I’ve been building web sites professionally for close to seven years now and I’ve recently gained a renewed perspective on the most important and fundamental aspects to any site. They are the things that will take a web site from good to great. They are the facets that are often overlooked and neglected, particularly when overshadowed by technology, and yet make the biggest impact on the user over anything else. They are the things that will truly and unequivocally set a site apart from its competition and lead to real, tangible results for the client.
These are the five most important aspects of any web site and without them, a site will never achieve its full potential.
Content is design and without content up front, there is no design. Confused much? Let me put it this way: how can any designer be expected to craft a beautiful design without actually knowing what content is? How can they read the minds of the client and guess what’s to go on a page? And more to the point, how can they be expected to create something truly engaging that connects with the audience without knowing exactly, right down to the last word, illustration or photo, what they’re designing for? Content is the plan that designers work with, the bricks and mortar they build with and the alcohol that they party with. Without content, there is fundamentally no design.
Content is functionality and functionality is a lot easier to spec, plan and build when you know exactly what you’re working with. Functionality should not dictate content, it shouldn’t be dreamt up by some developer sitting alone in a dark room, it should be be determined by the needs of the content. Building a case study plug-in? Write the content first. Creating a CRM? Find out what content you need first. Without good content upfront, functionality becomes nothing more than a set of rules to adhere to, restricting and stunting growth.
Content is marketing and marketing is all about getting people to think your shit is cool enough to share, tweet, like, +1 and otherwise scream to the world about. You can have the biggest budget, the best designers, the most talent developers and the most downright devious and cunning marketers but without awesome content, your marketing plan is going nowhere.
Content is engagement and engaging people is good. Good content will engage your users and visitors in the long run more than anything else, encouraging them to return time and time again. People aren’t dumb or shallow so don’t treat them that way. They can tell the difference between bland stock photography and real, honest photos and illustrations. They enjoy reading well-written, engaging text that has a bit of personality and life to it and are turned off by bland, patronising corporate text. If you want people to love your site, give them something they can actually get excited about and engage with.
Content is results both for you and the client. And by results, I of course eventually mean money. Not only does well-crafted and well-thought out content ultimately lead to a better product for the client (and hence better design, functionality, marketing, engagement and ultimately sales) but it will make the entire life cycle of the project that much easier to manage. Content should be the backbone to your entire web strategy and the dictate every facet of it. Generating proper content upfront will not only improve your offerings but also your workflow which in turn reduces design reworks, functionality errors and marketing mistakes. Focus on content and everything else will fall into place.