Developing websites is far different than even five years ago. Website technology and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as examples, have changed considerably.
One thing, however, has not changed. Content is still king.
Too often during the website development process, however, business professionals first involve the designer or focus too much on bells, whistles and technical SEO without including the content writer.
This is a grave mistake. Involving the writer early in the process actually helps prevent unnecessary confusion and frustration.
Websites are a form of publishing. In traditional print publishing, the best practice is for writers to create the content first and then the designer develops the layout and chooses graphics that do not compete with text, but enhance the reader’s experience.
This approach also works well with web design because text – and how it is meant to be presented — can affect the site’s look and content placement.
The best way to approach a website is to establish its goals. Any writer or designer worth their salt will ask some of the questions below and offer to help clients answer them if necessary.
Questions should include:
- What is this site supposed to accomplish?
- How does the website work within the company’s overall marketing, communications and branding strategy?
- Who are the readers/potential customers? Reader demographics, pain points and how readers will benefit must be established. Even basic market research can pay future dividends.
- What is the overall message about the company and its products/services to the customer?
- Does this message include the value proposition showing what makes the client unique?
The Designer/Writer Relationship
Introduce the writer and designer as soon as possible to encourage a creative partnership. The writer and designer need to have a shared vision so they can literally be “on the same page.”
During the development process, the designer should be concerned about the site map and material organization. As a natural part of the writing process, however, writers develop outlines similar to site maps to present content logically. Experienced writers will naturally consider the “packaging” of text and how to present it in user-friendly ways. Such writers can already envision reader-enhancing elements such as bullet points, sidebars, graphs, links, etc.
The writer and designer need to have a shared vision
so they can literally be “on the same page.”
When the site map or web organization is being considered independently from the writer, the text might not fit the site’s design. What can be very frustrating, even to writers, is once the site is laid out, words often read differently once online.
Here’s why: When text is written and saved as a Word document, it is being read for its own sake. But when it is placed within the context of visual content, it might not stand out as well.
I find this phenomenon to be more unique to websites than in print publications. Text on websites is competing with a graphical frame of navigation tools, links and other distractions that can carry a reader’s eyes to a different space. This differs newspaper or magazine articles because print advertising does not distract the reader to a new space.
When changes need to be made, it is less cumbersome and more cost-effective if the writer has full access to all of the content instead of changing text in the vacuum of Word files. That way, the writer can make sure that coded headlines or other graphic elements that include text are correct.
More On Graphics
Traditional publishing practice also discourages design approaches that also should be avoided on websites. Since many website developers are technicians and not necessarily publishing designers, graphic elements could be misused.
For example, pictures can be worth a 1,000 words IF they are appropriate to the reader and the text.
Let’s say a site is trying to reach executives who buy workers’ compensation insurance. Since workers’ compensation only covers injuries, illnesses and deaths relating to work, a picture of a person sweeping a non-descript floor doesn’t resonate with the viewer. If the picture shows occupational elements, such as a person wearing a work uniform and/or background of a work area reinforces the subject matter.
I know this sounds obvious, but if you look at pictures on websites, you will be amazed at how the chosen stock photography does not reinforce the message. What amazes me even more is how much stock photography features still poses when readers like to people in action.
Readability is not just a matter of how clearly the text is written…
Readability is not just a matter of how clearly the text is written, how easily it can be understood or even sentence length. Design plays a larger role and can distract the reader away from even the best content. White space is great, but too much white space between paragraphs can interrupt text flow.
Type size and its typeface are extremely critical or the words can become too “noisy.” Some fonts do not leave enough space between sentences. Using reverse type (white on black and other variations) can be very powerful, but too much is difficult on the eyes.
Also, remember to verify the viewabilty of the most important content. Take a look at your site through several browsers and devices to ensure the most important content is not buried, especially when considering viewing from mobile devices.
Keep in mind that people still print off information to read, so how it looks after being printed is also very important. Continuing to focus on the site’s goals and keeping them “top of mind” is essential. It’s too easy to get into the “weeds” of details, go down a tangential rabbit trail and lose direction.
And finally, choose website designers and writers carefully. Readers and search engine algorithms favor quality. Unique design is more memorable. If you hire based on the lowest price, you are more likely to see common designs or content that looks too similar to your competitors. In the future, I will write a blog on how to hire creative talent.
How will you approach your next website differently? Please share in the comments section below.
Like this blog? Then you’ll also enjoy my recent
Leader’s Edge article on digital media marketing.