“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”
—Jeffrey Zeldman

When we think of a good website design, we think a lot about what it looks like. We think of rich visuals, clean layouts, and intuitive navigation. We glance at a homepage for a few seconds and pass judgment without digging very deep. If the first few glances strike a chord with stakeholders, then that’s probably a great website!

That approach is nice start. However, people don’t go online to look at nice interfaces. They want to see what other consumers are saying about a toaster they are going to buy. They want to know when and where this season’s blockbuster movie is playing. They want to know about issues in an upcoming election. They are not looking for design—they are looking for answers.

People use the web to find the information they are looking for. And it’s more than just narrative—it’s also messaging and information conveyed with pictures, animations, graphics, and sound—anything that relays information and messaging. This is what gives a website substance and purpose. Without content, users can’t get anything done.

And yet too often we do not prioritize content when we redesign a website. If a site is under-performing, there are a myriad ways to determine opportunities for improvement. Design is often where most of the attention is given. Don’t get me wrong—design is crucial. Content needs a form, a look, and a feel to elevate its impact. But without content, design alone isn’t really helping anybody.

Imagine you’re looking for a diner in a town you’re visiting—the place where the locals go. It’s a little late for breakfast so you want to find a place still open. So you search, then land on an attractive homepage with a carousel of gorgeous photos of their menu items—but no hours are listed. No mention whatsoever. No links or call outs.

You find a contact page and hope that it gives you some information. The phone number and address are there, but no hours. You click a few more links and scan a few more screens until you give up and go to Denny’s.

This is an example of a failed content strategy. To a design team, it seems trivial. Instead everybody fell in love with gorgeous photos of Eggs Benedict. The hours were an afterthought buried in the footer in small type with no contrast—essentially invisible.

Content strategy makes sure that never happens. It answers the question ‘how can we give them all the important information they are looking for in the most painless way possible’?

Content strategy is not a magic wand. It’s a toolbox full of tactics. And it dovetails with nearly every existing discipline within the world of website design and digital marketing.

Think about your site. But instead of thinking about how big your logo is or how your buttons have just the right interaction when you move your mouse over them—think about what your copy says. Think about the feeling your images convey. Is there a message with purpose and substance? If it falls flat for you, chances are it will for your audience as well. And no amount of stunning design can fix that.

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