where content strategy and design come together

Presentation isn't everything, but it sure helps.
Presentation isn’t everything, but it sure helps.

Three Things to Keep in Mind when It Comes to Content Strategy and Design

I’ll be the first to say that presentation is never the end-all-be-all when it comes to taste or quality. You should have seen the amalgamation of eggs, hot sauce, and vegetables I ate this morning, which wouldn’t pass for an “Omelette” in any kitchen (or universe). Sure, it tasted great — because I know what went into it, I knew the details, and  I knew exactly what to expect. When it comes to writing and content, whether it’s for some big business or a local restaurant, the audience almost never has that luxury. What provides them with the context they need to make an informed decision is content that works hand-in-hand with design. It’s not form over function, it’s form and function.  So without further ado, a very brief list of 3 things to think of when it comes to content strategy and design.

1. Collaborate: Make Content Strategy and Design Work Together

With Google’s latest slew of updates, usability is a major factor. That means, whether your website is about the benefits of the latest microprocessor or your brand of free range chicken that’s been constantly subjected to feel-good vibes of Enya’s Oronoko Flow, aesthetics and information play an important role — and they play it together.

Whether you’re responsible for just the information on the page or both content and design, the two should work hand in hand to guide users to the information they need without overwhelming them. Remember: Beware the dreaded Wall-O-Text. Nobody wants to deal with that. Nobody.

For an example of this in action, take a look at this screenshot:

traffic-growth-analytics-content-strategy

Two equal time periods before (orange) and after a simple design/content oriented facelift.

To give you some context, we were dealing with a website that had practically fallen off the face of the earth. With Google’s new algorithm updates that put a focus on user experience, the site was falling far-behind and was in need of a drastic facelift.  In addition to some minor aesthetic changes, we looked at the content first. Our first thought was, “There is absolutely no way anyone would ever want to read this.” Why? Because it had been written  for search engines, not people. On top of that, this particular site was originally designed years ago and was for an industrial business to boot. Needless to say, the site was pretty stale. Actually no, it was just plain terrible. By re-writing and re-structuring the content we made every page much easier to read. On top of this, we used the site’s design and imagery to work hand-in-hand with the content. The goal of this was to give users  the information they needed while encouraging them to stay on-site longer. In simpler terms, it was to get them to stop leaving the site to bleach their eyes.

Since this website was for a client in the industrial sector, we didn’t really need to use any new flashy parallax effects or fancy sliders — just a simple facelift that brought the site’s aesthetics into 2014 and an updated content strategy devised with the latest algorithm updates in mind. If that last bit about algorithms set off your B.S. alarm, let me reassure you that  I hate high-minded / no-meaning business lingo as much as the next human. If you aren’t aware of what I’m talking about, Google’s algorithm updates are a very real thing. Check out this link from Moz about Google’s algorithm update history, if you’re interested — it’s helpful.

For any type of content, "signs" tell the "user" where to go and what to do. The most effective signs do so for the visually minded and the "Readers" alike.

For any type of content, “signs” tell the “user” where to go and what to do. The most effective signs do so for the visually minded and the “Readers” alike.

2. Direct: Use Visual and Textual Cues to Improve Engagement

Have you ever tried assembling IKEA furniture? Apart from providing an inexpensive and (typically) attractive piece of functional furniture, IKEA also gives you a lesson: directions are important. This is especially true when it comes to websites. If your audience doesn’t know where they should go next, chances are they’re going to head to greener and easier to understand pastures. But it’s not just about pretty pictures.   Take my experience for example. I had just purchased a part for my computer that needed to be installed, but when I opened the instructions all I saw was pictures. Naturally (being a word-oriented person) I thought to myself, “What the hell? Where are the instructions? What am I going to do?”. I later sucked it up and followed the pictures. Fortunately everything worked out, but it also brought to mind a concept relevant to this topic: Direct for every audience. 

Traffic signs tend to do this right. They have a distinct  combination of shape, color, and text for a very specific reason. This way, nearly every audience can understand them (and get to where they’re going). When you see a red octagon, you know you need to stop. When you see a yellow triangle, you know you need to yield, and when you see an arrow pointing in  single direction with the text “ONE WAY”, you generally don’t turn the wrong way into oncoming traffic after pulling out of a brewery parking lot, “I swear officer, I only had 1 sample” (True story).

While this convention is geared towards the illiterate and non-English speakers, it helps to hammer home the point that every piece of “content”, whether it’s a road sign or an “about us” page, should include both visual and textual cues catered to the audiences that will encounter it. 

3. Hook: Writing and Creating CTA’s that Aren’t Terrible

terrible-cta-buton

You can do better than this.

And now we come to calls to action. Actually hooking a set of eyeballs doesn’t happen with what you see to the right. These types of CTA’s are so overused they’ve become pure noise. CTA’s are a vital tool that come from a marriage of content and design.  I hate to break it to you, but if you’re downloading (crappy) CTA’s like the ones to the right, you’re doing it wrong.

Every CTA should:

  • Be: Visually appealing
  • Be: Easy to find, and located where the user’s eyes will naturally flow to on the page
  • Be: Transparent. For every CTA, it should be obvious what will happen when the user clicks.
  • Use: Short and snappy copy that answers a question, appeals to an emotion, or encourages someone to take action
  • Use: Colors that complement overall design, while being distinct enough to stand out

And that’s it. Three principles to put in practice next time you’re working on a website (or when you simply want to put something together that makes a good impression).

Hopefully this little guide helps! If you haven’t already, be sure to follow 4Walls on your social network of choice for more of our insights into content strategy, marketing, and a whole slew of “web stuff”. You can find those links in the footer.

4Walls Media Group is an Industrial Traffic Company | copyright 2017 |