Content-First Web Design is The Best Web Design. Here’s Why.


Imagine you write for a major news magazine. You just returned from Canada’s central provinces, where you were investigating a high profile heist involving truckloads of maple syrup and hockey sticks. It’s a big story, and you’ve got all the goods on the perpetrators. You prepare a draft and send it to your editor.

But when she sends it back, something is wrong. She removed all the juicy parts – the stuff that exposes the bad guys! It’s just… gone. The story isn’t even interesting anymore.

You run to her office to ask what happened. “Why did you eliminate entire sections of my story?” you ask.

“Well,” she says. “We just redesigned the magazine. Your story doesn’t fit the new layout, so I had to make some changes.”

In other words, the magazine decided to prioritize the packaging of its content over the substance of its content. Game-changing journalism? Pah. “Look and feel” is the new muckraking. Who needs investigative reporting when you’ve got a snazzy new layout?

No serious news magazine would ever do this.

And neither should you. When you prioritize the design part of a website design project, you do so at the expense of your content. That’s risky because:

  • Your content is the embodiment of your brand.
  • Content conveys your value proposition.
  • Your audience uses your content to understand the benefits of hiring you or buying from you.
  • The quality of your content helps you optimize search engine visibility.
  • Content provides a basis for growing and mobilizing a social media following, if that’s something you plan to do.
  • Content forms the substance of your website, providing insights to (and meeting the needs of) your audience.

And so on. The bottom line is that you need to prioritize content during your web design project. You – or someone else – should create it before any web designers or web developers start building your new website.

When you don’t prioritize content, bad things happen.

Snubbing your content can result in all sorts of negative scenarios. Most of them fall under two categories:

1. Delaying your launch date

At a lot of agencies, web design projects never launch on time because the content isn’t ready. The client ends up with a nice-looking new design, but it’s full of placeholder text and stock images. Now the client has to replace all of that stuff with the real content.

That might not sound like a big deal, but it is. Creating content is hard.

Take copywriting. It’s a skill that diligent creative professionals hone and perfect over many years (and bonfires of crumpled drafts). Most people don’t realize how difficult it is until they try to do it themselves… and can’t.

And what about images? Choosing good photos is time consuming, and it takes even longer when you have to crop, resize, and optimize those photos for the web. The same goes for video production. It’s easy to make a video. It takes a long time to make a video that you deem good enough for your website.

The outcome of all these difficulties? A delayed launch date.

2. Failing to convey your message

Think back to our fictional example of the news magazine. Know what happened when that magazine published a boring story because the good version didn’t “fit” the new layout? Nobody read it. Nobody shared it. Nobody cared.

Because it was boring.

In many cases, it simply isn’t possible to squeeze your message into a design that wasn’t created to accommodate it. Sure, you’ll end up publishing some kind of message. But it might not be the one your audience needs to hear.

You might find there isn’t enough space to say what you need to say, where you need to say it. Or that you’re adding superfluous language here and there around your site, just because the design requires it.

In the end, it’s the wrong message for your business and your audience. The new layout might look good. But nobody reads it. Nobody shares it. Nobody cares.

To avoid these problems, create your content first.

That way, web designers understand the message you need to convey – and how you plan to convey it – before creating the packaging for that message. You also get a website that does the best possible job of addressing business goals and audience needs.

And if your launch gets delayed, it won’t be because of content.

So, what does a content-first approach to web design look like? That depends on the agency or design team you choose to work with. Everyone does things a little bit differently. As long as you partner with someone who follows some kind of content-before-design approach, you’ll be better off than those (most companies, really) who don’t.

At One Week Website, we actually offer two tracks for content and design. Both use a content-first process, but one involves hiring a writer to create most of your content. The other is a guided, DIY content creation program that helps you produce content that meets business goals and audience needs before any designing happens on our end.

Content-first isn’t industry-normal yet, but it should be.

When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We’ve all heard that one.

Well, the same thing is true in the website design business. When you’re a design agency, every problem looks like a design problem. The thing is, a lot of website design problems are actually content problems. They just look like design problems because that’s what web designers know the most about.

The good news is that it’s easy to solve those problems by prioritizing content. Insist on a content-first approach for your new website design. In the end, your audience will love your website a whole lot more.

And your balance sheet will look just as good as your new design.

Avatar for Danny Peavey

Danny Peavey

Danny is the founder and CEO of One Week Website. He is also a certified StoryBrand Guide. When he's not talking about clear messaging or marketing, you can find him drinking amazing coffee, shooting hoops, and spending time with his family.


  1. Avatar for Mickey Mellen Mickey Mellen on September 26, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    I love the analogy of the news magazine! It’s completely ridiculous, but that’s exactly what people often do on the web. Well said.

    • Avatar for Danny Danny on September 26, 2017 at 7:01 pm

      I love it too! Thanks for reading!

  2. Avatar for Elizabeth B. Jamison Elizabeth B. Jamison on October 3, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Excellent point about content. I agree with Mickey. Great analogy.

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