Want a good website, on time? Prioritise content.

Websites are frequently late because of the low priority put on content. Interviewees reported delays of up to three months. What caused these delays? According to this survey, 55 per cent said ‘content not ready’ or ‘content not suitable.’

This is, perhaps, not surprising. When questioned about their priorities, only 10 per cent of the companies surveyed said that it was content while 75 per cent said ‘design’ and 65 per cent said ‘search engine optimisation.’

Another interesting statistoid was the fact that sites typically contain 50 to 100 pages and 25,000 to 100,000 words. That’s a LOT of copy. A short novel might be 60,000 words. You can’t magic this amount of content up overnight unless you have an infinite number of monkeys.

Generally, I am sceptical of surveys. However, this rings true with my experience at Articulate Marketing (where, among other things, we produce website content). I often see websites produced with ‘lorem ipsum’ placeholder text and clients who think this can be easily replaced by sparkling copy but who are often disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

Here is my manifesto about writing for the web, with links to previous posts.

  1. Fix the basics first, then add the fancy features. Communicate clearly, provide information that users want and make it easy for them to find it.
  2. The web isn’t TV and it isn’t a magazine. Don’t let designers try to turn your site into either of these things at the expense of usability, readability and accessibility.
  3. Intro animations are evil. Don’t ask for them, don’t let a design firm do them.
  4. Avoid hype words, waffle, frankenquotes and pious verbiage.
  5. Writing for the web is not the same as writing for print. In general, write to be scanned not read and reduce the word count by 50 per cent. And don’t use PDFs for core content.
  6. Writing comes first. Plan, budget and resource writing for the site as if it were the most important thing, not a bolt-on, go-faster, last-minute extra. The best SEO tool is well-written, relevant copy.
  7. Writing is a specialist skill. You don’t get a plumber to do your wiring so why get a design firm or a marcomms agency to write? At least put the writing portion out to tender and let them compete for it.
  8. Bad writing costs real money. If your customers can’t find what they are looking for, can’t understand it when they do find it or are so confused or bored they don’t read it, you lose.
  9. Train your staff to write better.
  10. Train yourself to give better feedback.

10 Responses to Want a good website, on time? Prioritise content.

  1. Owen Lystrup August 10, 2006 at 2:34 am #

    You love top ten lists.

    It’s okay, I do too.

    I’m running into a problem somewhat like this right now, and I’ve run into it before.

    Unfortunately, working with a bunch of designers, content tends to get put on the backburner. I think, as you said, that it’s just as important.

    Often, in fact, once working with clients for a while, they usually come to realize that their feedback and effort is best spent on getting the content right. The design usually does not go through many drafts like content either.

  2. Andrew August 10, 2006 at 3:07 pm #

    Amen, Matthew. I honestly cannot think of a website project that has run late (that I’ve worked on) where its tardiness *hasn’t* been due to content. Usually it’s a case of the client thinking they’ll have no trouble with it, and then discovering (as you point out) that writing is indeed a highly specialized skill.

    As Owen says above, design is often given a higher priority than content, but IMHO no other component of a website has the same power to make or break the site’s success as content. Good content is simply the single most important component of a website.

  3. Simon Wakeman August 13, 2006 at 5:40 am #

    Hi Matthew,

    I agree with what you’re saying entirely.

    Content development is something that I put into client project plans, and then they typically remove saying they can “take the text from our leaflets” or “we’ll build it up gradually”.

    The best designed, most functional site is nothing with out decent, well written and fit-for-purpose content.

    It’s like having a top of the range car, but not having a driving licence – nice to look at, but absolutely useless for its core purpose.

    sw

  4. Writeontheinternet April 2, 2007 at 3:25 am #

    #8 Bad Writing Costs Real Money~Ah, but good writing costs real money too. So its kind of a bad cycle. Those that pay website designers to create both the website and the bad copy to go with it, usually end up throwing even more ‘real’ money after it to get a good writer, like those of us on this wonderful little site, to fix it.

  5. Stewart McCoy October 30, 2009 at 2:55 am #

    Excellent post. Your post echoes many of the sentiments expressed by the contributing authors at A List Apart. See the “content” category here: http://www.alistapart.com/topics/content/writing.

    I’ve not ventured around your site much just yet, but it looks very promising.

  6. Echo July 24, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    I know the post is old, but hey, it still rings true. Once someone sees the content, they really know much more about how their eyes interact with the page, and whether things are arranged logically. I am a new reader to your site, this is the first post I read.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Away With Words - August 11, 2006

    Getting It Wrong about Web Writing…

    I recently turned down a project because the client–an otherwise smart, experienced businessperson with a terrific idea for a start-up–just didn’t get it about writing for the web. The client had in mind a web site of at least 100…

  2. Bad Language / Writing for the web video - July 15, 2008

    [...] Want a good website, on time? Prioritise content. [...]

  3. Seven website mockup tools — Bad Language - May 23, 2009

    [...] I am working on a number of website projects right now. My mission is to banish ‘lorem ipsum’ by working text into page designs before development starts. (To find out why, read my article: Want a good website, on time? Prioritise content) [...]

  4. Make Website Content a Priority « Autumn Editing & Writing’s Blog - May 31, 2009

    [...] perusing a few writing blogs, I found an article that reminds readers of the importance of quality website content. The author asserts that many business owners put content last during the web design process, often [...]

Leave a Reply