Guest post by Liz Lacey-Gotz, principal of Liz LG LLC and senior writer consultant at Union Park Marketing.
Who among us has not experienced a website whose vision of excellence was never quite achieved? Someone who gave up wrangling too many stakeholders and a distraught writer, vowing to get everything back on track in “phase 2.” And, in the end, settling for a website that, while less than desired, was at least… finally… done.
It is possible to plan and write a website on budget, within your timeline, and to your expectations—if you take the time to heed these five key reasons web content can derail your dream site.
#1 The existing site is not fully reviewed for content needs.
It is not enough to say the site is 25 pages. Each page planned will vary in terms of the availability of existing content and the need for interviews or research. An audit of the existing site, or the existing information, must take place before writing begins.
In many cases, the information is outdated or wrong, and new content will need to be created from interviews, research, and other sources. No problem if this is accounted for in the timeline. Expect a minimum of eight hours for creation and revision of a single, high quality “scratch” page. Pages simply needing reshaping to fit the new tone and personality will require significantly less time.
#2 Key stakeholders don’t agree on key messages prior to writing. (Or worse, they aren’t paying attention and give haphazard direction.)
In this unfortunate scenario, writers should stop the steamroller and make sure they get agreement and attention before they begin to write content. Writing content as a Rorschach test for clients’ reactions is a disaster waiting to happen, and is likely to be highly inefficient.
It may be obvious, but writers can’t read minds. It’s not fair, and it can be costly, to let writers guess at priorities and proof points, only to be way off from that which clients were hoping to see. Again, seeing what the writer came up with, in absence of clear direction, should not be a starting point for stakeholders to gain clarity.
People are busy, and companies want their new website up fast. This can often lead to rushing the most important part of the copy—content strategy and planning. Outlining specifics of key messages, points of information that must be covered, explained, or listed, and making sure pages have unique content, is best done before the writer hits the keyboard. The writer may have a strategic background, or there may be a need for an additional content strategist to help with this step.
#3 Writer fails to grasp the company’s personality and does not understand the customer experience that will follow from a web call-to-action.
Writing a website is like writing a novel. The tone, personality, terminology and verbiage must be consistent throughout. It requires strong interviewing skills, to get not only the basic information for the page, but also examples and specifics around those main ideas to bring the copy to life.
Most organizations now know that their website is the first point of contact for potential customers. It needs to be easy to read, yes, but if it lacks cohesion with the company’s personality, the potential for enticing customers will be lacking. It is critical that the web content portrays the personality that potential customers will encounter when they visit the company in person, or talk to a representative on the phone.
At least two scenarios are possible. 1) The web content lacks sufficient personality to draw customers in, or, 2) dissonance is created in the mind of the customer between the computer screen image and the real image of the company. Whatever you write about must not only entice, but must build real expectations for working with or buying from the company. Fall flat, and no one will bother going further; oversell and you risk disappointment when they first encounter your business.
#4 Timeline isn’t firmly established or agreed upon upfront by both writer and client.
Writers need deadlines, and so do clients. Everyone should understand that if deadlines are missed, the site launch date will inevitably be delayed. A timeline should be established and agreed upon by all parties, and a project manager should be assigned to keep everyone reminded of their deadlines and make sure everyone has what they need to meet the agreed upon deadlines.
Websites often have extensive copy, so timelines must run in “batches” or “sprints” in order to keep the project moving and to get approvals as you go. Depending on the site, batches could be set according to top priority, or aligned to sections of a site, types of content, or leading with key pages to firmly establish tone and personality. However you plan to execute copy, consider how completion of one batch may set a tone for others, or how the order should logically proceed for best outcomes.
#5 Client needs too many “deciders.”
Many organizations want input from too many people to ever get copy finalized and onto the screen for customers. Set a client group of no more than five stakeholders, and assign a single person to aggregate everyone’s feedback and resolve conflicting stakeholder opinions. By doing this, the writer gets clear and comprehensive feedback for each batch at one time.
Beware of the stakeholder who wants to rewrite copy on their own. It is best if the writer or project manager helps frame how the feedback should be sent. For example, ask clients to offer content revisions in the form of 1) edits, 2) corrections, 3) reframing, 4) deletions, 5) highlights, and/or a “we need to talk” flag for significant rewrites. It is better in the long run to help the writer solve the problems, rather than allowing individual stakeholders to rewrite sentences or make actual changes in draft copy. Conversations and suggestions are far more helpful to get the writer “on board” than simply telling them what to write. And, when other people write corrections, they rarely match the tone of the paid writer.
There are, of course, other ways a web site can get off track, but managing these five potential pitfalls can help you plan and execute your site in a timely manner. As a writer, it is important to watch for these red flags, and do your best to make sure the project is well managed before you estimate. Then, if everyone stays the course and keeps to their deadlines, the site will come together without conflict or significant disruption, and you’ll be happy to celebrate a job well done with the entire team.
Liz Lacey-Gotz is principal at Liz LG LLC and senior writer consultant at Union Park Marketing. Liz is a content strategist, writer, and branding specialist with 20+ years experience. She has written sites for Robinson Fresh, C.H. Robinson, MelonUp!, Capella University, Minnesota Waldorf School, and more, as well as other digital and print communications for companies of all sizes.