Another dispute in the web designers community: people with not so good looking sites, but search engines optimized and people with not so much SEO, but excellent layouts. The first ones try to justify their lack of graphic skills by saying, "well Google and Yahoo are not so beautiful and still they are successful" and people with awesome graphics but with no tags and other "details" in SEO would say "I don't care, my site looks great".
My opinion is we are facing here a false problem and every one of the 2 example designers should try to improve in the area they are lacking skills. Google and Yahoo are not very fancy, but they do have a solid colour theme (Yahoo had got some really good icons and graphics) and they don't rely on graphcis since they are monstruosly huge databases. I don't think your not so beautiful site is that huge, so you could really do something about the way it looks. A functional and SE optimizied won't lose visitors just because it looks better, I would say it attract more people and gain the respect of your visitors. A small graphic here, a nice header image and some good taste when it comes to blend some colours wouldn't kill your site. To be a great SEO expert doesn't mean you should be blind or disabled in the graphic creation.
On the other hand let's get those who don't care about any meta tags they should put on their text or optimizing their pages, because they say "I don't care, got a great site." Partially you are right: the people who come to your site are really amazed with the way it looks, it's certain you are a genius in graphic manipulation. The right font, the best alignment, carefully chosen colour theme, excellent graphics and every detail worked in your layout. You've done a great job indeed. But why not attract more people to your site? Why not look for some good keywords for your content and try to take care of SEO aspects also? You'll get more visitors and your awesome site would be more and more popular.
As I said before this is a false problem and only stubborness leads to these conflicts. I cannot understand why I cannot have a trully amazing site and SE optimization at the same time? Why does it have to be black and white? Just because people get defensive when they are criticized on an area they don't quite know so good. The solution is very simple: get from your high horses and start working the details.
If you have an ugly site, then allow yourself some hours in Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Gimp, or whatever you use and start learning to make something beautiful. When you are calling yourself web designer remember a designer is a person who should be able to create something beautiful. Don't come with excuses: "Google and Yahoo don't look good" (really? have you seen the way they are built? they have all details in place, alignment, font, colours, even some clean and nice graphics ... so think again), "I've seen sites made 7 years ago with great success and they look like hell" (they are successful because they've been here for 7 years, they look awful because the designer has lost interest, is lazy or just plain defensive like you are now when trying to make this excuse) and "I care about content, not looks" (I wish I had a dime for everytime some "designer" said or wrote this).
Perhaps you don't care about looks, but take my word for it, your visitors do. Before you reply anything I'll tell you I've said the same thing 3 years ago when I've made my first site. It was intended as a information database and I started by saying "I care for content." After 2 months I started redesigning the layout, when I saw similar sites that looked better. I was ashamed with it since people first see HOW it looks and only then WHAT it offers. After 3 years the only big change I have made was in layout and I guess I should re-make it, since I don't like it anymore. So, when you are saying what I said a long time ago, just think you're behind schedule ... with 3 years.
It's so easy to complain about the sour grapes and harder to just IMPROVE in any stage of web design. Try to see where you stand and improve. If you don't learn at least one new thing on every project you make, maybe it's better to start selling potatoes instead and lead a happy life far from webmaster projects. Take care of every detail (layout design and SEO), make sure you READ articles and participate in forums, ask around and when meeting criticism take it like a man. Don't be overconfident, because there is always a BETTER designer out there. Instead of being defensive and limited, try to outgrow your skills. Then you'll be proud of your projects and people would respect you.
Cutting the long story short: SEO and beauty can go together. Make a beautuful layout, code it and look on the internet for some SEO tips. They are many. Try to apply the knowledge and be ready to meet your happy and extatic visitors. So let's change the title from "Optimized VS good looking" into "Optimized & good looking". Now it's better.
The article was taken from Webmaster Tips & Tricks. Since is my own project, I have all the rights to distribute it . More articles on the address.
the sad thing is that you can have both without having to scrafice visual presentation. if you have an eye for design, and know anything about web development you can optimize those 'flash heavy' sites to function just as well as those useless boring 'clean' sites.
if there's one thing that can't die too soon, it's this useless trend of 'clean' empty dull websites. clean is for do-it-yourselfers.