Hideous but Very Profitable Websites

Hideous but Very Profitable Websites

In this era of branding, websites depend on sleek fluid graphics to hold the attention of users with only a modicum of patience. Yet there are websites that are decades old and have the same bland, unexciting graphics. Why have these websites persisted and flourished for so long, while a long list of others have come and gone? A closer look is needed to understand why. Let’s start with the biggest of this unsightly group.


The same blue and white graphics with the familiar font have been on craigslist front page with little adjustment since 1995. The layout of Craigslist is of course mimics classified ads, which at its core is what the site is all about.  While many newspapers, and with them classified ads, have gone the way of the dinosaur; Craigslist continues to be among the top sites on the internet.  Aside from directing users to the page for their city, Craigslist has little personalization. Why does it work? Because it’s uncomplicated design complements its basic service. Its uncluttered layout also makes it easy to find what you are looking for quickly.


Reddit has a similar uninspiring blue and white layout that Craigslist has, but with the addition of a thumbnail to the right of the posted article or link. What makes this aggregation website so popular? Its combination of news, discussion, and rating of web content has made this one of the most popular websites since it came online in 2005. Reddit shows that quickly being able to find an article or discussion is more important to users than dazzling graphics.

Berkshire Hathaway

Why does a sight so plain it makes you think you are looking at an error page continue to thrive over the years? Two words: Warren Buffet. When you are a billionaire that people make a yearly pilgrimage to hear speak, you don’t need splashy landing pages.  Perhaps the same intellect that realized there was money to be made with undervalued stock realizes you don’t need to overvalue a website’s design.

Nielsen Norman Group

Maybe it’s something about homely blue and white layouts that contribute to some websites success, and the Nielsen Norman Group follows that pattern. Perhaps being a user experience research company has given them some insight this trend among long standing websites. Perhaps it’s because they provide highly instructive content to those who seek to structure information based on their insights into what users want.  Nielsen Norman Group’s articles are so highly researched and illuminating they transcend aesthetics.  The sites basic and instinctive layout makes it easy to navigate and find content.


Again the plain blue and white layout is present in this websites design. It calls to mind old AOL layouts from its late dialup days with stock photography graphics and line of links down one side.  Why does it work? Because if you are making payments to the IRS captivating graphics will be wasted. No user is going to have a great experience dealing with taxes.  You don’t need to work on branding when your brand is inherently unpopular and the public’s interaction with it unavoidable.  In spite of what is an unappealing premise, the website makes it easy to navigate and to make payments; after all, that is its purpose.

What can we glean from all these ugly and basic websites? It shows that sometimes users just want to find information or make a transaction quickly. Function over form is truly the foundation that these highly successful websites were built upon.

Let MosierData help you combine form and foundation to make your website both beautiful and functional.

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About the Author

Though his chief ambition is to one day control the entire Internet, Jim busies himself in the meantime running our little web development and marketing agency. He's a certified super nerd who ranks coding in old, outdated languages and watching Star Trek reruns just a bit too high on his list of fun things to do. Outside of work, Jim enjoys Hockey (Tampa Bay Lighning, to be specific), more genres of music than most people realize exist, riding his Harley (he calls it "two wheel therapy") and exploring the world through travel.