Why Your Design Doesn’t Matter as Much as You Think it Does

Eric Binnion

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As bloggers we naturally want beautiful, jaw-dropping websites that we are proud to show off. As a result, we are constantly tweaking the design of our web page because we are not happy with the way it looks.

But, have you ever just taken a minute to think about whether your design changes are really making a difference? Because chances are, your design changes may not be helping at all. They might actually be hurting your website…

Pretty or Functional Website?

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While designing a website, you have the choice of focusing on either creating an amazing design or creating a design that converts like crazy. To be clear, this is not exactly a one or the other situation, but there likely will be times that you have to make a decision between the two.

For example, have you ever seen the Social Triggers website? Have you noticed how simplistic it is? It has a basic greyscale color scheme, a super simple text logo, and a simple white background.

But this site converts like crazy! Derek Halpern was able to break the 100,000 hits barrier as well as 17,000 subscribers for his blog in just 11 months.

Do you know why Social Triggers converts so well?

Because, since the beginning, Derek’s main focus on Social Triggers has been creating a functional website that both converts and has kick-ass content.

On the other hand, there are websites like Matt Mullenweg’s that focus on the design aspect first. But, let’s be honest… Matt doesn’t have to worry about conversions on his personal blog, he has WordPress!

Art of Blog Case Study

To give you an example of why your design does not matter as much as you think it does, let me give you a case study of how Art of Blog’s new redesign has increased our daily sitewide traffic about 15-20% and also increased traffic to one of our main affiliate pages by 37%!

First, let’s take a look at the old Art of Blog design.

Old Art of Blog Design

Notice how this website has plenty of color, a light background image, and not a lot of white space. Now, let’s compare that with the new Art of Blog design launched on January 21st, 2013.

New Art of Blog Design

Notice how this design uses much less coloring and no background pattern. Also, notice how our optin box is at the top of the home page above the fold. Also, notice our social proof banner with the media logos in it.

Art of Blog Stats

This new redesign has helped us increase our traffic between 15-20% in just a few days and has also significantly impacted shares, subscribers, comments, etc. The focus on usability and conversion, as opposed to focusing on design, is the reason we have had these results.

Bottom Line

You can choose to have both an awesome looking and high converting website, but be prepared that if you want to run a successful blog… You may need to focus more on conversion.

At Art of Blog, we believe that we were able to draw much more traffic because we focused on:

  1. Page Speed – It’s no secret that page speed is a metric that metric that Google uses to determine your rankings. When you lower the time it takes for your website to load, you are also indirectly increasing your search rankings.
  2. Social Proof – We made it a point to include a banner with the major media networks that our authors have been featured in. Because of this we have noticed that our email signups have been increasing.
  3. Minimalism – Our last design was built using the Chronicl skin for Thesis. While we loved the design, we felt like we could get better conversions by using a minimal design. So we built our own design from the ground up that featured our email signup forms and our best content. Because of this, one of our top performing pages is now seeing over a 50% click-through rate to affiliate offers. Not too shabby, eh?

In the end, blogging for profit is a business, and getting a subscriber or a sale is much more important than someone complimenting on the look of your website.

What Do You Think?

How do you approach the debate between a pretty and functional site? Do you split test to increase your conversions?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

Written by Eric Binnion

Eric Binnion is a computer science student at Midwestern State University. When Eric is not online, he is usually volunteering in his community or enjoying time with his family. You can find Eric on Twitter.

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Comments

  • LOVE this article!!! I am going to send people to read it when they complain that my recommendations are too simple.

  • Armen says:

    Hi Eric,

    Good points. Do you think a single column post page increases engagement, too? Perhaps sidebars distract and encourage people to click away faster?

    • Eric Binnion says:

      Hey Armen,

      I don’t have a definitive answer on the difference between columns. But, I’ve noticed that double-column is a very widely accepted format, even with KissMetrics, Social Triggers, Etc. Single-column is usually used for squeeze pages.

      That being said, I need to compile some numbers to see which has performed better on Art of Blog.

      Thanks for leaving a comment!

    • Marlon says:

      +1 to the new design Eric.
      A page with no sidebar looks like a sales page to me. Sidebars wont distract your readers as long as it reinforces what they currently read. (ie Optin form to offer your readers more valuable content)

      • Eric Binnion says:

        Marlon,

        That’s a dang good point that a page with no sidebars could look like a sales page to some.

        After the initial design in single column for this blog, we noticed that we did want to add an email optin… but we wanted to control its placement. So I created an optin shortcode.

        Thanks for the input! You definitely gave me insight that I honestly had not considered.

  • Jeni says:

    Actually, Eric, I think you have the title of this post wrong.

    When you chose a new skin for your site, you weren’t choosing “not” design. The white space and simplicity are part of the intentional design choices the theme designer made while creating this skin. Since you’ve seen that switching to this new (albeit, more simplistic) design has had a direct effect on your conversion rates, you’re actually arguing the opposite here: design DOES matter. Your results prove it.

    Maybe it would be better said, “Proof that Minimalist Design Converts.”

    • Eric Binnion says:

      Jeni,

      I completely agree with you that ‘Proof that Minimalist Design Converts” would have been a much better title. Design, in the sense of colors, UX/UI, and white space will always matter.

      I went the opposite way to catch the part of the market that associates “design” with flashiness.

      Hopefully that explains why I went the other route.

      Thanks for leaving a comment!

  • John Ribbler says:

    I have been gradually redesigning my sites and agree. Visitors need and want web pages to direct them to information or solution to a need the came to solve. Whether or not it may “look like a sales page” is irrelevant.

    But, I am curious to know how you see the role of the auxiliary content below the comments. Should you expect much action? What are the best ways to use footers? Why did you do it the way you did here?

    Thanks,

    John

    • Eric Binnion says:

      Hey John,

      The current design of Art of Blog is basically us testing a bunch of ideas. Part of the reason I designed the footer as it is now is that many people like quickly skim a page before they actually read it.

      Having the large optin box with the social proof was our effort to increase optins from the footer. The 3-columns are a way to keep users on our website for multiple page views.

      With that said, it’s hard to say what the best way to use a footer is, but I do believe it is essential to have an optin area in the footer as well as a way to recommend related articles to readers.

  • carl says:

    I agree with your perspective Eric, though i still have clients that design seems to be all in all but i share the perspective that emphasis on design should be lower and higher on conversion.
    their is no point having a site that looks great but no conversion.
    thanks
    carl

    • Eric Binnion says:

      I bet it is a hard sell to clients because, in some ways, this thought is counter-intuitive.

      On the other hand though, this could result in you adding a split-testing service for your clients :)

      Thanks for the comment Carl!

  • Love it man. Too many bloggers redesign their sites just to make it look pretty. But making it pretty often kills the functionality! Too much art all over the place distracts viewers away from the content.