If websites are primarily a vehicle for content delivery, why do so many web projects still disproportionately focus on visual design and functionality, at the expense of the content?When we treat content as an afterthought we limit our ability to make good design decisions and our sites fail to achieve their goals.It is a constant challenge we’ve been wrestling with for years, as we try to push content to the heart of the design process and the users’ experience.
To be clear, we are not saying: wait until your client has finished writing all their website content first before you start designing and building. That approach doesn’t work and just creates a different set of problems.We believe that considering and thinking about content at each stage of a project steers us to appropriate design decisions, which delivers better websites.
Have these common issues impacted the projects you work on?
We design and build websites with a controlled set of page templates to give clients scalable and consistent sites they can quickly add to. Makes sense.
But we’ve fallen into a bad habit of designing and building the template layouts first, and only then populating them with real content. Usually when time and budgets are already too exhausted to iterate and improve them.If you take the time to understand your content’s goals, target audience, format, source, structure, volume, frequency, quality, ownership ...... you will make smarter strategic, functional, user experience, visual design, and business decisions.
The client tells you they must have a dedicated Latest News section on the new homepage (the boss wants it!).
Rather than simply complying, you take five minutes to count the news items they published on the current site over the year. They only published six news items - hardly latest news.So you then ask the client: “Why do you expect to be able to produce more news items on the new site? Will there be more staff resources to maintain it?”
They can’t guarantee an increased frequency of news, so you propose a flexible module on the homepage template that can feature different types of content including latest news items (if and when available).With a little retrospection and common sense you have stopped your client from unwittingly providing a poor(er) experience to their users, and damaging their goals by failing to sustain their content.
These points will help you to explain the benefits and convince your agency colleagues and bosses:
It’s time to sell in your content-first approach with a prospective client. Some clients will expect nothing less and you’ve got an easy sell, but others may take some convincing.
Look out for these tell-tale signs during early conversations and project documents:
Clients making these noises will be highly receptive to this approach.
Not all clients will care about their content as much as you would like. Probably best to focus on the cold, hard business case that will resonate:
Don’t leave a prospective client in any doubt that you will put their valuable content centre stage if you win the work. Try to make these points during your early engagements, proposals and pitches to stand out from the competition:“At our agency we...”
Of course, the more case studies and client testimonials you have to back up your claims, the better!
Asking simple questions, at the right time, will ensure content is at the heart of the design process and the eventual user experience.Clients who truly value content will want to work with you and all of your agency’s projects will benefit from the approach.So, good luck closing and delivering plenty of content-first projects.
Rob is Head of Content at GatherContent. He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and regular contributor to industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, 24 Ways,WebTuts+, UX Matters , UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy and ContentOps at leading industry events.