Building a web site: Think content first

When people start thinking about building a web site, they often get caught up in how it will look. The colours, the layout, photography, etc. That stuff can be sorted out later. To start, the most important thing to be thinking of is content.

Do you need an FAQ? Will your staff be committing to blogging regularly? Will there be a description of your company history? The services you offer? Will you have a map of your location?

Providing a complete outline of the content you would like on your site will enable a web designer/developer to determine how much effort is involved in producing the site and will be able to provide you with an estimate. Knowing what content you want on your site, they will also be able to suggest features that you may not have thought about yet.

Should the map on the contact page be an interactive Google Map? Do you want a contact form on the contact page?

Of course, if you think of features you would like, make sure to include them in your outline as well.

A good web site content outline shouldn’t be fancy. It should be a simple list of items. Try to resist the urge to group things together or organize them. It’s best to leave that to the professional who follows the user experience research and understands how people navigate web sites. For example:

  • Message from the president
    • Photo, letter, and signature
  • Management profiles
    • Photo and bio of each individual
  • Current career opportunities
    • Title and description of each career opportunity
  • Our services
    • Design
    • Development
    • Planning
    • Strategy
  • Contact Us
    • Our address, phone, and contact details
    • Map of our location

Once you have a content outline, you should start producing content. You don’t need the web site setup and access to the CMS to produce your content. Hire a copy writer (if you can afford it) or start writing the copy yourself. If you find yourself designing (e.g. drawing boxes, playing with fonts) in MS Word, use a simpler tool. Maybe Notepad (Windows), TextEdit (Mac), or Google Docs. You don’t want to waste time playing designer when you should be focused on your content.

Prepare that letter from the president. Write the management profile bios. Write about your service offerings. Jot down your address info.

If you bring all this ready-made content to a web designer/developer when you first contact them, they may just give you a hug. This is a big head start. It is many times easier to design a web site when you already have the content to fill it. In fact, the design is almost guaranteed to be of superior quality because the designer will be able to focus on designing the actual content instead of inventing imaginary content and designing it (incidentally, great designers are usually very good at inventing accurate placeholder content).

Content is important. Very important. It’s what Google (aka Bing) and other search engines use to determine what keywords bring up your web site and how far down in the results it should sit. It’s what your potential clients or customers will be scanning through, determining if you’re a legitimate business, and whether or not you’re worthy of their patronage.

Before rushing out to find a web designer/developer to build a web site that you needed last week, think about the content your web site should have and write down an outline. Commit to producing quality content. If you hire a copy writer, it will save you time, but you will still need to meet with them, answer questions, and provide direction. Producing quality content requires your time and it’s worth it.