Blog: Web Design

Why You Should Be Gathering Web Content Early

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

There’s something amiss about the way most of us are designing and producing websites today.

I’ve been noticing it for a long time, and it’s something that almost every designer I know is guilty of.

I can’t even say I’m calling anyone out on this, because it feels like 95% of freelancers, agencies, and consultancies are guilty of this practice.

In my eyes, it’s one of the biggest opportunities our industry has to deliver better projects for our clients and reduce our internal stress. As web professionals, we need to be gathering web content much earlier in our projects than we are.

If we could change this one thing, we would be able to have better informed client designs. Both we and our clients and ourselves would be more organized and less stressed during projects.

Raise Your Hands If You’ve Been Guilty of This

Like I said, no shame in admitting that this is how things go most of the time. I guarantee most of us do this.

But it feels like the finished products we’re handing off to our clients could be even better if we could fix this one step in our workflow.

Downfalls Of Waiting For Content

  • Project launches are delayed while waiting for content, or correct content, or lengthy content to be delivered.
  • Designers spend time and effort building around perfectly formatted content, when in reality, the content the client will use looks nothing like that.
  • Because of this, the design is not as well informed as it could be. It may not fit the tone, voice, size or shape of the content.
  • Even worse, sub-par content must be used for launch because it arrived late and there is no time to review. Which leads to…
  • The client design objectives are not met, because the content was not effective as it could have been. The last minute content may have a voice, tone or language that conflicts with the aesthetics that have been approved.
  • Without real content in place at the beginning of a project, it is impossible to make decisions about what should be prominent on mobile, and what should not. Mobile is the default use case, not desktop, meaning content-first and mobile-first are tightly coupled.

Every website exists to produce specific actions. Designing around the content enables that.

Benefits of Receiving Content Early On

Most of us are really good at making things look great. We excel at presentation. We design for a living, after all. But if we are simply designing the containers for our content, and using lorem ipsum and stock photos until we have something to drop in at the very last moment, we are missing golden opportunities for designing the content.

I know not everyone looks at words as design, but if the words on a page are hollow, the best visual design in the world won’t make them meaningful. There are at least a few people that also believe this.

Sometimes, clients will have someone on staff who understands their company purpose and has the ability to communicate it well. Other times, clients will need some help verbalizing what they have to say. Why should this aspect of web design be marginalized?

By receiving content early in our design process, we have time to review and edit the copy for clarity and impact. We can see if the words and images move us, or are they simply there.

Getting content early in the design process allows us to build around it, and support it better. If we have the words early on, we have time to put images around them that support the message. If we have video early on, we can build words around those to summarize or extrapolate the story there. If we have images early on, this informs our choices for colors, shapes, and structure. It means that we will receive content that is the right length for where we want to display it, and we will not lose time rewriting it.

Gathering web content early in the process allows us to use it as a foundation for our design structure. Remember, you design the content, not the decor.

There’s two more benefits to beginning with content that we should address.

First, when the client has taken the time to produce content for their website, it shows they have thought about what it is they want to say. It indicates that they have a message that they need to deliver. Businesses that have worked on articulating their voice are great to work with. They can inform you of their reason for existing through their content, and in turn, you will be that much more successful at helping them broadcast their message and move their audience to action.

Second, when you require your clients to deliver their content early on, it forces them to think about what they have to say. It makes everyone evaluate what is essential, and what is merely nice to have. It means that you are holding them accountable for helping to tell their own story. This may require you to draw their story out of them — or it may require you to manage the client as a participant in the project. You will be required to take charge, and help show the client what role they play in a successful project.

This may push some clients out of their comfort zone. This may also push you out of your comfort zone. Many clients do not consider what will go on the page until the project has already been initiated. This is okay. They have come to us in order for us to lead them through this process. We educate them to what we value in design by what we allow and require, and what we do not.

Why Our Industry Has Allowed Last Minute Content For So Long

Every situation is different. But for many of us, content strategy is something that we are still learning about. On a team, visual design or web development are task-oriented skills that we think about daily. But very few teams have a dedicated content strategist to speak up about the importance of content in the design process.

In many cases, we let clients slide on delivering content until the last stages of the project. They signed on the line that is dotted, and now we are on the clock. But they haven’t collected their content and delivered it to us. Time passes. We don’t feel like we can delay finishing the project, because milestone payments are often tied to launching the site. We take whatever content is provided at the eleventh hour and launch anyway. We all have bills to pay, and so we say it will be okay, this time. Before long, this is our natural workflow, and the majority of our projects are waiting on content for the last step. As an industry, we can do better than this.

We are still used to thinking of visual design and web development as the two important aspects of our craft. Yet, content is the only reason anyone comes to a website at all. It takes three legs to make a tripod or make a table stand.

Tools and Workflows

So—when, where and how should we assure that we receive the real content for our web projects?

Ideally, we would have the content at the beginning of a project. That may not be realistic most of the time, so let’s do the next best thing. When we lay out the timeline of a project, let’s designate a point where we can tell the client exactly what we will need from them. The most important content will be delivered early enough to where we can actually design with it. The less important content may be delivered later, but not at the last minute.

This will be a difficult one for most people to commit to, but if we don’t receive content at the time we need it, the project gets put on hold until it can be rescheduled to start. This has to be part of our contracts, and we need to enforce it, or the change in our workflow will never happen.

I think a good place in the process to require content delivery is sometime after discovery and research, and between assessing strategy for reaching site goals, and determining site architecture. At that point, it should be clear what the most important content will be, and which content can wait just a little longer.

There is a nifty tool that exists for assigning, collecting, and managing content that goes by the name of Gather Content. This allows the designer and client to see who is supposed to be producing what and when it is due. It allows the designer to ask for the formats they need and keep everything organized.

What Do You All Think?

I can see this being a controversial subject in our industry, but I’d like to hear what you think. Is it unrealistic to ask for and expect web content early on? Or is it all you can do to get the content you need by the launch date? What benefits or drawbacks do you see to changing your workflow to content-first?

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

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