5 tips to get you thinking about content

When we first engage with clients, the look and usability of a website are usually high on the agenda, but is there something else you should be paying attention to as well?

Design Development News Opinion

Typical project enquiries can range from freelance journalists to enterprise-level organisations—all with varying scope and requirements. But often the one thing that is almost always underestimated is content.

It’s not because it isn’t important, or that it hasn’t been thought about already, it’s just a lack of understanding about how and where it fits into the process of creating a new website. I believe it’s easier for most people to understand and discuss the visual elements of a website when starting a new project.

Before I start, it’s certainly worth remembering at this point that content strategy is by no means an easy thing to tackle, but you can and should be at least considering it. This post contains some general advice on how to organise your content, how you’d like it to be presented and how it fits into the design process. Great content doesn’t just happen by chance—thinking about it at the beginning of a project means you are in a stronger position to make decisions, which will hopefully make your website shine.

Parveender Lamba on pixabay

Content is king

Why so? Because a website without content is a bit like having a shop without merchandise. Can you imagine? You wouldn’t get someone to build and fit out a new shop and then think, right, I’ll go and find something to fill the shelves right at the end. You’ll probably know your products inside out before you’ve even found the shop location!

Or what about if that new shop is full of merchandise, but is a badly organised jumble sale with no organisation or structure. Where do you start to look for that item you wanted? Either way, content is important! Below I touch upon a few tips that might just help.

Start by asking yourself some simple questions.

1. Are you sure you need all of the content on the current site?

Try looking at your Google Analytics to see what content actually gets visitors. Be firm with yourself, if the content doesn’t have any real value or is it outdated, think about archiving it. If there is a migration as part of a new website, think carefully about what you can omit, otherwise, you might find costs increasing. In some cases, it might be impractical to migrate certain content from your current site depending on the structure. It’s often not about what you think you need but what you actually need.

2. Do you have a sitemap?

Sounds obvious, I know. A sitemap is fairly easy to create, people have all sorts of methods to do it—even scribbling something on a piece of paper can work. It’s a great visual reference for non-technical and technical people alike, so they can easily understand the relationship between different pages. It’s sometimes overlooked or not focused on enough.

Try creating one by using post-it notes so you can quickly move things about. Start with the home page at the top and work your way down by adding primary and secondary navigation groups. Once you’re done, you can use a variety of applications available to build it out digitally and share.

There are lots of methods to build a sitemap, here are a few to try:

3. Do you have a simple way to visualise the structure of your content?

You’ve got your sitemap but you need to be able to clearly identify the different groups of content in more detail. This will help to shape the various templates needed in the design phase of a project. If you can’t demonstrate this, your content can get confused very quickly. For example, it could help you understand what will be new content, what has been migrated from an old site and what content is being brought in from third-party suppliers.

Try creating a very simple spreadsheet based on your sitemap and mapping the content you have or wish to include in your future site. Use simple content groupings based on main and subcategories. Your aim should be to develop a visual structure and pattern to enable project stakeholders to clearly understand the site. The more people involved in a project, the more likely the structure will change, but if you have something visually easy to understand it should be easier to update.

4. What content types do you want?

Content is not just about pages with words and a few pictures. Often you’ll need to consider things like infographics, embedded content like audio and video or maybe even external RSS feeds you’d like to display. There are lots of different content types, so try keeping a record of all of them and maybe who’s responsible for them, you’ll be surprised how the list quickly grows. It’s also important to understand or at least have an idea of where and how you’re likely to display the different content types. Try to visualise a page on your website and how you might want to position a YouTube video or even an image. Just considering it at this stage will help.

Jessica Henderson on Unsplash

5. What comes first, the design or the content?

It’s the classic chicken and egg situation. They both come at the same time—it’s a collaborative process that involves a team of people, not just the designer. We often have to work on the design phase without any or only limited ‘real’ content, which means we have to fill the gaps and make assumptions about content, which can be dangerous and even time consuming, as assumptions are made, which can inevitably increase the number of design iterations.

The difference between which information is and isn’t displayed can greatly impact how a card-based design pattern will work. Remember, Lorem ipsum will only get you so far, so use real content to give you a chance to flag issues early on, or identify an edge case you hadn’t considered. Think of your content as your product—and focus on it!

The devil as always is in the detail

Hopefully, this post gets you thinking about content in an entirely new way. Content isn’t some isolated element that you tack on at the end of a project, it has to be central to your site—considered and integrated into each phase. At the heart of any great looking website there is great content. So the next time you find yourself absorbed in a website full of engaging content, remind yourself of the effort that’s gone into creating it!

Featured image credit: Josh Edgoose on Unsplash

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