Tag: content management system

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.

5 Things You Wish You Knew Before Hiring a Web Developer

So you’ve decided to hire a web developer to build a site for your business. Trouble is, there are lots of web development companies out there. From graphic design studios to photoshop studios to freelance front end developers on Upwork, choosing the right team (or person) can seem overwhelming.

There are even variations among freelancers and among agencies. Everyone does web design differently!

A lot of small business owners just sit back, shrug their shoulders, and say, “Well, that option makes sense. I guess we’ll go with it.” Then they hope for the best. Sometimes, it works out. But other times, well…

Let’s just say that many wish they’d chosen differently – or at least done more research before making such a consequential decision.

Just like buying a hatchback, trying a low-carb diet, or getting your kid a hamster, hindsight is 20/20 when you hire a web design company. You’ll have several, “I wish I knew ____ before ____” moments. It’s normal.

Unless, that is, you read through the 5 “wish you knews” we’re about to cover. And internalize them. And keep them close.

You’ll be far more prepared than the typical small business owner boarding the new website train. You’ll also be empowered to make the best decision for you, your brand, and your business. Let’s get started!

1. Web design and development can take forever… or no time at all.

Hire a big design agency with a complicated chain of command, and you’re bound to spend weeks or months waiting for your new website. That’s not the case all the time, but it’s common.

Big design agencies typically have multiple people working on your project. First, there’s the salesperson, who sets expectations for what the process is like and what your website might look like. Then you meet a project manager who gathers requirements. After that, you work with copywriters, designers, and the project manager at the same time as things get sorted out. There are wireframes, mockups, and weekly dial-ins. After that, they send your project off to developers. You typically don’t talk to the developers, though. They’re off practicing the dark arts coding in a dimly lit room.

And if your agency has high turnover, you might have multiple project managers throughout the life of the thing.

The good news is that you might really love your website after it’s done. The bad news is that you typically wait a really really long time.

You might think you can avoid this scenario by hiring a freelancer or, *gasp* using a low-cost website builder. Unfortunately, there are problems with these options as well.

A freelancer is not a freelancer is not a freelancer. Some are speedy and talented. Others are talented but also slow and unresponsive. And those website builder tools? They might not result in the website you want as quickly as you want it. There’s still a learning curve, and it’s not uncommon to spend days – weeks even – trying to make something that doesn’t look generic and doesn’t compromise on your vision.

With those concerns in mind, here are some ways to avoid an interminable website build process:

  1. Talk to a web design company’s past clients to find out how long their build process lasted.
  2. Ask companies on your short list why projects often get delayed. When you know the potential pitfalls ahead of time, you can take steps to avoid them (or hire someone else).
  3. Start with a requirement for when the website needs to be complete. Tell the companies you might hire, “I need my website launched by [specific date]” and see if they flinch.

We actually think one week is a reasonable timeframe for building most business websites.

2. Plan to collaborate.

Wouldn’t it be nice if hiring a web designer was like hiring a cleaning crew? You’d just greet them at the door, go about your business, and pay them when they were done. They get in and get out – no collaboration needed.

If only.

When it comes to building a new website, plan on having some pretty detailed collaboration with the web design company. Whether the collaboration occurs online or over the phone, you’ll be communicating with the company about:

  • Brand attributes, including voice, style, and tone
  • Specific business goals related to the website
  • Logos, colors, and layouts
  • Content, including language, images, and videos that appear on specific pages

And so on. The designer can’t know all of this stuff without asking you, so it’s a good idea to gather as much information as you can before the project kicks off.

Content, in particular, is something you’ll need to have a handle on from the get-go. Speaking of…

3. Content creation is hard.

Not only is it hard – it’s often the most time-consuming aspect of the website design process. Thinking back to #1 above, content creation (or a lack of it) is notorious for delaying a new website beyond its anticipated launch date.

That might sound scary, but you know what? You can avoid the “content purgatory” that plagues so many website builds. Here’s how:

  1. Choose a web designer that uses a content-first approach. The alternative is design-before-content, which could leave you with a design that fails to accommodate the content you need to publish. That scenario leads to eleventh-hour design tweaks, which means more waiting and more delays.
  2. Start thinking about content long before you hire a website company. If you can’t have all your content ready before connecting with a designer, at least have a sense of the number of pages, their tentative titles, and what sorts of elements (text, images, video) should appear on the page.
  3. Even better: Write all of your content before the designers start creating wireframes. That way your design will definitely accommodate your content and there’s zero chance of a content-related delay.

And if the thought of writing your own content makes you want to hide in the corner, you can always hire a copywriter to create the content for you.

4. Flexibility matters.

Behind most modern websites is a content management system, or CMS. It’s the software or website back-end you use to add pages, publish blogs, upload images, and tweak headlines. A really flexible CMS will even let you modify aspects of your design without writing code like CSS, HTML, and Javascript.

So, why should you be thinking about a CMS before choosing a designer? Because choosing a designer who uses a proprietary CMS is usually a mistake.

And you might not know you’re stuck with a proprietary CMS until it’s too late.

What is a proprietary CMS? It’s a CMS that one company created and one company controls. Want to add a page? You’ll need to get in the company’s support queue because they’re the only ones who know how to add one. Need to fix a layout problem right away? Good luck. Get in the queue. Nobody else can help you except for one company.

It’s like buying an appliance that only one mechanic can knows how to fix. Oh, and he’s booked well into next month. Closed on Sundays, too.

And if the company goes out of business, well…

The point is that you want a flexible CMS. Something that lots of designers and developers use. Here are some things to ask prospective web designers:

  • Do you use a proprietary CMS? If the answer is no, they might say something like, “We use an open source CMS.” Or they might say they use “WordPress” or “Drupal.” This is a good sign. Those are flexible systems that many designers and developers use.
  • Does your CMS allow me to update my own content?
  • Will you train me on how to use the CMS?
  • Do I own my content if I decide to have someone else design my website in the future?
  • Do I have to sign a contract?
  • Is there a mandatory maintenance/hosting/support fee? If there is, how much is it?

You might be thinking that out-of-the-box website builders with low monthly subscriptions are a good alternative. They’re billed as “easy to use,” right?

The thing about those tools is they might give you lots of flexibility on content, but they don’t give you much flexibility when it comes to design. Can you easily add blogs posts and tweak page titles? Yes. Can you add a new page layout to accommodate a new service or promotion you’d like to highlight? Probably not.

In their own way, DIY website builders are just as inflexible as a proprietary CMS.

5. Quality varies among web developers so be sure to scrutinize.

How do their websites look? Good? For that matter, how does the web developers own website look? It’s important.

In one sense, quality is in the eyes of the beholder. If you feel like a website has a nice look, simple navigation, and an overall professional “feel,” that might be enough.

But there’s more to quality than how a website looks and feels.

There are also things like…

  • Performance across devices – is the experience consistent on a desktop computer and a smartphone?
  • Underlying code – is it clean and efficient or messy and full of scripts?
  • Search engine optimization – does the CMS accommodate basic on-page SEO best practices?
  • Previous projects – Do they have a portfolio of previous website projects they can show you?
  • Time – How much time do their typical website projects take? And does it differ depending on if you need an express website job or if you have a large project?
  • Job Status – Are they a full-time web developer or building websites on the side?
  • Job Description and skillset – Are they a full-stack developer that knows different programming languages like Ruby on Rails and Python? Or just a developer that can build your website in Wix?
  • Process – Can they handle building the entire website themselves or will they be working with different people to build the website?
  • Payment – Do they charge by an hourly rate? If not, try to determine the starting point from a price perspective. Also, see if they break your website cost into multiple payments. Many web developers will create milestone payments which is simply a payment schedule that is aligned with the different stages of the website development.

You might not be an expert on these things, and you don’t have to be. But the designer you choose should know all about them and be able to explain why their websites excel on every quality-related front. The more they know, the fewer mistakes they will make when you hire them. Ask them!

Ok. There’s a number 6, too. We’re not quite done.

Here’s the other thing you’ll wish you knew before hiring a web design company: Just how much you were going to love your new website. Because you know what? You are going to love it.

You’ll probably even gush about it to your friends.

As long as you plan for a collaborative, content-first, timeline-driven, high-quality website built on a widely used CMS, you’re going to outrageously happy with the end result. Because if you insist on all of those things, you’re all but guaranteed to connect with a great web design company.

And the whole “I wish I knew ____ before ____” thing? You won’t have to go through all of that.

You’ll just be happy.

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