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How to let content drive website design

How to let content drive website design

Attorney websites are primarily informational. Law firms do not sell anything online directly, and while a firm's site will promote certain practice areas, its tactics must be different than those of a band touting its latest album or a restaurant advertising new menu items. Since the quality of information on a site plays an active role in determining whether or not a visitor will convert, website design must provide a showcase for quality content.

Content marketing is not new; good marketing companies have long stressed the need for high-caliber copy. But given its importance, the role of content in the web design process has, until recently, been surprisingly limited. Designers would create a nice header and logo, place some widgets in a sidebar (or two) and plop a footer at the bottom. What was left – the “content area” in the middle – was then stuffed with text. Squeezing all content into a single box - regardless of length - ignores the reader's experience. How does such placement affect readability? Does it compromise the site's ability to communicate?

Creating a rigid page structure first actually places emphasis on the design elements that allow a visitor to leave a page. Links in the header and sidebar direct users away from the content they (in theory) came to read. Instead, start with content. Build from a solid foundation, giving priority to the visitor's experience. Make sure pages are easy to read, easy to understand and capable of directing users to perform a set of desired actions. Having with a clear understanding of what a site must say from the beginning helps the design process flow smoothly; graphics, typography and layout will all support the content.

Putting content first opens up the potential for truly creative design solutions. Once you have cleared your mind of traditional structures, you can analyze ways in which to display content free from preconceived notions of appropriate website layout. Only by focusing on visitors and their relationship with content can you produce an effective website.

Anticipate the needs of potential clients and develop content that answers those needs. Consider the following:

  • Why do potential clients come to you website?
  • What are some of the most common questions clients ask and how can those be addressed through your site's content?
  • What action(s) do you want a visitor to take?
  • What services (if any) would you like to emphasize?
  • Is your content readable? Does it lend itself to easy scanning?
  • Are calls to action clearly worded? Do they stand out visually?
  • Are you being too clever for your own good? Creativity helps make a site memorable, but too much inventiveness can produce a product that is confusing and unsuccessful.

Give content its due – it is the foundation, not an afterthought.