I have managed hundreds of website projects over the years and gathering the content for a new site is arguably the most painful part of working on a website redesign. It’s also probably the most common reason for a launch to be delayed. The reason for this is that content has become an afterthought in the website redesign process. It’s common practice to design what your website will look like and then shoehorn content to fit the designs. And while common, it’s a pretty backwards way of thinking about things. The reason visitors are coming to your website in the first place is the content so you shouldn’t discount its importance.
Enter: The Content-First Approach
This approach to a website project makes content the primary driving force in the process instead of design. The general flow for building a website in this manner is:
- Define the audience and their goals
- Define a model and specification for the content required to serve the audience and their goals
- Write the content
- Define the Information Architecture and create low fidelity wireframes or priority guides that show this content structure in a web context
- Create visual designs that add branding, imagery, colors and refined layout to the wireframes
- Build the website to display the content in the CMS
- Quality assurance
- Go live
The areas where this varies the most from the traditional method is moving up the priority of the content and modeling your content before you write it.
Traditional vs. content-first approach
This really allows you to provide a better overall user experience because it puts much more emphasis on content that will best serve the needs of your target audience. By having all of the content up front, you are able to display it in the best light. It is far more effective to use design to emphasize an important piece of copy instead of feeling forced to write something to go into a feature box that has been predetermined on a page.
The structure of the content is also important. By defining a meaningful and consistent structure to your content, you can identify opportunities for reuse. This will simplify development as well as content editing and management efforts in the future.
Benefits of Content-First Design
Save Time (and Budget): Having content before you design page layouts means no need to rework templates when you realize your content doesn’t fit the designs – or realizing too late that you need to add budget to design and build additional templates. Depending on your CMS platform, you may also be able to enter content much earlier in the process, saving time during the Development/QA phase later on.
Design a Better Information Architecture: Use your content to build logical user flows and organize content in a logical way that helps your visitors easily find what they are looking for.
Provide a Better, More Consistent User Experience: Having all of the content up front allows you to review and organize it in a way that users can easily move through. You can identify consistent ways of presenting information so that a visitor quickly learns how to get what they need out of your site. This allows you to minimize redundancy and eliminate irrelevant content. It also helps to strengthen your brand from a visual perspective.
Enjoy a More Creative Design: A web designer can feel handcuffed to rigid templates and wireframes when they don’t know what the content is going to be. They need to keep things boxed in and provide locations for content to go. When we flip this process around, they already know what content will need to be displayed, allowing them to present it in a more effective and creative manner.
Eliminate Surprises: Having content ahead of time removes a lot of potential obstacles that could delay your launch, such as not having it ready to populate into the site, or realizing it doesn’t fit your designs once you enter it.
While it can be difficult to convince a team to provide the content ahead of time, the time and budget savings alone really make it worth putting in the effort up front.