Why Do All Websites Look the Same?
Updated: Nov 18, 2020
“Why do all websites have giant pictures? You scroll and scroll through huge pictures with little bits of text, and all websites are like this now.” For anyone struggling with the evolution of the look, feel, and functionality of websites over the past years here’s the answer to why websites have changed.
Websites look the same now because our internet has evolved. Websites are better meeting the needs of their audience, updated technology, addressing competition from other webpages, and are responding to the psychology and data of viewers. Let me explain.
Audience. All business’ end audience is average people going about their lives. Most businesses segment their audiences and are aiming at a particular age, educational background, income bracket, religious group, ethnic backgrounds, sexuality, physical or mental ability, hobbyist, etc. Business to business (B2B) companies have companies have their customer, but they too have the same end audience because their customer’s customer is everyday people going about their lives.
As everyday people we research purchases, shop, decide where we’re going to eat, research information, entertain ourselves, and do many things online. The percent of people online, how long they spend online, and what they are doing when they go online (from buying a sweater, to dating, to deciding what the weather is to pick out our outfit, has been steadily and quickly increasing and expanding. With COVID-19 we went ahead took a shot at moving our whole life online from yoga class or our children’s school. (For an excellent read on the attention economy and why we are all moving online check out Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.)
What to purchase has shifted from being shaped by companies and TV commercials and billboards to YouTube celebrities and bloggers. In the past couple of decades, our entire business/marketing/economy has switched from people going to stores to make purchases of items that have been trending, to businesses having to meet people where they are and focus on what they are asking for.
Technology has grown at lightning speed, and how people use it has changed. With those changes, websites have had to match those new behaviors and needs.
There are more types of devices than ever before, at different screen sizes (desktop, laptop, mobile phone, pad, smartwatch). Webpages must be functional, attractive, and fast on each of those screen sizes. No one wants to make a different design for each size, it only makes sense to have templates and layouts for webpages that easily convert from the largest to the smallest with ease. All the huge pictures on a desktop screen look perfectly appropriate on your mobile phone or smartwatch.
The basic functionality of our devices is also merging. Laptops weren’t able to be folded over into a pad. Neither did they have a touchscreen function. For the first 25 years or so of mainstream computer use, we all scrolled down to up when using our computers. Then, in July 2011 Apple released their new “natural scrolling” with their Mac OS X Lion where we all scrolled up to down instead.* These changes in our technology are integrating the way we interact with our devices. Apple changed the way we scroll on our computers to match the way we scroll on mobile devices.
The number of people using more than one device has increased. The company that knows that one user checking out blue sneakers on his mobile phone is now the same user who is sitting down to surf the web on his laptop and is ready to make a purchase, can better place and frame their advertisements and messaging to encourage him to buy. The company that can track their inventory and displays what is currently on the shelves at a local shop may drive a customer to go purchase.
For example, for years Barnes and Nobel bookstores had a policy of in a store purchase not matching an online price.* A user walking into a bookstore couldn’t get a price match to the website because these two arms of the business operate differently. This is not a flaw or a mistake but reflects how the business functions – a physical store has higher overhead costs and may have little space for inventory, while an online store has costs like shipping that a physical store does not. This is still a problem today. For customers, these policies don’t make sense. For companies, they are trying to respond to unreasonable expectations. This has given a rise to the customer experience CX profession as the evolution of purchases and membership is switching from value to loyalty.
Right now, we are crossing the threshold of predominant internet users going from desktop to mobile-based. Worldwide in October 2016, 51% of the world’s internet use was on mobile devices. These numbers vary when you are looking at how much time vs use overall, and what country, but it is clear that mobile is the new dominant device type.* This means when it comes down to webpage design, instead of starting with a computer and then wanting it to look good on mobile too, we now start with a mobile device and want it to look good on a computer too. Having a “hamburger” menu (the menu with the three horizontal lines) is a must for small screens.
When people go online, they often use a search engine. According to Statistica, Google has 86% of the market on search engine use.* The formula that a search engine like Google uses for ranking is a secret but certain things we know, like site speed. Simply put, if you want anyone to see your website, you have to do certain things to just show up.
The internet is maturing. As tools become easier to use and more affordable, the public begins to expect mastery over those tools and skills. This is true across the board, from the quality of pictures on our websites to graphic design to web design to videography. Stock images are cheap and plentiful. What was once considered work to give to consultant or specialist is now everyone’s job. The human attention span is task-dependent, and our attention span for surfing the net is really short. If we want our content to be even considered, we have to be good.
Images are psychologically more effective at keeping or attracting the attention of the average user. The flow of information in the traditional F layout common to most websites has proven effective. For example, Neil Patel has an article here https://neilpatel.com/blog/shocking-truth-about-graphics/ on psychological principles regarding the use of images that increase website readership. For example, there is a 10% greater chance of headlines read, and a 300% great chance of captions read than text. The use of the right images in the right places exponentially increases the chance of your content being read.
Data: More people are better able to make data-based decisions. A basic marketing tool is now Google Analytics which is free, powerful, and tells webpage owners exactly who their customers are, what pages or articles they’re visiting. It’s also integrating with email marketing campaigns and advertisements. This helps us better understand things like: this member paid for dues after visiting a training website page. How is my discounting plan tying into dues payments?
· 313 million people in the United States use the internet, that's 85.8% of the population.*
· 274 million people in the United States use a mobile device, that's 83% of the population.*
· 79% of the US population currently use social media, the leading social media website in the US is Facebook*
· In 2020, 77% of Americans bought goods online. By 2024 this is expected to reach 82%.*
Why Do All Websites Look the Same?
Websites have evolved into having large pictures and scrolling down again and again because everyone’s eventual end audience is everyday people, and those people are going online to do things, and we are trying to influence them where they are. Websites have evolved into an F message with scrolling and large images to meet what the bulk of people have found to psychologically prefer: our sophistication of websites has evolved. Our use of devices has evolved, and with it our operations to fulfill new networks. This change is more than a fad, it's part of an evolution, and it's here to stay.
If you’re interested in contracting website design or management check us out, we offer these services and much more.