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Taking a content-first approach to website planning

We take a content-first approach to website design. From experience we know that planning the content from the get-go results in a smoother website design and development process and better outcomes for our clients.

What do we mean by content first?

When planning a website the process starts with determining what content should be included before considering the structure or design stage. By content, we mean any element that can go on a web page or screen. So we’re talking about text, photography, charts, videos, infographics, illustrations and audio.

While text is a given for a website, the other content elements will depend on your industry, target audience and website goals. The main objective is to achieve the right mix of content to allow your audience to make an informed decision that prompts them to take action. For instance, a hotel needs to provide good quality photos of its rooms and food to encourage potential guests to make a booking, and a location map is a must.

Sometimes photography is not the best option, and other visual devices are more appropriate. For example, a tech-based business may benefit from more detailed visuals, such as infographics and diagrams that explain how a product works.

The good thing is that it’s not necessary for all of the content to be produced before the design begins, as it will slow down the process. The idea is to work through what is needed so that there are no surprises to ‘work in’ at a later stage.

Why does content first improve web design outcomes?

With a content plan and structure determined at an early stage, the visual design will be able to work harder to achieve the overall goals of the website, and will benefit from avoiding those extra additions that may hinder the design.

Imagine creating a fantastic design that everyone loves, to discover a vital piece of content that hasn’t been included. Unplanned additions can upset the balance of how the design and content come together. For the website team, it means adjusting templates and cutting or creating more content. And we know there’s no quick fix.

A content-first approach certainly doesn’t sacrifice the design, in fact, it helps to create a better user experience. It’s when design comes first that there is more likely to be a disconnect between the two, causing frustration for the user.

Picture the result of creating a product’s packaging before the product is produced. Without the knowledge of dimensions or weight, you could be faced with squashing a product into something that’s too tight or flimsy. A bad fit will mean a lot of jiggling around with amendments or a complete redesign. It’s the same for a website – poor planning leads to inefficiencies in time and budget and a substandard outcome.

Adjusting the balance

Even when taking the content-first approach, we always find there is a bit of tweaking that’s needed once the content is on page, but not to the same extent as if the design came first. Maybe a heading that appears perfect within your word document looks too long and clunky within the design, or a few words need to be cut or added to help the visual balance of the text. Content and design should always work together, but it is easier when content comes first.

Our 5-step approach to content-first website design

As a creative agency we never underestimate the value that visual design plays within a website, but we appreciate what value content planning can achieve. Here is our five-step process to website content planning:

  1. Understanding the client’s objectives and website goals
  2. Developing a site plan based on the objectives
  3. Working with the client to determine the content required in the site plan
  4. Refining the content mix to ensure the site is user-centric
  5. Providing support with content creation

While it’s easy to be side-tracked by the attraction of the visual design, by making content your priority, you’ll be on your way to creating a user-friendly and time-effective website that has the best chance of ticking all the boxes with your visitors.

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