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Why Pretty Website Marketing Fails to Sell (And What to Do Instead in 2024)

Parallax…slideshows…pretty butterflies that daintily bat their wings…We’ve all seen them, and they were entertaining.

But did those butterflies and rolling slide shows cause you to take action on the site? If you’re like the rest of us, the answer is no.

Whenever I see a website with a lot of fluff, it’s immediately apparent that the site has no direction. Somebody let a website designer runamuck.

The stark truth is websites weren’t made to be beautiful. They were made to:

  • Engage the visitor

  • Build trust

  • Sell stuff

Screenshot of Craigslist page.

I’m not advocating that you build a butt ugly website, although there are plenty that make millions. Amazon, ebay, and Craigslist come to mind.

(Craigslist hasn’t changed their format in over 20 years. Know why? It works! )

Read Neil Patel’s post on websites that make millions every year but aren’t beautiful.

Even so, those websites put in considerable thought before building them. These companies asked themselves one crucial question: “What do we want the website to do?”

And that’s the problem with pretty websites. Nobody’s asked the hard questions. So a website is created that has no focus.

Consider these staggering figures about website visitors:

  • 30% know they aren’t interested

  • 30% don’t think they’re interested

  • 30% haven’t thought about buying

  • 7% HAVE thought about buying

When you consider that only 3% of visitors that come to your site are ready to press the “Buy Now” button, you can see why that question is so important.

It’s your guiding light for how you structure your site, generate engagement, and sales. That’s why serious planning and a deep understanding of your target audience is so important.

But there’s another thing you should consider.

Design for Conversion: Why Simple Websites are Scientifically Better

I don’t care what it is, simple is always best. Thankfully Google proved that was so with websites. Big G conducted a study on what kind of websites engage visitors. This is what they found.

“Visually complex” websites were consistently rated less beautiful than websites with a simple design. That’s because a visually complex site draws attention to itself, not to the problem you’re trying to solve.

In fact, they can be downright irritating when you’re trying to solve a problem.

Removing clutter and opting for a clear, easy message creates a better user experience for one obvious reason. People go to the web looking for answers, not rainbows and unicorns.

Let’s say you’re looking for help with a cat who’s got a flea allergy. What do you really want from the site? I’ll hazard a guess and say it’s not butterflies flitting across the page. Or a slide show you don’t have time to watch.

You want answers. A simple website design gives it to you.

Here’s what you should consider.

Pretty Website Marketing: What Doesn’t Work and Why

To understand what works and what doesn’t work, here’s an example of a non-profit website that sacrificed clarity for design.

See that huge block of text? It’s a no-no online. (I wouldn’t want to read it offline, either.) People simply can’t read it; it’s too much to try and take in.

Pretty website marketing with too much text

It would have been far better to break that mind-numbing chunk of text into 2-3 sentence paragraphs and double space between paragraphs.

After all, people are there to find out if they are a good match for this organization.

Unfortunately, the design is a barrier to determining that assessment.

Or this.

Pretty website marketing with reverse type

A hugely busy background with reverse type (white text) makes it difficult to focus on the message. Your eyes are everywhere trying to decide what to do first.

But hey, it looks good.

In both cases, less clutter and more functionality would make these pages much easier to engage with the business and non-profit.

Sometimes you have to sacrifice design for functionality and ease of use. Here’s how.

What is a Simple Website? No, Functionality isn’t a Bad Word.

The short answer is a simple website solves a problem. From buying groceries to figuring out how to plug a leak in your basement, every visitor is looking for answers.

Specifically, website visitors want the following three questions answered. But here’s the rub. They want them answered in the header, and you’ve got just 6 seconds to engage them or they’re on to another site. (No pressure, huh?)

3 questions an effectiv website answers

A website that functions to answer those three questions wins the trust of the visitor as well as engagement and sales for the business. Good functionality is not a bad thing. It’s a necessary ingredient for creating a strong user experience.

Again, don’t make the words in your header some creative gibberish that only you can understand.

For example, do you sell human grade cat and dog food? Then simply say that. “Providing human grade cat and dog food for people who love their pets.”

It’s all about functionality and clarity. The clearer you can be, the easier you make it for your visitor to engage and buy from you.

Let’s look at a website that does exactly that. Skincare by Alana is hefty on functional and easy on attractive.

Pretty website marketing that uses effective copy

Alana has her logo in the top left corner of her header.

She tells us exactly what she does, “The Highest Quality Skin Care and Beauty Brands All in One Place.”

And she gives us a direct call-to-action, Shop Now.

Clean and simple. Gorgeous, no but pleasing to the eye, yes. If you’re into skincare, it’s an easy site to get around and shop. You’ve got a wide selection of products and brands to choose from.

Best of all, you know that because she told you so in the header.

Do you see how all of the design elements should work together to deliver the message? No clutter. No muss. No fuss. Just deliver the goods.

That’s what Skincare by Alana does. And it saved the designer from becoming a commodity.

Websites are Not Commodities. So Don’t Make Them One. Or You.

The deal is this. Small business owners don’t want a website. They want more customers buying their stuff. So why not sell that?

As it is, graphic designers make themselves and the product they sell a commodity. They sell pretty websites, not a marketing strategy. And that’s a real shame.

The designer that understands small businesses positions herself as a website conversion designer.

This approach has the clear advantage because she’s not building a pretty website, she’s solving a problem. I would love to see more designers take this approach.

Help business owners understand the value that a good website can do for them. Ask them questions about their business, about their customers. That’s what they care about. They don’t give a hoot about your business, or design, or copywriting.

They care about growing their business. Show them how a good website can help them do that.

Design for Conversion: How Do I Make A Website That Converts?

Good, functional design is an essential part of a high converting website, but it’s not the only thing. There are two more essential components:

  • Crafting a message that resonates with your audience

  • Promoting your site

The anatomy of a high converting website must have strong copy. The website design works hand in hand with the copy to promote the message. (We saw that with Skincare by Alana).

In a sense, good website design appears to take a backseat by letting the message take center stage. But the irony is, that’s good design!

To make a website that converts, you have to show people you have something of value to sell. That’s what good copy does.

It’s also why you want to hire a strong copywriter to tell the customer’s journey. Notice I didn’t say the business journey.

As much as you love your business, talking about it won’t sell the customer on you. Talking about the customer’s pain points and how you can take that pain away, will.

For your simple website, keep the message ALWAYS about taking away a customer’s pain and making their lives better.

Include testimonials on your home page and let others talk about the pain points your visitor is already experiencing. Let the testimonials speak about how your business solved those problems, and how much better their lives are now.

It’s always more credible when someone else says it, rather than having you say it.

Once you have these elements in place, you want to promote your website. That’s a strong part of a high converting website.

So, let’s start with encouraging people to become a part of your community.

About That Call to Action

As part of a high converting website, your simple design must include two kinds of calls-to-action:

  • Direct

  • Indirect

A direct call-to-action is asking the visitor to take action now and buy. It includes:

  • Buy Now

  • Call Now

  • Shop Now

It is NEVER “Learn More.” This is not a direct call-to-action. And yet, how many times have you seen this on a website as a direct CTA? It’s a path that leads nowhere.

Once the visitor has “learned more,” what do they do? Click away. You want to keep the visitor engaged. And since 97% of your website visitors aren’t ready to buy, it’s best to have a second option.

Offer a download on a topic that the visitor wants help with. Keep offering to help take away her pain. Once she downloads your primer, template, list, etc., make sure you follow up with an email series that delivers more value.

Keep driving home value and then include a special offer.

Promoting your website through Google Adwords, Facebook or Instagram ads are another way to build momentum for your site.

Far and away, though, the heart and soul of a high converting website is selling something your audience has determined to be valuable.

Maybe It’s Not So Simple

Everything I’ve listed here is all part of your “simple” website. As you can see, it works very hard for you. It’s not just another pretty face; all talk and no action.

A simple website has a job to do and it stays on the job every minute of the day. The focus for this type of website is to engage and sell.

When starting a new website, make the business owner a partner. Show her that you value her insights about the business, that you want to help. Put that vision and marketing strategy to work for her.

Remember, your website is your calling card. Businesses want to make a good first impression when a customer enters their store.

But in today’s world, the first place people are likely to find you is online.

Are you warm and inviting online? Are you answering questions that people have about your product and service? Do you demonstrate that you understand their problem?

If a customer was in your brick and mortar business, you would make sure that your employees checked off all the boxes above.

Even if your online website doesn’t have an e-commerce store, you want to make sure visitors feel welcomed and understood.

Keep asking yourself the foundational question, “What do we want the website to do?” Dig deep into that question to create a useful, attractive website.

Ditch the pretty websites. Go for an attractive website that engages, builds trust, and sells. Your customers will thank you again and again with their wallets.

Want to ditch your "pretty only" website and create a site that speaks to your target audience and generates more leads? (And it will look great!) Set up a 30-minute complimentary consult with me. Let me show you how to start getting results in about 90 days.


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