Content & Design: The Yin and Yang of Great Websites

People around the world view millions of websites daily. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on them very long. What makes them click to another site? Is it the design? The copy? Or, as this article contends, both. To keep a reader engaged, both the copy and the design must be equally compelling or you may very well lose that viewer.

I’ve stressed this many times before, but let me do it one more time for the cheap seats: Hard as this may be to believe, your website may be announcing the cure for cancer but if the site is unappealing or difficult to read, your message will be lost on most visitors. By the same token, if the content isn’t clear and easy to understand even the most visually inspiring page won’t hold the visitor’s attention and your all-important message will be lost on most readers.

While it’s true that web designers control both the look and the functionality of the site, many often make the mistake of not putting enough emphasis on the importance of engaging content. Most designers focus on the user experience which is, of course, all well and good, however, not recognizing that good content is equally as important as good design is a common and fundamental error made in most websites.

Web designers need to take a lesson from advertising art directors who spend much of their time working on print ads or other print collateral pieces such as brochures et al. They generally design for a headline, not just around it. They ensure that the headline is crafted and placed on the page so it stresses the message with the emphasis that was intended. The same should be true for all Web content, headlines and body copy. Creating pages of dummy copy and then having the copywriter fill in the blanks is a foolish mistake in either medium. The practice of using the design of the content to help best communicate the message is known as communication design. While this cross-discipline approach is quickly gaining in popularity, the reality still remains that no matter how well laid out a page is, the most powerful tool available for effectively dispensing information to our audiences is well-written, compelling content.

One of the most valuable tools for creating relevant, compelling content is editing. And not the kind of edits the average reader will point out, but the kind only professional, experienced copywriters and journalists can bring to the party. Trained for many years not only to spot spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, this rarefied group not only knows how to keep your content on track to its intended message but can make your copy easier to read and scan; an important benefit in an arena in which readers grant your content just seconds before moving on to another site.

Of the most common pieces of advice given to any writer–advertising, journalist or novelist–is this one: write what you know. While almost every content writer has heard this sound piece of wisdom, few practice it. They make the mistake of not researching and understanding the product, service or client about which they are charged to write. Often, new Web content is a rehashed version of a client’s old Web content. And while the new version may be more elegant or even more engaging, it will be little or no more effective in communicating what it is that makes this client’s offering special since the writer hasn’t taken to time to learn it himself.

As with most creative efforts, most of us learn to be good at it by first being bad and making lots of mistakes. What counts in each of those efforts is that the writer and the designer alike both use their imaginations; the stuff they’re both supposed to be chock full of. I’m not suggesting that designers be able to write content or that copywriters become expert designers, though a little knowledge of the opposite camp doesn’t hurt. What I am proposing is that copywriters and Web designers need to work together more closely than ever to produce websites that both attract and engage viewers better than ever.