There are tons of free web site solutions out there. And, believe it or not, as a web design and development firm we have no problem with this. Certain businesses might be just starting out or maybe they are restructuring and money is tight. We get that. We’d much rather they have a presence than none at all. Stepping stones are sometimes needed.

However, we don’t think this is an excuse for bad design. Design still matters. The web, for the most part, is a visual experience (factor in mobile, and the visual matters even more). Users tend to develop their initial level of trust based on superficial elements, i.e. design. And how they use the site is very much determined by how it is arranged visually and how well the information is presented.

Don’t think design matters? Here are three reasons why I think it does…

  1. First impressions are more important than ever
  2. Usability and user experience is crucial
  3. Good design means greater control

First Impressions

Chances are pretty good that a user will end up on your web site or blog through some sort of search or referral. This will lead many to argue that they were driven to a web site because of its content and that content is all that matters.

Good content does increase your site’s Search Engine Page Results (or SERPs). And both valuable and useful content will produce referrals, retweets, Facebook “likes,” etc.  But what happens once they get to your site?

Does the design make a difference? Sure it does. If you go to a site and it looks terrible or confusing, are you in a comfortable place? Are you feeling confident that this is the place where the content is going to deliver? Or does none of this matter to you?

Whether you realize it or not, you experience a subconscious reaction to the site before you have even read one bit of content. You have a first impression based on the overall look and feel of the site. Your design needs to support the content and goals of the site (which is something we will cover later).

The bottom line here is that your web site is an important marketing and communications piece and as such should promote your brand. The look of your site should visually convey the feelings you want the user to have about your company when visiting. It should be inviting and invoke user confidence. If the user has a bad first impression then your content is going to have to be stellar just to try and win them over.

Usability and User Experience

Once you have made that first impression, now comes the important matter of user experience. Again, some will argue that all they want is your content and if they were referred through a search they should be staring right at it.

This is true to some extent, but it doesn’t paint the entire picture. Again, what are your goals for your web site? Do you simply want more visitors? Or do you want those visitors to do something when on your site?

You want conversion; you want this user to act when given specific pieces of information. Let’s say you’re a landscaping company and you’ve written a great blog post about how to prune a rose bush. When someone comes to read that post, you want them to do something – leave a comment, look at your pruning service offerings, refer the post via a social media channel, or all of the above.

Layout, navigation and even color can play a huge role in whether or not these things happen and how often. If your design is cluttered with poorly placed ads, or your navigation is confusing, or your colors are distracting, then your design (or lack thereof) is acting as a deterrent when it comes to achieving your goals.

Consistency in layout and styles (elements like fonts, buttons, etc) will also help the user to navigate the site more easily. Anything you can do to minimize confusion or doubt on the part of the user will make the experience for them for more productive.

It can be helpful to refer back to basic design, composition rules and color theory (our post Hierarchy & Web Design might be helpful). How can you use your design to lead the eye or draw specific attention to something without being too obvious and obnoxious? How can you use a certain color to convey a certain theme like “fun,” “professional,” or “creative”?

Good Design Means Greater Control

Unlike a lot of social media pages, your web site is the place where you control the message and the experience. You can use design to lead the user through the site, gently suggesting the next page to visit or what call to action to select.

Think about it this way. You’re visiting a Facebook page, what do you see? Ads on the right side, updates from friends, notices up top, and so forth. You are constantly being pulled in all directions by elements that demand your attention.

On your web site, you control these elements and can use them to lead the user along the path you would like them to follow. Design plays a huge role in this, based on the reasons I have already pointed out like composition, color, etc.

All of these things working together with your content will make for a more controlled and targeted user experience, which will ultimately lead to higher conversion rates.

All of this needs planning and testing. You will want to work with a designer or someone who knows about web site design. You will also want to determine your goals and their order of importance. And you should be testing with some sort of stats tool, such as Google Analytics.

Design is more than just a beauty contest. Design is an integral part of your web marketing strategy – it drives user experience, goal conversion and content promotion.

What do you think about a web site’s design? Let us know in the comments below.

Wood Street co-founder and partner, Jamie has more than 14 years experience designing web sites and interactive media. He served on the Greater Frederick Advertising Board for more than 4 years and has been a proud member and judge for the International Academy of the Visual Arts. His role has transitioned into Creative Director but he still uses his design skills and knowledge to create award winning web sites. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Frostburg State University with a minor in Art History.

16 Responses to “3 Reasons Design Matters on a Web Site
  • Nice article here, Jon. I actually have on my “to write” list for blogs on a similar topic that you wrote here. There are lots of “free designs” out there – WordPress themes seem to be a very popular option now-a-days. But while these options may be affordable, they don’t necessarily always work. Nice article. I’ll have to visit your site more often.

    • Yes Timothy, this post was certainly inspired by some of those very themes. We get a lot of clients coming to us looking for that next step. They love the control they get with WordPress but they know that the look is lacking and generally know that it is hurting their site’s chances for success.

  • Excellent!! Thank you for eloquently putting into words what I try to explain to my clients.

  • Great post! I agree completely, design plays an extremely important role in a successful website. As you’ve stated above, it not only serves for continued brand identity, but also helps to guide a users’ experience. It’s one thing to get a viewer to your site…a combination good design and content is what will get them to stay there.

  • Message
    Great article…right on point!

  • Very well put Jon — there are numerous occasions that when surfing the web for a product or download I have passed over the first site that offered the item I was looking for… based solely on the look of the site. It could have been verified by Bill Gates, or contain a million credentials, but thanks to the fact that it looked like a hacker in Croatia put it together I went back to my Google search results and picked option #2. SEO is important but the design of the site is what will help keep people there. In the same breath (and in agreement with a point you make above) the site doesn’t have to be latest greatest thing in the universe (free perhaps), but it has a cleanliness and attention to detail that tells the user that there is level of credibility.
    Once again – good stuff Jon —

    • Thanks Jon, I feel the same way when surfing. I need to feel like I am dealing with a company or entity that will take the time to make sure my experience on their site is a favorable one.

  • A freebie site can be a good starting point to get a small business’ web presence established, but doesn’t do anything to strengthen the company’s brand. Good point that professional design can also be used to mold the user’s experience. Thanks for sharing!

  • Most small businesses don’t realize how much a bad website impacts their business, online and off. Consumers are not going to do business with you if your website looks crappy. It conveys the message that you don’t care and that you don’t know what you’re doing. There are too many options for consumers to go elsewhere. From the time a visitor hits your website, you have about 5 to 7 seconds to capture their attention, tell them what you do, and lead them to an action. If you don’t capture them, they’ll be gone and they won’t be back. (And guess what…they won’t visit your offline store or call you either.) Web design absolutely matters! Web usability is a must! Jon-Mikel…we can get up on the soap box together on this subject!

  • “Design is more than just a beauty contest. Design is an integral part of your web marketing strategy” – Right on! Design can be the difference between a site that converts and one that doesn’t, and that has nothing to do with how fancy the graphics are. Great post!

    • Thanks Justin. If Content is King, then Conversion is the Master of the Universe!

  • Great article! While I consider content as the most important aspect of a website (otherwise why are you there?) I’d argue that every website depends on three pillars: good content, good design and good function. A website that lacks any one of these is really missing its potential and is likely to turn away visitors. And design and function become even more important as the world moves to increasing use of mobile devices for viewing the web. Unfortunately many people who use a “build my website” product or service have as much knowledge about design and its benefits as they do about building a website—and that’s the challenge: slapping a website up and calling it “done” is not enough, they need to make sure it looks good and functions well. Think about it—which site are you more likely to use: one that looks bad, or one that looks good?

    • This entire post could be summed up with your comment “slapping a website up and calling it “done” is not enough”!

  • […] So, yes, design matters.  User experience matters.  Perceived level of trust and experience matters.  It is very difficult to be successful in these areas if your site looks like a free WordPress template. (see our previous post on the importance of web design) […]

  • I agree, although there is a time and place for everything. There are cases where a simple template will do the job. For real businesses who want real customers and want to present professionally then there is no substitute for professional design.

  • Good post.Really informative.Your website is your online identity so don’t push away customers with complicated web design. I think money spent on the design of your website is money wisely invested.Thanks for sharing valuable post.

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