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."
These "ugly" websites delivered a 33 percent increase in revenue during the second quarter of 2002. (Quite a feat in a recessionary advertising marketplace.)
KRD runs a lean, mean operation. By standardizing and simplifying its processes and designs, it has managed to tightly control its operating costs. Similar strategies have been pursued by the likes of Google, EBay, Amazon, AOL and Yahoo. Keeping the visual design simple and the content rich has delivered the results for these, and other, websites.
I spend a lot of my time speaking to managers responsible for large websites. Over the years, the profile of these managers has changed. Whether it is in Europe, North America or Asia, these managers now tend to have a communications background.
Previously, they were from IT or marketing. Yes, there are still marketing and IT people responsible for the Web. However, these people have a clear understanding of the role of the Web as a communications medium.
These managers recognize that text rules on the Web. Words make the sale. The visual is important, but it is less important than in print or TV.
Your website must look good. It also needs to deliver the goods--the content. People who are in work or purchase mode come to the Web to gather content that will help them make a decision.
Knight Ridder sees winning on the Web like running a marathon. As Business 2.0 summed it up: "Complex and beautiful may win awards, but ugly and simple might just win the marathon."