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The "Content is King" Myth Debunked
Last Updated May 18th, 2011

Shatter Myth

It’s time I bust this thing wiiiiiiide open.

“Content is King” is HORRIBLE advice.

Question is why?

Content is how you get traffic.

Content is also how you keep loyal readers and customers happy.

So, what’s the problem?

The “Real King” Unmasked

Online, you only have a second to grab someone’s attention.

And during that second, people make snap judgments about you, your business, and your website.

Before. They. Read. Your. Content.

Not convinced?

How Web Design Torpedos Trust

Elizabeth Sillence, and her team, conducted a study where they asked a bunch of people to find websites about hypertension.

Then she asked people to record whether they trusted or distrusted the websites they found, and why.

And guess what?

When she reviewed the reasons why people distrusted a website, 94% cited DESIGN problems.

Yes, you read that right.

Your design can TRIGGER immediate DISTRUST.

The funny thing is, people didn’t just cite aesthetic problems like “that site is ugly.”

The culprits are much more tangible. They are the “red flags” of web design, and there are 10.

The 10 “Red Flags” of Web Design

1. Clever site names

(clever is confusing)

2. Cluttered, busy layouts

(Less options, higher conversions)

3. Navigation Problems

(See the header removal test)

4. Boring web design

(Yes, this one is aesthetic)

5. Pop-up ads

(Don’t mistake subscription boxes for ads)

6. Slow load times

(People are impatient online)

7. Small fonts

(Size 14 is the new size 12, after all)

8. Too much text

(Take this with a grain of salt. Big blocks of text is probably what they meant)

9. Corporate Look and Feel

(Another aesthetic comment. Corporations have it tough, eh?)

10. Poor search functions.

(Again, if people can’t find your content, your site failed)

Now I’m passing it to you.

Do you have any “red flags” on your site?

P.S. If you have a second, sharing this article with your twitter followers would be a huge help.

I know, I’m shamelessly asking you to tweet my article, but it’s easy. Thank you 🙂

Want to read the study? It’s called “Trust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites.”

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248 comments Leave a comment

Good article! Thanks!

However, I must say that a turn-off for me is sites where the author chops all paragraphs into single sentences. It is very annoying. I feel like the author believes me to be an idiot, or a 12-year-old who cannot handle a real paragraph.














Ridiculous, huh? Well, same goes for the other. Annoying as hell.

Yes, I know it is because the author read somewhere that to keep people’s attention, break everything into one-liners. Well, screw that. Basically it says that you think readers are idiots. Some are, of course. But let’s not race to the basement, eh?

Kim George

Hello there Derek! Totally loving this blog post. I am sooo in agreement with this. Having a great blog design definitely instills more trust with folks as they visit you online. Something else that I am seeing that’s super important and prolly at the same level of importance with design is the messaging and on a site. If someone lands on a site and the messaging isn’t clear or relevant to them …they are more than likely gonna bounce.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this one…. Love your site man.. cant wait to see what else you have in store. Cheers!

Jeremiah Say

Totally agree!


I have been saying this for years Derek!

The problem is for 20+ years marketers have been making 6 and 7 figures online with poorly designed websites that harken back to the Angelfire days.

And this has taught would be marketers that design isn’t important – only the offer and content.

I for one (like many others apparently) will not trust someone who makes poor choices in their design, name or the way they present themselves to the world.

Great piece.

I will share on Twitter! Lol


Thanks for the great post! What you say is so true. I know Pat Flynn has mentioned you and Social Triggers several time on his blog and podcast. He has commented about your use of white space and your lack of busyness. I strongly dislike a busy site plus not being able to find what I am looking for.
I love your articles here and your videos on YouTube. I cant wait to see what else you put out as well as run through your archives.
Thanks again!

Dutch Oven

I’m extremely new to the online marketing world. Your article is so true! I look at how you designed your site. Its is basic and to the point with plenty of white space and not busy. A site that is busy is a turn off for myself. This is something that Pat Flynn has shared in several of his blog posts and podcast has said!

Thanks for the article Derak! I really enjoy reading your stuff and apply it to my own content.

Chandler Turner

I see Derek’s post on content is still circulating around out there. The “myth” debunked is almost like an April Fool’s joke. Content has been, is now, and forever will be the king. Derek knew it when he posted because he knew it would grab attention. For that reason alone – the controversy – he got people to pay attention. Well done, Derek.

That being said, great graphics will grab attention faster than words, just as bad design will repel attention faster than words. The human brain is set up do process visual information faster than anything else – as little as 1/50,000 second.

But when that flash ends – and it does end – what does the person searching want? They want substance. They want a reason to participate in the offers. They need to find a value proposition. Pictures and graphics alone cannot finish the connection because pictures standing alone do not answer the questions that people want to know; why should I buy something from you or this company.

There have been a boat load of both heuristic studies and enough cognitive scientific research in the last 20 years to make this argument moot. But it is fun to see the arguments.

Well done Derak!

Chris | WriterMaster

Hello Derek,

Thank you for this post.
So, the content is not the king. I would say “Design is king and content the Queen”.

Because you can grab someone attention with your design. But if your content is bad, he will go somewhere.

It appear that the link of the study is dead. It does’nt work.



Till today I heard about great content and great website and today I learned what it is. Thanks for this excellent information.



Interesting… I was reading another article (a recent one) and wanting to find this one. Noticed #10 glaringly on your site. 😉 Had to google socialtriggers.com + content is king since there is no easy-to-find search box. Or am I blind?

Thanks Derek, love to read your stuff.

oh, and ps: I totally agree. If you have a dodgy-looking site, and I’m gone. Can’t cope. As good as your content is, if you can’t present your content professionally, then um, BYE.



Ania Lisewska

And lastly, you shouldn’t forget to invest in hair accessories such as headband, pins,
or ponytails to help hold your hair when needed, or simply to add style.
s amusing is when they look over intimate apparel and
extravagantly buy some. Once we touch the age of 40,
we get settled in our life with a high paying
job, a caring partner, kids to look out for etc.


Hi Derek,

I really want to read the “Trust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites.”

Can you please send me the link?


Alexis Pimentel

Hi Derek,

Was interested in the “Trust and Mistrust…” article at the end of the blog. However it seems the .pdf/link was not found.


Great post. Like business (wizard) writer Tom Peters says: “Design, design, design”. Apple would just have been a fruit without it.


Excellent article. I agree 100% it starts with design. Most people make decisions subconsciously based on a “gut feeling” — what they see first when they land on your site creates an instant “like” or “dislike” that equates/creates a feeling of “just another crappy blog” or “hey! THIS looks different…what’s it all about then?!”
Content is only king if the kingdom is warm, welcoming and easy to navigate 🙂

Jill Bearup

Good points all, but…

The link to the study provided is on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) not hypertension (high blood pressure).



I love this post. Thank you.

I was wondering what template you are currently using for this website? What is it called?




It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I’ve read
this post and if I could I want to suggest you few interesting things or suggestions.
Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article.
I wish to read even more things about it!


Mike: “It may be simple matter of coining a new phrase: (….) Content + Design = Good (Trustworthy) Site”

That one might do! {wink}

But I think we may be addressing different aspects (of the world). You sound (well, I read you) as if you’re talking with web designers; the ‘content is king ‘ trope is the one thrown at owners and subject matter experts. Yes, it’s idiotic to try to design/define a site without the content. But way-too-many clients want the design to come first, and way too many designers will (however grudgingly) design a ‘rock’ (using lorem ipsum “content”) — and then find the client wants a different rock. “Gin something up and I’ll get someone to write some content later….” {eye roll}

Mike: “I think of content as a benevolent king who is only interested in seeing…”

We’re seeing this quite differently. I see content as a tool — the foremost tool, but not (entirely) the driver. To me, the driver (the “king,” the foremost consideration) is the *point* of the whole exercise: sell a product, teach people, define or defend or express something. “Content is king” is (supposed to be) just a reminder that you can’t DO the rest of the ‘mission-prep’ without it. But the mission isn’t the content.

(Even in an educational site, like my client’s site: his (main) mission is to teach and make sure the wisdom he has gained over decades is not lost when he dies. He is providing content not for content’s sake (his content isn’t “king”), but for the sake of folks who can use it. The mission is a repository. That he also gets clients from the repository is great, but not the main point. So the content is major tool, but the design (to make the content easy to search and sort, easy to read and print) is fundamental to the mission. Content isn’t king here, it’s substance.)

Mike: “This is not a king that demands subservience from his subjects, but seeks to elevate all to a higher level of existence. He considers his countrymen (and countrywomen) his equals, but he does need to lead.”

{wince} Nah, not the metaphor for me. Now, that ‘elevation’ stuff may indeed be a major portion of the *mission* — but it’s not the driver, merely one tool.

Mike: “Content, Structure, then Appearance”

Now this is a new phrase I could (almost) get behind! I would just add “Mission’ or “Reason” or “Goal” or “Desired Endpoint”up-front — because if you haven’t defined WHERE you’re going, you’ll never get there!

Mike: “– for me it’s important to do it in this order which is not the same as saying this is their order of importance. They all require equal care and attention. That’s just how I like to approach projects whenever possible.”

As do I, actually. It may be time to retire the phrase “Content is king” — because it’s not serving any longer. As a battering ram against … hhhmmmmm, let’s just call them: less-than-optimal … clients who want a website and want to “fill it with stuff later” — it’s been useful. Now? Maybe not-so-much.

Mike Donahue

OK, I don’t have the time to read through all 206 comments already posted so if any of this is repeat my apologies.

The fundamental flaw of this article is that it asserts that the two facets are two non-connected aspects of design – that’s just not the case. Both elements are equally important for success. But the gist of this article gives the impression that visual appeal always trumps substance. That’s like saying let’s build a house that looks beautiful on the outside before you ever pour a foundation or raise support walls.

“Design without content is decoration” – Jeffery Zeldman.

Content ABSOLUTELY IS King. Without content there would be no need to design a site in the first place. Content, like a king, can and should dictate the design. The tone and voice of written content can have a huge influence on the look and feel of the design. But content is more then just the written word, it’s images, video, navigation and the design itself. Every element placed on a page should be considered as content.

In Elements of User Experience, Jesse James Garrett placed visual design as the last step in the UX process. Not because it’s the least important but because it’s informed by all the planes before it and eventually it will be what ties everything together. It’s the front facing side of design but that doesn’t mean it’s the only or most important aspect.

Having come up as a visual designer I long held this same erroneous belief that the visual was the most important thing only to learn the hard way that substance always wins out. Visual design should always act as an agent to present content in it’s best light. Does visual appeal influence perceived credibility? Probably. But it doesn’t take long to figure out if that initial perception is correct. We’ve all been fooled by a pretty face at one time or another.


    Mike: “let’s build a house that looks beautiful on the outside before you ever pour a foundation or raise support walls.”

    So: “Let’s pour the foundation before we decide if we’re going to try to (build and) sell a rancher or a McMansion?” Or “let’s pour the foundation for a house that looks ugly (or is awkward to use), but it will sell because it has a strong foundation and great wood in the support walls?”

    Content does indeed determine whether your ‘house’ will be valuable to prospective clients; but without an attractive facade (design!), no one will care whether the walls are sound or the foundation is well done. Content is ONLY king if the design pulls people into the “kingdom.” You have the best, greatest, most wonderful “king” (content) on the web — but if no one is willing to come to the kingdom cause it’s ugly or hard to get into? Your “king” is all alone!

      Mike Donahue

      >> So: “Let’s pour the foundation before we decide if we’re going to try to (build and) sell a rancher or a McMansion?” Or “let’s pour the foundation for a house that looks ugly (or is awkward to use), but it will sell because it has a strong foundation and great wood in the support walls?”

      To the contrary. What I said was the content will and should influence the foundation, the structure and facade.

      >> Content is ONLY king if the design pulls people into the “kingdom.”

      Exactly. Thank you for making my point. It all needs to work together. The visual needs to work to enhance the content and the content needs to influence the visual. That’s why I don’t buy the premise of the article. No one element of the user experience works without all the others helping out. This also includes usability, accessibility, interface design and much more that was not taken into account in this article or the study that prompted it.

      Since my first post I went back and re-read the source material that was the basis for the authors assertions and I have come to have an even lower opinion of the article. The source sited is a report from 2004 of 15 women with menapause ages 41-60. To conclude from such a small sampling of such a specific demographic that visual design IS more important then content for EVERYONE, quite frankly is absurd. It’s FUD. If Derek can produce more evidence of research showing the same results with a suitable size sample, across a broad range of demographics I’d be happy to reevaluate my stand.

      Ask yourself this, when was the last time you interviewed any web user and they told they like to spend hours looking for a pretty web site without regard for its content? My suspicion is never. People go to the web to accomplish goals. Period. Whether that goal is to entertain themselves, find information, buy products or something else. The reason they’re on the web is to accomplish a goal and it’s the content that will allow them to accomplish them.

      Now, let me be clear here, I absolutely recognize the importance that appearance plays in establishing trust. And the aesthetics needs to be appropriate and generate a desire to read on but it only takes a minute to figure out if the site is all fluff or one that will allow them to accomplish their goals. My postion is only through balancing aesthetics, content, usability, interaction, accessibility and everything else that goes into a website will anyone create a website of worth.


        Mike: “Ask yourself this, when was the last time you interviewed any web user and they told they like to spend hours looking for a pretty web site without regard for its content? My suspicion is never. People go to the web to accomplish goals.”

        Ask yourself when was the last time you interviewed any web user and they told you they wanted to spend some time reading on some site, but the design interfered so badly that they didn’t. My suspicion is: not infrequently! There are so many other avenues to achieve most goals, that bad design, and sometimes even mediocre design, means the reader blows off a site to go look somewhere ‘prettier’ — somewhere where it’s not such a task to read the material desired.

        (Strawman?) It’s not a choice between a pretty site that’s fluff, and a site that can look good or bad with good content. Design is hugely important; not more important that content, but — assuming good content, a site owner will get and keep more readers if the design AIDS in reading the content. If one’s first and only loyalty is to good content, and there is not equal loyalty to good design, you have missed the mark. (Way!) Too many people assume as long as the content is good (or good enough), then the design doesn’t matter. Derick is right: the common belief that “content is king” can and does lead to a loss of readers. Good content should be a given. (Alas, that the web is full of bad content! And with people who think bad content is sufficient!)

        Good content is necessary but not sufficient.

          Mike Donahue

          “…assuming good content, a site owner will get and keep more readers if the design AIDS in reading the content.”

          “Good content is necessary but not sufficient.”

          So we agree – Content + Design = Good (Trustworthy) Site. Excellent.

          “Derick is right: the common belief that “content is king” can and does lead to a loss of readers.” That was never said in the article. He said that poor design can lead to distrust of a site. Which I agree with.

          I think the real issue with the phrase “content is king” is the appearance of inequality that it conjures – a king is above all others within his kingdom. If it’s approached like that then it will absolutely be problem. It may be simple matter of coining a new phrase that better illustrates the interdependence and equality needed between all aspects of a sites design. Personally I’m fine with the phrase because to me it simply implies an order that works for me. Start with content (text, images, vide, etc.) in order scope a projects size and requirements, get a sense of the tone and voice and that helps in building a clear hierarchy of information for a site that’s easy to navigate and guides the creation of the overall look and feel. After all how can we design anything if we don’t what it is?

          I think of content as a benevolent king who is only interested in seeing to it that the entire kingdom benefit from his guidance, not his edict. This is not a king that demands subservience from his subjects, but seeks to elevate all to a higher level of existence. He considers his countrymen (and countrywomen) his equals, but he does need to lead.

          Content, Structure then Appearance – for me it’s important to do it in this order which is not the same as saying this is their order of importance. They all require equal care and attention. That’s just how I like to approach projects whenever possible.


I had this conversation with someone just yesterday who was trying to make the argument that if a website is targeting older generations, they won’t care as much about design if the content is there. Perhaps there is a small grain of truth to that, but I pointed out that even if that is true, if the website makes the user immediately feel like they are viewing a well-designed site, they will trust the product/content more.

    Chandler Turner

    @Samantha – your friend is dead wrong. Human beings process information in the same general manner. Yes, there are a lot of variations. Bad design – visual or written content – is equally bad for everyone.

    But different generations do respond to one design in different ways, one preferring more “traditional” color combinations and another a little “wilder” combination.

    But it is the last item that causes more confusion than anything I have ever seen. Design/ trust. It should be shown as a matter of confidence and not a matter of trust. I understand that this seems a bit too similar but it is not. To the point: Do you trust me?

    Trust is not freely given by any of us. It has to be earned. But if I take the time to write a logical or complex answer to a seemingly simple question, you might gain confidence that I know what I am talking about, but you will likely not trust me – yet. I have done too little to earn it.

    Seem silly? It isn’t. Failing to recognize things like this can be grouped together to answer questions about why visual and content design often fail to motivate action. These seemingly unimportant factors are far more vital than they appear to be.

    Tell me a good story, tell me why I should pay attention by how it affects me, give ma a value to attach my feelings to, tell me how you are different, and you now have a chance to earn my business. That has nothing to do with any sort of forgiving generation.

    By the way, I am 59. Do I qualify for the older generation that might not care?


      @Chandler I see your point in the difference between trust and confidence. If I understand you correctly, good design gives the user confidence to take the next step towards trust and perhaps action. I do not pretend to speak for anyone else, including entire generations. I was highlighting one perspective from a single person from an older generation and responding to it as a curious comment to make.

        Chandler Turner

        You do understand correctly. And I was having a chuckle over the generational thing. There is no voice inflection here.

        On its face, language seems like a simple thing but it is not. Use a comma and move a letter, and you change meaning. Example: “What’s in the road, a head”? ” or What’s in the road ahead?” In the first, can you visualize someone’s head in the road? In the latter, it is just a general question of what lies ahead.

        And on the internet, we have no use of voice inflection whatsoever. Therefore we have to take great caution in what we say and how we say it. This is where brands get broken and where good prospects are lost.

        Visual decisions are made in as little as 1/50,000 second. But if we are going beyond a point, click, purchase scenario to something more complicated or expensive, prospects turn to the substantive portion of the message – the words and feelings.

        If they are on a web search, they have already started climbing the decision ladder. So how you guide them from small decision to small decision (one small yes to the next yes), and with great speed, is critical to success. If we figure out how to influence positive subconscious cues with language, reinforcing visuals, then we really have a winning combination.

Marius Lixandru

Im new blogger but some time i think about SEO and content is king, at the moment my website run with 50-50
50 content
and other 50 seo
hope is a good combination to reach more visitors.
nice article Derek i really enjoy it.


I am really agree with your thoughts on Content is King myth. Design and other factors as mentioned by you are most important. I am also feeling this in my blogging career since long time ago.

David Nickell

This never-ending faux controversy and many of the silly responses remind me of Woody Allen’s famous remark: “I took a speed reading course and read ‘War and Peace’ in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”

I would simply add: “I read ‘Moby-Dick’ last night. I liked everything about it except the words, which I didn’t read. I thought there should have been more pictures of the ship and the octopus. Maybe a whole school of octopussies. In color.”


I agree, simple and clean is better….I do get a poor impression of someone with a cluttered or nasty design.
I feel the context of the message to the audience is more important than content. As you mentioned, we are so overloaded with content, we only pay attention to things that apply directly to our needs/wants.

kara t

Just read the research article posted. Yep, bad design was used to weed out websites. But good content is why people chose a website.
“The selection of sites was based on trust. Participants
trusted sites that provided informative content on a wide
range of relevant topics. The information was trusted if it
was unbiased and if the information on such sites was
supported by research articles or original sources.”
So the argument is more complex that people like to make it. Both good content AND good design is need. Heck, really, good content, design, and IA are all required.

kara t

Design is very important. But without great, or even good, content, it’s irrelevant. There isn’t a web without some sort of content.


I’m not any kind of expert, but that’s my guess:
0) User finds site. Then four combinations can happen.
1) The site just looks so lovely that the user does not mind to spend a couple minutes exploring it a bit.
A) The user does not find any interesting content, and although it looks nice, it will be forgotten forever since it does not create value.
B) The user finds something of interest and will bookmark it or join to the newsletter, or just check the site regularly.
2) The site is ugly or just without any particular aesthetical value, but directly out of the box, there is some really promising content and the user reads it such as a header of an article. The user thinks that the content is great and joins the newsletter although the website looks ugly.
3) The website is ugly and there is no immediate sign of something which could be useful to the user. The tab is closed and the website is never again visited.
My conclusion: a nice design helps and is all good, but what matters is how useful is the website.
Then I want to add a remark, that there are issues such as navegation and so on. This is closely connected to the design.
So I’d end up saying: develop good content that helps people (what else would one create a business for??), make it accessible, of course. And having a good design, which is functional (not arbitrarily fancy) will help people to use the content and make it more appealing, so get a good design too.

I’d just say both are very important. A very good design with bad content is a waste, a very good content with bad design is equally bad if it means that it is less accessible. Having good content is half of the way, the other half is making people find you. So you have to make both good.
Design should be in most of the cases on the service of the functionality. It’s actually part of the content if you want. It also contains a message about the site.

Karen Reyburn

I would put ‘subscription boxes’ in the pop up ad category. They annoy me by distracting me at the moment when I’m engaged and interested, and often have resulted in me leaving a site instead of finishing an article. And I can safely say I close them without looking at them 10 times out of 10. One popped up while I was reading this post, and I closed it automatically with no idea what it said or what it was trying to get me to do.

Paul Chato

Here is a transcription of an actual conversation I had recently (Tightened up a bit to not bore people):

(Client is in quotes)

“What do you mean I need content?”
You know, the stuff that describes what you do along with photographs that show what you do?
“How do we get that?”
Someone will have to write and shoot it.
“Will that cost money?”
Yes, it usually does, unless you do it yourself.
“I don’t know how to do it.”
Then you will have to get someone who does.
“Can’t you just build a website without it?”
“Make it look nice.”
How do we make it look nice if we don’t have content to make look nice.
“Can’t you take it from somewhere?”
Then it wouldn’t be your content.
“I’m not very confident that you people know what you’re doing. I just want a website.”
Do you visit websites?
“Sure, all the time.”
What do you think you’re reading and looking at?
“The website.”
Right, has content, copy to read and pictures to look at. It usually describes the business or service.
“Yeah, do that.”
Sure, we’ll get a writer and put a budget together.
“No, I don’t want a writer, just do it.”
The process of writing is a service.
“But you know what we do. I told you.”
Sure, so you go ahead and you just write what you do down, because you know your own business, and we’ll put it in the website for you.
“Just put in what I told you.”
That would be writing.
“No it’s not, I told you what to write.”
Yes, but we have to add nouns and verbs and other things to actually tease a few sentences out of what you said.
“Sure, do that.”
That would be writing.
“Look, you’re talking all the time. You’re talking to me right now. You’re not charging me to talk to me. Just write your talking down.”
Let’s just leave copy out of the discussion for one moment. What about pictures?
“I gave you pictures.”
They were taken by your cell phone. They look, dark and tiny… I’m sorry to say… amateurish.
“Then do that Photoshop thing.”
All Photoshop will do is let us make them barely recognizable.
“Yeah, do that.”
Unfortunately, it won’t increase the resolution to a useable size. Digital images have their limits.
“I see them do it all the time on CSI.”
If you’d like a corpse on your website I’m sure it can be arranged.
“That would turn people off, are you crazy?”
I’m getting there. Look, you’ve been in business for 27 years. Are you telling me that you’ve never taken any pictures of the products, process, or of your people interacting with clients?
“Never thought of that. That is a brilliant idea.”
“Please do it.”
Sure, I’ll get a quote from a professional photographer.
“Don’t you have a good camera on your phone?”
“Just use that.”
Even if I take the pictures with my phone that will take time and I will have to charge you for them.
“But they would only be phone pictures.”
I don’t see your point.
“You already have a camera on your phone, it’s free, see. Use that so it won’t cost you anything to take them.”
But what about my time, the shooting session, the travel there and back?
“Do it on a day when it’s on your way to another appointment.”
I see, just take a quick break, pop into your facility and take some impromptu snaps before I scoot off to my money-making appointment?
“Yes, that’s it. Great idea, eh?”
I’m sorry, I can’t do it. My time is valuable. I don’t think we can do your website. In fact you’ve made it impossible to do your website. Without content you have no website. All you’d have is a banner.
“Okay, I’ll take just the banner.”
Just a banner, no content?
Okay, we can design a simple banner for you in a few hours, times our hourly rate.
“No, I don’t want you to make a banner, just put one up.”
How do we put one up unless someone makes it?
“You know, you web people, make it really hard for us non-technical people to understand what you do.”
We do it on purpose.

    Ryan Cruz


    Paul,did this conversation really happened?

    I had conversations like this with people interested in web designs and blogging.

    But the moment I realize that they don’t know what they want, I politely tell them that I can’t help them. 🙂

    Chandler Turner

    This is the funniest thing I have read in quite a while. It is most unfortunate that I can imagine having this same conversation with a client. I could care less that you edited it. It is very entertaining. And here I was thinking that my geography was the only one harboring this kind of ignorance.


      That’s epic. “You web people”. Yikes.

Heather Head

I’m a content marketer. When I work on a website, I get involved from the beginning planning stages. I believe in content, and I prefer to lead the project or partner with providers who share my strategic and content-based approach to online marketing.

So you might expect my reaction to this would be “hogwash,” but the truth is you make some excellent points. Visitors really do judge a site within the flash of a micro-second, long before they begin to read the words or listen to the video.

However, as with most things, the truth is more nuanced than just “content is king” and “no it’s not.” In the original Bill Gates definition, “content” also included software. By extension, one can easily also include “design” in the definition. And I do.

When I work on a website project, we start with “content” and by “content” we mean everything that supports the client’s message and goals. This includes the design. We look at the market, the business, the value proposition, and the goals, and “design” everything–from the message, to the structure to yes, the actual visual design, around that. The way the page looks is integral to the page’s message.

Content is king. And content is design. And content is words. And video. And structure. And downloads. And the platform.


    Very well said. It’s nice to hear others acknowledging that content is much more than just a block of copy, and that design is more than visual aesthetics. Content is indeed all the things you mentioned, even down to technology platforms and strategies on how to use those technologies to accomplish your overall objectives. Design is the whole product – everything from function to form and everything in between…even the process of arriving at the final design solution is a part of the design. More designers have got to start realizing this.

Chuck Rylant

This is a great article Derek. Thanks for sharing it in your Blog that Converts fabulous training.


Maybe someone (I hope) has already pointed this out (I did not read the entire email string…and I have no idea how old these postings are), but to the author and all those who agree with him, you guys are missing something really major here, and you are dangerously leading young and naive, impressionable designers down a path that may cause them to be overly self-important and unsuccessful.

Yes, a nice visual aesthetic will hook a user and invite them stay and get into your content, but let’s back up a minute and take a look at the actual design process.

Content is indeed king. Still. Always. Period.

Why? Because content INFORMS the design! It tells the design what it needs to be, how it needs to function, what it needs to accomplish, how it needs to visually communicate.

How in the world can content fall behind design in chronological order (as some dude named Justin said way up in thus tread)? If that’s true – if design comes before content – you don’t have design. What you have is mere decoration.

Without content, how do you even know WHAT you are designing, how to layout your page, what to give emphasis to, etc, etc, etc?

Without putting content first, you will produce a design that will fail to communicate, cause a user to act, influence behaviors, convert users, etc. Who cares if it’s visually appealing at that point, because your pretty design will be worthless. Remember, I’m talking about the design process, well before your website goes live and attracts it’s first visitors…even before you open up Photoshop. I’ll say it again – I’m talking about how content should – must – inform your design in order for it to be successful.

Without content, all you’ve done is “made a pretty picture.” That’s nice – maybe your mother will hang it on the fridge and put a gold star on it. 😉

Paul Rand defined graphic design as the SYNTHESIS of CONTENT & FORM, and I’m here to tell you he was spot on. There’s a reason we all know who Paul Rand is. He kind if knew a thing or two about design.

Like some dude named Mike said way up there in this thread, content and design go hand-in-hand. I’d even take that a spet further and say that they are one in the same.

Design is not merely visual aesthetics. That’s just a PART of what good design really is. In order for design to be good – to be influential and useful – it must be so much more than just aesthetically pleasing (look up Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of “Good Design”).

How Controversy Can Help You Attract Inbound Links

[…] website SocialTriggers.com published a blog post about how web design is more important that content, challenging the mantra, “content is […]

David Nickell


I looked for this post after you mentioned it in your audio interview with the publicity expert.

As is the case with your blog in general, the information is interesting and useful.

But even if I hadn’t listened to the interview, I think I still would have spotted the controversy-over-truth factor. The headline is full of “buzz” words, a good thing to use in the title of ANYTHING. In fact, it’s a double whammy. Calling the “content is king” premise a “myth” conveys your skepticism of it. But then you rev it up a notch by promising to “debunk” that so-called “myth.”

As I read the points that “debunk” the premise and expose it as a “myth,” I wasn’t convinced that the evidence proved the case. The research is simply a reminder of the conventional wisdom that both content and design matter.

What’s missing is which one has the stronger staying power. But that’s a no-brainer. With rare exception, you can’t get a message across or sell a product or service with dazzling designs and pretty pictures alone. You need words. How many and which ones and where they should go is a function of both content and design.

I think I’m around commenter No. 200, so I doubt anyone will see this. You have any advice on how to get visitors to read EVERY comment?

And by the way, it’d be nice if these posts had dates attached to them so those of us who missed out on the first round know if our comments are two days old or two years old.

— David Nickell

    Chandler Turner

    Once in a while I see another comment in here. There are ways to get visitors to read nearly every word. It is a matter of understanding how to cognitively position your content. It requires an understanding of wire frame issues, a little neuro linguistic programming, a working knowledge laddering theory (even though it is a questioning technique), human short-term memory, subconscious decision making, and cognitive processing. These Ux fields are all related to the manner in which people react to and process information once they have encountered it. And then above all else you must layer all of this with the element of time. If you want, you can ask me directly at chandler@accu-biz.com (if Derek will allow me to publish this last part).

When Did You Last Update Your About Page?

[…] (Being “too corporate” is one of the main reasons why people visit sites… and leave them within a few seconds. It’s proven). […]


I’m in the middle of developing my website and reading your article for ideas.

Now that you mentioned “Corporate Look and Feel”..
I gotta change something.

Thanks for the tips!

    Chandler Turner

    Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what you are promoting. There are sites that should never have a corporate look and feel. If you are trying to attract corporate types, then you had better have a look and feel that will attract those people. Are you after college students? That would be different. Are you selling consulting services or hamburgers? Totally different. Who is buying them? Why? But that is just look. then you have the answer to the question “why should I stay here and what can I hope to do here”.

    Is there a call to action? There is always a perceived cost to taking action. And you want them to take action, right? Unless you are selling audio or video or using them properly, you have to persuade with words. And typically – and I mean typically and not universally – if you think you have the right amount of words, you can probably cut that in half or more and do a better job.

Lessons from 31 Engagement Superstars

[…] The “Content is King” Myth Debunked – In one of the most incendiary posts on this list, Derek Halpern over at Social Triggers talks about how, while content may be the magic element that turns visitors into customers, it’s not what gets them in the front door. For that you need killer design. Derek goes on to list ten “red flags” that could be turning visitors away before they ever have a chance to read your content. Does your website have any of them? […]


I was just wondering about #10 regarding this website, I don’t see any search function. Why is there no need for one here?


Derek Halpern's "No Search Form" Post on Social Triggers | Success On My Mind

[…] I have a lot to learn about the business of blogging. So, it’s expected that Derek has a lot of things to teach me. He likes to challenge commonly accepted beliefs. […]


Also date your posts. How do I know if the info presented is fresh, or outdated? For all I know this post was created in 2006!

Btw, today is 01 Dec 2011.

Jeriea Smith

Hello Derek,
I think content and audience play the same role on the Internet and I wrote a post on this a couple of weeks ago. My opinion is that without content it wouldn’t be possible to convey ideas and brands and users couldn’t be reached and stimulated. But without readers asking for content, content would have no reason to exist. Good content generates relationships and sharing.

Chandler Turner

Hi John. No, I certainly do not speak for Derek, even though I am currently listening to a Webinar with him and another consultant. What Derek is really doing – as far as I can see – is taking a side in an often-made argument. He does take the visual design-side of the argument as the most important part of overall design. One of the things that they argue are things like the fact (proven science) that people can make a visual decision within 1 / 50,00 second. That is true. And they (many but not all) designers believe that the quick decision is the most powerful controlling factor. In choosing a “click to purchase” commodity item where the cost of acquisition of the next client is minimal, then the visual can carry more weight. But for more complicated or expensive products, the visual is actually pretty minor. As for Derek, it is my personal opinion that he is not baiting with things he does not stand behind. He does look for controversial subject matter. But he takes a side and the side he takes is the one he believes in. I do not always agree with him but I like what he is doing.

Guilherme Alvim

I still believe Content is King, but the design being Ace.

    Jessica Zurik

    Content + Design is f*cking King!


    I respectfully disagree with design being the most important thing online. In the overall sense of what you do online, your content is what matters most, not your website’s design.

    I’m not seeing how everyone agrees with “Content is King is HORRIBLE advice”.

    Is it out of respect?

      Chandler Turner

      So do I. I talked to Derek. Take a close look at the name of the blog. the word “trigger” is used. What Derek has done is to set out a controversial issue that leads to discussion. If you look down the list which is quite long, you will see that the real “thinkers” do not regard content as being dead. Quite the contrary in fact. Those who do not understand it are designers who are still of the mind-set that design is everything. One of the earlier writers smartly suggested to take a site that looks great but was devoid of content ant put it up against a lousy looking site with great information and measure which one got the most contacts. It is the extreme, but it served to highlight the situation. The bottom line is that both are highly important. It is not a chicken or the egg argument. It is not “either-or”. It is “both”. Take a look at recent research by MecLabs if you want to see how important well done content is.


        I realize that you don’t talk for him, but I certainly hope that (and what I think you’re implying) he’s not “baiting” us with blog articles for which he does not stand behind and truly believe in.

        That would just be crap and misleading because a lot of people see him as an authority.

        I couldn’t imaging myself or a site like Copyblogger ever putting an article like this on their blog just for the sake of creating a heated comment section and the content is not true.

        Again, not sure if that’s what’s going on here. I hope it’s not.

        But then does this mean that Derek really believes that Content is King is horrible advice?


          Think of all those sites with white text on black background (or one I recently gave up on because it was medium gray text on a black background!!). It doesn’t matter how great their content is — if it’s making me struggle (or even work hard) to read their content… I’m gone! If I absolutely 100% HAVE to read a piece of great content that is presented like that? I highlight it so it’s readable (if it is) — and if not, I actually copy the text out and throw it in a word processing program!

          But read ANYthing else on that site? Not gonna happen! Good content CANNOT overcome bad design: therefore, content is NOT king until good design has prepared the kingdom!

          Patrick Donovan

          “So, in the grand scheme of things, if you get your design all wrong, it doesn’t matter what you say because no one will read it.”

          It depends upon the author, Derek.

          You have no idea how tempted I was to put my name as “Stephen King”.


          You can have the best content in the world… but if someone visits your site and doesn’t read it… it doesn’t matter.

          100% agree.

          But content is what makes the Internet go round, not web design.

          I would also argue that if we’re talking about such a bad design that no one would bother to read it, the same would hold true for content.

          However, if both are high quality and optimized, your great content will be what builds your reputation and sell your products.

          Of course as I’m sure you know, both elements being great is what we need to have. It’s not really a one or the other.

          Derek Halpern

          You can have the best content in the world… but if someone visits your site and doesn’t read it… it doesn’t matter.

          So, in the grand scheme of things, if you get your design all wrong, it doesn’t matter what you say because no one will read it.


          I guess I’m looking at the overall grand scheme of things, not just a website.

          Derek Halpern

          If you read this article, and stop after I say Content is King is horrible advice, you’ll get the wrong impression.

          Content is King IS horrible advice… for the first few seconds that someone visits your website. In those first few seconds, it’s your design that matters.


Tweets, Facebook likes and linking only get’s done based on content. Who much traffic has this article attracted because of how it looks versus it’s content? 95%? 99%? 100%?

Looks get you there (good web design) but content keeps you there and gets you talk to others about it unless it’s somewhat meta and you’re a designer and appreciate it’s design.

One hopes that when you look at an attractive person that there’s something behind the eyes worth sticking around for!

Good web design is awesome and the points Derek writes about are the things which when not done properly get in the way of the what’s trying to be said…the content! They go hand-in-hand. Good web design should be pushed, optimised and tweaked within an inch of their lives but not to the detriment of the readability on the content.

This very article is a testament (and it’s popularity) to this. The 10 points Derek has used on this article are used so the content can speak clearly for itself.

Apart from that I think that the debate would shift if the question becomes “What is meant by King”?


As someone not particularly web-knowledge-y, but who knows a lot about people and what attracts them everywhere else in the world I’m shocked that this is even a debate. Of COURSE design is crucial. Why do brands spend so much time abs money on making their products look good, almost above anything else? Soft drinks, cosmetics, magazines. Youre buying the dream, the look and feel. A bottle of perfume? It might smell okay but youre really buying that beautiful bottle, packaging & ad.

Why would the web be any different? Design is KING.


True design is the first impression and is what helps build that “initial” trust level on a single website, however I’m sure you realize that overall (in the grand scheme of things), Content is King, yeah?

Content is what makes the Internet work, not website design and layout.

People make A LOT more money via information, advice, and coaching vs. web design.

But yes, like a friend of mine said – the idea of if your website sucks then you’ll lose customers holds true.

Roxi Juegos

This is very true visual impact of a website is what jumps at first sight and is often what makes the site credible and important, an excellent contribution.


Design may get visitors to take a second look, but you will still need good content to hold them… thought provoking piece though.

Earl Bowser

Thank you Thank you Thank you Derek
NOW I have finally found someone else that I can PROVE is trusted in the field that can back me up when I talk to my leads about their design problems lol

Did I say thank you?

5 Branding Lessons from Steve Jobs | www.stephaniepollock.com

[…] but design is the first thing people notice when they come to your site. According to Derek over at Social Triggers, a recent study indicated that when asked why somebody distrusts a website, 94% cite design […]

Andrew Middleton

There are bunch of other red flags that I can think of (but then again, I’m OCD when it comes to design and best practices).
As a general rule, I’d say anything that looks pre-2006 is problematic.
Google Adsense is a pretty big red flag for me…I ‘spose it still works for some people…but it’s ugly, and used on 99.9% of disreputable sites…

The #1 Conversion Killer In Your Web Design (Are You At Risk?)

[…] With widgets, plugins, social media profiles, and other junk like that, it’s easy to overload your website with a bunch of garbage you don’t need. […]

Edward J. Edmonds

The line spacing on this site makes me nauseous when scrolling.

    Derek Halpern

    What? The line spacing is perfect 😛


I was just joshin’ you for the most part 😉

I like it bc it’s plain, simple and easy to navigate… but it’s not the best I’ve seen.

However since your site is geared towards providing solid useful information, the design works.


So what’s your excuse? 😛

You do make a great point though. It’s just like meeting someone for a sales call… if you look like a skell, you won’t get treated with much respect.

You have just those first few seconds to command the respect of your prospect, whether it be in person or via your website, so make sure you put your best foot forward 🙂

    Derek Halpern

    What do you mean, what’s my excuse? My design rocks.


It seems obvious, doesn’t it? I know I’m guilty of big blocks of text, but if I use your blog as a guide, that text is easily broken with bigger font, better line spacing, appropriate header usage, images and even an opt-in form at the end (which is something you talk about in another post, I believe).

Again an obvious-in-hindsight tip is what you discussed in your Pearsonalize (sorry if I’m getting the name wrong) post about colors; combined with appropriate font and text (and de-cluttering the page) you will get better sales.

I love what you’re doing here, Derek, it’s a great “guide” for what I should be doing with my own sites!

Sylvia Nibley

This reminds me of the “nature vs. nurture” argument psychology has had for decades or the “which organ of the body is more important” question of some ancient folk tales I can think of. As a former web designer and current marketing teacher it’s obvious to me the answer can’t and doesn’t need to be “either/or” but really is “both/and.” Both good design and good content are necessary for an effective website. And isn’t is great that we can achieve both critical elements more easily than ever now?

Valentin Padurean

I think the only important think is the ratio content/”weak presentation”. If content is good enough, in the end it will overcome the “weak presentation”. What is the worst thing is to have a stunning presentation for a very weak (absent content). This should not exist, unless is a design-skills demo. Ideally good content should be backed by good design.
Content IS king, otherwise presentation should not even exist.


Hi Derek,

excelent Checklist! Thank you for your helpful articels you write for us!
For my Newsletter i´ve use on a site exit-lightbox and i have good results with it.

rock on

The Secret to Getting More Links and Social Media Love

[…] example, when I wrote the article “The Content is King Myth Debunked,” I did just […]

Brochure printing

Your summaries are always topnotch. Thanks for keeping us apprised. I’m reading every word here.

Kunal C

Brilliant post. I have been observing few points you mentioned on sites like yours, DIY themes, pearsonified since last few days. They dont clutter with too much of text. lots of spacing between sentences. Design is sweet and simple.
And today I came across this article and now all doubts are cleared. Thanks for sharing..

Sal Greco - Surfer Lifestyle Design

This is EXACTLY why I am getting my site re-designed before I push my product. When I asked visitors the biggest response I got was “my site is not custom enough, and there is TOO much going on”

Luckily before I even read this I coincidentally used some of these in my re-design right now. I am making sure that my site is aesthetically pleasing by being a little different in design, but also making sure that it’s simplicity is there to keep eyes on my content, or my newsletter.

One question… You mentioned pop ups, and not confusing pop ups with email drop boxes. I have been using pop up domination for my newsletter, and DEFINITELY have great results with it. (I mean compared to not having it). I noticed a few people using their box on a timer, and instead of using regular copy in the title they use something like “So sorry to bother your reading… or Sorry for interrupting, but if you do enjoy what you are reading….”

Do you have any insights into what is the best way to utilize the pop up box? Is it best to come up right away (my fear is people assume its a pop up and close) or wait a minute and then excuse yourself for popping up?

Either way, it is most likely up to me to test and see what works best, but I would be interested to see if you had any knowledge on this.

Surfs up,

Duane Christensen

I love good content. I also love an easy-to-navigate design and something that doesn’t blow up my eyeballs. So, it should all mesh together nicely, right?

I also think that people forget about an attention-grabbing headline…and an opening to their article that doesn’t put people to sleep. I’ve left many blog posts unread because the first paragraph was a snoozer. Maybe it “picked up” further into the post, but I didn’t give them the chance.

In the end…I think that if you leave one of those two, three, or four elements out …you’ll struggle with readers and followers. Yes, there are extremes where super-fantastic, mind-blowing content overcomes a horrid site design, font, color, etc. But arguing from extremes isn’t a habit of mine.

Jana Quinn

Excellent checklist! Nothing discredits a website for me quicker than poorly spelled articles, ad-stuffed sidebars, or low resolution images.

This can be applied all over for business and personal relationships: someone may end up loving you for who you are but they need to like you for what they see first.

I think your post is right on target. I think that ugly blogs can OVERCOME their ugliness and still build a community, but the content needs to be so strong that word-of-mouth recommendations rather than browsing or unguided link-following urge a skeptical reader to continue on.

As far as the scuffling in the comments over the blog title, it comes down to a matter of definitions. If you’re going with the definition of king as an unchallenged authority, then yeah – content is NOT king. If you can’t hear the royal command over the flashy ads, you’re not going to be a very good ruler.

Thanks for the post!


Very helpful post Derek and I agree with the points you raised.
BTW, I just watched a video on SPI where you critiqued and gave great feedback to Pat on his blog. Definitely helping me settle on the design of my site.


Derek, thank you for bringing some clarity to this issue. I agree with you wholeheartedly but until now thought I was a member of a visually inclined minority. So glad to hear that is not the case and that I can go on designing my websites the way I see fit, using appealing design to draw the reader in, and following up with good content.

Looking forward to your ‘actionable steps’.

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[…] do have a smallish quibble with the latest one. Called “The ‘Content Is King’ Myth Debunked,” the piece takes aim at the presumptive number one maxim when it comes to building an […]


Hi Derek,

First of all, your posts rock. Thanks! Secondly, would DrinkingDecaf.com for an internet marketing company be an example of a clever name? I’ve been thinking about using that, but may not based on rule #1. What do you think, is that a clever name? What are some other examples of clever names to give a better idea of what you mean in this post.

Thanks again!



    Only if you’re selling coffee!


    Hi Derek, I never got an answer to this. Your thoughs? 🙂


Wordrepss Search option is really not the most robust. Any plugin suggestions to improve it, besides Google Custom Search, since their free version comes with ads.?



    I meant to say WordPress 🙂

How to Make Your WordPress Category Pages Search Engine (and People) Friendly

[…] No one likes to feel overwhelmed on a website. And worse, the overwhelming feeling of clutter triggers immediate distrust. […]

Jonathan Fowler

Great post! It follows the same concept as human attraction. It doesn’t matter what your personality is like if your appearance is unkempt. Maybe that’s a bad analogy…maybe not?

Ian Brodie

It feels like the title of this article in some ways has derailed the sensible points being made. We’ve got people arguing about what is the “most important” part of a website rather than acknowledging the very sensible points being made about design.

Your post reminded me of something Gary Bencivenga said ages ago about direct mail.

He pointed out that while most people say the most important element of direct mail is the headline, he argued it was actually the format.

If something drops out of a letter and it looks like an advert, it goes straight in the bin.

However, if it looks like a personal letter, or a magazine or somethign you’d want to read – then you give it a chance. You read the headline and maybe the first fiew sentences – then you decide whether to bin it.

Feels like it’s the same with websites.

Maybe a better (but less eyeball attracting) title for this article would have been somethign to do with not neglecting design – rather than implying design was more important than content.

Anyoo – I’ve certainly taken notice of a couple of points.



    Love Gary Bencivenga … a true Master at pulling eyeballs!


Great opinions, great points-of view.

I like it all. The subject makes me think and re-think. Nice job with that, Derek.

But one size NEVER fits all, no matter what.

So, I recommend that you test, test again, and uh, test some more. Your audience will tell you what they want. If you’ll listen.

Ultimately, it’s like every other relationship – relationship means more than one at the party – and these two, Content and Design, actually go hand in hand.

Oh, and if you’re blowing it, your stats will tell you that. So, you’d better get back to testing again.


Those pesky Skip Intro’s just won’t die.

Tho Huynh

Hi Derek,

You have built a great community here. People are free to give their opinions and share their thoughts while they reading your posts.

I am definitely agree that content isn’t the king if nothing support it (In this case, we talk about the Design). I myself used to believe that no matter what my site looks, if I provide awesome content, people will come and become my loyal readers. In fact, things are quite different. I used to use free themes to decorate my blog hoping they will reduce the total cost.

However, the bounce rate at that time was so high that make me think about the design. Now, I am switched to Genesis and I am very happy that visitors have spend more time on my blogs.

It proves that your content is wasted if no one reads it.



For the first thirty seconds, web design is king.

After that, content is king.

Amen? 😉


    I think more like 0.3 seconds – according to the research I read recently somewhere.

Suzanne Vara


Great points here and as I read through the comments which were all very well said, they seemed to repeat a theme that content is king and for some regardless of how mediocre the design, it was the content that truly mattered. I think design matters however we see far to many sites that are so slimy and unattractive that it feels like we need to take a shower after viewing it.

I agree that content is so incredibly important as as it relates to SEO, Google is not looking at the aesthetics of the site, so regardless of how attractive or unattractive the site is, the content is what gets ranked. ok but it is those that are searching that see the site and if they do not trust the site, they leave. There can be tons of #1 rankings for certain terms but if the audience/viewers do not like, or are unable to navigate through the site or have no understanding of what you want them to do, they will click off.

In a completely different example that I think people may be able to relate is let’s say I am a speaker and I have the best content and the audience loves me but I am a complete and utter slob. My clothes are dirty and have holes in them (not intentional for design) and my hair is crazy and I have on bright blue eyeshadow, bright orangie blush that looks like a skateboard and bright red lipstick – in other words my entire appearance is just incredibly awful – how many speaking gigs will I get? The content may be great but the event coordinators have a standard and I would not fit their standard. I am overlooked.

At the same time, I could be as gorgeous as Jennifer Aniston and dress in $5K designer suits, have a hair and makeup stylist with me at all times but my content is crap. I may get a few more gigs than I would have with a shitty appearance but before long the content being so awful will not land me any more gigs.

Design/appearance + content matter. Period.

Bert Middleton

Great. Now that I’ve had Content is King drilled into me for my entire internet career (1 yr! lol!) you go and turn the whole damn thing upside down. Nevertheless, it’s added some confirmation to what I do online researching for info to post: I click on – if it hits me wrong – I’m off and on to the next site. Back to work – Thanks.

Marc Swarbrick

May I suggest an alternative title?

“Good presentation of Good content is King”


    Chandler Turner

    You win the prize.

Bob Alpakar

Hey Derek, I got really useful points out here. and your title selection amaze me, I am sure you are an expert on social marketing, and it seems from your titles, content and so on.

P.S. change your commenting system, to something like Disqus.

Brandon Yanofsky

Interesting stuff. Intuitively I knew this, but I couldn’t articulate it. And therefore, couldn’t follow the rules.

There’s a lot of posts out there with people saying “I’m going to debunk the content is king myth” and they suck. Yours actually is spot on.

For number 1, clever site names, does this mean a more simple, straightforward site name is more trustworthy?

    Chandler Turner

    Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!

    All kidding aside – the issue of cleaver site names. The definitive answer is maybe.

    Clever might work for some clients. For others clever will not work at all. Clear and more precise is better – sometimes. For instance, think about the difference in audience between Derek Trucks (blues guitar master), Proctor & Gamble products, a local attorney, or a widget manufacturer. Clever will work for some but not for others.

    What a lot of people have said here is to see it through the eyes of the user – the likely visitor. Properly designed up-front discovery with the site owner will reveal that. Asking good solid questions with the user in mind, not the agenda of the seller. It has to be outwardly focused to work well.

    Tag lines make a difference also. I am pretty sure Derek made a really good statement about them. They should support the main idea, and they should be clear. We don’t have time for crap! What does this mean: “We are the premier provider of technical services in the area.” What services? What technology? Why should I care? This says nothing and is a waste of time and space. Had it said “We provide horizontal drilling for plumbing systems across the state of New York”, I know what you are immediately. If that is what I am looking for, I will read on to see if you are a good fit to buy from.

Jimmy Williams

In my novice MHO, content is ultimately King, however if a site visitor is not visually pleased the content is not read. You have to grab their attention to get them interested in reading the content.

Both content and visual effects work hand in hand.


Try this one: Lings Cars

Utterly terrible design, everything about it is horrendous… but a very successful company, their website gets thousands of hits a day, they lease a great number of cars.

if design is king, explain that.

Anton Amoto

I agree with you Derek. It’s like content is king but the design is queen. I had to remove some of the red flags of my website.

I’m so glad I’ve found socialtriggers to beautify my queen.

Thanks again and retweeted!

Tommy Walker

Yep, I agree.

People won’t read your shit if they can’t stand the way it’s presented.

It’s what made magazines come out with all sorts of fancy layouts, and why books are printed in multiple formats.

Content is really only secondary to design. No good design, nobody sticks around to read.

Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion

Derek, this was my first time delving into your site tonight and I was quite impressed. You’ve got quite a community here and even better, they’re not afraid to disagree with you, which speaks highly of you as a blogger and thought leader.

Continued success,


Janet Wallace

Beep! that’s the sound of the buzzer going off because something in the previous article isn’t right. OK, it actually is funnier if you could hear me… I’m a regular reader (for about two weeks now) and I like what you say. But at least half of the design problems you mention are so open to interpretation that they can’t be counted on to be universal. But on one thing I absolutely do agree with you: A poor design can turn off the reader before reading has even begun. HOWEVER, when people actually want the content, they will put up with design problems. For instance, one of the top health website’s in the U.S. is by a Dr. Mercola and his site is busy, wordy with lengthy articles, long videos, 12 pt type, and lots of heavy sales copy. He has millions of visitors per month. So, as a previous comment stated, Long Live the King.

Google Panda Update: Content + Design = Usable, trustworthy websites

[…] from Chris Trude‘s comment in a thread by Derek Halpern of Social Triggers. Derek wrote a great post where he talks about a study where people were asked to search and then record if they trusted or […]

Hana Guenzl

I am a brand strategist and I fully agree with you. Loved your article for it’s simplicity and to the point. Thank you for sharing.


Great points, but both the content and design need to be working, and working together. If either one of the engines isn’t firing, the site suffers.

Will Franco

Generating sales is KING!

Wo King

Too prove a point. This article was a success. Not because it was right but because it was interesting. You have developed a group of intelligent, informed people who are engaged and responsive and given them a talking point to debate to get to some truth. You have responded to comments and carried the debate forward. It’s your community and how you have grown that community that is king, not your design.

    Chandler Turner

    That is the most insightful and important of all of the answers. The result is great dialog between professionals. We are never going to agree on everything. I have seen some excellent ways of explaining things – both design and content – to my clients. So this is a raving success, regardless of whether we all agree or not.

    Derek Halpern

    The article began as an extremist point of view, yes. But the article isn’t wrong either. Good content is necessary, as I said in the beginning. BUT bad design can HURT good content. Do you agree?

    (And yea, the point of this article was to create discussion for sure. That’s why it was short 🙂

      Wo King

      Bad design can hurt good content but bad content will KILL good design. You’ve got to agree.

      Classic article (Good headline. Research paper. 10 point list)

Chandler Turner

Spoken like a designer. Perhaps you wanted to stir controversy by posting something that contains points far off the mark. Before I launch into this answer, let me say that your last post about Header Removal Test was right on point. I try to explain that all the time. In fact, I Tweeted that post. Parts of this one are also accurate. But as much as that was on point, this one misses badly. What is worse, it sites research that seems to point to the answer. It is one partial answer, but not THE answer.

To have a properly functioning Website, all of these are issues to be considered. Your post is far too one-dimensional.

Human brain cognitive studies have proven (empirically recorded research) that we can make a visual decision in as little as 1/50,000 of a second. That tells you how critical visual design can be. But that is only one decision – a flash decision that we can rationalize away if we choose to do so. Rationalization somewhat discounts the first decision because it may not hold. But it might hold if the idea you want people to accept is not couched in proper terms. See Mitchell Allen’s reply above. You can end any further chance of gaining interest by turning someone off badly in a very brief period of time, but not always.

We typically have from 3 to 10 seconds to attract or repel attention on a Web page. But then we have to do something to engage and hold the attention. Can you ruin your chances just that quickly with lousy design? You bet you can! But it is not all. And the research question you mentioned only answered a “trust” factor and nothing more. While important, it is not the only decision criteria.

There are very few decision criteria in purchasing commodity items, especially inexpensive ones. There are many levels of decision-making when the purchase is highly technological or service-related.

Decision-making also depends a great deal on the typical target audience the Website is attempting to address and engage. What if it is a team of engineers looking for a highly technical component for unmanned aircraft? (I know a few of them). While much of what you say still applies to them, they are not making snap-decisions but are combining sites for relevant data.

You are exactly right about making pertinent information hard to find on the site. Visitors will leave pretty quickly and probably never return. Once the negative impression is made, it is nearly impossible to overcome. But to make the bold statement that content is not king any longer is to ignore, as Paul Harvey put it, the rest of the story.

Chandler Turner

    Derek Halpern

    Hi Chandler,

    First, thanks for your comment. But, no where did I say that Content wasn’t important. As a matter of fact, I said very clearly that content is how you get traffic and content is how you keep traffic happy. However, before people even read your content, there are red flags that HURT your content, and those red flags are design flaws.

      Chandler Turner

      Sure you did. You did it as soon as you labeled “content is king” horrible advice. And that is all the time it takes, like you said, to have someone create an opinion of you. In fact, I believe you proved the very thing you were attempting to debunk. It took me 3 seconds to form a negative opinion of this article. But it did not stop me from reading and finding some good points. It took no great look nor navigation (albeit this one was pretty simple all around) to get contrary and reasoned responses from a lot of people.

      What you did do very well was to spark conversation and that is never a bad thing. I do like a lot of what I have seen you write. Just not this one.

        Tommy Walker

        Truth is though, the site is clean enough to pick out comments with out being distracted by a bunch of other stuff.

        Personally I’m moving away from the “white space” design on my blog, but you have to admit, Derek is practicing what he preaches in this case.

        The real question you have to ask yourself is, how many websites do you personally snap away from in your daily browsing? And why do you move away from them… chances are likely either A.) the design is what pushed you away or B.) the content was boring as shit. But you can never find out about B if A gets in the way.

          Chandler Turner

          Far more interesting conversation than article. A large part of this depends on the reader.

          People respond to one of three psychological areas of perception and their acuity varies: Sight, sound, kinesthetics (touchy-feely things, including language). Each of us is wired more to one than the other two.

          Designers are hard-wired (do to speak) for visual acuity. They naturally and unconsciously are more moved by visual things than other people. And they account for about half the population (if I remember the study figures accurately). But the next largest segment that takes the population to around 90% is kinesthetic value. They are much less concerned about the look than the content. The last 10% (math may be fuzzy) focuses on sound more than the other two and that is why sound overlay of some sort can be important. It all matters. Lastly, some white space can help focus on a main point of interest and it not all bad. Choose carefully.

Ana Hoffman

I see many of these mistakes on my clients’ websites and advise them on it. Sadly, new bloggers do not always take constructive criticism too well. My response: Do you want to be right, or do you want to make your blog successful? Thanks for a great post.

    Chandler Turner

    Zing! I had this very conversation at lunch today with another consultant. It had to do with a former employer of mine and the other consultant. He would rather be right than good, and that is why we both left and he has never grown past a certain point. He is his own worst enemy.

Rachel Z. Cornell

I would love to hear a bit more about clever site names. Is ProNagger.com clever? Or do you mean something like 4Izz.com for a site that might be FourEyes.com? How would you un-clever an established site?

Chris Trude

I wouldn’t say Content, OR Design is king. The USER is King. The saying ‘Content is King’ is twofold in meaning. One: Do not let your design distract from the content. Two: Your content must shape your design. You have to deliver a cogent diatribe between content and user, aesthetically, coherently, and comprehensibly.

You CAN clearly, create a design without knowing any/referencing any content that will be therein, but then your design lacks the soul of the piece. At it’s simplest form, it’s like painting the baby’s room hot pink without knowing the sex, or even knowing you are pregnant yet.

Content(or I could go as abstracted to say, the ‘expected content’) needs to be present in your mind whilst you design, otherwise as I’ve said, the design will be ultimately lack-luster to the users. Take another for-instance. Say you believe that the Flickr site is a good design. Now take that site, but feed it different content, say the content from the New York Times. Sure it might WORK but it won’t FEEL or READ right, thus hindering the trust between the user and your site.

I agree that Design is greatly important at many different levels depending on the execution (aka whether or not you are designing for something as well known as Drudge or Craigs), but overall, Content needs is the x to the x+y formula.

Content + Design = Usable, trustworthy websites. It’s a symbiotic relationship, neither is more important.

    Chandler Turner

    Oooohhhhhh, I like this answer – a lot. And I love the conclusion. I need to find out more about your business. Too many companies forget to consider how they want people to feel when they hit the site or what their brand is. As soon as they release the Website, the brand is no longer what the company says it is, but what the viewers think it is by what they see and read. They will define it based on how well you have done with both design and content. Navigation is vital. Emotional attachment is critical. Content can win or kill a deal before a salesperson ever has a chance. Buyers of most things are not making merely snap decisions, though snap-negative decisions are a terrible thing to cause.

Donnie Bryant

So Derek,

Are you saying that TRUST is king?

Maybe design is the doorman and tour guide. If the doorman looks shady, some people may never enter the building….

You obviously know what you’re doing. Look at all the engagement and interaction!

    Derek Halpern

    You are right. Trust IS king. If you don’t have it, nothing else matters.


Hey Derek, I discovered your site a week or two ago and I love it. Your posts are simple yet impactful. Your style is easy to follow. Thanks! You’ve made me rethink the way I write my own posts…

Anyway, I’ve been a web designer for 10 years and completely agree with your comments about design. Content simplicity, meaning using short paragraphs, is a part of design, too. If people go to a site and see large chunks of content they’ll feel overwhelmed and may skip reading anything, regardless of how well it’s written. Headers and subheaders are not just there to make content easier to read – it looks better, too.

    Derek Halpern

    Glad you found me Amy. Make sure you sign up for the email newsletter. There’s a blog newsletter, and an email one. Email one is found here: http://socialtriggers.com/ktc (i’m actually pulling that down tomorrow afternoon).


      I signed up a May 13…is this the same list? I think so…

        Derek Halpern

        There’s the blog list, which this is. And there’s the email list, which sends content that doesn’t always appear on the blog.

Haroun Kola

Great article Derek, always showing that designing with a goal of simplicity, trust and common sense can achieve.

I know I’ve learnt something I can take to heart, I tend to over complicate sometimes.


Interesting post. “(Size 14 is the new size 12, after all)” You use a size 12. What would the explanation be?

Marshall Kirkpatrick

Cool article, but did you really ask people to RT it, while not actually linking to the study referenced?

    Derek Halpern

    I just added the link, now. It’s a PDF document.

Charles Duggan

The clouds have parted and someone has shared the light….Yes!
I posted this to my FB Group also…


Debra Torres

Ha! Derek, this is so true. Recently, I received an email from a prominant teacher of SEO. He raved about a site that could help us with our link building. The info he gave sounded really good to me, and I was ready to check it out for myself and pass it along to an SEO collegue of mine …until I followed the link to his recommended site. Ugh! The site looked sleazy and it made me feel like I was doing something illegal just looking at it! I clicked off it quickly without even reading the content. And I never passed it on to anyone.
As an SEO webwriter, it’s hard to say that content is not king – but I think I’ll settle for queen!

    Derek Halpern

    Content is vitally important. People just overlook design, and I think that’s a huge mistake. As demonstrated by your experiences, too.


Hi derek, excellent article which confirm the intuition i had some times ago after seeing crappily designed blogs and gurus proclaiming that only content and mailing list matters.

When you can spend as little as 40$ to get a clean looking theme on themeforest.com and work on the layout/navigation/pages etc. having a crappy looking blog shouldn’t be an option !
Contrary to what a number of people say, design is nor a waste of time nor a waste of money.

Putting some effort to have a clean, user-friendly and beautiful website should be a top priority for a good number of bloggers.

    Derek Halpern

    You’re right. There’s no excuse. Nice designs are cheap. And if you use theme frameworks, it’s even better. I stray away from theme forest because they don’t use theme frameworks. Theme frameworks are much more robust, in my opinion.


Thanks for this article, Derek. I am afraid, I am guilty of #4 – boring web design:)

Mazher Abidi

I see what you’re saying.

But given the choice, isn’t better content likely to be more powerful than better design?

Put alternatively, if a website looks good, but says nothing of value, you’ll never return. If a website is passable to look at, but has great content, you’ll probably forgive the design for the value the content provides.

    Derek Halpern

    Content is more powerful, because you need it. Bad Design just impairs good content.


Derek, this list is very helpful. One question I have had is whether my look is appealing to my audience, which would be 90% ladies. I like it but I also like the cleaner look that I am accustomed to seeing on WordPress sites. Mine is Blogger.

    Derek Halpern

    Your design should always appeal to your audience. I keep my simplistic, because I want the content to stand out, and I know most marketers focus on readable content.



The root purpose of almost any website is to communicate information (of whatever kind) effectively. A great design can help you to communicate, but you need to know what you’re communicating before you can create an effective design. If you’re designing a website before getting the content in order you’re doing it wrong, end of story.

Its true a nice design is the first thing a visitor sees and can ‘hook’ them, but that in no way means its where you start when building your site.

    Derek Halpern

    You are right. You need a design to communicate effectively. I never said content wasn’t important. It is. I’m saying that Good Content is HURT by bad design.


      I’d agree with that last statement, good content can definitely be ruined by bad design, but that doesn’t make it more important than good content.

      You’ve more chance of creating a successful website with a poor design and amazing content (wikipedia, craigslist, ebay, myspace… even the original facebook) than you have by creating a kick-ass looking site with useless content no ones interested in.

Nancy Davis

I am a staff writer at a small startup. My boss wants 100 pages of content for an “authoritative” site.

I tell him that I think this could backfire. I get told STFU and go write more content. I know in my heart this is a bad idea, but can’t stop the freight train.

I am trying to reason with him, but my words are falling on deaf ears.

    Patrick Donovan

    Nancy, your words could easily be the words of an entrepreneur. Maybe I’m just projecting. Then again, maybe not. However it comes down with your “boss”, good luck with *your* future business. 😉


    the phrase “Content is king” doesn’t mean you need 100 pages of content for a website to be great, it means the content should be the main consideration when creating the site as the message your site communicates is the most important factor.

Allen Taylor

Try this experiment.

1) Build a beautiful website that follows all the right design conventions but leave the content blank. Totally, no content.

2) Then build an ugly website with outstanding content and great calls to action.

See which one makes you more money.

The winner is the king.


    That isn’t really a fair comparison. If you want to know whether good design makes a difference, try this.

    Take an “ugly site” and put it into a great looking design. Monitor the changes in page views, bounce rate and traffic. I can guarantee all of those will improve.

    But the question should never arise as to which is best, or more important. They are both parts of the same thing. One compliments the other.


    Derek – I found your article and list very helpful and agree with your points. What gets me to comment is Allen Taylor’s experiment.

    Try this experiment too Allen – build a beautiful website with stunning design and awesome content.

    See which if the 3 websites will earn the most money.

    The winner is king!

    Chandler Turner

    Yep. You win.

    Derek Halpern

    I agree. If you read the introduction here, I say very clearly that content is essential. However, why limit the power of the content by making these design mistakes?

      Patrick Donovan

      That’s why I love the thesis theme. It enables me to hit the ground running focused on content without being overly concerned about design. I can come back (not too much) later and flesh out design ideas based upon the content. And the vanilla (bean) thesis theme is there as an effective palette for me to not loose focus on the content, but still address design requirements for effective presentation.

      Then again, as an experiment, I would love to someday use thesis to make a site of nothing but fantastic eye candy that stroked the subconscious mind with little if any substance.

      Bet it will be hit. 😉

      Allen Taylor

      Derek, I certainly agree that design is important. And I agree with your 10 red flags, though a couple could use a little more clarification. But it’s clear that design without content is like a candy wrapper without candy. Sure, you might make a beautiful presentation, but what good is it without substance?

      I don’t build beautiful websites by any stretch, but they aren’t exactly ugly either. What I do well, however, is write content that sparks action. It’s been the song of advertising professionals for at least a century.

      Content sells. Design puts it in a box. Sometimes a pretty box.


      That is true, but a very different proposition to your title, which is incorrect.

      It is, however, clearly excellent link bait, but I wonder how many readers will go away with this fallacy in their mind.

Jan Schochet

Thanks for this great list and also for the research aspect. Clients love to hear about research and your article gives me plenty of proof for cutting out much of what they’re currently doing on their sites (how anyone could have had the chutzpah to provide them with those mistakes and charge for it is beyond me).

I agree with all 10 red flags and yet still believe content is king. Design, or rather Not Bad Design, grabs readers in the first few. But don’t forget the headline! That’s immediately viewable and is part of both design and content. In a way, it’s perceived as 2 things–what you see and what you think about.

And if you’ve got good content, that’ll take it from there, as you said.

    Michael Fokken

    I was thinking you were going to say that the headline is King. The ten points makes sense though. If only people understood that. I’ve seen some horrendous websites people got paid to design.


I’d say your spot on with automated pop ups. Yes, even the stupid ass subscription boxes. The UX is fully lacking when we are accosted by those damn things.

    Jon Bishop

    I’m honestly still surprised by the number of pop ups I see on websites. Using pop ups is the EASIEST way to get me to leave your site. You should never interrupt the user experience.

Bryan Thompson

re: #1 Clever Website names… I work with many local businesses. One of the rules I follow is that a site name must be able to pass the “Phone Test”, as in, can I give someone a website name over the phone and they’ll be able to remember it?
Clever typically doesn’t help pass the phone test.

Owen Marcus

We want to believe we make our decisions based on conscious criteria. We don’t – it is our unconscious, our emotions that determine if we like or trust a site or a person.

I agree, design is King..

    Derek Halpern

    I’m not about to say Design is King either… But yes, design is vital.

Christopher Burd

Good post. Provocative, makes you think, good advice.

But I disagree.

“Content Is King” doesn’t mean “Content Is Everything”, it means “Content Is Where You Start”. And that, too, is good advice, because a lot of projects don’t start with content, they start with design, or they start with technology, and put off content till the last 6 weeks of a 6 month project. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Client X.)

The reason you should start with content, even though design is also important, is that your design is will be much better if it’s informed by the content. For example, your navigation will be better if your taxonomy grows out of the implicit structure (I almost want to say “inner needs”) of the content. Your look and feel will be better if it reflects the character of the content. The opposite approach, starting with design and writing the content to fit, is less likely to work, IMO.

“Content Is King” is a corrective to the idea that “Design Is King”, but you can criticize it from other points of view. For example, you could say “Business Drivers are the Kings” (assuming you have more than one king at a time, as in ancient Sparta), or you could say “The User Is King”. And these would be reasonable slogans, on the day we start overemphasizing the role of content. That day is a long way off.

    Geoff Frewin

    Christopher I like your train of thought, and go along with what you’re saying..Yes although I suggested ‘Design is king’ really ”the User should be king” …clarity of thought and well written.great style !

    Christopher Burd

    I tend to agree with this approach:


    Content is king, IA is queen, and design, I’m afraid, is only crown prince.

Matt Mikulla

Excellent points Derek.

I will disagree with the hating of the Drudge Report site. Jason Fried of 37 Signals has some great analysis around that topic


I work on corporate sites every day an it’s a losing battle. They all continue to look at competitors and believe they need to implement needless crap.

They poll internally about what should be included on important pages and each department wants their chunk of space.

The result is a site overloaded with options and confusion.

    Derek Halpern

    I actually agree with much of that article, but I still don’t think a new site, with a cluttered look like that, could work. You can’t out Drudge, Drudge.

Chris Cree

Seems to me that lots of great content can overcome unappealing design (i.e. Craig’s List & the Drudge Report).

That said, poor design adds an extra hurdle to overcome when trying to build traffic to a site. Makes sense to do what it takes to remove that barrier to attracting more traffic.


    Craigslist and Drudgereport give me a headache when I visit. Yeah, they are still usable and can get the job done. But I don’t have a good unconscious feeling about those sites – that is, they don’t make a strong impression on me in terms of brand.

    I would like to see a redesign done and a case study of before and after traffic + impressions..then we can talk 🙂

    Derek Halpern

    I knew people would bring up craigslist and drudge report en masse. The problem is, those sites were created in a different time period. They still have their loyal audiences from that time period, and they get bigger because of that loyal audience they built during a different time. Today, thinking a site could become that big, with a design like that, is laughable.

Geoff Frewin

Hi Derek I agree and really like the 10 flags, although I’ll also agree with Neal , content for us as a Design company is key, but I fully understand that , as we stress on our site, you basically have 6 seconds to gain attention so therefore it’s key that your site is elegant, elequant and most of all effective. So perhaps Design is King and content comes in as ‘Prince Charming ‘ ? Will tweet the article as ‘The Word’ should be spread as wide as possible…thanks Geoff


I agree with all but one. “Clever Site Names”

Clearly you know the million examples of successful companies with clever site names. You could even say this site falls in that category. From a branding perspective, generic site names are easy to forget and you could easily lose customers by not having a clever site name. Seems like a catch-22 either way you look at it.

I wonder what the sample size/confidence level of that study was.

    Derek Halpern

    I agree. Clever site names work. What I should have said, was, Clever site names that confuse people. The example they used in the research paper was “Net Doctor.” It was for a guy who was a doctor on the internet, and people assumed he fixed internet connections.


      Ahh, that makes sense now. Clever AND confusing site names. And yes, I would think “Net Doctor” would be internet repair.


Agree, great post Derek. I remember we had a funny saying we’d use while I was in the military, “you can’t polish a turd”….that applies when people overload with content and bad design that looks like crap. I totally agree with the pop ups, way too many people are doing pop ups to subscribe. If there is a clear design with a subscribe box I don’t need it to pop up in my face. Great post.

    Derek Halpern

    I made the distinction between pop up ads and pop up subscribe boxes. For a lot of people, pop up subscribe boxes work, and they work well. This specific research study was referring to pop up ads, which are no friend of the people.

Mark Y

Derek Halpern is “King”.

Thank you !


Dave Higgs-Vis @ Folkabout Baby

You know, I think you’ve done it again.

This is the second post of yours this week that has shaken up my views on blogging. Thank you for that.

So many bloggers are well established, and they forget that new bloggers still need to build a reputation. Once you have people tweeting and Facebooking your articles to your friends, and you’re getting guest features and tons of backlinks, it becomes more about content.

New bloggers need to get their prospective readers attention though, as you outline very clearly.

Great list, by the way.

Fiona Cooper (@nlpmum)

Hmmmmm great post, but I’m not sure I like the site design – a bit corporatey for me, but I’ll stick around for the content 😉

I kinda agree and disagree I still think content is king – there’s a big difference between a study asking people to look for something they have no real interest in and providing people with stuff they really want to read about stuff they’re really interested in.

    Derek Halpern

    There’s no replacement for good content. But, your design can impede people from reading it. So, if you lose people before they even start, what’s the point of the content?

Kevin Rains

Agreed. The only content that rules is what gets read and this list will help our content get read.

Makes me think of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink where he uncovers the importance & amazing accuracy of our snap, first second judgments.

Great list. I’m forwarding it to my designer RIGHT NOW.

    Derek Halpern

    Nice to see you made the connection. I’m using snap judgments, precisely because Gladlwell made that a popular term with his book Blink. ha ha.

      Wo King

      Is this the same Gladwell who said that Social Media doesn’t help revolutions. His ready of how community works online is wrong. Ask the Egyptians who are naming their children Facebook. Where I live and work we have a fantastically beautiful design company I really admire. They make great sites and are the lead locally. Until we came along. We started 6 months ago around the idea of creating community around brands. We are taking client after client. We don’t concentrate on numbers, visits, bounce rate. Nothing. We concentrate on how much money does your online presence make them. Each time we have shown a large increase. Our sites look OK. Our design skills are pedestrian but the communities we have created are buzzing. We now have clients lined up, nearly all from this same design company. Design is important to designers which on this post there are many. To everyone else? Nah. Not much. PS Is this the same Gladwell that does presentations with no slides and on first impression looks like a school child that’s put his finger in a plug socket?

        Ian Brodie

        So the fact that Gladwell looks funny means we should disregard what he says about snap impressions?

        Come on. Buck up your logic.


        Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion

        Wo King, I’ve rather enjoyed your comments here, not that I fully agree or disagree, but they’re ballsy, and you’re passionate, which is cool.

        I think for general ‘blogs’–personal ones like ‘social triggers’ we’ll say, design can be very important because we quickly (most of us) thin-slice our opinions and can bounce off within seconds. This is why my personal blog, The Sales Lion, follows Derek’s advice in the article almost to a T.

        At the same rate, I also own a swimming pool company, and I have formed the most popular swimming pool blog in the world in terms of traffic. Anyone that goes there though, isn’t going to be blown away with the design. My goal has always been great content that’s SEO friendly—more leads—more sales. And it has worked incredibly well, despite being ‘average’ in appearance.

        I guess what I’m trying to say here is that is very much depends on the industry, and not one size fits all.

        Either way, there were some very legitimate points in the article.

Wo King

Sorry. Wrong. Drudge report is horrible. Andrew Sullivan’s blog is sparse. Design might, just might get a very few to look and stay but content is what drives long lasting large traffic. Once more, just to make a point. Drudge report.

    Derek Halpern

    I didn’t say you didn’t need content. I reiterate in the beginning that you need content for long lasting traffic.

    However, Drudge Report is a horrible example, despite their design being lackluster. That site built the loyal audience back when the internet was new. There’s no way a site like that would gain traction today.


      I am surprised that I got this far down the extensive comment list before I found someone that shared my opinion.

      Derek you are right in that a well designed first impression will lower bounce rates and improve initial impressions but to me it doesn’t change the fact that content is still king on the web. This is because cash is still king everywhere else on the world and content drives repeat business to a site and repeat business is the core of a successful web community. Without repeat business (which is always based on content) there is no money to be made.

      If there is no money to be made then there is no point in investing into that top notch design anyway 🙂


        Well guys, I am “Old School”

        I do love my King Content and Queen Design no doubt!

        …I remember the days when people built websites not because there was money to be made, but because there was something they were passionate about telling the world. *Sigh*

        Back in the olden days (ha), a truly successful website provided a service first, building trust over time, and THEN went on to generate revenue. Most of the top authoritative sites today still operate in this manner. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, CNN etc. Talk about money eh?

        Building trust takes time as well folks! A lot of us can detect a cheesy “get rich quick” online scheme in a jiffy. Provide a valuable service first!

        I wonder when you’ll get some cash outta me Derek! We’re in the trust-building phase at this time, but I like what I am reading.



      Wo King

      You don’t think that a site wouldn’t gain traction today? You so sure? Sites that are built over time with comment that is interesting to people, that is discussed and linked to will create a huge audience. No one give a rat’s arse that the design is good or bad with those sorts of sites. I really do think that the argument about good design with those sort of sites has gone. Broadcast sites which are design and leave sites, then yes. But community sites, blogs, engagement sites that build over time. Design mattering? No.

        Derek Halpern

        I do think a site with good content can gain traction today. However, with the advancement of web technology, a site with no brand, will have a hard time establishing a brand without a design that’s easy to read and navigate.

          Scott Paley

          HuffingtonPost.com? Far from easy to navigate. The design is pretty awful, in fact. But it’s only a few years old and wildly successful.

          I might argue that there are multiple ways to engender trust and the initial aesthetic impression is just one of them.

          Your key takeaway, however, that in many cases first impressions can matter a lot, is right on. But without great content, nobody is going to stick around.

          Yin and yang. The whole “king” metaphor is off.

          Allen Taylor


Irene Haas

Yes I agree, all valid points and helpful. Now to put them into practice. Thanks again.


Being a writer, I always thought, “It doesn’t matter how ‘pretty’ my site is, as long as the content delivers, I’m golden.” Recently, I did a site overhaul and the results from cosmetic changes where shocking.
I went from a 70% bounce rate to 42% by adding a more vibrant, “cool” looking header. Then I got that 42% down to 15% by adding a feature box (if you don’t have Thesis, betta recognize son!)
I’m a believer now…

    Derek Halpern

    Love that you just used the word son, in a blog comment. ha

Dewane Mutunga


I think you hit it dead on. Design, the looking and feel of your site, is of equal importance to the content in my opinion.

I have a “Shallow Hal” type approach when browsing blogs and sites. If it looks attractive or cool, I’ll almost automatically read a few posts. If not then I’m GONE!!!

The #1 thing for me though, simplicity. I wins me over every time.

Thanks for the post,

    Derek Halpern

    You must love my design here then, eh? 🙂

      Dewane Mutunga

      I do actually! Keeping things simple just makes everything look clean and doesn’t bombard the reader. Kudos!


        Two powerful principles of design is “less is more” and “space has value”

Marlene Hielema

I agree with both. Content is searchable. That’s why it is King.

But now that Google has the little magnifying glass next to the search results, we can get a quick look at the design of the site. If a site’s design looks good, I’ll go there. If it looks like an ad site or a portal site just designed to sell junk, I’ll skip it and go to something that looks interesting.

So, to me Design is Queen. I’m more likely to read the content if I’m “invited in” by the good design.

And, yes, I hate small fonts and white type on black backgrounds. So hard to read that, especially at 3am when I’m doing research. I just skip those automatically.

    Derek Halpern

    I’m shocked that people still use light text on dark backgrounds. People who test results have proved that it’s dumb to do that… 50 years ago. And yet, some people haven’t learned yet.

      Marlene Hielema

      Ya I’m shocked too. But photographers (my market) do it a lot on their blogs because they think it makes their photos look better.

        Derek Halpern

        I agree there, though. Photos on dark backgrounds do look better. However, they need their text to appear on a light background still.

Piper Larson

Great list Derek! I have one to add: It always makes me uncomfortable when the site name in the url and the site name on the header don’t match. To me, it diminishes my trust in the site right away.

I was happy to see the mention of “corporate” looking sites. I don’t care for them – but always thought I was probably the only one.

Thanks for a great post!

    Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion

    Hmmm Piper, I’d honestly never thought of that one either but I think you’re spot-on. Now that I think about it, I feel the exact same–and change in the url to site name is certainly a bad idea.


    Derek Halpern

    You know what Piper? That annoys me too. I’d love to see some test results on that, for sure.


Really useful information here on how website design – and even font sizes – can create distrust, Derek. There’s been so much noise around content that the “how” of the content being displayed has been overlooked.

From personal experience, many of the factors your research cites can put me off on a website – plus the website not being either mobile-literate or being able to be viewed in “column” mode so it’s viewable on a phone’s small screen.

Great rundown, thanks!

    Derek Halpern

    Glad you liked it Jessica. I’m of two minds when it comes to mobile sites. A lot of people think specific mobile sites are important. However, for most businesses, you hit the nail on the head. A mobile friendly site is just fine. (if you’re getting lots of pageviews and lots of business, a mobile specific site is ideal, but for most bloggers, not so much. mobile friendly all the way).

Neil Andrew DuPaul

Not gonna lie, my first opinion of this article based off title was “Oh great another one of these things” but Derek being Derek I gave it a read.

I’m not agreeing with the title because Content is still my king and I like him but I do agree with everything listed.

Ultimately if you boiled everything down and could pick only one asset to have, I’d pick great content 10 time out of 10.

Long live the King.

    Derek Halpern

    I’m not saying people don’t need content. Content is vitally important. However, people focus heavily on content, and forget that people judge their stuff before they even read the content. So, get the design aesthetic in order, and then create good content. Easy formula

      Mitchell Allen

      Derek, I decided to reply in context: you nailed the issue right here in this comment, by saying “people focus heavily on content…”

      When I look around the web, I find myself attracted to the three-panel home page. You know the ones that have three calls to action, either for three audiences or for three topics. Flickr.com (above the fold, anyway) is a good example of this design.

      The real issue is not whether content is king, but whether the king is properly dressed. 😉

      Essentially, I believe that design is part of this package we call content. A can of Coca-cola doesn’t TASTE like the signature beverage. For that, you have to open the thing. However, one can reasonably expect that, when encountering a can of Coca-cola, that signature beverage – and not orange juice – will be inside.

      Therefore, your design should have the function of describing the insides of your website. The analogy is a little weak, because we’re talking about branding on one hand and what amounts to advertising on the other. But, in both cases, if the labeling is unclear, not too many people are going to venture inside to the goods.



        Paul Chato

        This is the first comment that I think mentioned ‘brand’. I agree with Mitch. Is this content vs design a nature vs nurture argument? Personally, I’m sick of the ‘precious’ sites designed by design-first, talk later designers. The fact is that you can’t shoot a movie without a script. A good script should make a better movie. Good content will inspire better design. Most important is the brand promise of the company which sets the tone which then gives direction to design. Most people here have been writing about design in the abstract which is why templates are viewed as designs by the great unwashed.


          “The fact is that you can’t shoot a movie without a script. A good script should make a better movie.”

          You also can’t shoot a movie without the location scouts having FIRST found the correct “look” in which to film the script! Nowhere does does Derek say content is unimportant… (well, except maybe in the title…); but if the cover of the book (to switch metaphors) does NOT lead you to lift it and look? It doesn’t matter how good your content is! Of course you have to have great content… but if no one is ‘cracking the cover’ of your site? All the great content in the world is useless.

        Mitchell Allen

        Chandler and Kathy, thanks for your support 🙂




        Dynamite addition to Derek’s article.


        Chandler Turner

        I am reading down the list of answers. This is the first one that hit the point. The issue is how it is addressed. No doubt. In fact, the article is way off. The research, though is may be accurate for one isolated variable, does not implicate anything more than a small band of reasoning. It does not address multiple concerns. This note attempts to explain complicated phenomena with one simple solution. That never works.


Thanks for sharing this research Derek. I just hope my designer is reading this…

I wonder if sites that are run by an individual, where the individual’s name, photo, background, are prominently displayed and/or easily accessed by site visitors, are more trustworthy than sites run by corporations.

I’d love to read more about this. Can you provide a reference?

Thanks again.

    Derek Halpern

    With regards to photos, that’s a good question. People trust people they can see. On the flip side, when people feel like they’re being watched, even by “eyes,” they tend to act more cautious and suspicious. I do have some research on eye gazing, and I’ll talk about that soon, too.


Great article because it reminds me of the importance of design. But “busy” and “boring” can’t be measured, so I’m left without a lot of tangible take-aways. The same goes for “corporate.” When does one cross the line into a corporate vs professional aesthetic?


    You can measure boring and busy. Maybe not by multi-variate testing tools. Your laptop, a wi-fi connection and meeting strangers on the street, and asking them for their impressions of different designs will give you an idea of what people are looking for. I used to do stuff like that when I worked as a market researcher. (the lackey, not the decision-maker)

    Derek Halpern

    This is just the beginning. I’m breaking this down into more actionable steps over the next few weeks 🙂


      Fantastic! I’m looking forward to that. Thanks for sharing this.

Preston D Lee

As a marketer who started my career as a web designer, I’ve believed this for a long time! Thanks for putting it so simply and powerfully. I totally agree.

    Derek Halpern

    I’m betting a lot of people will disagree, though. Will be interesting to watch.


      Here I am!

      I think that the biggest issue here is the testing Explicit data like this, where the users express their feelings, are notoriously fallacious.

      Websites which work are seldom the ones which fix in a user’s mind and we all have a very different opinion of our behaviour than what is shown to be the case by implicit user testing.

      I am not suggesting that the presentation of content is not important, merely that it comes second to the content itself.

      Sure, blogs posts and award ceremonies will fawn over your design concept, but if it is present shoddy information then, sooner or later, people will get bored with ‘Wow!’ and move on.

      And take it from me, it won’t be later.

        Joseph Charles

        I live copywriting and researching. I want to say that although I knew a lot of what you write about already, what you are doing is on-point.

        Thank you so much.

        I will let my friends see.

        Justin Lebrun

        Hi LordManley,

        Sorry if this reply comes extremely late. As there are no dates attached to posts on this blog, my reply may be completely irrelevant to you, sorry!

        I’d still like to post a comment though, for the sake of future readers: I believe Derek’s intention was simply to emphasize that design takes CHRONOLOGICAL precedence over content. Since you only have a few seconds to catch someone’s attention, the initial design is thus extremely important.

        I understand your argument for content, and I wholeheartedly agree with you. In fact, in the study discussed (link is already at the bottom of the article), the second half moves on to discuss the importance of content in those trusted sites: 17% attributed importance to design factors while content gathered 83%.

        Point is, 94% will completely miss your content-rich blog if they get turned away from initial bad design. It’s like housing a world class chef (content) in a run down back-alley deli (design).
        But of course, we are agreed that a fantastic looking restaurant with a poor chef will not last long.

        I don’t think that was Derek’s intention though, right?

      Susi Schuele

      As a graphic/web designer, I’m in the “totally agree” camp. I think the visual is what captures attention. Content must also be there and must be good content that is easily readable to keep the attention. And please, no auto-anything. Getting music or a video slapped in my face the minute I hit a site is sure to make me leave it without even considering design or content. Oh and by the way, please don’t judge my current site – it’s in the process of being re-designed 🙂 Thanks for a great post!

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