They are clean and easy to crawl by Google.
Second reason – they are old. Its important for Google to have an old website.
I like your topics 😉
total wellness says
Content is Key. Thank you for confirming this with your post.
I believe that it is not true. Google has stated that from last year the well designed websites will get better ranked, because they have added a some kind of a new algorithm that checks the layout of your website.