Premium content lies at the heart of inbound marketing. It allows you to dive further into solving the problems and questions that your audience faces, and to establish yourself as an expert and trustworthy source of information. And, on the business side of things, premium content provides you with a great way to turn your website visitors into leads, or even customers.

Yet despite the importance of premium content, inbound marketers sometimes have a backwards approach when it comes to content creation. I’m a graphic designer by training, and as much as I would love to say that design is what will sell your content and get you leads, it’s not.

Both are equally important.

Great content looks pretty boring without any color or formatting, and if the design has no real substance to it, people won’t come back looking for more.

Both have their place, but they need to be done in the right order: content first, design second. Why does it matter which one comes first?

“Content First” Keeps Things Simple

It is easy to get caught up in making sure a design looks nice and to forget that you need to be sure your content is solid enough to stand on it’s own. Think about it – a house could look beautiful on the outside, but if the foundation is unstable it’s all going to come crashing down at some point. Don’t let your content blow up in your face by not planning it out before it goes to design.

Here at Quintain, we like to use apps like GatherContent to help compose and edit content before any designing begins. Much like building a plain, black and white PowerPoint presentation, this approach helps us to make sure that our content is exactly the way we want it to read in the final product, before we determine how it should look visually.

No colors, no fancy fonts or layouts, just text – this approach greatly simplifies content creation by preventing writers and reviewers from being distracted by the “shiny pennies” that design tends to create, and instead allowing them to remain solely focusing on the content.

Focusing on content before design not only helps with content creation, but design review as well.

A big hindrance to many projects – design or otherwise – is having too many people involved, each with their own opinions. But by setting the expectation that only finalized copy goes to design, the back and forth of revisions can be quickly cut down. Once the content is approved, the only thing that should then be reviewed at that point is design.

Content Determines Design

I am occasionally asked if I can provide a client with a template or mock-up so that they can get a better idea of what kind of copy they need to come up with to “fill it in”.

While it sounds like a good idea at first, this is a terrible way to approach any project, for two very specific reasons:

1. Don’t Limit Yourself and Your Content

Good content is like a snowflake – no two pieces of content should ever be the same. So why in the world would you want to force every single piece of content – especially premium content – to look exactly the same?

Please note: I am not talking about creating content with consistent branding, because that is very important.

am talking about throwing copy into the same template over and over without any consideration of how design could be used to enhance your content.

Depending on the template, you might have a variety of graphics, diagrams or charts that you can use to make your content more visual, but even then you are still limiting yourself to what is available in the template.

Templates, if needed at all, should only be used as guides – enough to give you an idea of the final product and dimensions while knowing there are always other design possibilities. When content is finalized and sent to design, you can then have the discussion of what content is worth plucking out being made more visual for your audience.

2. Changing Content Changes Design

Even when there is a template involved, the content itself should ultimately determine how the final product will be constructed.

In the case of an ebook, when just one extra paragraph is added into a piece of designed content, it could push the text onto a whole new page. This may not be a big deal in most cases, since ebooks and most online premium content can be as long as they need to be, but additions and changes like this can still push content around and cause unexpected changes in the layout of a project.

In the case of a printed book or flyer, an extra page usually isn’t an option. There is only so much room on a sheet of paper, and extra pages means extra dollars in the print world.

Time is Money

Okay that’s a little cliché, but really, if you have to make major edits to the copy any time after it has gone to design, you are throwing money out the window.

It’s like paying extra for same-day delivery because you forgot your anniversary was coming up. It’s sloppy, and it’s a waste of money that could have been used to get a nicer, more-thoughtful gift.

When you make changes to your content after design has started working on it, you are likely to tack many extra hours onto the project. Your designer planned out time to design your premium content, but they probably don’t have extra time built into their schedules to redo their design work when you decide to rewrite an entire eBook chapter.

Plus, what about the hours you already spent on content creation? If you are rewriting whole paragraphs that had already been approved, you are wasting your own time as well as your designer’s.

These extra hours become extra dollars. This is pretty obvious if you pay your designer hourly, but even if this is retainer work or you have a full time designer on staff, it takes away time that could have been better spent on a new piece of content.

The Bottom Line

Don’t let your premium content, and your ROI, suffer from needless rounds of revisions.

You’re busy and you have better things to do than reviewing or rewriting copy that has already been edited and approved. Likewise, I am sure your designer is working their hardest to make your great and informative content even more awesome and impressive. Take the time at the start of a project to make sure your content is the best it can be, and then send it off to get those finishing touches from design.

Do yourself and your designer a favor: make good content come before good design.