What’s the point of a website?
I don’t think it makes any difference whether your business is B2B, B2C, Third Sector or even just a hobby, getting the right balanced between design and content is important. The fundamental point of every website is to engage with your audience, not just now, but into the future too; so why is it that often, getting a new website for your business is seen primarily as a design project? For most website projects the big focus is on getting ‘look’ using the latest styles and functionality to create a ‘wow’ factor. Yet most visitors to your site aren’t looking to be ‘wowed’, they are looking for your products, services or information about your company. They are looking for the content of your site, and they want that information to be up to date, so is there too much focus on design as a one-off project when the website is built and not enough on the sustained process of keeping your site up to date and relevant? Don’t get me wrong, design is important. A website needs to look the part and reflect your business ethos. However, once the site is built and launched, unless it is regularly updated, your site and your business will start to drift apart. Your site should maintain strong, relevant, up-to-date content, otherwise it will not engage your visitors. Surely engaging your visitors is the point of a website?
A website is for life – at least the life of the website!
Building a new website isn’t cheap so typically a business will want to keep a new site for a while – typically 3-4 years or more, yet so many sites get little or additional content or attention once they are launched. How many businesses don’t change over 4 years? If a website is to be a true reflection of a business, content must evolve. This is the only way a website can effectively communicate up to date marketing messages. The reality is that that design isn’t enough. Evolving, dynamic content is what drives effective communication of marketing messages.
The importance (and value) of content
I will go further: I believe that a site with good content and poor design is likely to produce more than a site with lots of design and poor content – so long as it is navigable! On more than one occasion I have heard corporate clients complaining that small local competitors had websites that performed better than their own. On investigation, the reason is normally that the local competitor site, while not necessarily a cutting-edge design, is simple, to the point and up to date because it is managed and updated in house, while the corporate site is over-designed, over complicated and, because development and updating is handled externally, out of date! In another example, an online retailer ‘upgraded’ their website to a new, design-led site. Sure, on first view, the site looked great but once you started to use the site, you find that valuable product information available previously can no longer be found – is that progress? I had a personal example last weekend…. A group of us went to stay in a B&B in the North East. We booked in mid-January. A few days before our stay, I noticed on the B&B website that all the prices had just been increased. At the end of our stay, we were charged the higher price because:
"The prices went up back in January but it takes ages to get our website updated...."
I’m sorry, that just isn’t good enough! Even a small (and otherwise very pleasant!) B&B should be able to update their own prices on their website as soon as they change.
Who should build your site?
The normal approach is that a designer will design the layout of your site and then pass this ‘look’ to a developer (either freelance or in the same company) who will ‘code’ the site to make it live. Developers who work with designers are more likely to be project-driven – do a job then move on to the next project. Does this really fit with ongoing use and evolution of your website?
Design/Content Balance – An Alternative Approach
Let designers design as an important step in website development but work with someone who understands content delivery and takes a collaborative approach to to develop your site and create a platform for technical and content updates to really make your site work. With the latest Content Management System (CMS) platforms such as WordPress it is even practical to consider embracing site updating in house Recognise that designers design, developers develop and marketers market – different skills that should be combined most appropriately to work in the way that best suits you to deliver your business marketing goals.