With all the talk about the latest website design trends (Responsive! Flat design! Large images! Continuous scrolling!) it’s good to take a minute to think about websites that not only aren’t trendy but are downright ugly—yet get huge amounts of traffic. Sites like Wikipedia, Snopes and Craigslist all essentially look the same as they did more than a decade ago. So what is it that keeps millions of users coming back to these sites year after year? These sites are…
Users know they’re going to get fresh content every day—and in the case of sites like Facebook and Craigslist, they’re getting fresh content every minute. The Drudge Report and Snopes—sites that are painfully ugly—have landing pages that link to the latest content, creating a sense of urgency and an incentive to return to the site multiple times a day.
People trust these sites. Really, really trust them. How much? Have you ever used the words “I Wikied it?” Have you ever had the deep satisfaction of replying to a chain email with a link to a Snopes article? Now I can hear some of you saying, “Wait a minute, DRUDGE is credible??” But credible doesn’t mean credible to everyone (after all, school teachers and college professors don’t exactly smile on Wikipedia). They just need to be credible to the people they’re trying to reach. Credibility also comes from relationships—people share their friends’ content on Facebook because it’s being shared by someone whose judgement they trust.
3) ActionableAll of these sites give you something to do right now—whether it’s make a purchase, find a place to live, call out bad information, or even something as simple as liking a post. Giving people something concrete to do keeps them on your site longer and helps them feel connected to your site and your brand.
So does this mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to what your site looks like? Nope. Appearance does matter and so does usability (if your site isn’t mobile responsive you need to get on that right now). But the cliche about content being king still applies. If the content isn’t timely, credible or actionable, it doesn’t matter how pretty your site may be.
About AlisaI'm a writer, blogger and social media specialist with nearly 15 years experience in medical and science writing for organizations that include Caltech and UCLA, as well as non-profit fundraising and political organizing. I specialize in making complex information clear and compelling. Learn more about my work here