Wood Street has been building websites since 2002 (15 years this August, see our contact page for the address for all the awesome gifts you’ll be sending us). Some of us have been doing it since the 90s. Ahh, the 90s.
Anyway, since we started, there’s been one usual suspect who seems to show up and ruin progress on every project. No, it’s not Keyser Soze.
Yes, the words, images, and video content that fills that beautiful new website. Content has been the number one cause of delays in the majority of our projects.
So, you might be thinking, “well, why don’t you do something about it?” And, we agree. Something should be done.
We write/speak/preach/consult about the importance of content quite a bit. But, for this post, I want to take an honest look at why content is the root cause of most website build delays and how to work through that to get to launch and achieve success.
Where does content come from? Content doesn’t magically appear in your inbox one day. You either have it or need to create it. It is usually one of the following:
- Existing website content that needs to be reviewed, restructured, and edited
- Existing content in other formats that needs to be reviewed, restructured, and edited for the web
- New content that has to be planned, delayed, argued about, delayed, written, edited, organized, and posted
And someone has to manage the content efforts. You need someone who can find, edit, and write good content. As Marcus Sheridan describes the perfect content manager in his book They Ask, You Answer…
“They love to write. This one goes without saying, but it’s a big deal. And remember, writing online isn’t just about fancy words. It’s about clean communication, done in a way so that just about any reader can understand what’s being said. Remember, great writers and communicators (and teachers) don’t try to sound smart, which is never the goal of content marketing. Rather, they seek “communion,” and it’s this quality that makes them great.”
That’s the key to good website content and any effective content marketing strategy. Let’s look at each “content candidate” and if they are in line with Marcus’s prerequisite.
- Temp or Intern
- SEO Company
- PR Firm
- Web Design Firm
- Ad Agency
Now, let’s take a look at each of these and see who might be the best fit for your website content needs.
For smaller organizations it’s not uncommon for the top person to want to write the content (especially if they are a founder). They’ve been there longer and know more about the organization than anyone else, or so they think.
The truth is that it’s very rare when it makes good sense for this person to handle the content. They are too close to the company. It’s difficult for them to pull away and write specifically for the target audience.
They can have a tendency to brag a bit or get autobiographical. This is great for the mission or history page but it wears thin for the rest of the site.
This person still has tremendous value when it comes to creating great content. This is where they fit:
- Stories: Founders will have the great stories. People love stories. Stories make a company more real, more human. Try interviewing the founders and use it as a historical narrative or video.
- The Bottom Line: Company leaders offer insight into what makes the company successful. Use this to craft your content strategy. Create content that supports this success.
- 30,000 Foot View: Company leaders have the unique ability to see the whole company. They don’t get stuck in the weeds. Use this when mapping out your website’s information architecture.
Oftentimes, a company leader will insist on handling all content. They don’t trust that someone else can represent the company as well as they can. To be blunt, this is simply not true.
Their vision is clouded by their relentless focus on success. Company leaders will have a hard time empathizing with the target audience to write specifically to solve this group’s problems.
Plus, and this is probably the biggest problem, they’re busy. If you want to talk a company leader out of managing the website content efforts, remind them that it will be a very time consuming job. That usually does the trick.
Staff – Marketing Directors and Office Managers and Interns, Oh My!
Another common scenario is what I like to call the finger point…
Wood Street: “Who is going to manage the content?”
Client points: “Karen will. She’s a great writer.”
And sure, Karen is probably an amazing writer. She might even have a couple of novels under her belt. But, that’s not what you need.
You need someone who can organize, write, and edit your content so it solves problems, answers questions, and drives conversion. A website is not a place for flowery prose. Remember, “clean content?” You’ve got to get to the point, quickly.
If you do decide to keep the content efforts in house, make certain that the person managing these efforts has the following:
- Complete buy-in company wide that they are in charge
- Ability to stay organized, on task, and can meet deadlines
- A core understanding of web content, SEO, and content marketing
- Ability and permission to manage a team
Pointing a finger at someone and telling them to take care of the content is not a realistic or viable content strategy. But, you can use the resources you have available, your team, to manage the task.
Here’s what they’ll need:
- Access to all existing content
- A complete understanding of the target audience and the company goals
- Access to the web developers
- Writer(s) and/or editors
If you give a qualified staff member or members the tools they need and the authority to do what has to be done, you will avoid the content pitfall altogether.
Don’t Ignore The Resources at Your Fingertips
Above we discussed the option of having someone on your staff manage the content plan. But, don’t ignore the years of experience and wealth of insight available right under your nose.
Everyone employed at your organization has a unique take on what you offer and why it matters to your audience. And the ones who deal directly with your clients, members, whatever your audience is, will have a wealth of information and insight into what these people truly care about.
Don’t assume you know what your audience wants, go talk to the people who know. These could be one or more of the following:
- Customer Service
- Front Desk
- Member Management
- Event Planners
The list could go on. Once you’ve assigned content to a member of your staff, make sure they allocate some time to interview these folks to get as much insight into what your audience needs and wants.
And, after launch, you might want to return to this group for your ongoing content strategy. Perhaps some of them can contribute blog or video content. You’ll need it!
Temp or Intern
We’ve seen this one before and it never ends well. Think about it. The quality of your website’s content could mean the difference between a successful website and an abject failure.
Don’t give this to a temp or intern. Temps and interns could maybe enter the content into the CMS and maybe even format it. But, the least qualified, least invested person in the company should not be in charge of its content strategy. It’s just too important.
Instead, use the intern for the tedious stuff that might be eating up valuable planning or writing time. Here are some content related tasks suited for a temp or intern:
- Finding and organizing existing content into folders (with some instruction and management of course)
- Organizing and formatting images for the web
- Getting coffee
That last one was a joke, sort of. Temps and interns can be very valuable members of any team, as long as you don’t just dump things in their laps. They need to be managed.
We will often offer this suggestion to our clients who are uncertain about the content part of the website build.
A good copywriter can not only write great content, but they can also help with the site map, content audits, editing, and organization.
A copywriter can also help you find your voice – a consistent tone throughout. Be careful with this however. You’ll want to be certain that the voice makes sense for your organization today and into the future.
Choosing the right copywriter can be tricky. Definitely check their references and read some samples. While not completely necessary, the following skills make a copywriter a better resource for your organization…
- SEO – keyword research, competitive research, on-site content optimization
- Versatile – write long and short form content, edit other’s content to match the voice, write content for different formats
- Committed – many writers are part-time or freelancers; be certain they can commit to the project needs
A copywriter can make all the difference. Just make sure you find the right person who offers the most appropriate services for your content needs.
SEO firms are getting more and more into the content game these days. Content is a huge part of SEO success so it makes sense that SEO firms are bringing this service in house.
But, be careful with this for a number of reasons, it’s possible that…
- The writers they have don’t have the skills or experience you need.
- The content they create will be too focused on rankings and not enough on utility and readability.
- You may not have the kind of access to the writer you need to get the voice your content needs.
That said, some SEO firms have phenomenal content services. And, because it is an SEO firm, you know that search engine rankings are a priority (if that matters for your website’s success).
If you do not use an SEO firm to write your content, someone with SEO experience should be a part of the content process to insure your content is optimized for search engine visibility.
I believe more and more that PR firms are the new SEO firm. The good ones can create great content, get that content to rank, and use a content marketing strategy in conjunction with PR services to build the kinds of quality links you need to rank favorably.
Link building is crucial. Without links Google cannot easily find your website – quality links that give your site authority.
But you can’t build quality links with crap content. The two go hand in hand. No one understands this better than a PR firm.
They can map your content to promotion and PR strategies. This way you can see how the content you create today will continue to work for you in the long term. You can expand on the winning content and eliminate the content that doesn’t move the needle.
PR Strategy Example
Let’s say you make construction materials. Over the last few years you’ve noticed that your technical support and training materials for the products you build are what set you apart from your competitors.
Now, you know you have to keep cranking out great content to keep your customers coming back. But, how can you increase the visibility of your content so that anyone using your products can easily find it? Answer: quality links.
A PR firm can find the angle, the newsworthy element of your strategy that others would be interested in. Think about it: magazine websites, 24 hour news and business news channels, podcasts, and anyone who relies on content to survive NEED your stories.
A PR firm makes the connection by generating the type of content these outlets are dying to have. And they know how to package and deliver this content to make sure it gets seen.
Now you’ve gone from a manufacturer offering lots of support as a marketing strategy to a case study in innovative use of content. Your company representative could possibly end up on CNBC as a SME, a subject matter expert.
I know I’m making PR firms sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread. The good ones are great. But they are not cheap. PR can be a long term engagement with a sizable price tag. The good news is that they can track the traffic and show you the return on investment.
And, if there is ROI, the residual effects will continue to pay off well into the future.
Web Design Firm
You might think, “they’re building the website, maybe they can write the content too.” We get asked to help with content all the time. While we can write and edit, this is not what our business does or is setup to do.
So, we rely on the experts. We’ll assess the needs of the client. We discuss what their goals are for launch and beyond. From that, we will usually recommend a copywriter (if the budget is tight) or a PR firm.
We stress the importance of content time and time again. Content should not be an afterthought. So, if you are thinking about using your web design firm to write your content, make sure you’ve done your due diligence…
- Find out who will be writing the content
- Ask for samples
- Request references, case studies, and past performance statements
- Ask them how they quantify success
If they bill themselves as a “web design firm” I would be wary if they also then call themselves content experts. Do your homework. Avoid placing the most important part of your marketing strategy in the hands of someone ill equipped to handle it.
It’s about Great Content!
Remember, content can a progress killer. It can also be the difference between your website’s success or failure. Don’t take content lightly.
If you meet with a web design firm and they do not ask you about content, consider that a red flag.
And when your website goes live, the content job is far from over. Content marketing is a key element in any successful digital marketing strategy.
Just creating content on a consistent basis is not enough. You need to create great content that your audience devours.
So, who handles your content? How’s it going? I would love to have a discussion about content experiences in the comments section below. Chime in!