Creating a new website? Nail your content BEFORE you start to think about the design
We know lots of you have been using the unexpected quiet of the last few months to make some changes to your business websites, or perhaps even re-do them completely. So today on the blog Bethany Joy (our resident brand voice crafter and wordsmith extraordinaire!) talks us through how best to approach your website re-design >>
Ok, I’ve got a question for you. When you buy someone a birthday present, what do you buy first – the gift bag, or the gift?
I’m guessing it’s the present itself – I mean, it wouldn’t make sense to buy a gift bag or box and then restrict yourself to only buying something that fits inside! You think first about what the person you’re buying for might want or need, then once you know what you’re giving them you decide what to wrap it in. It seems obvious, right?
But so often people’s approach to creating a new website is exactly like choosing the wrapping before deciding on the gift. And the end result is often an ineffective site, that doesn’t make it easy for people to quickly grasp and be inspired by what the business is offering – making that new website a pretty expensive mistake.
So what can you do to avoid this pitfall and make sure your new website is money well spent? Well, let’s start with a little bit of context…
What goes into a website
Pretty much all the work that gets put into creating a website contributes to one of three things: how it looks, how it sounds, and how it works. (If you want the industry jargon, that means we’re talking about design, content, and development.)
One of the main things that often drives businesses to get a new website is the design element – their current site is probably feeling quite out of date and they want something that looks much more stylish and contemporary. Or perhaps it’s the development side – the fact that their current site doesn’t work in the way they need it to, allowing them to sell products, offer tickets to events, host a blog, or collect email addresses.
But as important as both those elements are, they’re ultimately only the wrapping around the heart of your website: what your business is like and what you have to offer people. That information is found in your content. And yet content always seems to get left until last!
Now, I get why – it’s hard to write about your own business. And the way your website looks is such an immediate and visual problem, of course it’s tempting to focus on tackling that first.
But the reality is that the content is the part of your site that’s most likely to drive action. No matter how pretty a site looks or how well it works (and don’t get me wrong, those things are important) ultimately it’s what it saysthat’s the deciding factor for whether or not people buy in. It’s content that shows people who your organisation is, what you can offer them, and how you’re different from the competition. A beautifully-designed and well-built site enhances and reinforces those messages, but it’s content that closes the deal.
And – here’s the crux of it all – if you don’t think about content right at the start of your web project, it will have a negative impact on your whole site.
Why content first?
I’ve lost count of the number of projects where I’ve been brought in at the last minute because a business has realised that a simple copy-and-paste job from their old site just isn’t going to cut it. So I’m presented with an already-built website, designed using dummy text, and I’m left to fill in the spaces.
This can cause so many problems!
One company I worked with paid to have a huge website designed, but when we came to look at the content we realised it really needed to be streamlined – and the site ended up being less than half the size they planned! So that was a chunk of money down the drain. Another business designed their site with lots of small boxes and strips of text that restricted word count, so we ended up having to change some of their key messages (making them less clear and compelling) in order to get them to fit inside the design. And I’ve got countless examples of times when important words, phrases, and messages haven’t been highlighted in the right way or at the right point on a page, because the designer had to guess at what the content was going to be – instead of being able to use the design to brilliantly support and strengthen the content.
And leaving content until last isn’t just problematic for how your site sounds – it can affect how it looks and works as well.
For example, in the designs a paragraph of text might look perfect next to a picture because the paragraph is just the right number of words to be the same length as the image. But when it comes to creating the real text, it turns out your paragraph needs to be twice as long to get your message across. Now the design doesn’t look so good. Or it might be that a beautiful menu has been created, imagining that your website has two or three layers of navigation. But when you get to sorting out the content you realise that you only need one layer, at which point the large menu looks ridiculous.
And the same can happen with the development side. You might have assumed that you needed a blog on your site, but when you carefully think through all your content you realise that integrating your social media accounts is a better alternative. Or you hadn’t thought ahead to ask for events and ticket-selling functionality, but it turns out that’s the main call to action you want to make. So you’re either stuck with something you don’t need or without something you do – leaving you dissatisfied and out of pocket.
So how do you put content first?
Well, here’s my suggestion of the key steps you need to take when getting a new website…
Start with the big picture.
Your website is a tool with a goal – so who is it for, what do you want it to accomplish for your business, and what key messages do you need to get across about who you are and what you’re offering people?
Make a sitemap.
Think about what information you need to include on the site, and how your content should be structured so people can find what they need.
Draft your content.
Here’s where you think about things like what your brand voice is going to be like, and how much of your content will be text versus using things like video, images, quizzes, or infographics. Then you get writing and creating.
Plan your functionality.
Once you know what you want people to do and how you’re going to lead them towards taking action, you can think about what your website needs to be capable of. (Do you need an events calendar, an online shop, a discussion forum, a ticket-booking facility, etc.)
Begin the design.
Informed by all the ideas gathered in the previous steps, you can now work on visually bringing to life your site. The design should work to guide people through the content, showcasing and reinforcing your key messages and calls to action.
Finalise both content and design.
Once you’ve seen how the content and design work together, you can tweak both elements and get them nailed down.
Build the site.
Here’s where it comes out of all the word docs and PDFs and actually becomes a real live thing on the world wide web!
Review and tweak.
Take the time to go over everything and make sure it sounds, looks, and works like you want before you launch.
It’s a lot of work, there’s no denying that. (And of course you don’t have to do it all yourself – that’s what content writers, designers, and developers are for!) But at the end you’ll have a website that sounds great, looks good, and works well. Hurrah.
Bethany Joy (author of our regular Copy Clinic series) works with small businesses to help them find a writing style and voice that reflects their passion and personality, as well as creating gettable and irresistible copy for their marketing materials. You can find out more about her at bethanyjoy.org
We also partner with Beth to run regular workshops that empower independent businesses to write more clearly and confidently about what they have to offer – our next one is on 15 October 2020.