Content Is King

Earlier today I came across a table on the ZDNet blog listing the top 10 visited sites for the month of February, 2006. None of the sites on the list will shock you at all. They’re some of the major players on the web and if I asked you to make your own top site list before seeing this one you’d probably include 7 or 8 of them on your list.

We’d all like to bring traffic to our site and these are the sites that are doing it better than anyone else. So is there anything we can learn from these sites that we can apply to our own sites? What is it that they’re doing that we should be doing as well?

Before getting to what the sites can teach us it would probably be a good idea to let you know what they are. You might be interested in checking out the ZDNet page I got this information from (the link in the paragraph above), since the page also provides links to the same data for other months, but I’ll present the data here for you as well.

Top sites in February 2006
Site Audience (1,000s) Time spent
Yahoo! 102,165 3:10:46
Microsoft 95,555 0:46:13
MSN 91,622 1:43:51
Google 89,059 0:53:11
AOL 73,289 6:00:13
eBay 52,102 1:53:49
Amazon 38,994 0:21:14
MapQuest 36,721 0:13:43
Ask 34,259 0:25:29
Apple 34,211 1:04:13
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings

What interests me most about the list isn’t so much which sites are on it, but rather the design of each of the sites on the list. A few weeks ago I wrote about The Importance Of Design and how researchers showed that people will form opinions about your site within 1/20th of a second. In that post I went on to argue that the design of your site is important.

While I still think the design of your website is very important this lists also points out something that I mentioned as well in that post. Design is not only about aesthetics. In fact shortly after the design importance post I wrote a couple of posts about Web Design Usability and Usability and Convention to further illustrate the point.

The reason I bring up design again is because if you look at the sites in the top 10 for February you’ll notice that none is likely to win any design awards. For the most parts the sites are all usable, though could use some improvements. But what is it that makes these sites the most visited?

The common thing all of the sites have is quality content. You might argue that Google doesn’t really have any content, but it’s content is the results from a given search. Similarly for ask.com. Each of these sites has content that not only brings in visitors, but brings in repeat visitors. They all have content strong enough to bring in many repeat visitors every single day.

Regardless of how studies show that people skim instead of read online and how you need to provide quick cues to let people know what your site is about and where to next, it is ultimately content that any site will need if it wants to survive. That content doesn’t necessarily have to be long textual pages. It just needs to be something that will keep people interested enough to come back. It may pages of text, it may be pages of products like Amazon and eBay. It may even be a simple search box in the middle of the page. Whatever it is you need to have it.

I’ve seen far too many sites that really have nothing there. Many are a lot of fluff to fill a page so there’s enough there to offset the advertising. Many exist to push on you their latest or only product. And there are many good people with good businesses who know they should put up a website, but don’t take the time to think about what their website should do or say.

Design your site around your content and have the style enhance the substance of your site instead of trying to cover for a lack of it. When you start to create your keyword list and general marketing plan look first to your content to find why someone would want to visit your site. Get your content in order before anything you do anything else with your site.

Before you take your site live, before you decide the best way to market your site, before you even begin to think about the design of your site, take a look again at the most visited sites and learn from them that your content will be the most important part of your website. Before you do anything else determine what your content will be and the rest will follow. Let your content lead your design, let your content lead your marketing efforts, and let your content attract your visitors again and again and again.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

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