In their popular best-seller "Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs" Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, the founders of HubSpot, state that you (we) should "...stop obsessing over the way your site looks and feels". They argue that your website should be a "hub" for inbound marketing and that content and social media engagement should be all that you need to increase web traffic and sales leads. While I don't disagree with the latter premise, it's the rejection of design as a primary motivator that gets under my skin.
Don't get me wrong, I think the book is an outstanding introduction, a must-read for people interested in inbound marketing and considering next steps. We even recommended it in an earlier post. The issue for me is design. While I agree that a consumer revolution has taken place and along with it a wholesale rejection of interruption (outbound) marketing techniques, to suggest that people no longer care about design in websites is going too far. Design still rules in any kind of marketing.
Think about content divorced from design. Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas wrote a great screenplay called "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1979. We all have seen it multiple times. No doubt, it's one of the great screenplays of all time, but is that what we remember? Or is it Steven Spielberg's fantastic scenery and adventure, the special effects and the dialogue, the quirkiness and humor of Indiana Jones played by Harrison Ford? Frankly, it's both. It's the blending of substance with style that makes the movie rock. Think about all the great brands that are out there. When you buy something, there's something about a great design and a great brand that attracts you, content or no content. Of course, as part of the revolution, we now research like crazy and find the best price, but we're still drawn by image.
This is true with websites too. If I'm attracted to a blog by an interesting Twitter tweet or Facebook update, the first thing I notice is the scenery - how the site looks and feels. A well designed, professional looking site enforces the authenticity of the blog's author and makes me want to return for more. A poorly designed, sloppy looking site evokes carelessness and "doing it on the cheap". Companies who want to sell something can't afford to leave those kinds of first impressions, not on the Web, not in the business cards, and nowhere else. Branding and design are irrevocably intertwined.
One more thing about website design. It's not all about the "look and feel" of the site. Layout and usability are also crucial elements in attracting visitors, keeping them engaged and channeling them in the direction of your calls-to-action and lead capture forms. If somehow a visitor isn't instantly repelled by a poorly designed site, keeping them there is a huge challenge. Having them return for more is next to impossible.
Having said all this, is it necessary to hire a web design or marketing agency and spend thousands of dollars on your website redesign? Not necessarily, but you should at least have a professional review your site and make unvarnished recommendations. After all, you are investing pretty heavily in inbound marketing, either through labor cost or agency fees. Why chase people away before they have even had a chance to read your "remarkable" content?