When clients come to us to build a website, they often come with some type of design ideas. From the specific design features they want to a list of websites they like and don’t like, most people seeking to build a website have spent time thinking about what the site should look like. But, more times than not, very little time has been spent on what the site is actually going to say. For most, content isn’t fun. Hence it’s often pushed to the bottom of the list, focusing instead on the latest snazzy design trends to make their site seem, for lack of a better word, “cool.”
We get it. Content is not cool. It’s not always fun. And it requires time. But, content should not be an afterthought. In fact, we believe content should be the first thought when it comes to designing or redesigning a website. Pushing content to the beginning of a website project leads to an educated design that effectively delivers your message.
Why the Content First Approach?
Many get excited to see their new website, so they just want the design to get under way as soon as possible. But, if we don’t know what the website is going to say, it’s very hard to know what it should look like. But starting the process with design results in a generic template that will force you to stuff content into meaningless places just so that it fits into the design that was made. By taking this approach, your website may look good, but often your message will be limited by the confines of the design.
“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” – Jeffrey Zeldman
But, isn’t the purpose of a website to deliver your message? To share your story with your users? A cool looking site is fun for users to look at, but once they’ve seen it the honeymoon is over and now it’s about content. Valuable content, on the other hand, is why users are there and why they’re going to keep coming back. Taking the time upfront to plan and craft your site’s content, allows for content to be taken into consideration during the design process. We can then design a website that complements your content, showcases your core message, and effectively leads users to your main calls to action and your goals.
If You Build it They Will Come? Probably Not.
Having a website does not mean having visitors. There’s a lot that goes into driving traffic to your site, but at the core is content. Current and modern design trends, while important, are not going to keep users on their own. Users aren’t coming to your site to look at your homepage, they are coming to get something done. In an ever-changing design and technological world, it’s even more important to focus on Users’ Needs.
Our content first approach is based on the Core Model by Are Halland. It starts with identifying who your users are and what the core tasks are that they need to accomplish on your site. We then look at how those tasks overlap with the goals of the website owners. After identifying our users, their objectives and the website owners objectives, we begin to map out the content in a way that serves both. Spending this time planning and researching lays the groundwork for both meaningful content creation and effective design.
Content First Doesn’t Mean Final Content First
Content takes time and usually many, many iterations. Developing content before beginning design doesn’t mean the content has to be perfect. The goal is to get as close to a “proto-content” before beginning the design. Sure more content revisions will be completed before the finished site goes live, but that’s ok. A solid content draft will still work to effectively inform the design process.
When planning content, we focus on the cores — when the user’s tasks meet the business objectives. The same approach should be used when actually developing the content. This core content is your priority. It is what’s going to satisfy users’ needs as well as help you accomplish your goals for the website. Thus, it’s the core content that is the most essential to have when starting design.
Content development can be a very overwhelming task. Being tasked to complete content before design, probably makes you feel like it’s going to be forever before you have a website. Breaking up the process into chunks helps alleviate that nagging “this is never going to happen” feeling. Set aside the non-essential content — that can come later. Spend your time focusing on the core content and making sure that is solid. And when it is, design can begin.
Whether you have a lot or a little content to develop, the approach stays the same. Check out our 5 tips for writing or rewriting content on a website to help create a smoother content writing process.