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Which Comes First: Content or Design?

  • Morganne August
  • Mar 09, 2017

Thankfully, folks, this question is nowhere near as philosophical or cyclical as the one about the chicken and the egg. In fact, the answer here is unequivocally clear and simple: your website content should be developed before you even consider design.

I know, I know—content is nowhere near as much fun as design, and it’s hard, time-consuming, and requires some work on your part—but it’s also the reason you decided to build a website in the first place.  You offer a product or service that you know people need or want, but that doesn’t matter if people don’t know (A) that you exist and (B) that you offer that product or service.

Imagine if someone who didn’t know you at all—had no idea what you do for a living, or that you are an avid cyclist, or that you have never worn a pair of high heels in your life—tried to dress you for the day. It probably wouldn’t go well, would it? You may even end up stranded on the side of the road, one shoe in a storm drain, unable to get to work and do your job. Our outward appearance is often a reflection of our personalities, activities, and vocation, and we usually dress in a way that complements or allows for those habits.

It’s the same way with content and web design—they go hand-in-hand, and trying to stuff twenty-six products onto a subpage meant to feature six is not the best way to showcase your company’s offerings or reach your target audience.

Consider all of the ways your content can work for you, and what can go wrong when you don’t make it a priority:

Your content is the foundation of your website.

It tells potential customers who you are, what you offer, and why they should choose you for their needs. If your products or services aren’t clearly displayed and described to your website user immediately upon page load, that user will abandon your site in search of a company they know can fill their needs.

Contrary to popular belief, the internet isn’t magic.

Google doesn’t just automatically know that you’re the perfect match when a user searches for “affordable custom cabinetry” –you have to tell search engines that you ARE the affordable custom cabinetry wizards in the area. The easiest and most natural way to do this is by strategically inputting thorough, thoughtfully-written content, and providing your web design team with that content right off the bat allows them to design pages that feature your most important services and products prominently and with headings and bullets that give your site an organic SEO boost.

Thinking about web design before content can cost you serious time and money.

If your designer is left to guess about what’s most important for your users to see first, she may spend hours designing a homepage that is not at all conducive to what you’d like to feature there. Then, not only will she have to go back and mock up another design (costing you more hours and money), but you’ll have started out your process on the wrong foot.

As a copywriter, it’s my job to defend the validity of words, but I’m also starting to develop a complex over this routine that plays out with each project:

  • Clients come in, get all excited about building their website, and respond to the designer’s emails promptly and with ample information to answer her questions.
  • Then I email the client—let’s call him Steve—and ask for content. And I wait patiently for a week.
  • When I bug Steve again, he tells me that he hasn’t forgotten about me and that he’ll get the content over to me first thing next week. (Or he ignores my emails and phone calls completely. Copywriters have feelings, too!)
  • We repeat this little song and dance 16 times over the course of 3 months before someone outside of the process asks Steve why the website hasn’t launched yet, and he scrambles to write a half-hearted “About” section before telling me he’ll take care of product descriptions later.
  • I flash back to my teacher days and asking for late work from my middle school students.

Be honest with us and with yourself in your consultation.

Is writing content something you’re going to dread and will likely put off? If the answer is yes, please just go ahead and let us take care of full copywriting. I find that people are happy to talk about their business and much easier to pin down for interviews than for content.

Then the burden’s all on me—and you can be sure I’ll work with your designer to produce a site layout that makes your services perfectly clear to users, showcases your most important products, and is naturally optimized. Plus, I actually enjoy writing content. Everyone wins. (Except maybe the chicken.)


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