Dr. Content “Pot” Jekyll, Meet Mr. Design “Kettle” Hyde. You’re Both Black.

Black pot and kettle over open fire When the Internet was young — you know, back when dinosaurs moved in herds — it was all blinking lights, garish web-safe colors, Comic Sans, and embedded WAV files.

It morphed into “Design is king!” and foisted off on us multiple-column layouts and color-theory smart palettes, birthing a whole new language (CSS) just to make the point.

Next, it evolved into “Content is king!” and we were extolled to “write epic shit” and create “pillar content” and publish every single day. (Yes, including Sundays.)

Now it seems to have transitioned into “Content is king and design is queen!”

I posit to you this tantalizing thought:

What if this is just wrong, wrong, wrong?

In my view, the problem with these various formulations on “what’s most important” is that they fail right out of the gate. Wait, no — before that, even. These suckers drop dead of an undiagnosed heart condition before the gate even flies open.

The fault lies, not in our stars, but in the unspoken question itself. It assumes, and not just for argument’s sake, that:

  • There is a one-size-fits-all “rule” somewhere, which – once decoded and properly applied – ensures success, however a site owner or entrepreneur may define that word; in other words, a good idea for Jack is also a good idea for Jill, never mind that Jill has a completely different business model, targeted market, and brand; and
  • The mythic Great Website (and its even more elusive sibling, the Perfect Website) exists and can be reduced to a formula.

Not one of these assumptions is accurate.

Not. One.

(There’s also a third problem with these various formulations of the age-old debate, but let’s leave that one for a few minutes.)

Your website is a barrier to entry into the marketplace these days. You have to have one. Pretty much everyone in business for themselves needs one, or at a minimum some web-based presence that serves the same function.

But there, the similarities end.

Give me two people in the same business — two lawyers, let’s say — and let’s also make them involved in the same specialty or practice area, both women, and both in small towns in North Carolina (just ’cause that’s where I live) with populations of less than 30,000.

Despite all these similarities, I’m almost certainly not going to advise these two hypothetical almost-identical attorneys identically. What works for one may not be the best choice for the other. That much should be clear.

So there is no one-size-fits-all prescription here.

Not for marketing in general, not for business websites specifically.

What makes a website good, or even great (no such thing as Perfect), will also vary from site to site, and business to business. There’s so much that’s contingent on highly individualized factors, such as goals, business model, targeted market, current market position, USP, future plans … I could go on and on. But the point is simply stated: There is no “one” “formula” to get to “there” wherever there happens to be for you – no matter what the latest A-lister selling a blueprint system may say to the contrary.

Sure good design matters. So does good content. So do a truckload of other things, potentially. But a well-coded, functional, aesthetically pleasing website isn’t a really a goal – it’s just the (very low) barrier to entry.

And that leads me to the third thing that riles me up about this false debate: Such quippy maxims are pretty much so meaningless as to be useless in any practical sense.

What makes a website design “good” to you? Is it the same thing or things that make it good to me? Or any random ten people on the street?

What makes content great? Or even valuable? Here, too, there’s no one answer.

So by focusing on these “which came first” kinds of questions, we’re just completely missing the boat altogether. And I blame myself, as well as my colleagues in the web dev and digital marketing space. We’ve directed this conversation for the last few years, and we have only ourselves to blame.

My advice to any current or future biz owner out there, trying to make sense of this digital marketing space and wondering what it all means and how in the name of Ada Lovelace they’re gonna get this site DONE:

Forget about which is more important.

Get clear on your goals, your business structure, your business model, your business marketing story.

Get your website up. Use WordPress (unless you’re planning an e-commerce site with more than a few hundred items of inventory in which case WordPress may not be the best solution for you). Pick a clean theme (there are literally thousands out there, hundreds of which could work quite well for you and dozens of which are also well-coded and responsive). Write the best content you can. (Or hire someone like me to write it for you.) Write it for your audience, and answer the questions that matter to them.

Then watch what happens carefully. Analyze your results. Make the changes necessary for better results. The great thing about WordPress is that it’s relatively simple to make changes of all kinds to your site – whether you’re changing the design, the content, or both.

This post is part of the monthly Word Carnival – a collection of cool biz bloggers from various fields, all writing about a common theme of interest to small business owners and freelancers. This month, we’re talking about some issue in our respective industries that has two extremes. Or two different schools of thought that are in diametric opposition, answering the question: Where do you fall on the spectrum, and why? Catch up with all the Carnie magic on the fairway here!


Photo Credit: marktcorbin via photopin cc

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Melanie Kissell October 29, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Aaarrrgh!! I despise all the “gotta do this!” and “gotta have that!” messaging online, Annie. And all the friggin’ fired-up focus on designing just the right website … or else you’re a big fat loser. Not to mention the pressure of crafting fit-for-a-king content. Like life and building a business isn’t complicated and stressful enough, right?

I’m dropping mounds of celebratory confetti down on this:

“Forget about which is more important. Get clear on your goals, your business structure, your business model, your business marketing story.”

Ahh … what a relief (and I’m not talkin’ Rolaids!). Finally someone with a satchel full of sweet-sounding sentiments that make a whole lotta sense to me.

Thanks for telling it like it REALLY is!

Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef October 29, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Goals and intentions come first — absolutely! But I’m going out on a limb here to say design and content are equally important. We eat with our eyes first and if folks decide to stick around in the first 5 seconds they’ve landed, you know it’s the design speaking. Now, whether or not they opt-in for more? That’s the content’s job.

Carol Lynn Rivera October 29, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Well you’re speaking my language here when it comes to the “rules” of all this nonsense. Rules, I smite thee! “Good” and “epic” and equally useless words have no place in business. Good design is just as subjective as a good blog post. If the thing does what it needs to do then it’s “good” and it doesn’t matter if it’s pink or 2000 words or whatever. I want a t-shirt or something that says F#@$ the rules. There, I said it.

Sharon Hurley Hall October 30, 2014 at 9:31 am

Right on, Annie! Love “there is no one-size-fits-all prescription here.”

Everyone’s different, and I agree that monitoring, measurement and analysis are the best way to find out what you need to tweak.

Nick Armstrong October 31, 2014 at 1:53 am

Yes. *Purpose* first. Everything else is secondary.

You can have the best design in the world. Hell, you could have the best design approach in the world – but without a purpose, everything else falls to bits.

You can have the best content in the world, but with a bad user-interface design and poor user experience, it falls apart.

I’ve read brilliant books hampered by horrible typography and layout. Margins are everything in publishing. Seriously. MARGINS. White. Space.

But it’s all for naught – the content, the design, the em-dashes. All of it. Without purpose. Without intent.

Get the purpose right, your pathway becomes clear; most assuredly it will not be the same path as anyone else. Spot-on Annie!

Michelle Church October 31, 2014 at 1:22 pm

You know I Love you right! There IS no one size or one theory that fit’s all sooo true…the only one I see that does fit all business owners is the “necessity” of having a website…you are soo awesome there! It just blows me away the number of people that I keep meeting, that are business owners without a website. They may have other social profiles set up, even growing connections (not that their connections are valuable)…but no website…sooo how does one learn more about you or what you offer? Just blows me away…but I guess that’s why we are here to help them and they run into awesome beings like our crew!

Molly McCowan November 1, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Good advice, and something I’ve always stuck with (even if my perfectionist tendencies need a kick in the butt sometimes to get me to say, “Okay, it’s not perfect, but let’s roll it out!”). I taught myself how to work with WordPress (.com, mind you) and tweak it to make professional-looking websites. I do love that you can change things up if you decide to, too.

SandyMcD November 1, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Music Annie. I have completely changed my business model after years of developing websites. If people don’t coach with me first to get SUPER CLEAR on their intention, business model and where they want to be in 5 years, I can’t build them a site. Period. Once that is done, it is so much easier for them to be coherent about their brand and their message. Love this post, thank you, I shall be directing many to it.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: