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Want a good website, on time? Prioritise content.

By Matthew Stibbe on 9 August 2006

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.

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Matthew Stibbe

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