Whether you’ve just spent thousands of dollars on a custom website build or you’re using an off-the-shelf stock website theme, you’ll ultimately have to address the elephant in the room. Your elephant, my friend, is writing website content.
It’s the one thing, and monumental task, that stands in the way of your pretty new website going live. For many of our clients writing content becomes the project bottleneck, the roadblock, and the ultimate showstopper.
For those of you who think I am being overdramatic, let me give you insight into a few website development projects that have stalled over content creation:
- Call Center Website – Project delayed 2 months
- Law Firm Website #1 – Project delayed 4 months
- Software Company Website – Project delayed 6 months
- Law Firm Website #2 – Project delayed 9 months
- Automotive Supplier Website – Project delayed 13 months
At some point, all of these clients were in a hurry and needed us to rush design so they could have a rapid launch. And yet despite that sense of urgency, they all stalled when it came to writing website content.
Why is Writing Website Content so Darn Hard?
There are tons of reasons for project delays, but over the years I’ve noticed content is the most prominent and it pretty much can be boiled down to a few simple reasons:
- Time Constraints – Good content takes time to plan, write and edit. All of the companies mentioned above have employees with real “jobs”. The website project is secondary and their real jobs (that bring in tangible revenue) have to come first. This is why I give clients some slack and keep my initial nagging to a minimum. Once they surpass my acceptable limit for tardiness, I become the work wife and I begin to nag them frequently. Just like your real wife, I do this for your own good.
- Unrealistic Expectations – Many times people set unrealistic expectations for themselves. They think generating content for an entire website will take a few hours, when it really takes a few weeks. This incorrect assumption creates frustration and the frustration creates procrastination.
- Lack of a Plan – Sitting at your computer without a plan is futile. Website content doesn’t just materialize. You have to have some type of outline. It is important to plan what you need to write, why you need to write it, and who you are writing it for. Once you answer the what, why, and who the content starts to form and it is simply a matter of cleaning up your thoughts.
- Mismatched Assignment – In the case of my automotive supplier above, they assigned the task of writing web content to an employee who knew little about the content itself. Since he had a limited knowledge, he was constantly at a standstill. The employee finally raised the white flag of surrender and clearly stated he could not articulate the subject well because he had very limited knowledge of it. The company reassigned this part of the content and the new author produced the pages.
- Inability to Write – Some people create choppy text that doesn’t make any sense. They piece together sentences from old brochures that are mismatched or they write down random thoughts in their head that do not tie together and form a cohesive web page. Not everyone is good at writing and jumbled thoughts are the first sign of this deficiency.
- The PHD Factor – In a former life I reported to a PHD of astrophysics who wrote website content that only a fellow PHD could read and digest. Dumbing down his content was the first task in making the company website into a lead generation tool. Whenever he would write website content, I would force him to “dumb down” the words so I could understand it. This forced him into restating his thoughts into verbiage the average person could understand. This isn’t about offending your website visitor, it is about making sure the average visitor can understand it. I’m a smart cookie, but I’m not astrophysics smart.
How Do You Address the Elephant?
Writing solid website content is challenging, but not impossible. With planning, focus, and proper resource allocation you can create excellent content that entices readers and engages website visitors.
- Start With a Plan – Before you do anything, map out your existing website content via a sitemap. Decided what is dated and needs to be removed, then decide what is lacking. If you’re not sure what is lacking, place yourself in the shoes of your prospective customer or client. Ask yourself what do they need to know to get a comprehensive overview of who you are, who you serve, and what you do. Pull out your sales presentations and use your PowerPoint bullets as a starter for what you typically discuss in an introductory sales meeting. Think about the questions people ask when they call your firm for the first time. And most importantly, make sure your sitemap matches up to your targeted keywords and phrases. I encourage all customers to use keyword discovery (for SEO) to guide their content mapping process. If you don’t have a keyword focused sitemap, you need to reach out to an SEO consultant.
- Assign the Task to the Right Person – Understand that not everyone can write. They may be exceptional sales representatives, engineers, or software coders, but they may be horrible at writing web content. If they are horrible at it, they are also fearful of it. Don’t assign these types of people to write content. Instead of forcing them into a role where they cannot succeed, interview them and assign the actual task of writing to a true writer. Or someone else within the firm who has a natural talent for writing. If needed, higher a third party to write content based on an outline you provide.
- Use Customer Friendly Language – It is natural to want to talk in your terminology and not that of your visitor. Companies who sell in a B2B environment typically write content with their product names and internal terminology. They fail to think about what real people use for these same products or services. You may call your product “XYZ Gizmology”, but your prospective customer calls it “payroll software”. Unless you have exceptional off website branding, people are not searching for XYZ Gizmology. They are searching for payroll software. Make sure your content uses payroll software in it so people can find you via the search engines and understand what you produce and do.
- Write Readable Content – Think back to my PHD statement before and remember it, because that was a real life story. Joe, our resident PHD, was the president of the company. He was wicked smart, very funny, and had a superb knowledge of the product offering. Unfortunately no one other than Joe could ever understand what he wrote. He used unnatural terms and his concepts were at a much higher level than what was needed for the website. As soon as we rewrote Joe’s content, our website shined. Bounce rates dropped and the website started producing leads and ultimate sales. Joe’s content was conceptually solid, but it just wasn’t readable. Converting this thoughts into easy to read and scannable information was all that was needed for turning a money pit into a revenue stream.
- Use Examples – You’ll notice in this post I’ve used examples which included real client examples and examples from my prior employment. I do so because they help illustrate the point I’m trying to make and it makes the concept more meaningful. It allows my readers to connect with the blog post and possible relate my discussion to their own life experiences.
Website Content is Critical for Search and Conversion
Effective website content is one of the most important aspects of a development project. Most readers don’t have the time (or interest for that matter) to struggle with web copy, so you have to make the process as easy as possible for them. Making sure web visitors can get to the right information is important. Making sure website visitors can understand the who, what, and why of how you are is critical.
If you’re struggling with writing website content, don’t let it derail your project. Get help. It can be your aunt, neighbor, or a skilled editor. Hire someone so your initial investment doesn’t sit on someone’s development server for months upon months. As your website designer or SEO consultant we can optimize and enter your content, but it is ultimately you who has to produce the content. We guide the website design and development project, but you truly control it’s destiny.
Address the elephant in the room and turn that procrastination into internet driven leads and revenue.
Amber Hinds says
Great post, Rebecca! We often have projects that are delayed due to lack of content delivery as well…or the client manages to get together the content for the initial launch, but is at a loss as to how to regularly write content to add to their website over time (blog posts, recipes, resource guides, etc.). The other piece that I’ve noticed is often underestimated is the number of photos that need to be included in order to produce a good, professional website that is visually appealing to web visitors.
Our solution to this was to add content writing to our services and to resell stock photos where needed. Even if clients don’t opt for them in the initial projects options, one or both frequently get added mid-way through when the reality of photography and content needs set in.
I’m curious, it sounds like you don’t offer content writing services. Do you help edit content for clients? How to you separate content writing/editing from what you offer re SEO consulting?
Mikael Andersen says
All website projects should actually start with a marketing plan, then the content for the website, and after that it is time to build the website.
I my opinion the marketing plan and the content are the main starting point. Though I have also still the similar problems as described in your post.
It is quite strange because if it is compared to offline advertising, it makes no sense to make the choice of which media should be used, before the content of the advertising message is ready.
I really wanna help people solve this problem. In fact, there is a new SaaS that is supposed to help. Unfortunately, developers have to convince business owners they need to hand content off to someone.
You have adequately enumerated the reasons it isn’t easy to do 🙂