Whenever businesses consider a new website, their attention goes first to design. Indeed, when you look at web hosting companies who offer things like “instant websites” you will see that their template systems start by focusing your mind on what it looks like. And if you head over to forums on developing new websites you will find that design dominates in many of them. Yet design is the last thing you should consider.
Of course people do argue that “we judge a book by its cover”; but that is based on no real evidence. Plenty of books sell very well without fantastic design. Indeed some popular books just have text on the covers. Take the book by Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google, called “The New Digital Age“. That’s at Number 3 in the Google business book charts at the moment, but the cover is lots of text. There is actually little real evidence that we do judge a book by its cover. We do have an instant “like” or “dislike” reaction, that’s true, but we are not as daft as that, basing decisions on whether or not to buy a book just on its cover. We do think…!
What matters to book covers and to web pages is mostly to do with what they say, not what they look like. The title of the book becomes important as does the name of the author. Eric Schmidt’s book is selling well because of who he is. People want to read the thoughts the man who has been at the top of Google for the past 12 years. The cover doesn’t matter a jot in that situation; what matters is the content.
There are plenty of brilliantly designed websites around, but when you start to read them you discover they tell you nothing or that they are badly written or so focused on the owners of the website themselves that your eyes glaze over. There is a massive amount of bad content on the web, hidden away in beautifully designed pages.
The importance of content has been revealed in recent research which looked at the impact of anti-smoking adverts in the USA. The study found that the most effective adverts were the ones that concentrated on content, delivering a convincing argument. The adverts that were brilliantly put together with flashy images, great sound and so on had much less of an effect. The study was clever in that the effect measured was a biological one – not some survey. They looked at urine tests and brain scans. What they found was the adverts that concentrated on good content stimulated the decision-making part of the brain that led to changed behaviour as shown in reduced levels of nicotine markets in the urine. In other words, content beat style in its behavioural impact.
This study is further evidence that your content is much more important than the style of your website or its overall design. Of course this does not mean that design is not important; it just means that in the grand scheme of things you should concentrate more on content than on design. When considering updating your website, the best place to start is a content plan, rather than worrying about a design template.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+