Austin F

Content as Design: How to Not Ruin Your Website

Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

As a project manager and former freelance web designer, I’ve seen a lot of well-designed websites get butchered because of poor content. From every standpoint, content is the driver of any website. It is your value-proposition to the customer. It is how Google, Bing, and Yahoo rank your site. It is why people pin your page to their Pinterest or like it on Facebook. It must be beautiful, concise, and easily consumed.

Here are a few no-nos to keep in mind when making content changes you your site:

Don’t Copy and Paste from other Websites

A lot of product-heavy e-commerce sites are guilty of this faux pas. Reason 1 not to ever do this is that search engines will ding you for duplicate content. Not only that, but it’s also way to easy to copy over the html tags as well. You’ll get some unexpected style changes and you can even blow up your page because of in-line styles that override your site’s professional design. Just don’t do it.

Make Sure Your Images are Large Enough

There’s nothing so gut-wrenching as seeing blurry or stretched images on an otherwise well-designed site. There needs to be a lot of thought put into image selection. A picture is literally worth 1,000 words. It’s the first thing users will see. Your images say a lot about your company, like what you’re about, what you sell/offer, and what users can expect to find. It also can say whether you put a high level of care into how you present yourself or if you just slap up whatever you fancy on your site.

Given that image optimization is a learned skill (nobody is innately born with it), here are a few things to consider:

  • Are the images horizontal or vertical? This is important because they aren’t interchangeable. Either you’ll stretch the image, which is ugly, or you’ll have to crop it awkwardly and lose the main focal point. Find something that fits, don’t force it. Find another place for the image if it won’t work.
  • Is the image siloed or environmental? A siloed image has a white background. It’s fairly common with product-oriented websites. But you’ll want to pay attention to the other images on the site. If your site’s background is white, then a siloed image gives the appearance of an invisible background. In other words, the edge of the image appears to be the edge of the object within the image. An environmental image (like our home page banner) has a background and will have defined edges within your site. Aim for consistency.
  • Is the image the right size for the web? There is a trade off between high definition and page load time. You want to pick the resolution that has the greatest quality for the smallest size. Large images are great, and certainly have their place, but images direct from your 12 mp iPhone camera aren’t good candidates for an optimized web experience.
  • Does the image pop? Any site should be designed to complement images rather than crowd them out. That being said, use images that pop. Pale images whitewash a page. It’s bland and boring. Instead, look for images that add a splash of color to the site. You want to bring the focus on the image, which re-emphasizes choosing images that are relevant to the page. Ask yourself: what do I want users to think of when they come to this page and does this image bring that thought to mind?

Write to the Design

Your site was (or should have been) designed with content in mind. When you update that content, be sure that you aren’t putting too much or too little. If the page looks crowded, chances are you’ve written too much. If there is a ton of white space, you probably don’t have enough content.

Don’t Write an Essay

People don’t like to read on the web. Yes, it’s a gross generalization, but if you keep that idea in mind, you’ll do alright. Web-reading behavior is very different from reading reports and novels. You can’t just write 5 paragraphs and expect people to read the entire thing. Break up your content. Use headings, bullets, and numbered lists. Chunk your content into bite-sized paragraphs. Your readers will thank you.

I know the logical choice points to more content. More content = more keywords = better Google rankings = $$$. Well, yes and no. More content is good if it’s relevant, and remember: Google doesn’t pay your bills; customers do. Write for people, not for search engines. Anybody can take up pages to get a point across. The true test is to say what you need to in as few words as possible.