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96black Blog

Fresh Laundry

Content, the iceberg to your web project’s Titanic!

Without a doubt, content is the single hardest, most frustrating, time consuming, temper fraying, brain destroying aspect of any web project. And that includes ones where you find out after launch that your users can login and change other user’s auction details. You know what I’m talking about.

In most of the web projects I’ve been involved in, the client has not provided content up front and has then seriously underestimated how long it will take to write a site’s worth of content. This leads to either rushed content creation or re-using all of the old content without considering whether it is still relevant. Either way, if you don’t put time into your content it will be weak.

Don’t even think about bringing that old content over!

Say it aint so. You’re not really thinking about dragging all your existing content over to your beautiful new website are you? Think back to why you wanted a new site in the first place; it was because your old site was tired and dated, right? Do you think your content might have had something to do with that? Put it this way, when was the last time you read any of your content?

In an ideal world, we’ll work on your content together before we even design your site. Before we lay the content within a design, it needs to work in a simple text document. Think about your titles, sub-titles, paragraphs, bullet points, and any inline images. A dense page of text formatted as one paragraph is not going to encourage anyone to read your content. Layout of content is absolutely vital to making it legible and readable (and there’s a difference between those two things).

Reading vs. skimming

Web users tend to skim content in order to find what they’re looking for. Consider your own reading habits on the web, do you read every word on the page? More than likely you scan a page looking for keywords to jump out at you. If your sub titles aren’t useful then your site’s visitors will go elsewhere to find what they’re looking for.

The sub titles in this post are indeed feebly humourous, but they do also contain an indication of what the paragraph is about. If I used a sub title like this:

Don’t forget the ham and egg salad, Betty

that doesn’t tell you anything about the paragraph, does it?

To summarise this paragraph, write some new content! It’s hard enough building a new website and hard enough getting people to visit your site (build it and they’ll come, phooey!). Why show them tired old content from 2003 to boot?

New lamps for old, or the case for not just dumping your old content

Building a new website is a great time to think about your business strategy, your messages, and your company image. Writing new content is a great way to update all of those (the tone of your writing says a lot about your company – humourous, serious, surreal). However if you have regular visitors to your site (maybe you’re a plumbing wholesaler that also has some expert tips articles on how to change a tap washer, for example) then you don’t want to throw away reasons for your visitors to keep using you as a reference site.

Have a look at your site statistics and see what your site’s visitors habits are like. If they don’t visit pages, or only very briefly visit them (i.e. they leave the page in only a few seconds), you can be sure they’re not reading that content. Dump it.

On the other hand, content that is regularly read should be kept – you might just end up confusing your visitors if you get rid of the content they refer to all the time.

Do a content audit

Make sure that you read through all your old content and ensure it’s up to date. Create a spreadsheet of all the content on your site and mark what should stay and what should go. Dump anything out of date, embarrassing, nonsensical, broken, or poorly written. Now you’ll be able to see at a glance what there is to write. Take a deep breath, it’s not that bad. Remember, web readers don’t want an essay on every page, just the vital information. Ditch the waffle, and keep it simple.

Your content won’t write itself!

Doing something is better than doing nothing, so get busy with a brain dump. If you’re like me, editing is easier than creating from scratch, but attempting to write finished content straight off is pretty futile. Just bang it all through as fast as you can. You can come back and tidy it up later. But don’t even think about handing off that initial draft to your web developers! Unless they have been engaged to write your content, they’re likely to just put what you give them straight on the page. You’ll hate the result.

Where next?

In my next post I’ll give you some tips on writing content and keeping your self organised while doing it. It’s hard work writing good content so be prepared for a long game, but the end results for your company are worth it.

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