May 17, 2012

Website Design: Less is More

Guess what Google wants you to do?

Earlier this week I talked about how focusing on just a few things boosts your chances for success.  The same idea applies to website design and user interface (UI).  What you have on the page matters, but what you don’t have on the page matters even more.

Look at the Google home page above.  It’s one of the most popular web pages on the planet.  Probably hundreds of millions of people visit it each day.

Yet the page is mostly blank.

Don’t you think that companies such as P&G, Unilever, Coca-Cola and HSBC have approached Google offering many millions of dollars in order to place an ad banner there?  I guarantee they have.

Google said no to millions in easy revenue because they are clear that getting users to search is the main objective of their home page.

Google doesn’t tolerate anything on the home page (such as a banner ad) which distracts the user away from their main revenue generator of search.  It’s a great example of Google’s clarity and discipline, which is one big reason that Google is worth over $196 billion today.

If you run a website I bet there are certain actions that you want your users to do.  Here’s what you can learn from Google:

  1. Identify the most important actions you want users to do (key actions)
  2. Make sure the UI makes the key action clear and easy to do
  3. Ruthlessly eliminate content or features that do not encourage users to do the key actions
  4. Rinse and repeat steps 1-3 until you’re sick of it, then do it some more

This won’t be easy.

The sales team will swear that removing banners will crush revenue and possibly end the world.  Marketing will want to keep their links to their media partners, saying “They’re tiny!  What’s the harm?”  It goes on and on.  You will have to kill a lot of people’s pet ideas.  They won’t like you for it.

At VietnamWorks we focused users on the key action of job search by removing banners and increasing white space.  It wasn’t a fun process but the outcome was pretty good.  Users immediately know this website is about jobs.  It’s also clear how they can search quickly.

Another Vietnam jobs website, Kiemviec, prefers to cram more on the page.  I’m not sure what they consider to be their key actions (logging in, maybe?).  There are a lot of distractions on the page.  I have to look quite a bit before understanding I can search for jobs in the “Quick Search” box on the left.

Which one do you think is better?  Share your thoughts below.


Several months ago I launched a new jobs site for premium  IT jobs in Vietnam, My overall objective was to create a simple site that is easy to navigate. I applied lessons from Steve Krug’s famous bible of web design, “Don’t Make Me Think!” I’m pretty proud of it.

ITviec - The Best IT Software Developer Jobs in Vietnam

  • Steve Jackson

    One thing that has continued to bug me about VietnamWorks is that having uploaded my CV a couple of months back, I haven’t had any response – that’s cool, I mean if there aren’t the jobs/employers out there then so be it.

    But I am getting half a dozen emails in Vietnamese a month.  Now I may have missed a point at which I could have said no to these emails and I could just filter them to my trash bin but I don’t want to miss any genuine offers of work – should they ever arrive.

    For me, in this day and age you don’t need to email people quite this much – we’re now able to follow, like etc if we want to opt in.  But having completed the process in English it would be useful if I could receive information in English, or if that’s not available, then not at all.

    Perhaps I need to learn the Vietnamese for unsubscribe but, in the end, if you’ve a section for “expat jobs” then you also need to be able to offer English communication.  

    • Hey Steve – Thanks for your comments.

      There are hundreds of thousands of CVs in the database, so it’s not uncommon not to be contacted by employers.  We found that most employers don’t use the CV database because they don’t understand how to search and/or they don’t want to do additional work to find candidates.  After they’ve paid money they just want their problem solved and receive applications.  Plenty of people do get found, though. 

      You can blame me for ending the newsletters in English.  99% of
      VietnamWorks’ users and jobs are Vietnamese.  Creating English
      newsletters just didn’t have a high enough return on resources invested.  Cold calculus.

      Although VietnamWorks automatically opts users in, I’m very strict on giving users control over their subscriptions.  Many people enjoy receiving 1 email per week.  VietnamWorks gets a lot of compliments from users on newsletter content.  We’re proud of that.

      If you don’t want to receive the emails, please click on “Huy dang ky” at the bottom of the email.  That will unsubscribe you.

      • thanks – like I said – I had no problem with not getting lucky re a job – that’s the luck of the draw – but I’m a fairly intolerant when it comes spam (spam being in the eye of the beholder).  I’ll unsubscribe – ordinarily I wouldn’t expect anything in English but with so much of the site being English friendly I felt like something must have gone wrong in order for me to receive Vietnamese updates.  Thanks for the response.

  • paulwonglirhen

    Awesome post on the power of simplicity, Chris! Just beginning to discover your thoughts here and appreciating it :) I’m still trying to live out that “less is more” principle in my life.

    We do need to be very intentional where we want to lead the reader/audience. You are doing that wonderfully with your blog.

    Here’s a post by Michael Hyatt that I found very helpful also when it comes to figure out what to leave out of the website:


  • Darryl

    Hi Chris, 
    Fantastic article! Quick question. Do you think minimalist web pages like Google’s can be bad for SEO purposes?   Do you even believe in SEO?

    • SEO is good, but only if the page is usable and useful for users. Sometimes I see pages that look like total crap but are SEO optimized. Over the long run I believe users will learn not to use those sites.