The answer for any expert is a clear one. When companies think about getting a website they typically focus on how it's going to look - the design. I suspect this is because website owners are so entrenched in their own business and its intricacies that they take this for granted and focus instead on how the site is going to look rather than what the site may need to accomplish - the goals.
But why would a person visit your site to begin with. Is it for its design? Website visitors may browse a website to discover a solution to a problem, learn about a product or service, find a company with good credentials before contacting them, read news, interact with friends or make a purchase.
Among the intentions of most website visitors is the objective to read and acquire information in order to fulfill a need.
So if the primary focus of most website visitors is to read something why then do most website owners put so much focus on the website's design? Let's say you do start with the web design first. Your creative team will provide a concept without the knowledge of how much content there will be, the priority of content sections and what information is being conveyed.
The design will be based on assumptions, with placeholders for content. Later you will need to adjust the content to fit within the placeholders inevitably sacrificing its quality, clarity and intention. More unnecessary time will need to be spent in the design process on making adjustments and revisions to account for the addition of content. If you're not seeing it yet - focusing on design first won't get you the right results.
Determining your website goals and how they can be achieved should be the first step of any website project. The words on the site - the content, need to be the primary focus. In relation to your website goals, the content will assist in determining navigation, information flow, and layout.
Finally, design should complement and enhance the content through imagery, clarity, positioning, and colour to evoke a mood and feel for what you're about.
At the same time, avoid a content-heavy web design, as this will put off potential searchers. Even in more agile development websites, content should still be focused on first, followed by architecture, design, technical development, and usability testing. I have seen budgets and timelines unnecessarily extended simply because priority was not given to website content.
Companies need to work with their website solutions company - as a team - to collaborate and share each other's industry expertise to accomplish a results oriented website. You should always be looking to bridge the gap with great content in your web design.
Not sure how to begin? You may want to consider starting with web consulting to get on the right track. If you want your website to achieve your goals and support company objectives with smart tactics, focus on your content first, and then complement it with great design.