responsiblog

Why Content Comes First

September 2018
leather bag with notebook phone and pen inside

If content is not at the core of the design process, you need to reconsider your priorities. Knowing what you have to work with, or want to include, shapes the layout and flow. With no sort of structured content, building the site will be a more time-consuming and frustrating process.

So why is content important?

Simply put, content is what gives a website meaning. It draws people in and allows them to understand a site’s purpose and take action. It answers the potential customers’ questions. In sum, content tells a brand’s story. Content shouldn’t be an afterthought or a jumble of slick sales speak. Websites perform better when we’re thoughtful and measured about what their content needs to communicate and how it works with the design.

Also, content and SEO are mutually beneficial. 

Content attracts clicks. It signals a site’s relevance and provides the information web crawlers need to sort and rank a website. A content-first approach that prioritizes SEO leads to better search rankings and a better user experience.

SEO tactics, should not be heavy-handed, though. SEO hacking can be useful, but content also needs to be useful, while still providing what web crawlers need to rank a site in your favor. All in all, research is the key to writing content that’s search engine optimized. Spend some time checking out related websites and journals. Talk to the client and other subject matter experts. Find out what words and phrases are commonly used.

For example, the Google AdWords Keyword Planner is helpful in providing keywords that may be overlooked. Keywords with low competition, but high search volume, can do a lot to boost your organic search ranking if properly targeted in your site content. And just because there’s a lot of competition with paid advertisers doesn’t mean you should ignore these phrases. Weaving them into your content will boost its relevance and SEO ranking.

Model your content before you write it. 

Content maps give developers a guide for the flow of content. They show us the specific content that goes on each page and how the content relates to the overall strategy. The architecture of the website has a more solid foundation if the content has been organized, and if the design of the website has any sort of web apps, a content model can help make sense of it. It can help you refine information as well.

All in all, a content model should start with a macro version that shows the main types of content without any related details. A macro content model provides a high-level overview of the content types a site will contain, and how those types interrelate. This macro view shows us how each of these components is going to fit together. On the other hand, a micro content model adds detail to the content types your site will include, further fleshing out the site.

Who writes content?

Ideally, your client has a team of writers. These people know what needs to be communicated and how to connect with the audience in a language they understand. They’re experts in writing and, hopefully, have a firm understanding of the purpose of your website.

However, not all clients have the resources for an in-house content team. A small business owner may take this responsibility on themselves, for example. Unfortunately, this can mean content falls short in the quality department, causing an entire project to suffer. Start your projects with an audit of existing content (if any) and assess its quality.

It doesn’t matter how content is created, though: Don’t create anything without at least a rough framework of the content. Without a clear idea of the substance and goals of the website, everyone will be unhappy with the process and its outcome. Furthermore, expectations for the quality of content need to be clear. If your client isn’t a writer and doesn’t have one available, you have a couple of options. Either leave room in the budget to create the content yourself (if this is a skill you have), or hire a professional writer that you trust.

Should you include the client in the writing process?

Absolutely! Discussions about the type of content needed for the project is a good starting point. Start at the macro level: What information are users looking for? What do they need to know about the company? What are the misconceptions an audience has? A bulleted list of these topics will help inform the categories of content you’ll need to work with.

Conclusion?

All in all, content keeps people engaged and is why people visit a website. The design exists to present this information in an organized way and to add functionality and style. Having content developed early in the process means the design that can be molded around it. This focus allows the design to highlight the content and leads to an improved user experience.

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