The “Ugly” Truth.
By on Mar 29, 2010

When the majority of people first come on the internet business scene, one of their first tasks is to make a nice 2.0 looking website no matter what niche or demographic they are selling towards. A LOT of time and money is spent on designing “pretty” looking websites, landing pages and creatives. But for what reason? Why is there always an assumption that the prettier the design the better it will sell?

Ugly designs sell. Really well.

Yes ugly is a subjective term, so let me give you some examples of my definition.

ryan air design

RyanAir.com – Most popular European airline

———————

craigslist design

Craigslist.com – Number one online classifieds directory.

———————

plenty of fish design

PlentyOfFish.com - Number one free dating site. (I’m sorry Markus)

———————

druge report design

DrugeReport.com – Popular news site (Alexa 791)

———————

Do you think these websites would of been as successful if a pretty design was on top of their lists?

As affiliate marketers we are surrounded by people who use the internet everyday and are confident with buying and selling things. However a lot of us forget what it’s like for people who don’t use the as internet frequently as we do. A large amount of internet users are still afraid of the whole idea internet idea.

This is exactly why ugly websites work.

People trust things more when they look like they were done for the love of it rather than the focusing on sheer profits.

Ugly designs also allow a more personal interaction. It gives the feeling your dealing with a family run business or an individual, instead of a corporation. They are all very simple yet still functional.

Taking note of all of this ugliness should not be a rule that applies to all websites. The sites do well focus on the product, or action they want a user to take first and leave design as an afterthought.

“Ok Mr Green we are technically the smartest bunch of readers on the interweb, we know this already. But how can we put these ideas into use with affiliate marketing.

Ok well lets start at banner design. Pick which banner you think has the best design.

good-design

Banner 1.

bad design

Banner 2.

Most of you will chose banner 1. It’s aesthetically pleasing, good composition, an all round clean design. But think about the reason for having a banner? We shouldn’t give a flying shizen whether the design is “pretty”. For affiliate marketers its for clicks to our landing pages. CTR is the name of the game.

Banner 1: 11,388 impressions, 79 clicks, 0.07% CTR

Banner 2: 13,437 impressions, 147 clicks, 0.11% CTR

Banner 2 out preformed banner 1 by a decent amount. Even though banner 2 was the ugliest design it was the best design in terms of performance. Why did it out preform? Banner 1 is typical. People are more inclined to be banner blind towards designs that are expected. Banner 2, has terrible composition. The title is cluttered, and the main text is skewed to the right. It is unexpected.

“Ugly” banner designs also look less “ad” like and more like a classified. Whats the difference? Ads are mainly run by companies, classifieds are run by individuals. It’s more personal.

Plenty Of Fish are great at this too:

plenty of fish adplenty of fish ads ugly

Affiliate Landing Pages:

E-books were around before dinosaurs. On ClickBank.com alone, e-books  have generated $1.5 Billion. Here are 3 of the top 5 earners on ClickBank:

The Diet Solution Program

TheDietSolution: This lander is based around watching the entire video in order to get sold. You can’t scroll down to find out anymore information. There is a little hidden link to buy now. The website looks extremely default, certainly no Picasso here.

truth about abs
TruthAboutAbs – This lander has been running absolutely everywhere for over a year. It looks like a typical Dreamweaver template with an odd uninspiring banner.

Rapid Mass Traffic

RapidMassTraffic - More of the same here. Ugly as it gets. They love the use of red to black gradients as well as the glorious yellow outer glow effect.

The three landing pages above are responsible for multi-million dollars worth of revenue. However none of them would pass in a freshman year web design class. I’m not saying the ugly designs are responsible for their businesses success, but it’s interesting how successful you can be with ugly designs.

Keep that in mind when you testing new landing pages. Try both ugly and pretty designs and see what sticks.

What is the design quality of your landing pages like? Do you go for ugly or pretty?

P.S. Look how disgusting POF was back in 2003. ( Sorry again Markus)

Comments (84)

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  1. shawns says:

    now if only I could get advertisers to agree that I can run "non-professional" looking ads

  2. Michael says:

    great examples, especially the banner comparison!

  3. Josh Todd says:

    Awesome points, that is so true. I've been running some ungodly looking banners lately and guess what? They work.

  4. Amit says:

    Good post, Lorenzo!

    I've been checking out the same thing this week and testing ugly, amateurish looking LPs for some offers. Testing is still continuing but it appears that for some offers/target audience, ugly, garish layouts work much, much better.

    I'm a designer so it was really hard for me to create atrocious designs but it seems to be working.

    For more examples check out the "I Can Has Cheezburger" network of sites (includes icanhascheezburger.com , failblog.org etc)

    Test and learn :-)

  5. This a really eye opening post. Although I personally am put off by ugly sites like POF and Craigslist, I guess I'm in the clear minority.

  6. Damn I need to start making my ads and lps even shittier. Thanks for sharing greenie.

  7. Steve says:

    I use to do website design for clients, but decided to stop and just work on my own ecommerce web sites instead…

    However I wanted to keep my design site active for other reasons, and leave its portfolio page intact, so I decided to post an outrageous fee to design sites as a joke.

    That actually turned out to be decent linkbait, because the outrageous price I was "charging" got posted and linked to on a few websites like Digg. Another site's forum that linked to my portfolio page, which I spotted on my statscounter, had a bunch of comments about how ugly my portfolio sites were, etc. and weren't worth the price I charged…

    But what they didn't seem to account for is that my ugly sites typically ranked in the top 3 on Google for their primary keyword. Which is a lot better than having a pretty animated Flash site that ranks over 50. (and I like Flash, but it has to be done right).

    I'll bookmark your post here and send it to any similar critics that my portfolio page might get in the future. :)

    • Lorenzo Green says:

      Exactly, I personally know a multimillion dollar company that pride. themselves on being tech savvy. So of course they created their website with a tonne of flash. That's all good and dandy when you get to their website, but finding it is a different story.

      You rock those ugly designs! Keep your chin up and let haters be haters!

  8. EngineFish says:

    I don't think this is about design at all … its about usability. I think website designers should focus on making their sites useful and/or selling well. Do that, and design does NOT matter!

  9. newjersey says:

    my favorite part about POF is that unless the profile image is uploaded as a perfect square, it distorts the shit out of it. it always struck me as making the site look really cheap. Guess Markus is having the last laugh.

    • Mark says:

      I read an article about that very thing. Apparently it had the unintended consequence of causing people to click deeper into the site to get a better look at the picture of the person. Kind of a "I can't really tell but this person may be hot" scenario.

      We all know what increased pageviews mean to your bottom line. So they haven't changed it – it's a very profitable flaw.

  10. Carl says:

    I've been wondering about this very subject. Thanks for the insights, Lorenzo! Now I feel like I have an advantage with my atrocious design abilities…Score!

  11. Sam says:

    Great info as always. I've tested my own crappy designs vs an outsourcers clean version and a lot of times the crappy does the best.

    The Clickbank offers are a great example. I've also seen the abs one everywhere. It seems that CPA affiliates could take their skills and transfer it into making a cb product. On the surface it seems simple…do your own intensive split testing to get the high converting lp then put on CB.

    But the trick seems to getting affiliates to actually promote your product and do the work. Do you know any resources or have you looked into doing your own CB ebook type product? A future post, "How I made XX,XXX with my own CB Product" would be sure to get a Most Popular listing on Affbuzz!

    Keep the gold coming!

  12. Roger says:

    Thanks for another great tip, Mr Green. Pleeeez keep 'em comin!

  13. PPC Icon says:

    I'll try to remember this post next time I am needlessly agonising over pixel perfect placement of elements in an ad..!

  14. CTRtard says:

    This whole crappy works well thing is a phenomenon unique to the internet, I think. When I used to publish software, a slick cover design always outsold a crappy design. I used to outsell my competition 3 to 1 using nice artwork alone. It's weird the internet consumer is unfazed by unprofessional, crummy looking design.

  15. andrew wee says:

    The caveat with ugly websites is it might look shit design-wise, but needs to be intuitive for the user in terms of "what do i do next?" and close the conversion.

    I've seen some designs which were fugly and shitty in terms of generating the lead.

    So it's a fine balance.

    PS: What happened to the biggest loser case study?

    Hopefully it was not just linkbait…

  16. I just created a damn ugly banner for my blog. Cool!

  17. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by andrew wee, Joaquin PA. Joaquin PA said: “Ugly” banner designs also look less “ad” like and more like a classified…" http://bit.ly/9I7ZCG ►agree [...]

  18. hunmik says:

    I guess it's time to start using comic sans.

  19. Mr Green: The “Ugly” Truth. « Adjoozey Network says:

    [...] looking websites, landing pages and creatives. But for [...] View full post on Affbuzz RSS Feed [...]

  20. Silver says:

    ugly is the new pretty

  21. Ugly sells says:

    @Silver: Ugly is the old pretty

  22. Great post Lorenzo. I've noticed that too. Maybe I'll do an analysis of some of my campaigns as well. Keep it up!

  23. Tipjar says:

    I don't know if you're being totally fair here Mr. Green. There's quite a few sites that have "ugly" designs but do quite well, yes, but typically those sites are either a.) old and already established (like google), b.) Have compelling copy and/or know how to close the sale, (like Rapid Mass Traffic) or c.) Doesn't need to having compelling design for the demographic (like the Diet Solution).

    I like the examples you used, because you're right, but those sites also have a certain "feel" to them, a feel that goes beyond 'ugliness'…because each of those sites has a certain aesthetic that goes along with them.

    I'm not trying to be condescending here, but for every example of a successful "ugly" site you give me, I can give you 3 more that have wonderful design on them. Just going through the CBengine.com top 100 Clickbank products list, I see a majority of them have great professional designs. And if you do CPA marketing, then you know that the landing pages look phenomenal.

    Bottom line: Can ugly sell? YES. Can awesomely designed site sell? YES. Just depends on the demographic as well as the copy.

    • Lorenzo Green says:

      It was not my point to say that you should stick with ugly designs 100% of the way. But to consider an ugly design when testing and don't automatically think that a nice design would work better.

  24. John says:

    Lorenzo, excellent reality check blog and post! If you've been online for a while, you realize your own opinion means squat. Ugly, screams out to you if you look at it, the truth is also downright painful too. Why does "ugly" repel or attract in terms of interruption marketing? Why do "ugly" websites, banners, etc work? "Ugly" works because curiosity means you can step outside limitations or restrictions by being "ugly" and daring using shocking images or text with bold colors. In a sea of beauty & hyped claims "ugly" stands out & grabs attention. Plain & simple!

  25. [...] above not reflecting “ugly” vs. “pretty” tests accurately and pointed to Mr. Green who provides some crisper examples by my friends over at Hacker [...]

  26. [...] specific to advertising Mr Green adds the following factors: Banner 2 out preformed banner 1 by a decent amount. Even though banner 2 was the ugliest [...]

  27. Sachin says:

    really an eye opener for me

  28. Awesome paragraph:

    "As affiliate marketers we are surrounded by people who use the internet everyday and are confident with buying and selling things. However a lot of us forget what it’s like for people who don’t use the as internet frequently as we do. A large amount of internet users are still afraid of the whole idea internet idea."

    It's really happen. Because we need thinkging like a crowd, sometimes it's very hard (just my opinion). I found the solution for myself, don't forget to speaking with an usual people, which have a usual problems. It's one part to success, I hope =)

  29. d3so says:

    I suppose it depends on the user. In my perspective, I'm more inclined to click neater/prettier ads because it spells out quality. But we all have different viewpoints and whatever helps sell works.

  30. matt says:

    Very interesting. We've been noticing badly designed banner ads converting better for dating sites lately where I work!

  31. [...] Suivez vos idôles! Lorsqu’on s’intéresse aux sites qui ont eu un énorme succès, on est obligé de se rendre compte que le design était plus que secondaire pour leur fondateur: Wikipedia, Amazon, Craiglist, Ebay et même Google. La liste est longue des sites rencontrant un succès énorme et qui ont tout misé sur la UI pour optimiser leur taux de conversion et non sur le design. Certes ce sont des vieux sites mais si ils n’ont pas fait évoluer leur design depuis le temps, il y a une raison évidente: Ils vendent mieux avec ce design! Et pour preuve, je vous recommande de lire cet article qui démontre que des publicités plutôt moches sont plus efficaces que les belles: The « Ugly » Truth! [...]

  32. [...] The Ugly Truth ou Le Design Ne Sert À Rien ! les auteurs mettent en avant les qualités de l’interface [...]

  33. Plumbervice says:

    [...] Suivez vos idôles! Lorsqu’on s’intéresse aux sites qui ont eu un énorme succès, on est obligé de se rendre compte que le design était plus que secondaire pour leur fondateur: Wikipedia, Amazon, Craiglist, Ebay et même Google. La liste est longue des sites rencontrant un succès énorme et qui ont tout misé sur la UI pour optimiser leur taux de conversion et non sur le design. Certes ce sont des vieux sites mais si ils n’ont pas fait évoluer leur design depuis le temps, il y a une raison évidente: Ils vendent mieux avec ce design! Et pour preuve, je vous recommande de lire cet article qui démontre que des publicités plutôt moches sont plus efficaces que les belles: The « Ugly » Truth! [...]

  34. sebastian says:

    im a fucking performer

    cant count the amount of times my crappy ugly designs outperformed the good ones.

    i base all my decisions on numbers.

    im a split tester maniac.

    And i learned one lesson from all my hardcore scientific experiments, and its this:

    ugly FTW

  35. Don't forget that the most important part of design is usability.

    A couple of times I've had people tell me that their friend's site is amazing because it has an animation on the homepage and looks amazing, yet when asked where on the homepage it says what the site is actually about, they realise it is not clear to new users.

    Which isn't to say that general prettiness isn't also important, just usability should always be the main concern.

  36. Tony says:

    Yep, I've certainly heard this before. One theory is that ugly designs keep the reader more focused because there are less bells and whistles to get distracted by. Thanks for the post!

  37. nice site says:

    If the site is clean and simple, it still sells. Like the one I have. Meanwhile, I fully agree that ugliness is now a real issue. Thanks for your information!

  38. I agree that these ugly sites sell. Meanwhile, if you compare the 2 diet sites, The Diet Solution selling far better. I believe having more contents (actually a lot more) could be the reason too. Just my 2 cents.

  39. Liam says:

    True.. I think plentyoffish is a prime example of this – although it looks absolutely disgusting, it's done the trick. Sad really

  40. arganolie says:

    You have a good post. Do you have a story about a good affiliate marketing!

  41. Yup i agree with you as i also think that the beauty of sea & hyped claims "ugly" stands out & grabs attention.Thanks a lot and please carry on the gratifying work.

  42. Mark says:

    1. High a high school kid to design your website
    2. ???
    3. Profit!!

  43. Jon Rhodes says:

    Very good post. It's not something I have particularly thought of before, but I have noticed that many top Clickbank products do not have very slick landing pages. It would definitely be worth a split test with an "ugly" versus a "pretty" design. Might try that out…thanks!

  44. MonKey_Anh says:

    There are many great comments in this website, I hope my link can help you to know more about "keywords…"
    The Diet Solution Program Review

  45. Great post. I have found that most of my affiliate success comes from great landing pages.

  46. [...] A great website I stumbled upon compares pretty and ugly banner adverts. Surprisingly the ugly banners had more clicks. Go figure? http://www.mrgreen.am/affiliate-marketing/the-ugly-truth/ [...]

  47. [...] The Ugly Truth  - Why your sites don’t have to be beautiful to win at online marketing. [...]

  48. Jacob says:

    This comment thread seems to be a circle jerk of people who don't want to pay for design.
    If the thesis of this article were true, there would be no branding industry, and most ad agencies would be a WHOLE lot smaller.

    You can throw out a couple of small stats about banners, or say something like "People trust things more when they look like they were done for the love of it rather than the focusing on sheer profits." but this flies in the face of almost a centuries worth of design theory.

  49. PrIyAnGsHu says:

    Yeah, dirty and ugly banners truly works great as compared to the normal and the clean ones. I’ve tried such type of banners for one of my media buying campaigns and it worked pretty well enough than my previous beautifully crafted banners. These types of banners attracts more clicks and increases the ROI.

  50. [...] http://www.mrgreen.am/affiliate-marketing/the-ugly-truth/ This entry was posted in Uncategorized by admin. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  51. Thanks, it's interesting observation but the trick seems to getting affiliates to actually promote your product and do the work.

  52. I am supposed to become a major part of two German online businesses.

    Many guys who date girls online will be chemistry dating girls from the major cities in Northern Mindanao.

    Make sure the background is plain so it does not affect me in any way.

    Now I should probably be chemistry dating sexy supermodels or successful female

    pop stars.

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  61. craigslist says:

    Awesome points, that is so true. I've been running some ungodly looking banners lately and guess what? They work

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