Why placeholder content won't cut it for great website design
Your website is an extension of your brand and, for many customers, the first impression they’ll have of your product or service. Why use cookie-cutter placeholder imagery for such an important task?
No two web design projects are ever the same.
Each time, I use the client’s communication assets, company goals and existing branded content as building blocks to create an entirely bespoke experience. This way I can make sure the final output ticks all of their boxes — and more!
But I very rarely complete a web design project alone. Aside from the client themselves, there’s usually a copywriter, photographer, videographer or illustrator also on the team. Collaboration is crucial in any branding practice, but digital design is particularly multidisciplinary.
Why? Because websites are a coming together of visuals, words, interactions, UX, and marketing. And the earlier all these experts are engaged in the process, the better.
Some people may think that using placeholder images and copy will suffice when exploring the early iterations of a web experience — and you can sometimes get away with it. But when the time comes to commit to designs and start developing, then the end result will be so much more successful if you’ve got all the other website content in place, too.
What do we mean by website content?
When we say ‘website content’, we basically mean anything that will be used in your website.
The term includes visual content (like images and videos), the written text that you’ll use (otherwise known as ‘copy’), and other important user experience elements that we’ll create together (like animations or interactions).
It is these things which bring personality to your website. Without them, your brand won’t be able to stand out from the competition.
Images are a key example of this. While stock imagery serves a basic purpose, it’s no match for impactful custom/unique images and illustrations. Custom imagery tells your brand’s story, draws customers in, and tempts them to buy your product. Stock imagery may look sleek and stylish, but only at first glance. It’s generic — and is a lot less successful in web design.
With my help, we will decide how all your website content sits together. We can work with a copywriter, illustrator, or any other creative to put the pieces of the puzzle into place.
Why placeholder content won’t help your design process
Let’s loop back to the idea of placeholder content. Why is it that placeholder content should be avoided in web design if at all possible?
Well, when you think about how important it is to get your website content right, then it’s easy to see how your creative team can miss the mark if they’re lacking the key ingredients.
Placeholder content, like stock imagery, is too generic to really do your brand justice. When it’s used too heavily in the web design process, then the overall quality of the website is poorer. The end result will lack clarity and purpose — it’ll likely be weak in terms of strategy as well.
And, from a designer’s perspective, websites built using placeholder copy do little to celebrate your creative team’s abilities either!
Worse still, by using temporary placeholder content, you open yourself up for mistakes. What may seem like a cost-effective solution upfront probably won’t save you any money — you’ll probably have to get another designer in to do redo work later down the line.
For your brand’s sake, invest in bespoke website content
Another major flaw with the concept of placeholder content is that it massively takes away from your brand identity.
Stock content (the clue’s in the name) is non-specific and one-size-fits-all. These same images, videos, templates, and taglines are being used by other companies across the world. Chances are some of your customers will have already seen these images before — on other business, or competitor, websites!
And who wants to be exactly the same as everyone else?
Your customers are looking for fresh, compelling stories. And the website content you use is your ticket to getting their attention.
Rather than fading into the background, your business can carve itself a niche in the busy online marketplace; standing out to your audience as something really special.
As anyone living in this modern world will know, a website can bring a lot of value and results to a company. But that’s only true if it has a strong brand strategy and high-quality assets behind it.
In order to get a slice of that pie, you must first believe in and invest in your brand. And keep placeholder content at bay!
Web design done right
My advice would be that the earlier in the process you have a website content map and finalised copy to work with, the better the final result will be.
As I tell my clients, although they may think that they’re making the design process quicker by using placeholder copy, this mindset is a false economy. The more content that you have created, discussed and got approved, the faster and more streamlined the process will be.
So, at the earliest stage you can, get your content agreed with the rest of your colleagues. Then, once you have decided on the right brand strategy and communication assets (both text-based and visual) for your website, I will work with you to achieve your company’s goals.
During the first step of my website workflow — the Strategy step — we will work on confirming your website objectives, and then using your content architecture plan to put a visual direction strategy in place. So, as you can see, if you had the finalised website content ready for this step, the conversations that we have will be far more rewarding.
By knowing your goals and communication assets, I can devise a strategy that builds on these touch-points, and uses them to their best possible advantage.
About the author
I’m Stefano, a freelance web designer and Webflow expert — based in Italy, but working across the world. I help marketing teams and creative agencies tackle complex digital design challenges, and create engaging experiences that their users love.