Five (technical) reasons why you should design an online service content-first

The importance of content as part of meaningful digital marketing is widely understood these days. But you still sometimes run into situations where content is brought up at a very late stage when designing an online service. Even though content has been skimmed over in the concept design stage, you often rush into designing and developing the site without having a sufficient idea of what its content is going to be like.

No matter how agile the development of a website is, its content deserves attention early on in the process. This helps avoid bigger problems with the budget or the schedule. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that, as a representative of a content agency, I believe that the content strategy should always exist before you start designing the website. But even if we look at the issue from a purely technical standpoint, it’s worth prioritizing the content a bit higher on the list and designing the website content-first. Here are five reasons why.

1. Choosing the right platform

When choosing the content management system, you’ll most likely think about whether to pick an open or closed system and what the different platforms cost at different points of their lifecycles. These are obviously extremely important criteria, but often you won’t even think about what kind of content the system will be used to manage. When you know what kind of content the website will serve, you can take the special characteristics into consideration when choosing the system. By doing so, you can avoid situations where the seemingly inexpensive system requires a lot of expensive customization because of the content, or severely limits the actual form of the content.

2. Great conversions

When the content works, the conversions work! Often conversion optimization focuses on things like the layout or changing the look of the buttons. In reality, content plays a central role when it comes to conversions. The content-first approach allows you to work on the user experience and the paths to conversion even before the site is published, which saves you time and money also in post-publication conversion optimization.

3. Avoid problems in content input

If the amount of existing content only dawns on you when the time to start inputting content into the new website has already come, it might already be too late to conduct the extremely useful content audit. Deadlines press on, and in the worst case, the cool new site is completed with copy-pastes of old and most likely suboptimal content.

The amount of time spent on content inputting is often grossly underestimated. When the content has been designed in good time, you can precisely assess the time needed to input it, which is highly likely to save you money and help keep the entire project within the planned time-frame.

4. Understand the possibilities and limitations of the content

In the design-first approach the layout is created using generic placeholder content, which doesn’t present an accurate picture of the service to the client or the technical developer. Adding real content to the finished system then brings about a variety of issues. A typical small issue is the differing length of words in different languages, which can make different sections of the site seem too spacious or too cramped.

Bigger issues arise when, for example, an online store has been designed for a few products, when in reality it needs to display a considerably larger amount of products. In this case, different paging and other such matters are emphasized, and they may not have been thought of during the designing process. Likewise, if you haven’t taken into consideration for example the number of headlines and elements on the front page, you might have to redesign the layout.

5. User testing improves your service

When the content has been planned in good time, you can create functional prototypes of the site with real content early on in the project. And when these prototypes are tested on real users, you can gain extremely valuable insights into the usability of the site or on how easy it is to find the content well before publishing it.

These are the main reasons for taking content into consideration early on enough when redesigning a website. If you have experience from projects where content caught you by surprise at the finish line, do tell us about it in the comments. And if your interest in content-first website design was piqued, contact us.