Do simple sites convert more than pretty ones?

Looking back at the mid-last decade, it was a general notion for affiliate sites that the ones that simple sites which look like “they were built by a kid” would convert exceedingly well.

At that time some of the big sites, for example, Wallmart had a very plain website. This would lead us to believe that at this time the “ugly” websites were doing better than “pretty” ones.

Previous decade Wallmart website

It may seem counter-intuitive to purposely create a simple site but this almost forgotten affiliate marketing strategy of a relatively simple and clear site presentation might be useful to revisit.

The “simple site sells” paradigm is not well known today. Back then it was a well-tested marketing strategy used by affiliate marketers in the early days.

The major websites today use a variation of these ideas discovered back in mid-2000, so it would be a good thing to revisit these websites to be able to understand how it came to be and how it might be adapted today.

A glimpse into simple sites and internet from another time

While we cannot bring ourselves back in time, we can use the WayBackMachine website which holds a snapshot archive for both major and minor websites.

Way Back Machine is an internet archive for websites and for many it is an invaluable tool

Back in the day, a renowned affiliate marketer Mike Mackin posted a private discussion on WebmasterWorld in June 2003 with the title “Ugly Sites Sell”.

This post quickly became one of the most influential discussions from WebmasterWorld whose influence continues to be felt today.

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The discussion inspired online marketers to A/B test different designs, including simple website designs that were built for speed, usability, and conversions. I cannot provide a direct link to this discussion as it is only available to subscribers, behind a paywall.

Enlarged BUY button?

One of the key features of the simple website design that provides high conversion was the enlarged “buy” button.

A/B testing of the “ugly sites sell” strategy discovered that making the “buy” button large, sometimes to the point of dominating the viewport, actually increased sales.

Thus, they discovered making the buy button enlarged increased conversions. While it may sound ridiculous, this strategy still exists, though in different forms.

Modern websites use a popup with a straight-forward call-to-action or “buy area” which can be distinguished, for example, with Amazon website at any product page.

Big Companies Use Simple Websites

Responsive design will shape website elements with regard to the device that is used for viewing the website, and we can all agree that modern internet users are more sophisticated than 15 years ago.

It is evident that large companies tend to use simple, plain website design, and their online businesses have endured through decades, though one would imagine they would update their sites to be flashier.

Yes, we can all agree that simple and straightforward websites sell with highly visible “buy” elements.