Some good points brought up and I think it comes down to personal preference and functionality. The old adage comes to mind..Keep It Simple Stupid. Personally, not a fan of the flashy sites that have all the bells and whistles. If I can find what I'm looking for easily, I'm happy. You should always keep your visitors at the forefront.
To answer the question, I've seen some really horrible looking websites that pay little to no attention to pretty designs and have done well. I have also seen websites that placed major emphasis on looking nice and do well. I have never compared the differences though. I do think it's a different strokes, for different folks kind of scenario. Sometimes you can get away with a lack of design element.
This question reminds me of the importance of A/B split testing and the use of heat maps. You should always compare the data from the old site to the new idea and see which one pays off. Google does offer some tools for this. There is also 3rd party software that will allow you to do heat map testing. Currently, I am using crazyegg.com. Lots of good information can be found from this data. I highly suggest using it, especially if you are one of those people who love to play around with design elements.
Last edited by Lb1878; Oct 15th, 2012 at 02:51 PM.
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Chinese Proverb