The Secret to a Great Website Design? Start with This

There are over a billion websites in existence today, up from about 600 million in 2013. And Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day.

The Internet is a crowded place.

To make sure your website stands out, you’ll need more than a trendy design, a fancy logo, and pretty pictures. Capturing the attention of your audience is exceedingly challenging in today’s digital universe, especially when most web users spend less than fifteen seconds or fewer on a web page.

You’ll need great content.

The dirty little secret of web design is that users come for content, not design.

Content is the most important element in web design. And a site with a simple design and quality content performs exponentially better in usability tests than a fancy layout with subpar copy.

But the proliferation of cheap, easy-to-install themes (I’m looking at you, WordPress) has contributed to the myth that content is a secondary consideration.

Indeed, even many experienced designers create their wireframes and mockups with “lorem ipsum” filler text. While this may be more expedient, it often results in an aesthetically pleasing, but practically useless website design where content is treated as a commodity.

Stuffing a Theme

More than a quarter of all websites on the Internet use some form of WordPress. It takes little effort, technical skills — or money — to launch a new WordPress website. Today.

One can find hundreds of pretty themes, many of which have one thing in common: Photos are the main design component.

But what happens to the design when you replace those stock images with your own? In many cases, the theme designer chose images that match the color palette of the design. And in almost all cases, you’ll be letting the design drive the content, not the other way around.

Which often translates into ill-fitting images, awkward white spaces, and the opportunity for filler text to go terribly wrong.

And the chances your content will fit the same space as the placeholders in a theme are slim. In fact, in most cases, design restructuring is necessary to give some semblance of order.

Consider that many of these theme designers have day jobs at web design agencies, they’re likely operating in the same manner with paying clients. Why? Because sales execs and project managers often urge designers to deliver designs, wireframes, and mockups as quickly as possible to show impatient clients. Unfortunately, spending time on content slows down the completion of these deliverables.

Content-First Strategy

In an ideal situation, you should begin by enlisting help from a content development specialist. This doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should, even with many professional web design companies.

Writing for the web, or for that matter, any medium, takes knowledge and experience. Few web designers are writers and relying on them to write your web copy is a scary proposition.

Beyond the standard “About Us” and “Services,” a website is full of interfaces that need proper attention if you expect anyone to use it. If your site requires data input, for example, there are calls-to-action, button text, and labels that if sloppily written, reduce your site’s efficacy.

Begin your content development with a purpose:

What does this site need to do for you? Then create your content around that purpose and goals. Take an inventory of everything that needs to be included to fulfill the site’s purpose, then determine how that content will be structured as pages and how each page relates to each other.

What is your brand promise? How exactly do you want to communicate that promise to your website visitors?

Be mindful that you will update and change your site’s content as it’s being developed and even after its launch. An important aspect of website design that’s lost on so many business owners is that a website is never finished. You’ll keep adding and removing content, making revisions, adding new elements — and that’s okay.

Help People Find your Website

One of the most important factors in your site’s search engine ranking is quality content.

In fact, content is one of Google’s most important ranking factors according to Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google.

Websites with rich, relevant subject information are the type of websites that search engines love. Get your content right and you’ve created a solid foundation from which to build your search engine optimization efforts.

While a lot of importance is given to keyword placement. But remember that writing for your audience, and in the correct tone and language, should be the most important consideration. Your site’s content should focus on your visitors’ interests, address the question of what’s in it for them, and solve their problem.

With that said, if you want your web pages to be found for particular word searches, it’s a good idea to include those words in your copy, headings, and page titles. How much the keywords should be used is a hotly debated topic. The best practice is to write for people, not for search engines. Your visitors will tell the difference.

Paul Boag has been building websites since 1994 and has written numerous articles and books on web design. In one of his pieces on content strategy, he remarked, “After 20 years building websites for clients, I’m still amazed at how completely clients underestimate the work involved in creating content for their website. I’m also gobsmacked every time a client happily pays for design and development, but won’t spend a penny on content creation.

As I’ve said before, it’s fairly simple to build a website in this day and age. But it’s not so easy to build an exceedingly good one that fulfills its purpose and meets business goals.

You can choose to put in the effort required to create great content on the front side and build a website that engages your audience. Or choose to take the seemingly easy path with pre-built themes and poor content. The latter may result in a website, but its efficacy is likely to be questionable.