“Look how pretty I am,” website templates flirt. With their color. And their pictures. “Check out my rule-of-thirds and stylish block borders,” they coo.
I’m warning you (and not just because I’m a writer), these Delilahs will sap the strength from your web site. They woo you with their appearance alone and tell you not only where you should put your content, but how much and what kind you should have in each area.
…looking first at the template predisposes you to make your message fit the design, when it should be the other way around
I know, I know…they’re just templates, and any good designer is going to tell you she or he can rearrange it any way you like. The problem is that looking at the template first–before you’ve decided on content–predisposes you to make your message fit the design, when it should be the other way around.
You want your web site to be as powerful as possible? Start as simply as possible–with words. I’m not saying you have to write all the content before you begin the design process (although you could).* But first clarify–with words–what you want each page of your web site to do.
Example: You have a business that caters to both consumers and professionals.
You should write out: “The home page should be a traffic cop that quickly lets the visitor self-identify and directs them toward the appropriate landing page.”
In this case, the visitor is best served with a simple this-or-that, 2-option choice.
But look at most WordPress templates. Many (most?) of them tacitly encourage you to display at least four prominent choices. By looking at the design template first, you can easily be led to dilute the intent of your page by offering the visitor too many choices. Instead of a simple “Pro? Go Here,” “Consumer? Go Here,” the page is watered-down and made more confusing by prominent blocks that you may think should be filled with distracting subheads such as “Our Team” or “Our Services.”
…your web designer will love you
Another advantage to writing out a description of what you want each page of your website to accomplish is your web designer will love you. The clearer you can be about each page’s purpose, the better he or she can focus on providing a design that best suits that purpose. It also increases the likelihood that your site will have a distinctive, brand-defining appearance rather than something that looks like it came off an assembly line.
Brains before beauty. Words before graphics.
*Or–better yet–have me write it for you.