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"Ugly sites sell" Works for AdSense Too?
birchy




msg:4590749
 5:52 am on Jul 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

I saw a reference to a thread on the paid section that I cannot afford just now, but it hit a nerve.

Been building this large site for 3+ years in my spare time, self taught, not really talented as either a coder nor a designer. So, while it provides a service most people want and is the only one of this scale to not require subscriptions (ad supported), it's fairly amateurish looking compared to the norm. Not really ugly, but whatever. So, I finally get around to a redesign, which mostly converts dense text links poorly arranged in a box, part of some tabular data, that is displayed as funky round cornered records with some space between them, into a cleaner, shaded line style data table with graphic links. Much prettier (but still dated and amateurish). So proud, I bring the new design online. Ad revenue stops. Not dips. Stops. I've tried bringing it back in limited page loads for longer periods of time, thinking maybe ?the Adsense channels need time to acclimate? Nope. I might get more visitor involvement, but not clicks.

Sound familiar? I know it may be more than ugly vs pretty. It might be other design issues. But my gut says that the contrast between a slick banner ad stands out from a rougher background of content.

I guess it's better to make the user work harder to parse the content (assuming of course, that the content delivers value) than to make them work to see the ads.

 

yaix2




msg:4590869
 5:51 pm on Jul 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

It may be ad placement. It may be may things. Sometimes a line or some other small item may have a huge impact on CTR. Try testing, moving things around a little and wait for the result.

jbayabas




msg:4590998
 5:41 pm on Jul 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

Has your traffic changed? If not, then it has nothing to do with the redesign.

I still believe in a well designed site. Most ugly sites trick people to click on the ads which can cause your CTR to go up unnecessarily. I won't be surprised if you receive the dreaded email: "Your AdSense account poses a risk of generating invalid activity."

swa66




msg:4591002
 6:03 pm on Jul 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

What's ugly and what's pretty ?
VERY hard to define as it''s mostly in the eye of the beholder.

I've had (paper) designs refused by a client ("ugly") and forced to do stuff I found "ugly" (but they found "pretty") . A few years later they want a redesign and I pick up my original design and propose it again, they love it ... - and want the look and feel updated all over the place now. Something I find "pretty".

alika




msg:4591012
 7:17 pm on Jul 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

I've had an ugly site for years. Income from Adsense was significantly higher then when the site looked ugly. CTR was higher; eCPM was higher; and revenues were higher.

But it looked ugly. Even if the content is good for our industry, guess people just wanted to leave after.

We redesigned the site after we got hit with the above the fold algorithm. The site now looks so much better. Engagement metrics way up. We regularly get links from NY Times from one of their Monday industry roundup article. If we are to develop a brand, our new site design is what's going to help us.

But Adsense income dropped. I guess that's the bullet we have to take. Users are not desperate to get out of our ugly site anymore, and stick -- but without clicking on the ads.

I have thought long and hard about it: developing a brand (nice looking site) vs. maintaining high Adsense income (ugly looking site)

My hope right now is that the process of developing a brand will eventually pay off. Not seeing it yet, but I hope it will come.

lucy24




msg:4591024
 9:06 pm on Jul 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

People are soooo frantic to get off the site that they'll click the first thing they see-- in this case an on-page ad link-- rather than scroll another inch and a half to reach the browser's tab bar, Back button or close box?

jbayabas




msg:4591045
 11:42 pm on Jul 7, 2013 (gmt 0)


People are soooo frantic to get off the site that they'll click the first thing they see-- in this case an on-page ad link-- rather than scroll another inch and a half to reach the browser's tab bar, Back button or close box?


Yup. That's my definition of an ugly site.

RestAssured




msg:4591069
 4:12 am on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

If ugly sells, then this forum must be rich. But as already stated, that is a matter of opinion.

I think the reality is that simple, clean looking and fast loading sites vastly outperform complex, slow loading ones.

Google themselves are the masters of simplicity.

jbayabas




msg:4591162
 1:48 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

This site is far from ugly. It has nice subtle color combination, good logo placement and well organized.

explorador




msg:4591167
 2:28 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

Ugly VS pretty might be just one of the many possibilities but answering your question yes, ugly sites sell a lot too. I have an ugly duck bringing some money with Adsense, it used to bring a lot more, more than the rest of my websites. Tried diff redesigns and nothing performed better than the ugly-simple-one. One of my guesses TODAY is some sites while simple keep the links on the same places, meaning you can browse the content very easy without moving your mouse, just click, read, click again, no movement at all.

JS_Harris




msg:4591181
 3:04 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

Google absolutely LOVES old ugly informational content, I'm convinced of this. If the site has anything remotely current or touches on the subject of a product in any way it vanishes from search but those good ol informational first hand experience sites (think geocities-like)... they are gold.

It's not because they are ugly. It's probably partly because they are old and underwent an evaluation back then that has been grandfathered in when new evaluations were rolled out. I'd even venture to say that by updating these old sites they get re-submitted for evaluation and any grandfather-like benefits are wiped out.

In other words - if it's old but running well don't change a thing. Google is less likely to re-evaluate a site that has not changed in a long time and who knows what the flavor of the day is in these new multi-layered evaluation processes.

Edge




msg:4591199
 3:55 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

Direct advertisers prefer professional and attractive websites..

lucy24




msg:4591203
 4:04 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

those good ol informational first hand experience sites (think geocities-like)...

I'm thinking any site whose name contains the elements ~ (ASCII tilde) and .edu, generally meaning professors' pages that haven't changed in either URL or content since the information was first posted in 1997. Met one just the other day while trying to confirm the impression that Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate was originally written for a castrato. (It was. Not the kind of information that's likely to change in a few decades, barring some newly unearthed discovery.)

Or does old information simply belong on old-fashioned sites? or old-fashioned pages and to ### with the overall site?

frankleeceo




msg:4591209
 4:13 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

Subtle contrasts and placements can make a huge difference in CTR's. Sometimes "ugly" sites have ad locations and contrasts that "stick out" more. The higher traffic and testing time frame that your site have, the more difference that you can tell without the "natural noise" of daily CTR differences. For me, my adsense CTR has around 50% daily noise level (+ or - 50% CTR centered around the average CTR over long period of time) with the site layout and content consistent, simply from what is being advertised.

Completely blended or slick sites tend to have lesser sharp contrasts which can in turn hurt the revenue. Users are smart enough to avoid accidentally clicks against ads landmines.

My personal preference is to place ads where people's eyeballs will definitely roll to later in the page- after I have sold the visitors that my site is awesome. However, I keep the contrast and ugly layout. while trying not to hinder any useability convenience....much. In terms of design, I am more and more shifting my focus to users first, and CTR after. What I do exactly is to shift the ads toward "secondary" locations instead of primary "prime" spots. Like next to selection or further navigational menus. Sacrificing potential immediate income for higher traffic from user loyalty. I still have ads on prime spots, but relatively less prominent than ever.

However, I still aim for the "ugly" site feel where ads do stick out. Why bother with slick designs if users can careless which even result in ads blindness. It's a waste of money and effort especially if you are running information sites. However, I instead spend more effort in making sure that my content is up to date and awesome.

Based on my own test, up to a point and style of ads placement will not hinder user loyalty traffic and use, but once you go through that threshold, all kinds of penalty and user defect happen. And it can be very hard to recover once it happens. Potential google god penalty and users defecting to another competitor. Try stick ads in the face of your visitors for a while and traffic will start to suffer within a couple of weeks. (never immediately, so the revenue jump with sticking ads in the face of people can be deceiving to as having temporary revenue jumps). I intentionally burned 1 or 2 sites as a part of my test.

Another design contrast that I like is place text ads next to image heavy content, or image ads next to text heavy content. Image ads blending with heavy images can work well too. I find that text + text is not as well as users get completely text blindness, at least for my niche. This simple design method is ugly but the contrast helps for my specific site network.

Depending on the niche and targeted users, you have to apply different design specs and theories. Think your users, and what makes them tick and click is really the key. Then test those theories to see how they pan out, you may think you know your visitors, but very often people act unexpected. I tend not to use any fancy heat map or any other tools. The only eventual metric I care about is $$. If a design brings more $$, it's good. No point in placing ads where it's "hot" if it does not bring in the dough. Test design, if more $$, keep it, if not, change it again.

I do believe that a "ugly" site with useless content, is well, useless. Backspace is the only valid exit instead of ads CTR's.

I do notice compltely design overhauls such as template change will usually hurt the traffic either immediately or a couple days later. The recovery is never immediate ever, if it does happen usually takes a couple of weeks too. This makes it hard to execute and test but rather think of it as a gamble for potentially higher traffic and revenue 1+ month later, yet you never know haha since its a gamble. The traffic can always tank. But I think the odds are against you in most cases unless you can pull it off flawlessly (without any coding bugs or hiccups). Every time I go through a layout change I get sleepless nights for weeks straight and frantically checking my traffic level.

rogerd




msg:4591225
 5:18 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

I think "ugly" sites - let's say, sites with a dated appearance, few graphics or bad graphics, cumbersome layout - can work for Adsense and affiliate offers. As others have noted, visitors don't want to hang around the site, and an inviting ad or link relevant to what brought them there will get clicked.

As Alika notes, increasing the engagement metrics can reduce the desire to click away via ads.

But, if you are selling on the site, it's a different story. There's research that shows visitors form an impression of the site in a fraction of a second - before they have read the copy, or even processed a headline.

If a site makes a bad first impression, it will have to work harder to build the credibility and trust needed to make the visitor pull out a credit card and place an order.

Other ugly site issues, like difficulty in finding what you are looking for, may also depress on-site sales.

IMO, ugly sites don't "sell" well - instead, they monetize well by doing nothing to discourage clicks on ads and links.

mcneely




msg:4591234
 5:48 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

This site is far from ugly. It has nice subtle color combination, good logo placement and well organized.


Please don't confuse ugly with functional .. WebmasterWorld is extremely functional and well organized .. It's not even a little bit pretty tho' ...

EditorialGuy




msg:4591237
 5:54 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

Amazon.com pages aren't pretty. Amazon does pretty well.

TripAdvisor pages are ugly. They probably do okay, too.

I suspect that, when it comes to AdSense performance, audience is more important than aesthetics.

martinibuster




msg:4591242
 6:10 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

Hey Roger, that's a good distinction between sites that sell well and sites that monetize well. :)

jeyKay




msg:4591261
 8:07 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

I have thought long and hard about it: developing a brand (nice looking site) vs. maintaining high Adsense income (ugly looking site)

My hope right now is that the process of developing a brand will eventually pay off. Not seeing it yet, but I hope it will come.


If there is one thing I've learned, is don't build your site for Google. Build it for your users. It will pay off, even if it's not with Adsense paychecks ;)

numnum




msg:4591264
 8:18 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm thinking any site whose name contains the elements ~ (ASCII tilde) and .edu, generally meaning professors' pages that haven't changed in either URL or content since the information was first posted in 1997.


Oh, so you've visited my humble, quasi-academic "tilde" site, which has been around since 1997! Last year I was scolded by the late, great Tedster because I expressed a desire to improve my site's visibility and traffic while at the same time maintaining a somewhat high-brow, academic, old-school ("tilde") profile. The idea of developing a "brand" simply does not work for me. Tedster thought that I really needed to brand myself if I was serious about improving my Web profile. Well, perhaps so. But my so-called "Website" is still ugly-ish, still tilde, and still drawing a decent 1% CTR without trying to fool my readers.

littlecubpanda




msg:4591287
 10:14 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

What a great topic.

My sites are "ugly", but the content is original and unique. They're very simple sites that cut to the chase.

I think there's a lot to be said for the user "getting their fill" of your site then wanting and exit route.

I basically want the user to scroll down, get what they came for, then look for way out (through ads). I don't want too much site interaction via social media (just enough, like 'like' buttons).

I don't want too many ads, like affiliate ads, because then the site looks a little too greedy. The two or three Google ads tastefully placed get the job done.

birchy




msg:4591296
 10:40 pm on Jul 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

On the site that I posted about, I have a long list of content. Some visitors are scanning that content looking for a specific record, some are scanning all the records looking for things they have a connection with. Without the ads to break up the content, it would be easy to lose your place. When one is busy examining the content, the ads are easy to ignore, but not invisible. The content is all text, round cornered boxes and background colors and textures. The banner ad spans two columns and looks nothing like my "ugly" content. The "prettier" format that I tried to introduce replaced the boxes with separation rules (lines) and the text links with graphical links. Much more "professional" looking, but the graphical style lost it's contrast with the graphical ads and made the text ads look positively hideous. I feel that it made the page look busier with graphics competing for graphics, or cheap with the text ads looking only like ads, and not so much as handy grouping dividers for the content.

hannamyluv




msg:4591516
 3:03 pm on Jul 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

I once had an "ugly" version of my site. It loaded quickly (we were going for speed rather than looks)and when we launched it, the user stats showed that the visitors did not care how the site looked. They were happy.

But for the next 3 months, we watched our RPM slooooowly but significantly drop. Nothing changed in terms of CTR or that kind of thing. The money just stopped flowing and EPC dropped.

I scrambled to get a designer to make a pretty version of the site, with explicit instructions to not move anything on the page. Just make it look nicer. We launched and within a month the RPM came back to pre-ugly levels - again, with no change in average CTR.

My theory was that we no longer looked like a "professional" site when we had the ugly design and the advertisers who select specific sites to advertise on stopped selecting us. Because, if you work for a big brand, do you really want to show your boss an icky looking site and say that is where your money is going?

I think there is a certain size site that can benefit or at least not be harmed by "ugly", but I think that after a certain size, you also need to take into account the desires of the advertisers - who want professional looking sites to advertise on.

martinibuster




msg:4591535
 4:04 pm on Jul 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

...do you really want to show your boss an icky looking site and say that is where your money is going?


That made me LOL! Nice! :)

Do you think it's shortsighted to withdraw advertising because of the way a site looks as opposed to how well it solves a marketing problem?

hannamyluv




msg:4591536
 4:09 pm on Jul 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

Do you think it's shortsighted to withdraw advertising because of the way a site looks as opposed to how well it solves a marketing problem?


Of course I think it is shortsighted, but I was once a manager of a large website (with a large PPC budget) and I also consulted on several large websites, so I know what the reality is. ;)

When you are talking to the VIPs at a company, who have no idea how internet marketing works, looks count. And if you are a lowly PPC peon who does not want to patiently explain (perhaps for the 40th or 50th time) why looks don't matter, you pick the pretty sites and move on with your day.

We as publishers have to take into account what the reality of our advertisers are - not what we wish they could be.

moTi




msg:4592649
 2:30 am on Jul 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

looks count. that's the single important point that speaks against an ugly site.

not only in the advertiser sphere, but also in the visitor sphere. you might say, well, my users don't care. that may be right, but you don't take into account the visitors you have already lost at the entrance. i have an "ugly" site as well - focused on content and functionality. the issues arise if you want these websites to get actively promoted. google isn't enough, you need visitors who spread the word and maybe also the press on your side.

even if your site otherwise rocks, there are many superficial people out there that you can't reach with an ugly site approach. often, these kind of people are influential. as visitors, they would willingly share, link, like or even buy only if the design more meets their expectations of a good looking website. the same kind of guys are maybe executives and decide if you get a press article or the business proposal. yeah, i also don't like them but that's the game..

limbo




msg:4593184
 10:27 am on Jul 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

Can't really quantify it.

CSS should do all the hard work so no matter how your site looks, it should perform well in Google's eyes - lean HTML is first.

In terms of measuring design success - then there's no such thing as 'ugly' or 'pretty' IMO - more how you design the site to maximise your goals (in this case Adsense CTR). Style, layout and hierarchy should be born from these goals, not after. In other words a site designed by someone with terrible layout and typography skills could do better in terms of ad CTR than one designed by someone who totally 'gets' beautiful design but doesn't really understand ad placement.

Real design is answering questions not making it pretty or not.

hannamyluv




msg:4593246
 2:27 pm on Jul 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

there are many superficial people out there that you can't reach with an ugly site approach


Real design is answering questions not making it pretty or not.


I think you have to have a combination of the two above to be successful.

Real design may be answering questions, but GREAT design is answering questions and making it aesthetically pleasing.

One has only to look at the American public to see that (at least in the US), looks and brand mean a lot. How else could something like True Religion Jeans exist? Sure, they might be quality, but so are Levis. So why do people pay $250 for one and $25 for the other?

If this mentality is used for jeans by the general public (and this is just one among many, many examples), than why do we think websites are any different.

Yes, they will use "ugly sites" that function well but they will pay more for pretty ones that function well. ;)

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