The Website Conundrum: Design Vs. Content

What comes first, design or content?
I seem to be getting a lot of calls from people who have invested in a website with no content. They call me at the end of the project because they “need some words” on their site. Invariably they need it done fast. They always want the content optimised to attract search engines. I can also predict, with certainty, they will be surprised at the investment required to develop the content for their site.

Content: The Great Afterthought
You might think I’m talking about start-up companies, but I’m not. I see this problem across all industry sectors, government agencies, not-for-profit organisations, and even businesses developing their second or third website. I have never had someone contact me about content before speaking to a website designer. This tells me people are more concerned about how things look than what is being said.

Traditional Approach: Property Development
I do understand why this is happening. In a bricks-and-mortar business, getting your property is usually the first step on the road to a Grand Opening. Once you have secured a building or a piece of property, you start the construction/renovation phase. The next step is to fit it out and furnish it. The last step is to bring your stock in. Now you’re ready for trade.

The Online Conundrum
But here’s the problem. You can’t equate a website to a physical place of business. Why? In the digital environment, your content is what attracts search engines. Your content is also what keeps people drilling down into your website. In a virtual world, the design can help improve the user experience. It can promote your company branding. It can present an attractive and desirable door to your business. Good design, however, cannot keep people on your website.

Digital Approach: Publishing
Here’s another analogy to consider: Imagine a book publisher designing a book cover, choosing a winning title and having the book bound and the cover printed before an author is even selected. What sort of sales figures do you think that book would generate? How effective is the story going to be if the author is bound to the whims of a printer? When you have a website designed and developed without a content strategy in place, that’s essentially what you’re doing. A website is not an asset to your business if the content does not support what you’re trying to do. When you leave content development until the end of the project, you’re unlikely to realise the full potential of your website.

The Takeaway
Remember, your website is an asset to your business. Content is equally important to design. Developing a successful online presence means you must develop a strong content strategy to keep both search engines and visitors interested in your site. Developing content takes both time and money and must be considered in tandem with website development. Your investment should be driven by publishing, NOT property development.

What’s your opinion? What comes first, design or content?





It’s important that you consider how you will drive traffic to the website long before the launch. The more competitive your industry, the more work will be required to attract traffic.

On the website itself, there are many on-page things that can be done to attract visitors and search engines. Fundamentally, the website will need to be built in an SEO-friendly manner. The content on the site should also be informative, well-written and keyword rich.

To target a range of broad range of relevant keywords, a blog is an extremely beneficial tool. Blogs offer a great opportunity to publish keyword-rich content – content that search engines love. However, a blog shouldn’t just be written for Google’s benefit. Above all, it should be written for people. People enjoy reading content that’s interesting and informative. Give them that and they’re far more likely to keep coming back for more.

Depending on the industry that you’re in, you could consider a pay-per-click campaign. Buying traffic to your website can be a good initial strategy to get traffic to your website if you’re launching an e-commerce site, for example. As your website is increasingly recognised organically by search engines, you can then reduce your pay-per-click activity. Before you adopt such a strategy though, do your research so that you achieve a return on your spend.

In the hectic excitement of getting a site launched, it can be easy to forget about the importance of measurement. Before launching the website, define what website success means to you – in terms of traffic levels, sales, customer retention levels or newsletter sign-ups.


Once the site’s live, there are many a number of ways to announce the launch of your new website. There is no one-size-fits-all solution as, really, the approach depends on who your audience is. And, of course, your budget for launching the site.

However, in very general terms, to announce your new website launch, think about the people you want to tell and what you want to tell them. By segmenting your target audiences, you can reach the right people in the right way. For example, you could let existing customers know by using a targeted email newsletter branded in the same style as your site or by sending out promotional giveaways with your new website address. To make a more general announcement to the industry, you could use the services of a PR company to build a launch story to target the relevant press.

It is also a good idea to try and build natural back-links by promoting your website content on relevant websites. Quality back-links are vital for search engine visibility.


Once the website is live, it is important to try and build on the initial momentum from the launch. The activities carried out pre- and during launch should hopefully have started to create a good foundation on which further results can be built. Continue to publish good quality search-engine friendly content and promote this off-site to encourage back-linking.

Post-launch, you should continue to refer back to your ‘success factors’ to evaluate your performance. By using a continuous cycle of testing, refining and evaluating, you can continue to improve your website to achieve bigger and better results.

13 Simple Tips for Improving Your Web Design

Want to ensure that visitors will exit your website almost immediately after landing there? Be sure to make it difficult for them to find what it is they are looking for. Want to get people to stay on your website longer and click on or buy stuff? Follow these 13 Web design tips.

1. Have a polished, professional logo–and link it to your home page. “Your logo is an important part of your brand, so make sure it’s located prominently on your site,” says Tiffany Monhollon, senior content marketing manager at online marketer ReachLocal. “Use a high-resolution image and feature it in the upper left corner of each of your pages,” she advises. “Also, it’s a good rule of thumb to link your logo back to your home page so that visitors can easily navigate to it.”

2.Use intuitive navigation. “Primary navigation options are typically deployed in a horizontal [menu] bar along the top of the site,” says Brian Gatti, a partner with Inspire Business Concepts, a digital marketing company. Provide “secondary navigation options underneath the primary navigation bar, or in the [left-hand] margin of the site, known as the sidebar.”

Why is intuitive navigation so important? “Confusing navigation layouts will result in people quitting a page rather than trying to figure it out,” Gatti says. So instead of putting links to less important pages–that detract from your call to action or primary information–at the top of your home or landing pages, put “less important links or pieces of information at the bottom of a page in the footer.”

3. Get rid of clutter. “It’s very easy these days to be visually overloaded with images, to the point where our brains stop processing information when confronted with too many options,” explains Paolo Vidali, senior digital marketing strategist, DragonSearch, a digital marketing agency.

To keep visitors on your site, “make sure pages do not have competing calls to action or visual clutter [e.g., lots of graphics, photographs or animated gifs] that would draw the visitor’s eyes away from the most important part of the page.” To further keep clutter down on landing pages, “consider limiting the links and options in the header and footer to narrow the focus even further,” he says.

Another tip to streamlining pages: “Keep paragraphs short,” says Ian Lurie, CEO of internet marketing company Portent, Inc. “On most Web sites, a single paragraph should be no more than five to six lines.”

4. Give visitors breathing room. “Create enough space between your paragraphs and images so the viewer has space to breathe and is more able to absorb all of the features your site and business have to offer,” says Hannah Spencer, graphic designer, Coalition Technologies, a Web design and online marketing agency.

“Controlling white space through layout will keep users focused on the content and control user flow,” adds Paul Novoa, founder and CEO at Novoa Media. “With a lot of visual competition taking place on the Web and on mobile, less is more. Controlling white space will improve user experience, increasing returns from the website.”

5. Use color strategically. Using “a mostly neutral color palette can help your site project an elegant, clean and modern appearance,” says Mark Hoben, the head of Web design atEgencia, the business travel division of the Expedia group, who is also a believer in using color wisely. “Employing small dashes of color–for headlines or key graphics–helps guide visitors to your most important content,” he explains.

It is also important to use a color palette that complements your logo and is consistent with your other marketing materials.

6. Invest in good, professional photography. “Website visitors can sniff out generic photos in a second–and they’ll be left with a generic impression of your company,” warns Zane Schwarzlose, community relations director, Fahrenheit Marketing. “Your company isn’t generic. So show your visitors that by investing in professional photography.”

“We strongly recommend that our clients invest in professional photography or purchase professional stock photos,” says Gatti. Good photographs “draw the eye, providing an emotional connection to the written content.” Poor quality photographs or photographs that have nothing to do with your message, on the other hand, are worse than having no photographs.

Bonus photography tip: “If you want to draw attention to a particular piece of content or a signup button, include a photo of a person looking at the content,” suggests Elie Khoury, cofounder and CEO of Woopra, which provides real-time customer and visitor analytics. “We are immediately drawn to faces of other humans–and when we see that face looking’ at something, our eyes are instinctively drawn there as well.”

7. Choose fonts that are easy to read across devices and browsers. When choosing fonts, keep in mind that people will be looking at your website not just on a laptop but on mobile devices. “Some large-scaled fonts may read well on [a computer monitor], but not scale or render well on mobile, losing the desired look and feel,” explains Novoa. So he advises using a universal font.

“Pick a typeface that can be easily read and size it no less than 11pt,” says Ethan Giffin, CEO, Groove Commerce. “If you’re using Web fonts, try to use no more than two font families in order to ensure fast load times,” he says.

“If you’re using a fixed-width design, use a font size that allows a maximum of 15 to 20 words per line,” adds Lurie. “If you’re using a fluid design, use a font size that allows 15 to 20 words per line at 900 to 1000 pixels wide.”

8. Design every page as a landing page. “Most websites have a design that assumes a user enters through the home page and navigates into the site,” says Michael Freeman, senior manager, Search & Analytics, ShoreTel, Inc., which provides hosted VoIP, cloud PBX service and business phone systems. “The reality, though, is that the majority of visits for most sites begin on a page that is not the home page,” he says. Therefore, you need to design the site in such a way that whatever page a visitor lands on, key information is there.

9. Respect the fold. When asked for their top design tips, almost all the Web designers queried immediately said: Put your call to action in the upper portion of your website, along with your phone number and/or email address (if you want customers to call or email you). Regarding home page images, “I recommend going against full-width sliders and encourage sliders or set images that cover two-thirds of the width allowing for a contact form to be above the fold,” says Aaron Watters, director, Leadhub, a website design and SEO company.

10. Use responsive design–that automatically adapts to how the site is being viewed. “Rather than developing a site for each device, a responsive site is designed to adapt to the browser size,” making for a better user experience, says Jayme Pretzloff, online marketing director, Wixon Jewelers. And a better user experience typically translates into more time spent on your site and higher conversion rates.

11. Forget Flash. “Thanks in part to the ongoing dispute between Adobe and Apple, the days of Flash as an Internet standard are slowly coming to a close, so why stay on the bandwagon when there are other options that are much more Web and user friendly?” asks Darrell Benatar, CEO of Instead, use HTML5, he says. “HTML5 is gaining more support on the Web, with search-engine friendly text and the ability to function on many of the popular mobile operating systems without requiring a plug-in. The same can’t be said for Flash.”

12. Don’t forget about buttons “The ‘Submit’ or ‘Send’ button at the bottom of a Web form can be the ugliest part of a website,” says Watters. So he encourages designers to make form submission buttons “so appealing visitors can’t help themselves. They just have to click it.” In addition, “when a visitor hovers over your submit button, it should change color, gradient, opacity or font treatment,” he says.

13. Test your design. “Whether you are trying different placements for a call to action or even testing different shades of a color, website optimization can make a big impact to your bottom line,” states Lindsey Marshall, production director, Red Clay Interactive, an Atlanta-based interactive marketing agency. “A user experience manager at Bing once remarked that Microsoft generated an additional $80 million in annual revenue just by testing and implementing a specific shade of blue!”

“Every design decision is just a hypothesis,” adds Mike Johnson, director of User Experience at The Nerdery, an interactive production company. “User testing, A/B testing and simple analytics can help you continuously improve your designs [by providing] feedback from real people.”

5 web-design trends tech companies should watch

5 web-design trends tech companies should watch

Design can make or break web and mobile start-ups these days. But the problem is: It’s not always clear how to improve the design of web sites, mobile apps and connected devices. Is it just about making them cleaner, more streamlined, and less cluttered?

We talked with some of our favorite tech designers and came up with a list of five key trends. Yes, all of them could fall under the broad heading of “simplicity,” but making a site less busy does, after all, help highlight what’s important.

Clean icons

art museum

I’m purposely not calling these flat. As designer Henri Liriani explains on Medium, the term “flat” suggests that they are somehow simple or easy. But as any of us who has had to cut down our precious prose knows, restraint is hard and elegance doesn’t come easy. Whether designers like it or not, iOS7′s design will force them to also create cleaner icons, lest their skeumorphic creations look like tacky dinosaurs in Apple’s clean interface. Expect more minimalist icons that are easily recognizable across platforms and across the color wheel.

Bold colors


Speaking of the color wheel, unless you want your app to be invisible, it must be rendered in color. If you’re like many people, your app dock these days is probably a sea of blue. Apple’s new design is a boon for color theoristsIt flouts conformity by dramatically increasing the range of acceptable hues, including some at-first jarring pastels. While traditional app colors like blue suggest reliability, they also infer the status quo. Using bright colors can provide a visual indication that something new is in the works. I’m not advocating Yahoo purple—but at least it had people talking. Fuchsia, anyone?

Data integration

D3.js JavaScript library allows designers to integrate data right into the page.

More and more, designers will use toolkits like D3.js (see pictured above for some of the options it offers) to bring data directly into their web design. Instead of creating data visualizations in other software and uploading them onto a website, data-driven elements are part of the web page from the start. The result: interactive data visualizations that are also crawlable, meaning they can be found through a search engine. Tools like this continue the trend of making data part of the design process, not an afterthought.

Web typography

edge_webfonts_selection adobe

Web fonts used to mean a handful of glorified print fonts that were simply digitized for the screen. That meant many of the design elements that made text beautiful in print failed to shine in pixels. Now, font foundries like Hoefler & Frere-Jones and Adobe (sample above) are creating in-browser web fonts that are built for any and all screens. The proliferation of web-safe fonts presents all kinds of new possibilities for making fonts look as attractive as the content it’s expressing. Keep an eye out for more expressive fonts and larger font sizes.

Parallax scrolling

Snowfall cover image

Parallax scrolling—a trick used in animation when background images move more slowly than the foreground text—is tricky. If it’s not done right, your website becomes dizzying—no better than a PowerPoint with race-car sounds for transitions. But done well — like in the New York Times’  ”Snowfall” or The Verge’s arcade piece—it creates an immersive experience, and punctuates a story with necessary breaks, transitions and visual cues. As with everything tech, less is more. So while parallax scrolling is helpful and in vogue, don’t go nuts with it.