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The "look 'n' feel" of your website is important. However, it is less important than your text-based content.

In most commercial websites, the role of the traditional graphic designer is relatively minor. The role of the information architect is central. The role of the editor and author is critical.

A recent Stanford University study found that looks count when people judge a website for credibility.

"To look good is to be good--that's the primary test when people assess a Web site's credibility," said B.J. Fogg, Ph.D, who led the Stanford study. "People evaluate TV news and politicians in the same way: presentation matters more than substance. Why should we expect the Web to be any different?"

Another study, which focused on health and finance websites, had similar results. Conducted by Sliced Bread Design, it asked a group of experts and ordinary consumers to evaluate websites. 41.8 percent of consumers noted design when evaluating the websites, while only 7.6 percent of experts did the same.

So, looks create an important first impression. But what drives revenue? In November 2002, The New York Times reported on a redesign by Elisabeth.com, a "plus-size" women's clothing website.

The Times stated, "Brad Lenz, Liz Claiborne's vice president for e-commerce, said the site had more than tripled the rate at which it converted browsers to buyers, by making products more accessible to users, and by clearing away superfluous graphics from the merchandise and inserting product information that could be quickly scanned."

In a November 2002, Business 2.0 magazine published an article on Knight Ridder Digital (KRD), part of America's second largest newspaper publishing group. Business 2.0 described KRD as having, "28 of the least admired websites this side of pornography."

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.