Business owners who decide to set up a web site, or revamp an existing one, seem to always start by talking to web designers. The discussions then get focused on the look and “feel” of the site, colours and site structure. Apart from the fact that this takes the business owner away from considering customers, new research suggests that this is the wrong place to start.

For a long time I have been speaking about the fact that content is more important than design. Not only do web site users focus on the content, but so does Google. Yet, every online business I have ever dealt with has always started with design and only thought about content later, only to discover their web site structure which was carefully and expensively designed makes it difficult to include the new content.

The new study from the University of Vienna looked at our interaction with art. The research found that when we look at paintings we process the content in less than 10 milliseconds, but it takes a further 40ms before our brains receive the design features.

What this suggests is that we are psychologically primed to look for content first and then only concern ourselves with design after that. The art study showed that design is important. However, our primary attention is on the content.

For anyone running an online business this suggests that your planning and organisation of a web site must start with content – only once you have the content organised and in shape should you worry about design. That means when starting a new web site, or updating an existing one, your first port of call should be a copywriter, not a designer.

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