Web Design & Content Strategy

Black King and Queen on a chess board

Content is King

“Content is king”. Bill Gates coined the phrase way back in 1996. Two years later in 1998, the web standards project (WaSP) was founded. This was at a time when the web as we now know it was just starting to find its feet in the public domain.

This quote has since been repeated over and over by web designers all over the globe. Even now, sat here in our web design studio in Milton Keynes, this quote still gets used week in, week out.

So what does it mean exactly? Just why is content king?

Content is king written on a notepad

The process of designing for the web has been fine tuned over the years with much of the emphasis focused on what happens before any pixels are pushed around a screen.

One of the most important aspects of the web design process is what precedes the actual designing of a website. If the content is delivered before any wireframes or concepts are created, then a far richer user experience (UX) can be designed and a suitable user interface (UI) be developed.

So why is this? Why is it important to deliver the content first? Simply put, when a web designer has the content they can then look to find the most suitable and accessible solution to present the content to the user.

“content should dictate the design and structure of a site”

If a website is content heavy, then a solution must be found in order to solve the problem of boring, endless scrolling. And let’s face it, most users want to feel engaged when they visit a website. There needs to be an emotional connection between the website and the user.

So when we talk about how ‘content is king’, we’re referring to how the content should dictate the design and structure of a site. It has to. Otherwise we run the risk of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. By ignoring this, we’re not completely designing for the user. The site may beautiful, but if its not presenting the content to the user correctly then the user experience fails, the aesthetics are disjointed and the user moves on to the next site.

This philosophy pushes for a content-first design approach.

Content-First Design

Blank books covers

It’s no secret that we all love visually stunning websites. But haven’t we always been told to ‘not judge a book by it’s cover’? It’s what inside that really matters.

But with that said, a great looking book cover sells books. You can’t deny that. But what makes the reader then purchase that authors next book? The quality of the story being told. The content which sits in between the front and back covers. So if the story is poor, then no matter how visually appealing that authors next book cover is, that particular user will not purchase it.

So it’s worth baring in mind that first impressions count. But it’s what is inside that leave a lasting impression. A website with no substance or great content will inevitably fade into the background.

Visual Content

As designers we’re constantly asking, ‘why is like that and not like this?’. We published an article earlier in the year called ‘Why Web Design Isn’t Just Visual’ and this delved into how design isn’t just how something looks, but how it works and how it functions.

The design of a chair for example, it isn’t just about how the chair looks in your living room, but how it feels when you’re sitting in it. The same principles of design apply to the web.

“When content is crafted carefully and implemented skilfully through design, it will ultimately create a positive reaction with the user”

So when we’re working with content, it’s our responsibility as designers to not only make the content accessible, but also to deliver it in a way which will bring the best possible experience to those accessing it.

When content is crafted carefully and implemented skilfully through design, it will ultimately create a positive reaction with the user. Something must resonate with the user. The interface of a website must always be respectful to the content which sits within it.

It’s a well known fact that we as web users have short concentration spans. The web is a platform in which users want to access information quickly and easily. If a website happens to be content heavy, then the use of visuals can keep users engaged.

Visuals can act as the ‘hook’ which keeps the momentum going. In this article for example, we have purposely used images to break up the text. Images, videos, infographics and even block quotes can act as a pit stop for the user. It allows the user to take a brief moment to pause, take stock and then continue.

Visuals can also act as a way to condense written text. A picture can paint a thousand words anyone?

By using visuals, we’re able to communicate information to users which can be absorbed quickly, but more importantly be understood in just a matter of seconds. The influence of infographics is huge at the moment in web design. Infographics not only pass on information in a visually pleasing way which engages users but they can save on endless amounts of scrolling text for the user to get through.

Content & Design

Another example of why content is king is to look at separating content and design into two elements. So in this example, content is the product and design is the packaging.

A purchased tshirt in a box

If you were to design your packaging without knowing what shape or size your product would be then you may run into some major issues. You simply wouldn’t do it that way.

So when we view web content as the product, we know it must come first in order to package that content so that it fits within.

Take a look at the visual below which we have put together of a website wireframe. This is how it looks when it’s been designed prior to the content being delivered:

A website wireframe with minimal content

Now take a look at the wireframe once the content has been delivered:

A website wireframe after content delivery

Not great right? In fact, it’s just a mess.

Let’s take another example. When a computer game is developed. It goes without saying that the very first item on the agenda will not be how it looks, but the story. Once the story and the characters have been established, then the visual side of the game can take place. It’s the same principles.

Content Strategy

Back in April we published the article ‘Content Strategy for Mobile’. In this article we focused on designing for mobile users and how to plan ahead for how users will access content.

Content strategy refers to the planning, development and management of content. The key objectives of content strategy are to create content which is meaningful, engaging and sustainable. In the web design industry this can often overlooked. Why? Perhaps short deadlines play a part. Perhaps it’s not deemed important enough to invest time or money into. We’re not entirely sure. But when it is implemented, it can take a website to a whole new level.

The positive impact content strategy can have on a website cannot be denied.

You won’t meet many business owners who will tell you that search engine optimisation (SEO) isn’t important to them. Of course it is. If you have market competitors, you’ll want to outrank them in search engine results.

The subject of SEO requires several articles as there are many factors (or signals) which influence the ranking of a website. One of the largest factors though is great content. All search engines want to do is provide the best and most relevant content to their users.

So in the context of strategy, surely it makes sense to plan for content which will include keywords and key phrases you want to rank for. Using the correct titles for each page and for each published article.

Content strategy takes into account the users you wish to target. It allows you to focus on your target audience and how you wish to create a connection between yourself and them. If a user is emotionally invested in what you have to say, then you’re doing it right.

Viewing content on a tablet device

Finally, content strategy allows you to establish an identity for yourself or for your business. Establishing your content identity involves identifying how you wish to be perceived. Branding isn’t just your logo and chosen colours. Your branding is your identity and your web content is your voice. All these should relate and exist along side each other. Hoping they connect the dots is a dangerous game to play. You need to be sure that your content mirrors your branding.

In Conclusion

We like to view content as the heart of a website. It’s what drives traffic to a site, its what keeps users coming back for more and to explore deeper. It keeps a website alive.

Taking the approach to design from within brings order to a project. It establishes an identity quickly and provides focus on what you wish to communicate to the end-user.

Content is king because it forces us to think about how a site is structured and how the design of a website should compliment the content. It makes us think how best to present it and question why one format may be better suited than another.

It makes us think as designers so the user doesn’t have to.