Design comes First, Content SecondIf you’re like me, you’ve read everywhere – ‘Content is King’.

Focus on fantastic content and everything else will fall into place…

…people will get psyched about your ‘to die for’ content, share it around and your traffic will grow from there and you’ll become world famous blogger in no time! Hurray!

What a load of crap.

You want to know something?  Content actually comes second. Design is what comes first.

I know you’re thinking that doesn’t make sense and you want to argue the point, so many people out there have actually gone on to preach the value of content and it’s ‘king’ status for growing an audience.  Yet the more I read, the more I feel they are arguing for design without knowing it.

They’ll tell you to solve a problem, be inspirational and unique.  But when they address the design issue, a lot of big bloggers will say ‘just start with a basic WordPress theme and go from there, content is the most important part of your website.’

I won’t argue, those people are right – and it even supports my argument! Sorta kinda.

I’ll tell you why & what you should do.

Let me explain…

Content is the ‘most important’ element of your website, but it can’t exist without a decent web design.

When a blogger tells you to pick a standard theme they’re offering some pretty shitty advice. They don’t want to have to deal with the specifics.

Finding a clean theme with a few good strengths (which we’ll go into later) is vitally important.  Telling people to pick a ‘standard theme’ will have them choosing out a theme they like based on nothing but their own taste. No input from anywhere on functionality or serving it’s purpose.

You need to pick their idea of a standard theme.

Yeah, design actually serves a purpose, it’s no secret – even though I called it a secret here.

Think about when people arrive on your website

Actually, think about when you arrive on a website.

It’s a site you’ve never visited before, maybe it was shared with you or you found it on Google. Either way, you’re looking for some specific information.

When that page loads, you look around, searching for that information – or content as they say. If you find it straight away, you read it and everyone is happy.

But what about those ‘other’ websites?

You log onto a website and you can’t find the content straight away, you may continue to look…

But sometimes a website just gives you the creeps, maybe you’ll catch some malware, perhaps it looks like a cheap and unreliable source of information.  Or maybe they have shoved a bunch of ads and pop ups in your face and you simply slam the back button and escape out of there.

Maybe the page didn’t load at all.

The content was right there, a scroll or click away…  but you didn’t even glance at it. You just left.

That content you didn’t read, was it powerful? Did it change your life and did you subscribe?  No!  You didn’t even look at it.

So, if your design sucks and turns people away before it can serve it’s purpose then your content is, however epic and world changing – completely useless.

Get Your Design Right

It’s not about an epic bells and whistles design, it’s more about a functional working design.

Perhaps my titled should have been “Avoiding a bad design is King, content is Queen” – but who the hell would’ve clicked on that? 

It’s been studied and proven that 94% of a website user’s first impressions are design related (source), so there’s a few elements you want to get right. Remember, a good design delivers content, it doesn’t just surround it. So landing that infomation right into the lap of your readers is the goal, followed with some kind of conversion (email subscription, make a sale, etc).

Here’s a few guidelines you can follow towards creating a good design that delivers and ‘enables’ content:

1. Calm down on the Adsense.

If someone arrives on your site and above the fold are 3 ads, you instantly lose trust points.

If you plaster Adsense ads in your sidebar, one above your content, another right aligned with the first paragraph of your content and possibly even some link unit somewhere else – then people will not know where to look, but they’ll notice and recognize the ads and not much else. – Yeah, that’s bad.

This will most likely end with their disappointed exit.

2. Remove the clutter & go minimalist.

For example, this is Zen Habit’s great design. No clutter, straight to the content:


But this design is pure evil, plastered with ads that make it look spammy, and stands in the way of the content and will more than likely lead to a high bounce rate:

Bad Design

This is similar to the above point about Adsense.

Many website owners want all the bells and whistles so people can marvel at the beauty of their website. This is a very naive way of thinking.

You don’t need sliders, 2 sidebars and 3 different levels of navigation – you need to simplify. I like having a sidebar but I try not to have it compete with my content.

Also a simple logo and nav at the top of the page does wonders and I add a feature box on the front page because that’s usually the second page visited after reading an article and I want my visitors to subscribe – when landing on a post or page the content is right in front of you, no barriers and no flashing lights.

It’s all about convenience so make things simple and make the content stand out.

3. Increase trust with a Logo and/or a photo of you

People who land on your website are looking for information written by people – like people-people who have skin & hair and everything.

Adding a logo gives your website an identity, and a photo of yourself will instantly let the user know that they’re reading something written by an actual person who is willing to put his face and name to the work.This is a huge thing!

If you see an article with a solid headline and a picture of the author you’ll think “what’s this person got to say?” as opposed to simply seeing a sea of text. It’s a small tweak but worth it.

4. Avoid Certain Pop Ups

You land on a site, you read half a sentence and BAM, an ads pops up putting it’s hand out for money, an email address or something else.

You need to give before you can receive!

Pop ups are annoying and I recommend avoiding them most of the time.  Email subscription pop ups serve a purpose though, but wait until someone is looking to exit the page (from having already read it).

There are many Exit Popups out there but make sure the design is friendly and doesn’t prevent readers from clicking the back button – they need to be able to escape or ignore it if they wish otherwise they’ll feel a little trapped and won’t trust you.

5. Make sure text is easy to read

Choose simple, clear and legible fonts in your design.  Make your line width no more than 105 characters, this has been proven to be easiest to read and wont give visitors eye strain if the font isn’t too small.

Also break up the text with paragraphs, formatting (bold, italics) and sub headings so it is scannable.  Most people scan text and don’t read from start to finish, so make certain chunks of information easy to track down.

6. Focus on Functionality

You design does need to actually work!  Make sure your page loads quickly because people won’t wait more than 2 or 3 seconds to see if your page loads. But if the page never loads, then your content doesn’t exist!

Keep things light weight, simple and operational so people can at least attempt to read your posts!

Here’s some quick solutions..

Ok, so here’s how to make it all happen and get that content serving design.  Because once your website design is clear and does it’s job, you can forget all about it and make content your top priority.

First of all, get familiar with these points – minimal clutter, quick loading, and land the content right in front of the user’s face.  Now keep that in mind and…

Find an existing theme that matches that standard in layout and cleanliness.  Add a logo, maybe a photo of yourself and test it’s loading speed on your website over at QuickSprout. Remember, page speed could also be due to your server or other factors on your website.

Hire a Designer and stress those points to them – this will cost money but is probably the easiest solution as you simply hand over some money and get the product set up for you.

Build it Yourself. We have a small handful of design guides (more coming soon I promise!) of how to design your own layout using certain customizable themes – check out our guide to using Divi here for more info.

Now you’re ready to make it happen!

You now have what it takes to remove the barrier of design and get closer to simply focusing on your content. It’s not a lot of work and once it’s done, you can simply forget and occasionally go back and review or update.

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Thanks for taking the time to read what I have to say!