There’s a saying on the Web that tells us good content can survive an ugly site. This means that, if you put up great content or otherwise provide a valuable service to your visitors, they will continue to come by even if your site is a bit of an eyesore.
To that end, the Internet is filled with examples of sites that do just that. Craigslist has thrived despite its minimalist layout, as has Drudge Report. It seems to many that site design is of no importance at all.
The problem though, is that it is not nearly that simple.
While content is certainly more important than your site’s design, your look, feel and presentation are all key parts of your site’s image and that, like it or not, is very important to your site’s potential success.
Simply put, though great content can survive a bad site, there’s no reason it should have to. Fortunately, this is a pitfall that can be easily avoided and, when done so, can even help your site grow faster than ever.
It’s a simple truth that visitors make judgments about a site the moment they visit it. Within seconds of a page loading, they’ve made judgments about the site including general perceptions about how much they “like” the site and how it makes them feel.
This happens before they read as much as the first word on your homepage.
While these feelings can be reversed, the truth is that most visitors won’t stick around long enough to have their opinions changed by you. Simply put, changing minds takes time and most visitors are only going to be around for a few moments. You can’t even rely on familiarity to help you out as it can take dozens of exposures for that to work.
If you have a bad site design, people are going to read your content through the filter of the impression it left on them. For example, it seems unprofessional to your readers, they are going to treat your content as being amateurish. Thus, even if your content is of high quality, it may come across as flawed and weak, just because of what surrounds it.
Of course, there’s a lot more to having a good site image than merely not having an ugly template. If your template looks like hundreds of other sites out there, that will make you seem amateurish and may even cause some of your readers to confuse your site with others that share the theme.
Likewise, you can have an attractive site but, if it goes against the message you’re trying to send, it can still frame your content in the wrong light and hinder it from getting its message across.
As such, it’s important not just to have a “nice” or “attractive” look for your site, but to have the right one for what you are trying to do specifically.
This, however, can be tricky to pull off, especially if you don’t know exactly what it is you’re trying to do with your site.
How to Avoid it
The best designs, generally, are the ones that you notice the least. The goal of a good design is not to be pretty or “wow” the visitor, but rather, to direct the visitor to the content, put them in the right frame of mind to read it and help them do so easily.
Creating a site design that does all of those things, however, can be quite a challenge. The reason is that, in addition to the other design considerations that can interfere with you building your ideal site, finding the right look for your site requires a great deal of inflection and honesty about what you want your site to be and what it is.
To get started though, here are a few questions to ask yourself when you are looking for a new template:
- What kind of content am I writing? Is it journalistic? Comical? etc.
- What elements are on other, similar sites that users might expect to see on mine?
- What are some sites in my niche or style, that I like and might want to emulate some?
- What are some things that are unique to my site and will identify my site to others?
- What do I want my readers to take away from my work and how can my design help that?
Once you can answer those questions, you’ll likely have a good vision for what you want your site to be like and can start looking for themes and designs that fit with that vision.
However, it’s important to not just pick a theme and run with it. With so many sites out there, any attractive theme that you find, especially for free, will likely be used on dozens, if not hundreds, of other sites. Many of those sites will be more popular than yours and others who visit your site will likely recognize the look from elsewhere.
It’s important to use a good theme as just a starting poing and take the time to make it your own. This is where knowing HTML and CSS can be a huge help as you can make a few simple changes to your theme and come away with a radically different look.
The other option, of course, is to choose a theme framework that makes it easy to either edit the look of your site from the backend or just use child themes that can give you a completely different look.
But no matter what method you use, the goal is to get a look and feel for your site that fits your content and the message you’re trying to convey. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in a situation where your content has to fist apologize for your theme and make up for it rather than build upon the positive feelings it has helped procure.
Your site’s design doesn’t have to be perfect, expensive or award-winning to get the job done. It just has to be effective at giving your content a platform to speak for itself without dragging it down.
While it is true that good content can survive a bad design, a bad layout gives your visitor a negative impression of your site before they read word one and forces your content to claw your reader out of that.
Just imagine how much positive your reader’s experience would have been if they had started from a good place and began with a positive image of your site.
To really soar, your blog content needs to cut all of the dead weight attached to it and, sometimes, that means changing the theme as well. A positive user experience is just too important for your content if you want it to be given a fair shake.