Death to lorem ipsum: why content must come first in website design

June 10, 2014

Lorem_ipsum_smallAs website content writers and strategists, we’ve been involved in many projects that go like this: An information architecture (the organization or structure of the site) has already been developed, wireframes created, page layouts designed, colors chosen, photos taken and “lorem ipsum” (industry standard “dummy” text) placed throughout. And that’s when we get a call. Our assignment is to write the copy (the text on the page), which will be “flowed in” just before the site goes live.

While this is an incredibly common way to build websites, it’s not the most effective. As Jeffrey Zeldman, author of Designing with Web Standards, once said, “Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” However Zeldman also said, “‘Content’ doesn’t mean ‘having all the copy.’ It means knowing what the site is about, what kinds of information it will present; it also means knowing something about the intended users and what they might want to be able to do on such a website.”

Why content must come first

It’s natural to want to begin with design. Many people—including myself—are visual thinkers. We find it hard to organize our thoughts and conceptualize website pages without first seeing a layout. Design is also fun and exciting. New colors, typefaces and photos bring a project to life in a way that pure text cannot.

And while design is important to the user experience, content is the reason people come to your website. Whether in text or multimedia format, content is the information, explanation or entertainment web visitors seek. So why would you leave that to the end?

How to start with content

Don’t start with your current website (if you have one) or other marketing materials. Instead, focus purely on your business, your customers, and your messages. Ask yourself:

  • Who is our intended audience?
  • What do they know about us?
  • Why would they visit our website?
  • What questions are they trying to answer?
  • What do we want them to know about us?
  • How do we convey and sequence the information for maximum impact?

Then, work with a content strategist who can take the answers to those questions and translate them into an information architecture (a sitemap) and content framework. On one page, text might be the most appropriate content format, but on another a video or an infographic might convey the information more effectively.

Your content strategists and writers should work in tandem with your designers and developers, collaborating on each page’s form, function, content and design. Only then will you arrive at a website with useful, efficient, searchable, accessible and multi-platform content, designed in a way that communicates brand messages and enhances usability.

If you’re planning a website and would like to use a content-first approach, contact me at michelle@rep-ink.com or 904-374-5733.









 
 
 

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About the Author
Michelle Calcote King

Michelle Calcote King is an award-winning marketer with nearly 20 years of expertise in all things marketing, content, media and public relations. Specializing in highly complex industries, she leverages superior writing skills, media savvy and a love of all things digital to move her clients’ businesses forward.

Read my full bio or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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