Is Poor Website Design Holding Your Business Hostage?

Poor design

Online visitors form a first impression of a website quicker than the blink of an eye — literally. It typically takes humans 300 to 400 milliseconds to blink. Meanwhile, scientific research led by Dr. Gitte Lindgaard at Carleton University in Ontario reveals websites have as little as 50 milliseconds to establish a first impression — a mere 1/20th of a second. That’s it!

This is crucial information for any business because once a visitor forms an impression on a subconscious level, he or she will selectively search for information confirming that impression. People do this because we all want to prove we have good judgement. So, if our first impression of a website is negative, we have a tendency to mainly seek and see the negatives, regardless how good a business’ products and services might actually be. Alternatively, if we immediately like what we see, we’ll look for positive information to reinforce that impression.

So how do you avoid making a bad first impression on the Web? Easy. Get a good designer.

Poor Design Sets the Stage For Failure

DIY website design might seem like a good idea at the get-go. Not only can you avoid spending wads of money on eccentric creative types, but only you know how you really want your business branded. No one loves your business like you do! Plus, throwing together a layout with some colours, images and buttons while sipping on a Caramel Macchiato on a spare Sunday afternoon would be easy, right?

Wrong. Based on 20-plus years of communications experience, speaking at Web-related events, and teaching web writing courses to small business owners, our copywriters have come to recognize a common cycle:

1. The do-it-yourselfer spends several hours to a few weeks building a website.

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2. The website is launched.

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3. The website is live, but there are few visitors that trickle in, if any at all. The few who arrive don’t stick around.

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4. Typically, 12 to 24 months later, if they’re still in business, they reach out to specialists to improve their SEO. If they get rankings, they wonder why the emails and calls still aren’t arriving.

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5. Another six to 12 months later, they start to realize the website isn’t working, and it’s not going to fix itself. Then comes the sobering realization that in addition to wasting a few hundred dollars and countless hours, and enduring unnecessary stress, they missed out on about three years of opportunities, revenues and growth.

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Looking at the ROI

Before making the decision to do things on the cheap or go the do-it-yourself route, it’s important to consider the bottom line. Let’s say a professional website costs Dean the Mover $7,500. That’s a lot of pocket change. But, if it generates just four sales a month at an average of $300 a pop, that’s $14,400 worth of business in the first year alone.

Those are conservative numbers, but regardless, the site’s paid for in about six months. And the business can continue to benefit from the website with minimum costs for several years. That’s an outstanding marketing investment and ROI. Our copywriting firm has teamed up with designers to create websites that paid for themselves in as little as three months.

So, while many business owners view design as a fluffy, abstract, let’s-play-with-colours-and-move-the-logo-around activity, they’re missing the point. Design is not art that merely exists. Design serves a specific purpose, forming a connection and relationship, as award-winning designer Gonzalo Alatorre says, “between object, business, and consumer.” A good designer can solve complex problems and create a wealth of opportunities with direct, measurable impact on a business’ bottom line.

Meanwhile, a $500 website that doesn’t generate business and merely shows up on sites like will only hurt a brand and business.

Good Design Gains Importance With Information Overload

More than 75% of North Americans are using the Internet, and more consumers are seeking products and services, and spending more money online. As a result, businesses are swiftly transferring their marketing dollars online, and delivering more content to consumers at an explosive, unprecedented rate. As people are bombarded with information overload, and have limited time to observe, orient, decide and act, they may increasingly rely on instinct and intuition.

Living in a world where we assume the quality of a decision has direct relation to the time and effort that went into making it, it can be difficult to trust our primitive ‘gut feelings’. But consider the fact that we don’t need to understand mass x velocity to leap out of the way of an oncoming car. It just “feels right” and ultimately results in a decision with an optimal outcome. The old adage that you should always trust your instincts is supported by scientific studies.

Dr. Lindgaard and her team presented volunteers with brief glimpses of web pages previously rated as being either easy on the eye or particularly jarring, and asked them to rate the websites on a sliding scale of visual appeal. Even though the images flashed up for just 50 milliseconds, roughly the duration of a single frame of standard television footage, their verdicts matched judgements made after a longer period of examination.

German social psychologist Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, conducts breakthrough studies on the nature of intuitive thinking. Based on his research, he told the New York Times: “When a person relies on their gut feelings and uses the instinctual rule of thumb ‘go with your first best feeling and ignore everything else’, it can permit them to outperform the most complex calculations.”

In the book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about a marble statue from the sixth century BC, which was bought by a California museum for $10 million following a 14-month investigation with an electron microscope, electron microprobe, mass spectrometry, X-ray diffraction, and X-ray fluorescence. The point is that they had top industry authorities use all sorts of high tech equipment to confirm the statue’s authenticity.

However, the were a few observers who — in a single glance — felt an “intuitive repulsion.” They felt the statue was a fake. And they were right. Letters used to trace the statue’s history were found to be phony, and the statue didn’t come from ancient Greece. It came from a forger’s shop in Rome in the early 1980s, when mullets, the Rubix Cube, and Madonna were ‘in’.

Blink also documents a study where psychologist Nalini Ambady gave students three 10-second videotapes of a teacher with the sound turned off. The students had no difficulty coming up with a rating of the teacher’s effectiveness. Then the clips were cut back to five seconds. The ratings were the same. The ratings were remarkably consistent when students were showed just two seconds of videotape. Then Ambady compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations of those same professors made by their students after a full semester of classes, and she found they were also essentially the same.

Gladwell noted: “A person watching a silent two-second video clip of a teacher he or she has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who has sat in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.”

Designers Can Be a Copywriter’s Best Friend

With design forming first impressions before visitors even have a chance to process headlines and body copy, designers can make copywriters’ jobs awfully hard, or easy. Poor design can put visitors into a negative mindset, which sets the stage for a grueling uphill, nearly impossible battle for the web copy.

On the contrary, good design, explained Dr. Lindgaard, can prime visitors for a sale, and make them more lenient and forgiving. Reflecting on the study, she said, “The strong impact of the visual appeal of the site seemed to draw attention away from usability problems. This suggests that aesthetics, or visual appeal, factors may be detected first and that these could influence how users judge subsequent experience.” She added, “Even if a website is highly usable and provides very useful information presented in a logical arrangement, this may fail to impress a user whose first impression of the site was negative.”

Therefore, it’s wise for web copywriters and other web specialists who take their craft seriously to partner with high-caliber, experienced designers. Professional designers have the know-how and skills to set the right tone to help websites gain credibility and trust, and achieve desired objectives, goals and conversion rates.

While many people say “content is king” on the Web, Webcopyplus has politely turned down several prospects whose website design was so dismal, no web copy — regardless how optimized and engaging it might be — would be able to produce the desired value, results and ROI.

Just last week, we told a business owner of a moving company start-up to “invest in a professional designer.” The flaw-filled website comprised a long lineup of trucks, each with a company logo amateurishly Photoshopped on its side. The image was clearly fake, even to the untrained eye. If visitors feel they’re being misled, why would they trust the business behind the website?

Good Design Produces Happy Visitors and Healthy Businesses

Designers are at the core of the Internet’s abruptly advancing speed, sophistication and reach. Good designers can make websites aesthetically enticing, and so much more. They can make them findable, usable, distinct, helpful, productive and profitable.

As Thomas Watson of IBM said in the 1950s: “Good design is good business.”

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3 responses to “Is Poor Website Design Holding Your Business Hostage?”

  1. Gonzalo Alatorre says:

    Further to what you mention on the ROI section, what we (designers) do is to contribute to the differentiating effort of any business. Most of the times, clients know too much about their business and it is really difficult for them to filter what is really important to a potential client and what is not. So by knowing what is important to say, and understanding their business model, we can place the object (product) between the business and the consumer in the right place, so that what is important makes the product stand out.

    Cheers, Gonzalo.

  2. Nick says:

    Some think web designers are not necessary due to templates and advancing technology, but really it brings in amateurs into the fold and allows the pros to really stand out.

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