Design Can Get You to the Door, But Content is the Key

Written By: J Hancock

I’ve said many times that content is more important than visual design, yet as a developer, I find myself nit-picking over the visual layout of my websites. Just this morning, I spent 2 hours trying to make a menu bar move up one pixel. It takes a truly great developer to say “the design is done.” Unfortunately, we fall short of that ideal far too often. I never got that menu bar to work out by the way.

I was taken aback by a comment from a colleague, Bill M., recently. He had asked for a critique on a current project, and after he had some good comments, he said “It’s time to say ‘good enough’ on the design and see about adding some more meaningful content.” What a profound idea; stop fiddling with design and work on the thing that actually attracts visitors to a web site! Being a musician, I had this image of a guitarist tweaking his tone and playing with his effects for hours to get them just right so he can play “Mary had a Little Lamb.” Sure, his tone is perfect and his effects mix is just heavenly, but if he’s not playing something people want to hear, then what’s the point?

This is a mistake that is all too common, and one that I am guilty of as well. With all the new technology available to us; Flash, high speed internet, high resolution monitors and more, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in this concept that visual appeal is the beginning and the end of all things. Yes, visual appeal is important. Good design can draw people in, colors can influence emotion, but all of that is useless unless we have something deeper too offer.

We all have a favorite web site, one we visit on a regular basis. I have two: Killersites.com for the forum and HomeStarRunner.com for comedy. Think about your favorite. Now think about what it is that makes it your favorite. Is it pretty pictures? Is it the neat-o Flash intro? How about the three-column layout? I’d bet a lot of money that the reason it’s your favorite is that it has good, interesting, regularly updated content.

The web was built to exchange information. Millions of people don’t log on every day to see pretty pictures (unless they’re actually looking at art sites). They all log on to see content. They want to read information about things they are interested in. If you want your web site to be popular, fill it with content that people will enjoy reading. It’s really that simple.

Let’s not forget about search engines. All search engines skip past pictures, flash, and layout. They read through your content and assess your website’s value based on that, and how many people link to your site. And, who is going to link to your site if you don’t have good content? Whatever effort you are spending on visual layout, if you aren’t spending at least three times that on crafting quality content, you’re in a world of trouble. So find a point where you can say “the design is done,” and move on to your content. You’re visitors will thank you.
About the Author

Jon Hancock is the president and founder of HighTide Web Services. We are proud to be a fast growing, California based web services firm, offering custom web site development, high quality web site templates from some of the best designers out there, as well as excellent and affordable web hsting.

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