Content you think you want (but you actually don't)

August 25, 2020

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.

And don’t make content decisions based on a general feeling of ‘I like that’.

It’s easy to sift through the internet and pick and choose the bits you like, making your own website pick and mix. But is it good content strategy?

Nuh uh.

But Sarah, I hear you say, a few cute little design features aren’t exactly huge content mistakes. I’m borrowing looks and behaviours, not words. Aren’t words more your thing?

And here’s the rub my fine feathered friend: content IS design.

Otherwise, all websites would just be long pages of text.

(And, you know, some of the best ones are.)

Subheadings, bullet points, columns etcetera all give shape to information and influence meaning and readability. Images, video, infographics can present, expand on and reframe information in new ways.

If you design a site without considering the content, the spaces won’t fit the words you need. If you write into a pre-decided design, you’re making content decisions based on aesthetics not audience.

Anyway, enough lecturing, here are some things that you might think you love, but you actually don’t.

Or shouldn’t.

Or should think about for more than 2 minutes anyway.


Every time someone says ‘you must have a FAQs page’ a Content Designer dies a little inside.

FAQ pages can FAQ right off.

You know why that question is asked so frequently?

Because no one can find the answer when and where they actually need it.

You’ll see this on a lot of ecommerce sites.

Imagine you’re doing some online shopping. You want to check the potential shipping turn around. Ideally, it would be in context right by the great big BUY button. You don't even have to leave the page.

But it's not there. So you look around in the footer or menu for a label that makes sense. Shipping, delivery. But that doesn't exist either. So where do you turn to? FAQs.

That’s why ecommerce FAQ pages are full of information about returns, shipping and payment.

FAQs is a place of last resort. The bottom freezer drawer of content.

Yes, there are alternative views. The internet is a learned behaviour and people will shortcut to FAQs anyway. Or that most Google searches are now questions, so we're helping Google when we provide it content in Q&A format.

But I say always push for content in context first. It means information is delivered more clearly and gives a better user experience. And that’s the number one goal, right?

Great images, lotsa ALT tags

You’re doing the right thing. You’ve got amazing wide format images that your web designer will love, and you’ve got a plan to add alt tags as well.

Because that’s good for SEO right?


Google reads your images alt tags to populate search results.

But don’t forget the primary purpose of alt tags: to give meaning to people who can’t see the screen.

As you choose images, think hard about the alt tag you’ll use. Read your content aloud, and read the alt tag for the image in the equivalent place.

Does it add meaning, or is it visual filler?

If the image doesn’t add to the story, then it’s best practice to use your (someone’s) fancy development skills to blank out the alt tags. That way, anyone listening to the content won’t hear ‘image of person smiling at camera’ half way through an otherwise useful page.

But, if you want to blank out the alt tag ask yourself, do I really need this image?

Contact forms (with no other points of contact)

Let’s be real. Contact forms kind of suck...depending on the type of business you’re contacting.

Most people want to know who they’re talking to.

Even when they’re talking out into the ether, they want to know there is a real person at the other end.

Without even tying, a contact form removes that personal touch.

Contact forms can be great to streamline communication to a team. But they can create barriers in a small or solo business. All the trust you built up can disappear quick smart.

I also know from experience that, if given the chance, I’ll look for an email address before resorting to the contact form. And I know that I get more emails direct than via my contact form as well.

It seems I’m not alone.

The most basic newsletter sign up

You know the ones? The short forms with no context, no extra detail, generic button copy.

Bonus points if it pops up on exit intent.

There are a lot of these signup forms out there (they mainly live in footers) that follow a simple formula,

  • A heading that says ‘join our list’ or the more basic ‘newsletter sign up’
  • An input box for your email address
  • A button that says ‘join’ or submit’


A good rule of thumb, when testing copy or layouts, is to ask ‘what’s next?’

In this case, what’s next? The user doesn’t know what they get, what kind of content to expect or the frequency.

And the pop up thing. Personal opinion: pop ups on exit intent (that is, when you move the mouse to close the window) are the devil’s work. I’ve already tried to leave, please don’t make me stay. Pop ups on scroll? I’m cool with that. I started to move toward information. I'm happy for you to keep me.

All types of content have their place. But they need to be considered in light of the overall audience journey.

Good thinking + good words + good design = a great internet experience.

Keep reading

Stretch your vocabulary (but not in the way you’d expect)

Everyone’s a copywriter

Knowing what works on your website