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Feb 26, 2007
Blog Post

The Agony of (and Lack of Data on) Choosing New Site Colors

SUMMARY: No summary available.
By Anne Holland, President

These past two weeks, I've been in endless debates and design meetings trying to choose new colors for our revamped and expanded Web site.

If you've ever had to choose site colors, you'll understand completely. The three biggest problems:

(1) Everything's really subjective. What a color "means" can be personal or cultural, but it's not the same for everyone. Did you know baby girls wore blue and boys wore pink 150 years ago? Did you consider the green-means-money rule doesn't work outside the US?

(2) Everything looks slightly different on differing computers. Non-dithering hues notwithstanding, most people's screens look a little different. Laptops vs desktop monitors, old vs new screens, Macs vs PCs, varying background glare ... the differences are not massive. But they are enough to make a pale brown appear to be pink.

(3) There's virtually no data on marketing and color.

I know because I checked our site's new Research Database, which has more than 1,800 records, for stats on color. Very little came up.

Turns out, you can find loads of articles on the Web about color choices. However, most are based on hearsay instead of lab tests, cultural associations and/or broad generalizations that don't help much when you've got a palate of hundreds of hues to choose from.

My next step was to check out our Case Study Library with nearly 750 Case Studies. Did anyone test color choices?

Well, yes, they did. However, results were disheartening to a marketer stuck in a design meeting. Aside from the twin factors of legibility and good taste (based on target demographic), color tests were *never* a big factor in improving conversion rates.

The important factors were invariably things such as:
o Traffic source
o Offer
o Specific words in copy
o Ease of navigation (including lack of distractions)
o Relevancy of images
o Trustworthiness
o Reading comprehension (type size, type color, background color)

The last item on the list nearly always resolved to fairly big type (11-12 points+), in black "ink" on a white background. So that's not color so much as eye-enablement.

So, you could say to yourself, well, since color doesn't matter like this other, far more important stuff, I'm not going to pay attention to it. Let's pick something quickly and end the debate.

Except for one thing: branding.

It's how I found myself in this pickle in the first place. If you check the Wayback Machine -- -- for 2000, you'll see Sherpa's first site colors were bright red and yellow. These were chosen non-scientifically because they are my absolute personal favorites.

However, nobody else liked them, so I was shanghaied a few years ago into picking new colors so MarketingSherpa's brand would feel more "corporate."

What's corporate? We ended up with red and gray. Which looked fine, if a bit boring to me. Unfortunately, red and gray also looked fine to a bunch of our competitors. If you're a color-sensitive person, Jupiter, eMarketer and MarketingSherpa all looked pretty much the same.

We needed a new color scheme to stand out from the fray. Our first choice, nicknamed 'Operation Desert Storm' was finally vetoed because sometimes a palette of khakis and dark red don't have thrilling associations.

Our second choice, nicknamed 'Kindergarten' was far more cheerful, but also vetoed because, well, you can guess why.

We actually went live last week with our third choice, 'Brownie.' And then too many people on staff complained the softer hues looked unpleasantly pink on older laptop monitors. (I got emails from folks with the words 'Pepto-Bismol' in the subject line.)

Anyway, all of this is to explain, if you're in color choice meetings yourself, I feel your pain. Deeply.

And also, if you've been confused by the odd changes our site colors have been going through over the past few weeks (and days to come), this is why. Please bear with us. It will all be over soon, and then we can concentrate on the
important stuff.

See Also:

Comments about this Blog Entry

Feb 26, 2007 - Barbara Davis of Vulture Culture says:
I can empathize with your color agonies. My whole site is "Desert Storm" as well as the items I sell. (Now updating) Maybe that's why I don't sell much on that site?????

Feb 26, 2007 - Conseilsmarketing of says:
Hi from France, your email sound funny to me because in my day to day I see how colors are important ! I work in the software business and it is a long time that we learned that the color matters a lot to customer: for exemple in our accounting software we are chasing all the "computer" grey to replace it by the windows XP blue... Futhermore we do all our screen shot on win XP to have more blue and look more advanced... One another exemple: we change the color of our icons, but just using "pastel" colors instead of "full" colors and it made our software more "new". But my main point it that is the same for a web site... - A web site in black mean "up class" but also porno web site... So banned black - White is the most favorite colors (in France the favorite colors for cars are white) and work with all - Orange means young, and will please youngs but will surprise a lot older people - ... So for me the choice of the color for a Web site IS important... Frederic France

Feb 26, 2007 - Laura Ricci of 1Ricci LLC says:
Ann, I feel your pain. I prefer warm colors,if only because so many snoozer sites are blue in one form or another. Take a look at our color selections for both my site and my husbands for some ideas that might suit is hubby's site, and mine is

Feb 26, 2007 - Sean Tierney of JumpBox says:
Anne, I feel your pain on choosing a color scheme for your site based on pure speculation. We went through the same thing on a recent redesign of the site with various versions of our homepage. You should check out the Google Web site Optimizer if you haven't tried it yet. We used it to test various versions of our homepage to improve conversions. This article explains how we doubled our conversion rate and the winning graphic is one we never would have chosen-> GWO does full multivariate analysis of any displayable element on a web page and it's free. I used it as A/B split testing for our homepage graphic but theoretically you should be able to swap out an entirely different stylesheet for your site. Everyone will have a different opinion on color choice but it's hard to argue with empirical data from your users about what produces results. sean

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