Should you write the content first or design the website first? It’s a question that many of our hotel and travel partners ask and has the potential to really make or break the success of a website if done incorrectly, as well as creating friction in the agency/client relationship. Over the last few years and across many web builds, we are regularly faced with this ‘chicken or egg moment’; not having adequate content to place into a design while also needing to guide the hotel’s content generation through designing layouts. Many hotels like to be guided by design so they can fill in the gaps, taking the pressure off having to come with things from scratch. I’ve put together a few arguments for and against the different approaches and explain a bit about how we have come to approach this dilemma.
Design First – Pros
- This is the easiest way to have a pixel perfect website. It gives consistent text lengths, image ratios and ultimately creates a site with very consistent and aesthetic pages.
- This approach allows marketers to be guided by word and character limits if they are not sure how much to write for each section. For many that outsource content writing, it also makes the copywriting quote a lot easier because you can ask for specific word counts for different pages! For those that aren’t managing their own SEO strategy in-house, this can be a much simpler way of pulling content together.
- For some businesses, the aesthetic vs functional dilemma is far more weighted towards the aesthetic (if I’ve ever bored anyone with by my ‘websites are like houses’ analogy then this is where this fits in). This could perhaps be due to being a highly aspirational brand requiring a showcase as opposed to a lead generation tool, it could be due to significant creative input from owners or perhaps the business has a very active inbound traffic strategy as opposed to passive SEO strategies to generate traffic.
Design First – Cons
- A successful SEO strategy always starts with the assumption that we can engineer the content without limitations of design or technology. For anyone to be successful at SEO, there needs to be carefully planned headers, body content, URL structures, internal/external links, schema and metadata among other things. This also needs to flex across different pages and change over time as well based on the ever-changing SEO and commercial goals of the business. This SEO work is an ongoing effort so it is usually unfeasible to factor in at the design phase.
- The mentality of design first will always hinder content marketers by restricting content creativity. We don’t want any marketing department to feel they can’t roll out new pages because they are worried about how they will fit into the website. In this game, frequency and moving quickly is essential so it won’t work with a lengthy design review and sign off process for each page.
Pros of content first
- We consider the content first approach to be much better for SEO. It means the SEO and content strategy can be developed properly with the space it needs and without limitations of being guided by ‘what looks good’. Creating a comprehensive SEO strategy is beyond the scope of this article but you’ll have to take my word for it!
- By putting content first, we create a more flexible platform for content marketers going into the future. By allowing the design to fit around the content, it means a content marketer can take the strategy in any direction that they want to go.
- By thinking about content first, we can actually describe ourselves in the way we want to be described! We are free to write what we want and then fit a design around what has come to us organically. If you don’t have much to say about a particular thing, why force yourself into a 600-word page?
Cons of content first
- If there is no guide whatsoever on how much and where content can be, we can be left with designs that look highly imbalanced across different pages. If for example our Standard Double has two lines about it and the Deluxe King has an essay about all the features and decor, this can stick out like a sore thumb on the page and create inconsistencies throughout the site.
- Some marketers might not know what type or length of content to write so the task of brainstorming and creating an entire ‘website’s worth’ of content can seem a lot more daunting than a ‘fill in the gaps’ exercise. This, based on our experience, can add significant time to the project length as the design side has to wait in order to create the page layouts.
The Umi approach
So if there are significant pros and cons for each side of the argument how do we move forward?
Commercial goal-oriented thinking
Rather than start with either design or development, we have adopted a process more similar to design thinking and start by reviewing all the commercial goals of the hotel and matching them up with key buyer personas. If the hotel doesn’t have this information available then it’s a great point in time to work through some Segmenting Targeting and Positioning exercises. Once these have identified been identified and we have perhaps 3 revenue streams and 4-5 personas, we can map out the user journey for each; putting ourselves in the minds of exactly how the different personas will get to the revenue endpoints in the most efficient way.
It is very important to note here that we have not started designing.. nor have we started thinking about content; we are simply designing a user experience that ensures we convert for the right people along the right revenue streams. With this UX in place, we can then plan out what sort of content a user might need in order to convert. This gives the hotel some guidance on what content to produce while ensuring it’s going to fit into the UX in a goal orientated way; always asking ourselves what does the customer want or need to know at this point.
Now comes the creative part where the design team can finally get their hands dirty. We have tried as much as possible to move away from page design, preferring instead to move towards creating modules that can be built bespoke and can be reused throughout the site as the content marketer sees fit. What I am 100% NOT talking about is a page builder, or those pesky drag-and-drop tools. They provide a sure fire way to have a very confusing, inconsistent website purely down to the vast number of styles and combinations that can be put together. No – I’m talking about creating bespoke, designed modules such as:
- Hero slider with a large sliding image or video
- Simple content block which holds simple text
- Tiled gallery module
- Call to action blocks
- Conversion Forms
- Booking Widgets
- Side by Side blocks
There can be so many variants but if the website designer and developer can create a consistent but flexible set of modules, these can then accommodate any future content marketing initiatives while going through a design approval process that doesn’t hold design back. Our partner hotels are now warming to the idea of approving certain modules as opposed to entire page layouts which is both speeding up the process and also empowering the content marketer. They are now able to be more creative and produce content in unique and interesting ways while knowing that all their modules are from an approved stylesheet that is bespoke to the hotel.
Want to take a look?
We would love to take you on a little tour of how this might work for your business; our developers have spent the last 6 months creating an excellent development toolkit and accompany process called the Umi Base. We’re really proud of the results it is now delivering and can’t want to show it off. Let us know if you’d like to check it out and we’ll book in a time!