Why You Need to Prepare Your Website Content In Advance

Whether you’re DIY-ing your website or hiring a web designer, you need to prepare your content well before the web design process actually starts.

I know that might surprise some of you. It certainly surprises a lot of my clients. What follows is a conversation I’ve probably had about 500 times over the past few years:

Client: How soon can you start?
Me: I could begin in the next two weeks, but will that give you enough time to have all your content ready?
Client: No, but we’re in a rush, so we thought you could just use placeholders while we work on the content?
Me: I could, but it won’t result in the best website for you. Here’s why...

But before I get into exactly why I need your website content to be able to design your website, let’s make sure we’re on the same page regarding “content”.

What is website content?

Your website content is, quite simply, the text (also referred to as “copy”) and images you will be displaying to visitors on your website.

This includes (but is by no means limited to) things like your logo, About page text, Homepage information and CTAs, product photographs, website banners, legal info, etc, etc.

Now that little list of content examples above may seem like quite a lot to prepare already, but I’m sorry to say, that would pretty much be a starting point for most websites.

So I totally understand the temptation to procrastinate when faced with all that work (you may have noticed my portfolio on this very site still says “Coming Soon!” – just guess why that is!) Unfortunately, that leads us straight into the situation I described above, where clients suddenly find themselves in a rush to launch their website but don’t have their content ready.

The problem with placeholder content

This is usually when clients just ask me to use some placeholder text and images. Now, in theory, I totally get why clients think this makes sense – no need to waste time, I’ll just work on the “code-y stuff” while they get everything else ready. Then we just copy-paste the content into those placeholders, easy!

Except this overlooks one major point: the fact that your content and your design are inextricably linked.

Let’s take an extreme example (that has actually happened to me on several occasions!) – when a potential client asks me to start building their website before even their logo is ready.

Now, I would have thought the implications of this were pretty obvious, but maybe I’ve just been in my job too long at this stage.

So, in case it isn’t clear, your logo is pretty much the starting point of your website design, not something we can just throw in at the end. It’s going to determine the fonts I use for your site, the colors, and even the overall page layout, or at the very least, the website header (you know, where your logo and menu tend to sit!)

To be fair, that is an extreme example – a far more common request is clients who have had their product images delayed, for whatever reason. Surely I can just go ahead and use stock photos, right?

The problem here is that with stock photos, I have access to as many as I need and in as high a quality as I like. So I could have a field day creating these beautiful big image banners, and then find out that the client only has low-quality images. Or the quality could be perfect, but they have 500 product photos all shot in portrait / vertical mode, whereas my placeholders are landscape / horizontal banners.

And now we’re in a situation where your content does not fit the placeholder design.

That same issue, by the way, is the reason I won’t even start work without a client’s website copy because “real” text never fits into a design the exact same way placeholder text does.

Now in some cases, that might not affect the overall design too much – ok, your headline now takes up two lines instead of one, and that block of text doesn’t line up quite as neatly with those images, but overall it still looks pretty good.

The problem is, in other cases, it could ruin the entire website design.

And sure, you could tweak, and refine, and make changes, but in the end, what you’ll have actually done is design a whole website – and then immediately redesigned.

Ending on a cliché: more haste equals less speed

Yeah, yeah, we all hate cliches. It’s a shame they’re so often accurate.

As I’ve hopefully been able to show, taking the time to prepare your website content is actually the quickest route to a well-designed website. Throwing your content into a pre-designed template usually results in a less than stellar design, or worse – you end up editing your content to fit the design, resulting in weaker overall content.