I’ve been meaning to link to and comment on Robert Scoble’s post on The role of anti-marketing design (or how ‘ugly’ designs often do better – especially with AdSense). He refers to ‘plentyofffish.com‘ as an example of one site that is reportedly making some big dollars from AdSense despite it’s fairly humble design.
My reaction to Robert’s post is twofold:
1. I don’t want to agree – I appreciate good design in all aspects of life. I like blogs and websites that have obviously had some time put into the way that they look. I also find myself reacting against ‘ugly’ on some levels (yep I’m a bit of a snob – but it’s the way I’m wired). That doesn’t mean I ignore or avoid poorly designed sites – I just am not drawn to them as much and they have to have something really worthwhile in terms of content to get me past their look.
I do believe that well designed blogs have some distinct advantages in terms of branding, marketing, creating first impressions, being stickable and with advertising optimization.
2. There’s some truth in the idea that ‘ugly converts well’ with some forms of advertising – I’ve seen many examples of sites that will never win design awards that are very profitable. I’ve also owned a couple of blogs that have proved it to me also.
However – I wouldn’t quite put it in the words that Robert does. I’m not so sure that we should aspire to ‘ugly’ blogs – but rather would call many of the blogs that I’m talking about that work well ‘simple’ or ‘humble’. For example the site that Robert uses as his example, PlentyofFish, is not what I’d call ugly. It’s not brilliant but it is uncluttered, simple, reasonably clean and useable for readers. It’s ads are also in prime position and do stand out from the rest of the page (although do blend in in terms of background/border). It’s also a site that seems pretty simple to use and is fast to load.
So what do I recommend with blog design?
Hmmm – even as I write this I’m going back and forth a little on it in my mind. Here’s a few random take home points (and they will conflict each other):
- Bloggers without design skills should take heart – there are some great blogs out there that are quite average to look at which do very well in terms of traffic and earnings
- Well Designed blogs can work for you in terms of creating a brand, giving good first impressions and adding credibility to your blog
- Some bloggers get so sidetracked on getting their design working that they never actually develop good content (design should support your content – the main player on a blog)
- Simple, uncluttered and clean designs tend to work best with AdSense (in my experience) if you place the ads well
One last theory:
Source of traffic might come into play on this – it seems that PentyofFish does pretty well because it is ranked highly in Google for some pretty popular search terms. Robert mentions that it’s owner studies SEO theories and that this is perhaps the main reason for it’s success. I wonder whether it’s less crucial for site’s which rely more heavily upon SE traffic to have amazing design or not. Perhaps (untested) sites that rely upon referral traffic from other sites or repeat users need to be more aware of creating an appealing environment.
Of course even as I write this last paragraph examples of many ‘humbly’ designed sites that have loads of loyal readers are coming to mind – so perhaps my theory is dodgy! Perhaps design is irrelevant! :-)
I can hear the comments now – I don’t really believe this – but I’ve seen such a variety of results when it comes to design that I’m just not sure what I think any more.
Interested to hear what others think about the impact that a blog’s design has upon readership levels, ad performance etc