Need a New Website? Here’s the First Step Everyone Misses

You are 100% in business. After years of working your ass off and believing in your idea, even when you suspected you might have actually lost your mind, for real this time, you look around and realize that you’ve turned a corner. You’re pulling in steady revenue and even making a profit. You can finally turn your attention to the stuff you’ve always put off until later. Stuff like your website and your branding. And now you can actually afford to hire a pro to do it right.

Or maybe you worked really hard on your website when you first started out, writing all the copy yourself, asking friends and random acquaintances to weigh in on colors and domain names, and coercing your brother’s friend’s cousin to build it for you in exchange for a six-pack and a pizza. But it’s been a couple of years now. Your business has grown and evolved, and so have your tastes.

You need a new website.

You want it to be clean, modern, and well-designed. You want to update your colors and get a beautiful new logo. You want the site to reflect YOU and your brand. You want to wow people. And after you’ve done all of that, you can repurpose your existing copy, move it around and edit it a little to work with your new design. Or you can hire a copywriter to write some new headlines and product blurbs for a couple hundred dollars. You’ll figure it out when you get there.

[Insert record needle scratch]

Wellllll, wait a second. Let’s start with a simple question: What makes your customers come to you? Put another way, what makes customers choose you over another business? (Hint: it’s not your logo or your colors.)

There’s no one right answerevery business has a list of answers unique to who they are and what they offer. But all of your answers are about information, product offerings, benefits, solutions to problems, or even feelings. Right? Well, those things are communicated first and foremost, if not exclusively, through your messaging and content.

Quick side note: I define “content” as the sum of everything your business communicates, including your copy, images, illustrations, photos, videos, audio recordings, charts, graphs, interactive tools, you name it.

It’s understandable that we go straight to the visual stuffhumans are visual creatures, after all, and we’ve all got a touch of the Shiny Objects Syndrome. (For me, it’s the lesser-known but equally common Brightly Colored Plastics Syndrome, treated primarily by restricting the frequency of shopping trips to Targetbut that’s neither here nor there.) Here’s what I’m getting at.

A website is not all about web design.

A website is a source of information for your customers, a place to buy your products and interact with your brand, and a way to get in touch with you.

So when you say you need a new website, it means:

You need better, more complete, more up-to-date information that’s relevant to your customers.

You need clear descriptions of your products and their benefits.

You need an easy-to-understand value proposition that brand-new customers will “get” quickly (and understand how it applies to them).

You need an evolving, always-up-to-date source of news and education about your business, your industry, your offerings—or all three.

You need an online presence for your business that customers can access and interact with 24/7, to extend and strengthen your relationships with them.

Good web design can greatly enhance every single one of these purposesin fact, it’s crucialbut it’s not the first step.

The first step is your content. Not the second step, not the third step, and certainly not the last step. The first step. Always.

Now, this is where your resistance will kick in. Any of these sound familiar?

“I know why my customers buy from me—I don’t need to go through a whole process to figure it out.”

“I get what you’re saying, but I have a pretty good idea of what my website needs to say, so I’m ready for design.”

“This sounds super complicated. I just want a simple new website that looks nice. This doesn’t really apply to me.”

“I have new brand positioning from my PR firm/marketing department already. I can just use that.”

“Aaaaaaaaaaaack! Head exploding. Initiate full shutdown.”

It would take a whole book to fully address each of these points, but for now, take a deep breath (you were the last one, weren’t you?). I get itthis is a different way of thinking about thingsbut here’s what I know after a decade of writing, editing, and managing online content for all kinds of businesses, big and small, straightforward and complex.

Clarifying and documenting what, when, and how your business should communicate isn’t optional busywork. It’s your responsibility to your audience.

(Bonus! It also happens to distinguish your brand, drive more conversions, and create loyal, devoted customers.)

Implementing web layouts that may or may not end up allowing you to communicate in the most effective waysor may require content that your business can’t realistically create right nowonly guarantees that you’re going to have to do this all over again. Probably sooner, rather than later. And shuffling around existing copy to fit a new web design, just because you like the looks of it? Ain’t gonna work either. Not for a business that continues to grow (you do plan to continue growing and evolving, right?).

Putting Content First is a scary-smart move.

Because it is scary. It might feel a little wackadoo, when you’re used to thinking design-first and considering content to be the “easy part”. (Biggest lie ever. Don’t fall for it.)

By taking the time to thoughtfully plan for your content first, you’re not only ensuring the success of your new website for your own good. You’re also enabling your website productionwhether you hire an external team or just customize an awesome WordPress or Squarespace template yourselfto start 10 steps ahead, with a clear plan of action for communicating the right things, at the right times, in the right places, to the right people.

You’re allowing your copywriter(s) to put a creative spin on ideas of substancewhich is exactly what great copywriters live to dorather than handing off next to nothing in the way of guidance, then expecting the substance to magically self-generate from their words. While sounding catchy and fun and on-brand.

And you’re looking forward, building a future for your business that involves knowing when and why to make updates (because you’ve got a content strategy), how to incorporate new content and innovative content types (because you’ve already planned for that), and what content marketing efforts actually make sense (because you understand what people really want from you).

So, how to get there? Well, you can hire someone (cough, cough). Or you can just sign up for my email listit’s free!and start by backing away from the Pinterest color boards. Close your web browser. Set aside all those logo sketches for later, and tell the web designers you’ve contacted to hold up a second.

Right now, focus on what your audience or customers need from you. Begin to identify the words and ideas that mean something to them. Find your content in all the clutter.

And by all means, give yourself a big high-five (or something less embarrassing, if you like): you’re headed in the right direction.

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