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5 Reasons Why Your Ugly Website Is Actually Okay

by Neil Patel

I know a lot of webmasters who are in panic over their ugly website. They can’t see past the garish font, tragic images, and unseemly layout.

So they want to fix it. They want to redesign the website.

I get that. I’m a huge proponent of great design. I pour thousands of dollars into strategic conversion-oriented design both on my personal site and my business sites. I don’t think that anyone can complain that they’re ugly. They may not win an Addy, but they are functional and effective.

However, here’s my advice:  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Why? Because there are tragic downsides to “fixing” a website’s design. Passion for stellar design should never trump the necessity for a high-functioning website.

That’s why I am venturing to tell you that your ugly website is actually okay. But how do you know if your ugly design is okay? Here are six indicators that you should give a pass to your ugly website.

1.  Your design is distraction free.

The biggest challenge to website’s effectiveness is not its poor design per se, but its level of distraction.

If your website’s design is distracting, then you should redesign it. But if your design is mediocre and distraction-free, then let it go. It’s okay.

For example, Wikipedia doesn’t have the most inspiring design in all the world. But is it distracting? No. Wikipedia is able to maintain its stature as one of the world’s leading websites, because it has few distractions. The focus of the site is on content — delivering information to the user, distraction free.

SEO

Even Wikipedia’s recent design changes — which outraged some — didn’t really change much. Wikipedia has too much to lose from a drastic redesign. Though some opine, Wikipedia is sticking to its not-so-beautiful standards of simplicity and functionality.

Fast Company had this to say about Wikipedia’s stalwart design:

When it comes to design, there are few pillars of the Internet more resistant to change than Wikipedia. Although every single word on the 32+ million page digital encyclopedia can be edited by anyone, every change must also ultimately attain majority consensus in order to not be rubbed out. Coupled with the fact that Wikipedia has to work for everyone, even the lowest tech, and you have a design stalemate where it’s nearly impossible to push even the most obvious changes through.

And maybe that’s okay. Because maybe Wikipedia is a distraction-free information portal.

When a business decides to redesign its website, it may introduce distraction because of the design. Users feel jarred by the new layout, color scheme, and functionality. Even though the design might be artistically impeccable, it creates friction for the user experience.

Designers often have a different perspective on what works, and what doesn’t. A “boring” design, if it’s effective, might be superior to a fresh look.

2.  Your site is functional.

One of the driving forces in web design is user experience. Unfortunately, many designers confuse UX with design panache or cutting edge design trends. The truth however, is that UX is about functionality.

The site, digitalartsonline.co.uk wrote, “UX, or user experience, is a measure of the ease and pleasure users enjoy when navigating a site.” That “ease” and “pleasure” is derived not just from a visual aesthetic, but from the cognitive and functional aesthetic, oo.

  • Does it work? If so, that’s good UX.
  • Does the website do what it’s supposed to do with no friction or problems? If so, that’s good UX.
  • Are there major distractions that reduce the user’s ability to do what he or she is supposed to do? If not, you’ve got good UX.

UX is less a matter of colors, layout, and stunning images than it is pure, raw, uninhibited functionality.

A recent Inc. article made this point about another ugly site, Craigslist.

It’s hard to believe anyone can appreciate Craigslist’s ’90s aesthetic, but surprisingly, most users do. “Sites like that are very personal to people,” says Mielke, noting how Facebook infuriates users whenever it tweaks its News Feed. “Facebook is integrated into their lives. They don’t want their News Feed to be all the popular posts. They want the latest news. Any time you mess with something like that, you’re going to hear about it.”

craigslist

Instead of thinking of UX in terms of “great design” think of UX in terms of “functionality.” Don’t mess up functionality with a cool new look.

3.  Your audience doesn’t care.

The first group of people to think about in a site redesign is the user.

Sometimes I’ve seen politics reign over — and ruin — a site redesign. Someone says, “We need to redesign our site! It’s been twelve months!” So, the politicking begins.

Developers quarrel with executives, who hire consultants, who fire SEOs, who onboard a new UX, who demand wireframe initiatives, who ask the head of marketing, who stalls the project with a new persona investigation. And on it goes. The site redesign becomes about everything except the user.

But here’s the thing. Your website design is about one person only — the user.

And if they don’t care about your cruddy design, then neither should you. That’s what marketing is all about — making sure that your users are satisfied and served.

Too much innovation can alienate. If a user prefers the old-school aesthetic of your outdated design, then so be it. Your business can continue to thrive.

The Drudge Report is one of the Internet’s most hideous sites. But their audience really doesn’t seem to care.

the sun tabloid

You might agonize over your design, but does your user? Is it bothering them? If not, then leave well enough alone for now. It’s going to be okay.

4.  You’ll lose enormous amounts of traffic.

Perhaps the most devastating result of a redesign is the traffic falloff. In case you haven’t had to go through it before, redesigning a website can be murderous to your traffic. Some sites lose as much as a third or even a half of their traffic after redesigning their site!

Steven Macdonald demonstrated the typical what-the-heck-let’s-redesign-our-website approach in his Moz article. What happens when the site goes live and the shiny new site is released? Oh, nothing, except revenue-crushing, traffic-slaughtering loss of impressions, visits, and ranking. That’s all.  Nothing but a nightmare!

impression chart

Can you afford to lose traffic like that just to make your site prettier?

Thankfully, there are ways to retain most of your traffic, but the issue is still a big one. Redesigned websites lose traffic, plain and simple.

5.  You will lose valuable branding power.

Your brand consists of everything about your business. Your website design is a huge part of that. If you change your design, then you are essentially changing your branding.

This happened with eBay not too long ago, when they transitioned from an ugly 80s-style logo to a slightly more millennial approach.

ebay before and after

Thankfully, the world’s largest online marketplace was able to pull it off. Their website is now the better for it. Remember the old one?

ebay categories

Image from Kissmetrics

Think of a website redesign on the same level as a rebranding. A rebranding is huge. It reshapes the company in the public perception. It impacts existing customers and clients. It totally revamps the entire presentation of the business.

And that’s exactly what a site redesign does, too. It’s big — too big to just waltz into without an awareness of the risks and shortcomings.

Conclusion

There will come a time when you must redesign your website

But I challenge you to avoid thinking about a site redesign as something that you have to do right now! There are risks to redesigns. Do the pros outweigh the cons? This is something you’ll have to decide.

Keep this in mind:  There’s more to the issue than simply making a site look better.

How do you decide when it’s time to redesign your website?

8 Comments

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Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg and Hello Bar. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue.

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  1. J Palmer says:
    November 28, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Great article. I get nervous when I look at our flagship site, and some of our client sites, and think that they need a revamp.

    Years ago, we did a site update for one customer and all the metrics that mattered improved, but despite getting all the milestone approvals, when the site went live, the client listened to friends who didn’t like it, and we simply had to wind it back. Ironically, the design and layout type is similar to a standard WP template style across the industry they’re in, and we’re currently upgrading the site to that type of “style” (again) at their request. It will be interesting to see how their friends react to it 6 years down the track, and all that 3rd party exposure to the style.

    We also recently did a what amounted to a radical design makeover for another customer who wanted it, and they loved the design, but we were nervous. It has paid off though. The bounce rate has gone through the floor, with time on site and pages views doubled. So visitors obviously like the UX. FTW!

    On the other hand, we’ve got one customer whose site hasn’t been updated for 6+ years, and he takes a “if it ain’t broke attitude”.

    Often you also have to think about the mindset of the client as well. We’re fortunate that most of our work is for solo and family businesses, so there’s not a lot of design by committee body politik to worry about.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      November 28, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      Interesting results, J. Site redesigns are a big deal, and it pays to think about how they’ll impact users. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Mat Howat says:
    November 28, 2014 at 5:06 am

    Great article. For many service companies, their website is their shopfront. Whilst a valuable investment up front, the maintenance of the site is a neverending task!

  3. Ashish Nagwanshi says:
    November 25, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    HI Neil,

    You are absolutely right. This is same thing that was discussed on Matthew Woodward’s blog when stuart Walker asked him to come up with an ugly design. What i found interesting is that it actually attracts more converions. Or may be visitors does not care about your website looks, but functionality(that you just mentioned above).

    When i was new to the online world, i use to think why these professional and famous bloggers change the design of their blog.

    Now, i understand pretty well what is going on in their mind!

    Regards,

  4. Ishmam Tahaseen says:
    November 25, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Thank you very much for sharing this information. Honestly it’s Very Helpful Article. You Should Keep up This Great Posting. Thanks Again.

  5. EY Phua says:
    November 24, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Thanks, the distraction free and functional points are rather right. Would you think a web design company should redesign its site every year or so, just to show its creativity?

  6. Rob says:
    November 24, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Thanks Niel! This article comes at a perfect time when I am worried about changing my already high performing site to keep up with the times. Being a designer i’ve seen traffic bomb many times after a redesign. I am much more cautious now as what really matters for a business is the ROI not that it’s the new hotness. Thanks again!

    • Neil Patel says:
      November 24, 2014 at 11:24 am

      Rob, glad you found the article helpful. I would definitely tread with caution — you don’t want to make any dramatic changes that may reduce your traffic.

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