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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

Content is More Important than Design

27 May 2009

written by Kyle James

Content is More Important than Design

Now I know that some web designers out there can’t wait to get to the comment section to “rip me a new one,” but please humor me and read through my reasoning here.  I hope you will see this is a well thought out and valid argument worth your time.  Then after reading you are more than welcome to “let me have it” in the comments.

We have all heard “Content is King” – so many times that we probably forget exactly what that means and why it is important.

Google and Craigslist as Examples

Simple isn’t always bad.  Simple can be a very good thing.  Take a look at two of the most popular sites on the web, Google and Craigslist.  They are extremely simple without a whole lot of design work.  It is the content that makes these sites so valuable.  Granted Google’s content is a little different as their content is the value of their search results and Craigslist is all user generated content with the purpose of finding interested parties, but they accomplish their goals.

How about MySpace vs Facebook as another example?  At one time MySpace was by far the largest and dominate Social Network on the Web.  Fast forward to the present, and it has been taken over by Facebook.  One of the big differences between the two sites is MySpace allows users to completely design their pages through custom CSS and templates.  Facebook locks users into a pretty neutral theme.  These loud, noisy, and sometimes obnoxious MySpace profiles have been buried to the corners of the internet and now Facebook stands supreme with its simple design.  I’m sure some of you are already arguing, “Well yeah, some people should never be allowed to design a webpage” and I would agree, but that isn’t really the point I’m making here.

horrible myspace page Content is More Important than Design

A perfect reason about why people shouldn't be allowed to design webpages much less MySpace Pages

Expired Content is Worse than Worthless

Staying relevant is vitally important.  Nothing is worse than visiting a site and seeing banners for events that happened last month still being promoted.  A few years back I was going through a redesign process of an Art website, and the group wanted to have pretty flash banners along with elaborate images promoting all the upcoming events.  When it was asked “Who is going to create these new graphics?” and more importantly “Who is going to decide and start announcing events early enough to have a designer create these graphics?” the answers were all, “I thought you were going to do that for us.”  The greatest power of a CMS is that it allows “almost” anyone to edit a webpage without being an HTML expert.  Unfortunately a good easy button for Photoshop experts has yet to be built.

Being able to quickly and accurately keep websites updated with relevant and important information is crucial.  Imagine going to Weather.com to look at today’s weather and seeing yesterday’s forecast because it takes too long to create a rain cloud graphic for today or they haven’t gotten around to updating the weather in your location.  A lot of good that’ll do you when you are soaking wet trying to get home from your adventure today.

Search Engines Don’t Care About Design

Now putting on my strictly SEO hat – it’s extremely easy to make the argument for content over design.  As I’ve said in *other posts* search engine bots are the dumbest, blindest users who will visit your site.  They can’t see images besides reading the file name and an alt tag associated with an image.  Crawlers have a hard time reading flash and can’t handle JavaScript either.  So all that fancy and flashy design doesn’t do a lick of good to helping your unique content get indexed in search engines or get found.

Yes that is right – go take a look at a lynx browser and you will see what your site looks like to a search engine.  Not the prettiest thing out there, is it?  Can you figure out what you are doing on this graphically challenged version of your site?  If not, you might want to spend some time working on that.

Closing

Now am I saying that design doesn’t matter at all?  Of course not!  I’m simply saying that what your site consists of is more important than what it looks like.  So next time you begin to talk about a redesign or creation of a new site spend more time focusing on what is the value adding content that will be placed on the site instead of what it looks like.

Photo Credit: Fan of Four Kings by incurable_hippie

The content of this post is licensed: The post is released under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license


About the author

Kyle James

Kyle is the CEO & Co-Founder at nuCloud and formerly the webmaster at Wofford College. He also spent almost 4 years at HubSpot doing a range of jobs including inbound marketing consulting, sales, management, and product management.  Kyle is an active contributor in the social media spectrum. Although his background is technical, he claims to know a thing or two about marketing, but mostly that revolves around SEO, analytics, blogging, and social media. He has spoken at multiple national conferences and done countless webinars on topics ranging from e-mail marketing to social media and Web analytics. He's definitely a fairly nice guy.

Ways to Connect with Kyle

Kyle's Blog Kyle's Facebook Kyle's LinkedIn Bio Kyle's Twitter Account Kyle's Foursquare Kyle's Flickr Photos Kyle's YouTube Profile Kyle's SlideShare Presentations

This post was written by - who has written 279 posts on .eduGuru


  • http://collegewebguy.com Drew

    I’m in the late stages of developing a Photoshop expert button. It’s a wordpress plugin. You hit the button, enter your text, which is routed directly to a support center in Bangladesh. Instant art-directed imagery returns to you in 20 seconds. This app will do for content what the microwave has done for hot pockets. ..making your above arguments null and void. Sorry Kyle.

  • http://go.butler.edu Kristen Raves

    Kyle, I have to say that I completely agree. I am not saying design is not important because it is. However, if you have a webpage that is pretty but has no content it will never get picked up by the search engine.

    I used to work for a blogware company and have seen significant data on this. In fact, I would have to argue with clients that creating the content was more important than the look. There is stats that show your page view times increase with a more appealing design. On the other hand, I have also seen people stop creating new content for a month and they completely lose all of the readership. Again, this backs up your point on why Content is King!

  • http://www.seokeywordranking.com Will at SEO Keyword Ranking

    There’s certainly a balance to be had between design and content, but content deserves the front seat. The design should help your visitors find the content. A good designer realizes this and will be able to create a layout that will complement the content and give it the visual panache that it deserves.

  • http://imhe.blogspot.com Seth Meranda

    Content is certainly the element that is demanded in a web site and on web pages. Without the content, the site lacks reason.

    Though I believe we agree in principle, your use of design in the broad terms is not entirely accurate. Design presents content. Design encompasses architecture, hierarchy of information (which is important for SEO), user interactions, work flows and aesthetics.

    You mention Google, a site “without a whole lot of design work.” In fact, the design behind Google is one of the most researched, thought-out and convention-setting interfaces available. Don’t confuse a minimalist approach for a lack of design.

  • http://utodd.com Todd

    The content vs. design argument is so 2002, and pretty sure content got the crown back then, too. Active *participation* by the content experts off the .edu site is what I crave now.

  • Samantha

    There is no doubt content is way more important than design. In fact, I prefer websites that keep their themes and designs as simple as possible. Fancy websites have a tendency to load longer as well. But all in all, I don’t really pay attention to the creativity as long as the content is good. College Stories

  • http://www.heidicool.com/blog/ Heidi Cool

    I heartily agree. As the Shaker’s said, “Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.”

    As A Web designer I tend towards fairly simple streamlined designs. I let the goals and user needs drive the content, which in turn drives site architecture, which then guides my design. Technically all of this falls under the idea of “design” but I think what you are getting at is the visuals. I want the visual elements on my pages to frame the content and (in the case of photos and illustrations) reinforce whatever ideas are being conveyed.

    Mainly I want to make sure that my sites are easy to use and that my design doesn’t get in the way of the user experience. I think we’ve all seen many sites that are visually beautiful to look at, but after we stop ooohing and ahhing over the design we realize that they are hard to navigate or feature colors that inhibit readability.

    Unlike a painting which can stand on looks alone, a Web page is something we must interact with. Visual elements on the page provide us with cues and meaning that guide us through this interaction. As such these elements must be clear and obvious to a broad spectrum of users. If we let the content guide our design choices, we’ll have an easier time creating sites that serve our visitor needs in terms of both form and function.

  • camelCase

    Aside from Seth and Todd, I worry for each participant here. Of course, not as much as I do for the author.
    While your thesis (content over design) is valid, each argument is drastically flawed. From your ideas about “expired” content and search engines disregarding design, each is ill-informed.
    I’d expect more research from a publication even of mediocre size like this, but I suppose anyone can set up WordPress installation these days…

  • http://wilhb81ez.blogspot.com wilhb81

    I totally agreed, Kyle. Go figure, the site’s designation is brilliant, but the site’s contents are suck! I bet most of the readers won’t even bother to visit the site at all…

    Therefore, remember that “web content is the main core” of one website/blog!

  • http://collegewebguy.com drew
  • http://www.tmydesign.com MySpace Design

    I certainly agree that content is far more important than design. Being a graphic designer, my work is pretty much useless unless there is actually consistent and updated content on my webpages.

  • http://www.agramycity.com The Agra Indian

    This is the biggest mistake people often make while developing their website and when people out source the designing work they focus only on the looks of website. Sometime a good looking webpage becomes too heavy to load in the browser.

    That not only affect the seo but also increase the bounce rate. No one want to see a website that is taking too much time to load, they just click on another link on search engine result page.

  • http://elearning.sitesell.com/ David

    I am surprised this debate still rages on. Without content you have no visitors and no site relevance.

    People search for information not flashy banners, give your visitors what they crave and you will be the winner.

    I firmly believe by keeping your visitors happy you keep the search engines happy. And when you have that traffic you then decide how you want to monetize it.

  • http://www.dempseygraphics.com Ryan v.

    Sure a good looking page goes awesome in a example portfolio etc, however your correct in stating that a design has absolutely no weight when it comes to ranking. Obviously things under the hood (h1,p’s,etc) all need to be correct but that’s all layout not design.

    Good post keep em up

    Ryan v – Dempsey Graphics

  • http://www.softwebwork.net Sandip Saini

    You made some good points there. I searched this topic and found out that most people will agree with your blog. It’s good.

  • http://logoworks.com/ Clayton Shumway

    I liked your take on why Facebook outgrew MySpace. Simple, clean design is always more pleasing than clutter. Some designers place too much emphasis on flashy graphics, but a clean design with accessible content is king.

  • Dragan

    Content is KING!!!

  • http://acousticvids.com/mattnathanson matt nathanson music fan

    I like your blog

  • http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=102742799 Clint Gazzara

    Hi, just today found this blog but I have to say that it seems sweet. I totally agree with you. Have a nice day, keep up the nice work and I’ll definitely follow it.I just got in to the BF BC2 PC Beta for free, check out this youtube video for instructions on how you can do it http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4122526/

  • http://www.formulis.com Nevada Web Design Guys

    It’s a little slice of heaven when a web designer and programmer are both happy with a completed website… and the content team is able to strike a balance between marketing speak and quality, SEO content. That’s when a killer website that gets results is born!

    Great reminder on the true value and importance web content!

  • http://www.webtechwise.com/ Omer Greenwald

    Of course you’ve got a point here. There is one exception to the rule though: if a site design is worse than mediocre, than it can turn many visitors off and make them bounce quickly, no matter how great the content is.

  • http://www.meloncreative.co.uk Web Design Milton Keynes

    Content certainly is king, but as a developer even I recognise design is a queen who keeps her king on a tight leash

  • http://amstard.wordpress.com Mary

    I’ll be incorporating this to my listing of social bookmarks.

  • http://www.purethoughtdesign.co.uk/ Web Design Surrey

    Web content is incredible important, but it’s not very important without good design. I believe they come hand in hand. Good article though.

  • http://ninjacrunch.com bono

    i think it really depends on what kind of website or blog you have – the design may be important as well or actually it should be more important. come to think of websites that convey more on expression or impression through their web design.

  • http://www.welcometocollectorsville.com Lucy

    I agree with you design does provide some appealing eye candy, but what will keep you hanging around longer is the content and that is also what search engines will use to find you. Thank you for the great advice! I think that’s a good reminder!

  • http://quickweight-loss.com Chuck Grabinger

    Very interesting to say the least! I will need to use some of them! It for sure cant be that easy as the celebrities make it seem. You really ought to be very very consistent and one should never give up. The results will come in due time.

  • http://www.mouseclickdesigns.com Austin Web

    Great article. I have so many clients that are so focused on the visual design. It is hard to conveince them that without good textual content, their sites suffer both in the search engines and the ability to create new leads for their business.

  • http://www.createwebworks.com/ Frank Web

    I think web design and content must be of balance. Facebook or Myspace don’t need to have great designs since they are giving their users the opportunity to design their own profile page. For me, having great content – like emphasizing what your website is trying to offer and having great web designs – that are not too heavy to load, are two important factors for a good website.

  • http://www.designedbylucas.com Lucas | Web Design in Miami

    Yes, definitely that content is the main core in every website. I have clients that emphasize too much on the looks when in reality its about words.

  • http://www.utahwebdesign.ws/ Utah Web Design by Sherwin

    Indeed, content is more important than design. What is the use of elegant and beautiful graphics and colors in a website if there are no relevant and catchy contents in it. We should really consider the quality of making contents for our blogs and websites.

  • http://affordablewebdesigners.org/ Affordable Web Designers

    It’s crazy how popular craigslist has become. The darn thing is ugly, but I will admit that my business depends upon it. It it disappeared, I would find another way, but glad I have it for now. There are a lot of other prettier directories out there, but they don’t get the numbers there.

  • bag321
  • http://www.rkodigital.com web design Brighton

    Of course I can agree with the author. I must add to this that the role of webdesign is to attract visitors eyes. If the site is badly designed in terms of visuals and usability also, visitor will simply do not care about the content and skip to the next page.

  • http://www.afresh.co A Fresh Web Design

    Great article. Craigslist is such a classic example of a lot of great content with a very minimalist design. After all, the content is what will keep your visitors there and keep them coming back!

  • http://victoria-web-design.ca Paul Forster

    I agree that content is the most important factor in web design, but if a site is too ugly, too old fashioned, too annoyingly flishy-flashy…no one will hang around long enough to read anything.

  • http://professional-seoservices.org/ Cassidy Werblow

    Magnificent website. Lots of useful information here. I¡¦m sending it to a few buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious. And certainly, thank you on your sweat!

  • http://assetprotection365.com/ Luke

    i agree with this post.  but design needs to be appropriate for the people who show up at a site.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7NOBIYIAB4DLZOCLUWNGILGCMA Kapil

    Search Engines Don’t Care About Design
    search engines not caring about the designing and all but search engines always focus on Web content on the site which is also include in designing part so Search Engines also focus on Website Design little bit……..
    http://avgadvertisingcom.topseos.in/

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