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Does Your Website Look Like It’s Run by a Bag Lady?

A shopping cart with plenty of different things on it looking all messy

So you have a website you’re pushing around the Internet, do you?

How does it look?

Is it loaded up with so many bells and whistles it’s hard to navigate?

Are there graphics of all different colors clamoring for your visitors’ attention?

Is it stuffed to the gills?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, it’s time to get busy and clean up the place, for the sake of your website and your business.

Why? Because …

Bad design isn’t OK anymore

Oh sure, it’s important to make a brand promise — to let people know what your company stands for with a compelling tagline and good copywriting.

But just like you wouldn’t sit down with a bag lady and ask for real estate advice, people won’t stop to listen to you if your site looks disorganized and chaotic.

Messy Websites Are So 1999

Let’s face it: the eyes come first, and smart business people do everything to make a good first visual impression.

The design bar has been raised. Buyers have more sophisticated design palates now, and there’s no going back.

Good design lets you “sit at the grown up table” when it comes to marketing your company. Investing time, energy and yes — sometimes money — in understanding, implementing and supporting a well-designed site will give you a powerful position to do business from.

Sloppy design is never coming back in style

If this post is making you uncomfortable, it’s time to do something about that site of yours. Start by discovering how to put together a color palette. Learn the ins and out of good typography. And find out how to put the “wow!” factor into your web pages.

How about you? Are you feeling like the site you’re pushing around isn’t up to your standards? Don’t worry — I do, too. I’m getting ready to make some design and structural changes here on the Big Brand System blog, so I’m right there with you. πŸ™‚

Photo credit: holisticmonkey

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson is the Chief Marketing Officer at DCS. She’s the creator of the Offer Accelerator Program. Learn more about Pamela’s content marketing books, and read reviews of the tools used to run this site.
Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
I’m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility β€” and consistent revenue.


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64 thoughts on “Does Your Website Look Like It’s Run by a Bag Lady?”

  1. Pamela- the images you select for your posts always are crisp, clear & tell a story… something to emulate. I think about it now every time I select a photograph.
    I love the comment about 1999. πŸ˜‰ My site is up now- all redone, under Prose- hope you like -basically the same as when you designed it. πŸ˜‰

    • It’s a nice-looking site Jon. The question I’d ask is what one action do you want the visitor to take? Right now it’s not super clear. There are a lot of options to click on. You don’t have to remove them, but if you make one more prominent than the others, it will clarify things for your user.

      • Hi Poppy! Your site is very fresh and fun … I suspect that’s a reflection on you. πŸ™‚

        The one detail I see is a lot of different colors. The stars of the show are purple, green, red, gold and grey. But in addition, there are a few colors that have “guest starring” roles: teal on your Home page; royal blue on the Speaking page; a cream color on your E-newsletter page.

        I recommend trying to keep your color palette to five colors, max. The pages that have those rogue “guest starring” colors would look more cohesive (and less busy) if they used one of your five main colors.

        The other thing to consider β€” and this is a big change, so you could implement it the next time you redesign β€” is to make a couple of your main colors less saturated than the others. When all five colors are equally strong they compete with each other visually, and your pages start to look busy.

        Thanks so much for your comment. I’m working on a product that will teach people to create their own color palettes right now, and will have it ready within a month or so. Stay tuned. πŸ˜‰

  2. Pam,

    Your emails are always on target with great info. I am presently gathering ideas for a entire website ‘remodel’. Would love some quick feedback on what I currently have and what your fees are for a consult for a new design. Linda

    • Hi Linda!

      The quick piece of advice I can give you is to give people a more compelling reason to sign up for your newsletter. We all have overflowing inboxes at this point, so if someone is going to share their email address with you, they need to feel like they’re going to get some great information in exchange.

      Do you have a white paper or case study you could share? Maybe a tip sheet? Offering some kind of information in exchange for their email address should help you get more people on your list.

    • Can I jump in with my measly two cents? Yes? Yay! OK, here it is:

      Ooh, Linda! Risk management (an area near and dear to my heart from my former profession as an attorney) is just swimming with potential for white papers. What top ten things can medical providers do to minimize their exposure to costly litigation or rising premiums? Write that up, and I would almost be willing to guarantee you a very satisfying signup rate.

    • Hi Ed,

      Same advice here as I gave to Jon: it’s not super clear where you’d like visitors to your home page to go next. There are a lot of directions they could go: which route would you really like them to take?

    • Hi CJ,

      This looks like a landing page. Is that right? If so, then you might consider removing the navigation along the top. You want to drive people to that optin form and “close the doors” so they don’t wander away and visit a different link.

      Is the offer in the bar across the top for the same thing as what’s in the optin form? If so, you might try wording it similarly so people make the connection.

      Let me know if that helps. I’m not sure how you’re driving people to this page, so if you want to fill me in with more details I’d be happy to give you more feedback.

      • LOL! See, now you’ve lost me–I thought “landing page” was just another word for home page. This site has my blog aimed at novelists, promotes my e-books that help writers finish their novel and find their audience, and eventually will host my online writing workshops.

        At first I had a home page (?landing page?) that had a side bar with the email opt-in (upper right corner, just like you always say) and in the main body had info on the books, but I thought that might be pulling visitors in too many directions at once.

        Any suggestions on how to craft a crisp, clean, uncluttered home page that would let folks know what the site is all about without overwhelming or confusing them?

        Thanks so very much!

        • So, this is the main page to your main site? I thought it was a landing page β€” in the “land here and I’ll drive you to opt in to my list or buy my product” β€” sense.

          If it’s the home page of your site and you want visitors to sign up but then dig in to the rest of your site, then by all means, leave the navigation in!

          In your case, you might actually set up some some “funneling” questions just below the optin form so you can send them to the area of your site they are most interested in. Something like, “Interested in X? Find out more here.” “Want to learn more about Y? Click here.” etc.

          • Again, butting in – ’cause I don’t seem capable of stopping myself . . .

            Pam described this beautifully. I’d just add that “Landing page” is a term of art that describes a kind of style or design of a webpage. It’s just a single page that is designed to get the reader to DO something — buy something, sign up for an email list, etc. The layout and copywriting (and, Pam correct me if I’m wrong – design) principles for a landing page would be somewhat different for the principles you’d use on a built out website, especially one with a blog.

            Off the top of my head, from a copywriting/layout/usability standpoint, the following is what I usually tackle — some of this may not apply to your site specifically: (1) pare down the sidebars. Take out everything that leads people AWAY from the site. (2) use plugins (if it’s WordPress) or widgets that provide social media info without closing the home page in the browser. (3) Communicate “above the fold” (i.e., the top part of the page that loads on the screen first, without requiring the user to scroll down) what you’re about — what you do, who you do it for. (4) Bigger font size (14 or 16 is good). (5) Use nav menu bars as well as one other way for users to navigate and explore your site. (6) Tell the reader where you want them to go next. Example: on my site I list the most popular “pillar” content in the top of the first sidebar with links to each piece.

            Hope that helps! CJ, would love to connect with you off Pam’s site – email me at annie at anniesisk dot com, if you like!

  3. Oh boy howdy do I ever “feel” this post. A LOT of my copywriting clients lately have come to me with sites that — well, to say the ’90s called and they want their websites back would not be overstating the level of visual confusion. (And may I congratulate you on the “bag lady shopping cart” analogy because that? Is GENIUS.)

    I would LOVE your input. I aimed for slightly minimalist, took your two font/two color advice to heart, and pared it waaaay down. Still, I worry that my site is … something. Not too cluttered maybe but not quite “there” yet, either. I worry that my font size is too big – that the columns aren’t quite right yet – that it’s not communicating well … I worry about that site a lot. *sigh* — would dearly love to hear your thoughts, Pamela.

    • Annie, I think you’ve done a great job. The only thing I see that might be missing is an optin form. Are you building an email list currently? I’m not sure what your business plans for your site are, but an email list is almost always a good idea.

      Also, nice post on your site today. πŸ™‚

      • Thanks Pam! Yes, I have GOT to get this email opt-in thing going. I wanted to wait a little until I’d built the site out a bit, but I’m also struggling with creating the product giveaway, to be honest. (Although I must say, Ebook Evolution is helping tremendously in that regard — the failures are all mine.) Yay! I passed the Pam Test! WHOOT! I want a badge. πŸ˜€

        • Annie, I took a look at your site and loved the wordplay and colors! But I was left thinking, wow, I’d really like to follow what she’s doing, how do I opt-in?

          Hope that helps,

  4. In my industry (Real Estate), a solid site design is the cost of admission for competing with the big brands. If you want to look professional and stand-out, it’s an invest you HAVE to make – there’s simply no way around. Heck, you said it best: “Good design lets you β€œsit at the grown up table” when it comes to marketing your company.”

    • I agree (obviously!). Real estate is one of those industries where appearances really count. And big money is riding on it, so it’s worth it to make the investment.

    • I too agree 100%. I am a bit notorious for claiming in another industry (legal profession) that people were wasting money on expensive designs – which was taken by many to be an assertion that “design doesn’t matter”. Au contraire – what I MEANT was “yes, design is important, it’s gotta look good and professional BUT you don’t need to pay $3000 or more for that.” Now that the trend is towards minimalist designs, that’s even MORE true, in my book.

  5. Pamela,

    What timing! First I like your Opt In redesign – very fresh.

    I’m working on changes to my site (actually my whole brand), if you have time, please let me know your thoughts on my progress so far.

    Thank you,

    • It’s looking great, Theresa. Same advice that I gave to a couple of other folks, though: give people a great motive for signing up to your email list. A free report, an audio, an “ecourse” you deliver by autoresponder … something that will motivate them to part with their email address.

      And now, I’m going to study your keyword analysis series: looks like great information!

      • Pamela,

        Thank you very much for your time.

        Two things re motivation to Opt In:

        First, I was working on my niche, everything I thought of as an offer, just wasn’t getting me excited. Now that I have more focus, I think I have a couple of valuable ideas.

        Second, I was also considering the Brain Clark thought of promising to providing “future value” – he spoke of this in one of the Copyblogger Radio shows. That’s what I am trying to convey on the actual Newsletter landing page, the visitor can also get there by clicking the “more info”.

        Also, there’s the benefit of using an auto responder to keep the relationship going. So, my To-Do list grows and grows. πŸ™‚

        Thank you again for taking a look at my site, I really appreciate your time,

    • Wow: your site has come a long way from the first time I saw it, Debbie! The home page is pretty busy, but somehow for a scrapbooking site, that seems appropriate. Just a couple of things I noticed:

      You have an optin for that pops up after a delay, and in the email field, your email address is already filled in. It’s a little disconcerting … my first reaction was, “Hey, that’s not my email address!” I wonder if you can add text that’s more of a prompt, like “Type your email here.” What do you think?

      The other thing (and this might be too big of a change to tackle) is that right now almost everything on the page has a similar visual “weight.” It would work well to have one main featured article at the top of the page that would be the width of two of your current featured articles. That would help visitors to decide where to look first.

  6. Hi Pamela! Can you take a quick little look? Dupdog is a fairly new site with a l.o.n.g way to go! And Annie…I love your tornado post. I shudder at the thought of my laptop in shiny little pieces….

    • Hi Lori! I don’t know if this is a major change or not, but the recommendation I’d make for your site is to find a way to put your intro text (“You want a beautiful document …”) front and center. If you can locate it above the templates, that would be great.

      The alternative would be to switch your columns around so that what is now the right column runs on the left. Because we read from left to right, that would display the intro text first β€” because it would be on the left β€” and then the templates would come afterward.

  7. Heh, that’s exactly it, isn’t it?

    “Good design lets you sit at the grown-ups’ table.”

    A few years ago, I saw bad designs and successful (sort of) people getting away with it. But the world moves fast these days, people have upped their standards of what looks great and what’s credible for business, and that bar is high.

    So no – crappy doesn’t cut it anymore. You’re dead on.

    What’s *really* cool is seeing what happens when someone stops playing like a kid and decides to grow up in the business world so they can sit at that adult table. We work with clients all the time who come to us with bad sites, and we give them snazzy ones instead.

    The results? Our clients *frequently* end up taking their business to levels they didn’t believe they could reach, and in such a short amount of time that the investment quickly pays for itself… and then goes on bringing in business hand over fist.

    Pretty cool process to watch!

  8. I do not have a site up yet.

    But if you don’t mind, perhaps I can ask: how did you do your new opt-in image (“my gift to you”)?

    Honestly, it looks great, clean, professional. My impulse was to opt in straigt away. But then I remembered that I already opt-ed in πŸ˜‰

    Maybe you can give me some pointers or resources or even the name of the cool “cube” technique. Thanks.


    • Actually, Peter: here’s a secret. If you opt in again with the same email address, you’ll get taken directly to a page with all the goodies. I plan to tell the people on my mailing list soon, but you heard it first!

      The form was put together in AWeber. The top part is an image I created using Adobe Illustrator and a program called “BoxShot3D,” which makes very life-like 3D graphics. I’m glad you like it!

      • I opted in again und received the goodies. Thanks for that and for mentioning your “secret weapon”: BoxShot3d. I am looking forward to try it out.

    • Joan, your site’s beautiful! Your topic is very visual β€” quilting and fusible appliquΓ© β€” and I’d love to see larger photos of your work. Right now it’s hard to see the detail.

      You have a very warm and friendly writing style, too … are you going to add a photo to your About page? When I read that page, I’m left wondering what you look like!

      • Thanks so much for the kind post! I can certainly add a photo to the “about” page – I will use the same one as on my blog. I also agree the “zoom” feature is not the best for viewing photos, and a link to a larger view would be more ideal.

        I am so glad I found your site, and took your online classes. You have taught me a lot, and I am most appreciative.

  9. Hi Pamela,
    have been following your blog for a few months now, just got website finished today, most of content is done, and have that niggling, “not sure about it” feeling. Is it not the grown up table or just coming through as a distraction to keep me from moving forward!
    I got home and saw your invite to “take a look” and I would love to hear any comments you may have. I value your expertise!

    thank you

    • Hi Antonia!

      Sometimes that “not sure about it” feeling comes from having looked at it for too long. There’s a special kind of blindness that happens when you’ve spent too much time looking at the same project.

      Your site looks good overall. I’ll give you the same piece of advice I gave Joan, which is to add a photo of you to the About page. People want to see the person who’s doing the writing, and who they’d potentially get help from.

      Also, if you can offer a compelling reason to sign up for your newsletter (as I suggested to Theresa above), you’ll get more people joining your mailing list. Maybe you could do a special report or eBook with tips on avoiding myofascial pain, or you could write about a life coaching topic. If they know they’ll gain access to helpful information when they sign up for your list, they’ll be more likely to hand over their email address.

      Thanks for your comment, Antonia.

  10. Hi Pamela,
    thank you so much for taking time to look at the site and offering such great advice!! I will make sure to make those changes, and continue to follow your great suggestions every week!!

    thanks again

  11. A couple questions for my mentor- you HAVE to share with us where you got the great image/photo πŸ˜‰ please don’t tell me this is your shopping cart πŸ˜‰
    As you know my site just got moved to Genesis- getting used to the new “add-ons” hoping not too much. What do you think. Of course I’ll always love my banner and the palette…
    Pamela, do you have any ideas how I can monetize my blog? after 18 months, think I might be ready …

    • Ridgely, I made that box image all by myself! I use Adobe Illustrator and a super-cool program called Box Shot 3D.

      I’m just taking a peek at your new site for the first time. I think it’s a little “busier” than your previous site. The disadvantage of that is that all the visual “busy-ness” takes the attention away from your awesome writing.

      There are a few things you can do to calm things down, though.

      First off, you can remove the background color around your post information (date and comment count) that runs above your post. I’d rather see the reader go straight from your headline to the first line of your text without getting “stopped” by the purple box.

      Then, on your links, you can remove the underline. You can set it up so that the underline appears when the person hovers over the link if you want that. You might also try a link color that’s a little darker: this one looks kind of florescent.

      Lastly, I’d love to see how your site would look without the thick border around the content area. Every time you add a box, rule or line to a design, it’s just one more thing the viewer has to process. You’ll already got a lot going on, so eliminating that might look better.

      Re: monetizing, that’s a whole other question! What ideas do you have?

  12. OK- boss, what do you think now? did you mean for me to take the white padding out as well? As far as the monetizing, I am somewhat at a loss- I think this is why I keep postponing it- but feel if nothing else, I need to offer my readers something to opt in for signing up for email– have had a steady flow, but not brisk. I love your box, but I mean the photo πŸ™‚

    • Ah, the photo on the post? That’s from Flickr, actually. The link is at the end of the post.

      I think your site looks better already! What do you think?

      You’re right: it’s a good idea to offer something in exchange for email addresses. What would help your readers most? Advice? Humor? Based on the response to your free offer, you could gauge what people might like to buy eventually. Once you get that offer all set, you can move it up right below the “Hi, I’m Ridgely” section. The higher in the right sidebar if is, the more people will see it.

  13. Hi Pamela,

    I stumbled onto your blog post and chuckled at the title! My Website was falling asleep and my blog did scream for a closet clean-out campaign.

    No timid half-measures here: they went through a complete overhaul. Typography and my photography are the main design elements used to provide visual flavor to my copywriting and intercultural communications business.

    I live in France, most of my clients are French and few (for now!) participate in or rely on social media to find professional service providers. Also the business style here is not as keen on strong – “sign up, get something for free” – calls to action as may be the norm on the other side of the pond, a classic difference between high context and low context cultures. I had to find the right middle ground.

    After working on this for the past few months, I’ve gotten “project blindness”. I’d welcome your fresh-eyed comments!

    • Ah, “project blindness.” I know all about that!

      Your site is lovely and clean, Patricia. Just a couple of comments:

      Would you consider adding a hint of color along either side of your content areas? I have a feeling your site would look better if it was more obvious where the content begins and ends. It could be a very, very light grey, or even a very light version of the olive green you use for your links.

      In this culture, to ask someone to go from visiting a web page to calling for a free consultation is a pretty big leap.

      If you think you lose some people because they’re not ready to pick up the phone and call, you could offer a report or a white paper about our area of expertise. This doesn’t have to be used to build your mailing list: you could simply offer it as a free download.

      Of course, you’d brand it with your information, and encourage them to call you for a consultation there, too. It might be a nice “in between” step if they’re somewhat interested, but not ready to commit to calling you.

      • Thanks for taking a peek Pamela!

        I’ll test a light outside background color, but my hunch is both my developer and I will revert — love white, and sense of space and air it offers; it’s tough to balance drawing attention to content and avoiding any boxed in aspect!

        Most of my clients come through word of mouth. One of the re-design’s goals was to have the Website get to work on targeted pull marketing. The “contact for free consult” is my first attempt at a clear call to action button (I’m rather the shy type!) and it leads to my contact form page.

        I think in any culture, it’s a big step to go from visiting a Web page to asking for a free consult, be it by email or phone. Flip side is past experience (with my old Website and professional directories) showed prospects either didn’t think I’d welcome taking the time to talk to them “off the clock”, or they’d just send a project without any information at all (the kind of leads I do not wish to waste time on). The button may be in the wrong place (I can easily take it off the home page and replace it with other content), but I did want to signal to my pretty narrow niche that they should feel comfortable reaching out in any way comfortable to them. Throughout the site, there are useful documents available for download, and I will be adding more over time.

        I’m off to test the background color idea – if you have any other suggestions to build interactivity (esp re social media), I’m all ‘ears’ πŸ™‚

  14. YES. YES. YES. My blog is in terrible shape, definitely stuffed to the gills and desperately needs a makeover.

    (I’ve been reading ProBlogger and CopyBlogger for weeks now, and linking to the guest post websites to find out even more.)

    My blog, City Gal Moves to Oz Land, has been around for 3 years now, and I am very ready to energize it and take it to the next level, while keeping some of the elements my readers have come to recognize (Oz Girl). Chaotic and busy design format? YES. It desperately needs a redesign with more white space, and an easy-to-navigate home page – I’m just not sure who to entrust that redesign to, since it also needs moved from the Blogger platform to its own website. I don’t want to lose my current followers/readership!

    I asked an old friend in Ohio to help me out (with payment of course!) last week, and I haven’t heard back. So disappointing. But I’m willing to work with whoever the best person for the job might be! Do you have any suggestions for someone that could help me with the redesign and move?

    Budget-wise, I’ll be honest: I don’t have $3000 to sink into my blog. I’m willing to put some serious dollars into it, but truly can’t afford THAT much! πŸ™‚

    I’m all ears for any suggestions you care to make!

    • Well, I know it can be done, Susan, and a quick Google search tells me it’s not too difficult. I found this resource that might be helpful.

      As far as design upgrades, just toning down your background pattern would go a long way toward improving things. Right now there’s not an easy place for your readers’ eyes to rest: the content area is busy, and the background is, too.

      If someone reading this can help, would you like me to share your email address with them?

      • Hi Pamela,

        Yes, I found that same link re: moving from Blogger to WordPress when I searched a few days ago, I’m just not 100% confident in my abilities to complete the steps involved accurately! :-0

        And I do agree, toning down the background would probably help – possibly expanding the margins of my post space would help too, and maybe going from 3 columns to 2 would be better.

        I was just looking at the Genesis framework themes on, and I did look at several of the recommended Genesis designers there. Several would fit the bill to help me, but they seem to be booked at the moment and not accepting new projects.

        So yes, if someone reading this might be able to help me migrate from Blogger to WP, and spiff up my design and format at the same time, I’d love to chat with them. I’ve already bought a new domain last week and I just need to get it set-up on WP and get my hosting squared away.

        Thanks so much for your input, I really, really appreciate it!!

        • Looks like CJ has a good idea for you! Good luck with the switchover.

          I think you’ll be happy with WordPress. This blog uses the Prose theme from Genesis: lots of flexibility and design controls, which make me very happy. πŸ™‚

        • CJ, thanks so much for the plug-in link –I’ll try it from home, it’s not working here where I work… ahem, yep, I’m at my hospital job right now! I am so bad, but taking my blog to the next level means everything to me right now. I feel so disconnected here at work, almost detached.

          I was able to click on your website and saw the quick transition to your new website – it truly was magical, so fast! I can’t wait to get home and look at the plug-in link you sent me.

          You and Pamela have been just awesome – thanks so much! πŸ™‚

          (I’m still going to try to have one of those recommended developers at the Studiopress website help me redesign my blog in the future— soon I hope!)

  15. Glad to help, Susan! Looking at your blog I think one of the Genesis child themes would be an easy fit–again, I’m a cyberklutz but use Genesis’ Mimimum child theme on my main site, and it was super easy to do.

    But I’m a control freak and like learning about how to do things so that I can maintain my site myself, so that’s just me.

    Good luck,

    • Wow, I’ve just spent the last 20 mins reading about the redirect on Suhas blog. I might just be able to do this on my own, and if not, it sounds like he’s pretty willing to help. Thanks again CJ. And congrats on your writing success… I’ll be checking out your websites in more depth later this week when I have more time! πŸ™‚

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