What's More Important: Website Design Or Website Content

What Comes First: Website Design Or Website Content?

By Nicole StempakNov 12 /2020

The question of what to focus on first — website design or website content — can feel like the debate between the chicken and the egg. But perhaps another analogy more accurate for how you should approach your website is how to organize your bedroom closet.

Your closet will have the basic categories, such as coats, shirts and suits. You likely have additional categories and subcategories, such as dress shoes and tennis shoes. But most importantly, you need a place for everything. If like me, you have already binged The Home Edit’s organization show on Netflix, you’ll know hosts Clea and Joanna advise building a system for the life you already live. You need to create zones to organize and contain everything, working backward from what you have to get to what you need.

The same concept applies to your business website. That means taking stock of what content you have, how people are coming to your site and what needs work. Focus on how to align your website with your business objectives. That, in turn, will give you a sense of how your website can evolve and continue to support your growing business.

It’s a tall order for a website; in many instances, it’s best to start fresh and design a site around your content rather than fit new content into an existing framework. You need to create a flexible structure that focuses on keywords, content and design.

Before You Begin

It’s tempting to dive right in and create a new website, but it’s wise to first understand the parts of the whole. It’s like touring a furnished and unfurnished house: With a furnished house, you can see how everything fits, what elements stand out, where you might place your bed and whether your clothes can fit in the closet. With an unfurnished house, your eyes and brain aren’t locked on a furniture configuration or wall color; it’s a blank canvas to execute a vision.

Similarly, with a website, it can be tempting to see a blank canvas and want to focus on the overall aesthetic, the user interface and gestures. Determining those can make a website feel real or like it’s coming to life. Besides, overhauling the website architecture and rewriting content is a lot less pretty. You’re in the thick of it when you’re reviewing page after page and making sure all content is current and accurate. And if it isn’t, you’re rewriting it. But that’s exactly why you must focus on the content first.

Content guides, informs and even dictates how your new website communicates information, brand mission and value. The content will ensure you don’t stray far from your business objectives during this process. Content engages and inspires calls-to-action. Focusing on content ensures your new website is a combination of both form and function.

This process can initially feel overwhelming and unclear. We recommend you start by focusing on your current and prospective customers. Create personas if you don’t already have them and map out user journeys. This can help identify user needs and give you a new perspective. More importantly, it will help you determine the global navigation and build out wireframes for your website.

From there, you can take inventory of what you have, what you still need and what needs tweaking. And because you’re still in ideation and planning mode, you can brainstorm interactive elements like video or social media feeds and where you want them to appear and on what pages. You can plan new categories or sections based on what’s coming down the pike and consider ways in which the website can grow to support long-term business goals.

Once you have those planned out, it’s time to take what you have and flesh it out at a granular level.

Organic Keyword Research

Your website’s goal is to meet the information needs of users. But first, your potential customers need to be able to find you. That usually happens through search engines like Google that crawl the web and index webpages.

Statistics vary, but generally speaking, at least half of web users only look at the first few results. They don’t bother to look at the majority of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). Therefore, getting ranked — and getting highly ranked — by search engines is important for business, which is why search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial.

The purpose of SEO is to increase the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. Because organic searches are not paid placements or advertisements, they signify genuine interest in the query.

There are many free and paid tools that can help you research which keywords offer maximum effectiveness, such as SEMrush. But first, you must come up with a list of what keywords your website is already ranking well for and which ones you need to improve upon.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start by looking at your own recent search history. Maybe you were looking for something specific and searched by company or product name. Maybe you used a couple of words for the subject, such as “gutter cleaners” and your town. Maybe you asked a question starting with “how to” or “what is.”

Write down terms and questions you think potential customers might use to find you. Enter each of those search terms into a search engine and see where you rank. Make note of where your competitors rank, too. Notice what terms your competitors are using and where they are ranking higher than you. Then work with your team to build and refine your set of keywords.

And to make sure you’re choosing the right phrases, keep these three keyword selection factors in mind.

Website Content

The keywords you identify should help shape your website content. After all, what people are searching for should be your business’s areas of expertise. It’s likely you are already using some of these keywords on your existing website. If not, see if you can incorporate them into existing content or plan new content around these keywords.

To avoid being flagged for keyword stuffing, be selective about how you use them on each individual webpage. Limit yourself to one or two keywords per page and be strategic. In addition to the main text, incorporate the keyword(s) into other fields that can give you an extra SEO boost:

  • Headlines
  • Title tag
  • Meta description
  • Subheadings
  • Image captions or alternate image descriptions
  • Keyword tags

When applicable, link to related content on your website (internal linking) and other relevant content (external linking). Both help boost credibility and can bolster your web page’s ranking.

Above all, don’t force keywords, as it will likely make the content feel stiff and unnatural. Even if search engines don’t flag it for keyword stuffing, it may cause potential customers to spend little time on the page and navigate away from your website after one click.

Additionally, write content that will resonate with your potential customers. Usability.gov, a site focused on user experience best practices and guidelines, offers some advice for writing user-friendly content:

  • Use the words your users use
  • Chunk your content
  • Use active voice
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs
  • Use bullets and numbered lists
  • Use clear headlines and subheads

Writing content for your website is not like writing a term paper or a request for proposal (RFP). It’s more like an executive summary that hits the high notes in a skimmable and easy-to-understand format. Approach writing your website content the same way you would any other marketing material.

By adopting a content-first approach, you are ensuring your website fills a void or solves a need.

Website Design

By this point, you have identified keywords that resonate with your target audience. Your organic keyword research can offer insight into popular terms and labels for your website architecture. You have audited your content and found redundant, outdated and trivial content. You identified information needs and have written fresh copy.

These are all part of your website’s overall look and feel. They should be intentionally designed rather than a crammed afterthought. Be strategic and intentional with the design as you have been with organic keyword research and the content. Make each element of your website work in harmony to serve your overall objective.

When designing for the user journey, pay special attention to CTAs and processes that require multiple clicks, such as the checkout. You need to guide users and create a seamless process. You cannot expect them to be patient or overcome obstacles. Users need to be clearly told what is happening at each step of their journey. Otherwise, they will abandon the process. Once they leave due to a bad experience, it will be difficult to lure them back.

Different sized devices compound the problem of writing to fill or editing to fit. In order to meet users where they’re at, your website must be able to adjust. If your website isn’t responsive, your message can be missed, distorted or cut off. You need to make your users’ visit as easy as possible regardless of how they access your website.

The competition is fierce, and the stakes are high. While white space is important, it will not lead to sales conversions — content will.

Stay Flexible

As you work on your organic keywords, website content and website design, give your business room to grow and change. Don’t create a rigid system or back yourself into a corner where your content feels contrived, artificial or forced. Say what you need to say using language that will resonate with your potential customers.

Use your website content as a means to an end goal. Keep that goal in mind and work backward or around what you already have to get there.

Your content needs should drive your design — but make sure you’re considering a user experience throughout the process. A full-service marketing agency can help you seamlessly navigate this process. Our dedicated team of professionals can help take your brand from zero to hero.

Digital Branding

Nicole Stempak
The Author

Nicole Stempak

Nicole Stempak has spent about five years as a business journalist, where she has covered finances, healthcare and hemp. She reads and writes about content strategy, marketing and advertising on the side and follows way too many brands on social media. She has a master's degree in user experience design and a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from Kent State University, where she developed a fondness for black squirrels.