Even in my comparatively short time as a professional writer I’ve heard the term “Content is King” so much that it’s become a permanent fixture in my repertoire of undesirable clichés. Unfortunately as is true with most cliché terms, there is more than a modicum of truth to content and its royal appointment. Even knowing how true the term is, I find it disconcerting how the almost laser intense focus on content pulls attention away from other important factors. We all understand that without killer content your efforts at securing good clients will fall flat, however, there are plenty of other options that need your attention, areas that if neglected could lead to your content being ignored.
When you’re a freelance writer or blogger running your own site then you don’t have the luxury of focusing on a single area. You are your own sales team, marketing department, content creation unit and after sales care team. By giving all of your time to creating content, your website portfolio will struggle to wow.
I’ve recently experimented with the presentation of information and have, even in the very short time between making changes and writing this piece, noticed a huge difference to my success rate with potential clients. Here’s why I think that while content may be the reigning monarch, presentation and design are definitely the next in line to the throne.
Why Presentation and Design take Second Place
Think of any good full service marketing agency and the creative job roles within their structure. If we boil it down to the bare essentials we’re left with two primary roles, a copywriter and art director. Between them these guys have the job of creating awesome, compelling copy whilst also making it eye catching and aesthetically sound before sending it out. For successful marketing agencies the copy is only half of the equation, an approach that you should also be adopting if you want to make the largest impact possible.
The design is there to catch attention, the copy’s aim is to hold it. It’s no secret that attention spans are now pretty short and you’ll only have a matter of seconds to grab attention on the internet. Even if you’re creating the most compelling copy in the world, if your website looks amateurish or as if it would be more at home in 1995, chances are people won’t stick around to give you a chance.
I understand that as a writer your strength lies in crafting an incredible blog post that opines, inspires and converts would be browsers into fervent followers. The thought of amending an image in photoshop or illustrator fills you with dread and you worry over the time you’ll waste in an amateurish attempt which will ultimately find itself in your trash bin. Fortunately, you don’t need to be an adept with Adobe to have a lovely looking blog, there are plenty of other options open to you, options that are easy to customise and will ensure your blog makes the maximum impact in that all important first ten seconds a visitor (or client) checks your site.
First impressions count for a lot, and you simply cannot afford to waste them.
I ‘m sure there are already people out there laughing at this piece thinking to themselves, ‘Content is far more important. A thorough client will look past a poor design if the content is worth it!’ I would love to agree, and I’m sure that it does happen, but only rarely.
I think that the issue is similar in nature to the argument many out there often voice in regards to dating. I am of course talking about the appearance vs personality argument. Personality (in this case content) is far more important than appearance in establishing a long term, healthy relationship. Something I’m sure we can all agree with. However, imagine you’re down at your local bar for a quick drink and you have the choice to talk to one of two people.
1 – An, at best, averagely attractive, poorly dressed chap sat nursing a pint in the corner on his own.
2 – A Brad Pitt lookalike stood at the bar having a great time and looking like he’s ready for a fashion shoot.
Chances are, even if the guy in the corner had the best personality in the world, you’d never find out about it. Your attention is going to be drawn to the confident, attractive gentleman who is having a great time and entertaining others.
You’ll have to forgive the awfully shallow and simplified analogy, but it is something I think accurately represents the situation. First impressions go a long way in forming the lasting impression you leave with people, the last thing you need is to have a poorly presented blog or portfolio which turns people off hiring you before they’ve even had a chance to view your work.
Long Live the King!
Design is important in grabbing attention, but that doesn’t mean that you should be forgetting about the reigning monarch. Content will always be the deciding factor in whether you’re going to land a job. Unlike the shallow world of dating, the initial impact your well designed blog makes will fade very quickly if your content isn’t up to scratch. I would recommend taking 2-3 days every six months to take a long look at your site and what design elements you’re not happy with. Ask yourself the following;
- Is it easy to navigate the site?
- Does your WordPress theme lend itself to your niche?
- Do you need to re write the content of various pages? Are all of the pages still necessary?
- Is the layout ok? (1 column, 2 column etc)
- Does the colour scheme fit with you as a brand? (Best to get this right as soon as possible for consistency’s sake)
You want to focus on offering an appealing yet simple design which grabs attention and leads readers to your content. Put aside a few days every 6 months (that’s how I do it, you may want to do it more or less often) to change the large issues such as blog theme and overall layout, this will give you 6 months to forget about it and place all of your attention on creating awesome content and tweaking the small issues.
My Redesign Results
For the regular readers among you you’ll notice that I’ve recently done a full redesign of this very site. It took me 3 days to complete and I changed the theme, colour scheme, re wrote all pages on the site (not the articles, that would be crazy!) and added a few new CTAs.
I’m hardly a HTML or design buff so was a little apprehensive about starting the project, fortunately the guys at StudioPress and their Genesis framework made it incredibly easy for me manage the redesign (seriously, I can’t recommend the Genesis framework and its child themes enough).
I wasn’t sure how the new site would be received but have been amazed with the response. I’ve had a few comments over twitter to compliment me on the site design and also had more than one potential new client get in touch after following a link on my twitter profile to the site (today I’ve been chatting to 2 potential new clients as a result and have a Skype call with another in about 20 minutes!). I know the sceptics out there will be telling me that these results could just be the last few weeks of work finally bearing fruit, so I thought I’d include one of the actual tweets as proof of what a good site design can do for you.
@P_J_Boyle Nice website. Just curious as to what your fees are?… for future reference.
The website went live again on Sunday 28/09/2014 at around 20:00 if memory serves. Considering that (at the time of writing) it’s not even been 48 hours, this is a great result.
You shouldn’t ever lose focus on creating cracking content that offers your audience something that’s useful and entertaining. That being said, we’ve all got bills to pay and our blogs are for the large majority of us an online portfolio, don’t neglect the design of your site. It could be the difference between a potential client sending that email about your rates or leaving your site before reading your work.
I’d love to hear what design aspects have made a big difference for you guys with your sites? Is there anything in particular that you’ve found which really makes a difference for landing new clients? Have a word and let us know in the comments below!