The Cure for Content-Delay Syndrome

by Pepi Ronalds

56 Reader Comments

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  1. Do you recommend any editors/copywriters in the United States? I have the hardest time trying to find people.
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  2. A great man once said,
    “Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” Who was that…? This was a good read about a topic that is relevant to everyone in the web community. And I think we can all relate to the client who doesn’t have content :oP. In answering the question “When can this be done?” I usually go with “As fast as you can get us the content.”
    It usually helps the client realize how important the content is.
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  3. Is anyone aware of an online course that could certify people to write for the web? At my company we have many people contributing content across the enterprise and we’d like to offer a certification program that must be taken in order to publish content. Thanks!
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  4. I really enjoyed this piece. I admit I am biased toward the writing pieces on ALA as that’s my bread and butter, but I appreciate that this article points out the nuanced differences a writer versus an editor can bring to a project. Having worked as web content developer as well as web editor, I can corroborate that the skill sets are indeed different, and the polishes they add to a page have distinct sheens. Very nice read. Thanks for writing it.
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  5. Seriously, does anyone at ALA actually have to plan and design real web sites for a living? For real clients? In the real world? And, where’s the “cure for content-delay syndrome”? Or is the “cure” the hiring of a content editor for every web design project? “Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration,” is a pithy soundbite, but an insulting accusation of those of us who have to design for clients who, in the real world, don’t cough up the content until the last minute and won’t - or can’t - hire a content editor. Thanks, anyway, to ALA for putting the ideas out there.
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  6. This week’s articles seem to contain a lot of words that don’t really say much, is that delayed content, bad content, or pseudo-timely content?
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  7. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Nulla sollicitudin viverra enim. In pellentesque volutpat nibh. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Ut eget magna sed nisi consectetuer tempor. (Just use this as a placeholder for my comment, please. I’ll write something later.)
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  8. @Pam - I don’t know if there is a certification, but I’d be wary of one because the web is still too new for best practices to have been established.  Certainly many many people understand the nuances of writing for the web, but they tend to be professionals, not academics.  It takes some time for these things to solidify before they can be distilled into a solid certification.
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  9. Rather than persuading the client to hire an editor, why not make a web editor part of the design company team? I don’t see many help wanted ads on, say, 37signals for editors. As a web editor and designer, I found the article dead-on. Getting copy is like extracting teeth, but with an editor on board, the designer can take what shreds are offered and create a whole cloth from them. Once the client sees the created copy, they are spurred to deliver the real thing, which can once again be quickly edited and woven into a [probably] new design.
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  10. triple sec asked: bq. Seriously, does anyone at ALA actually have to plan and design real web sites for a living? Well, the site is published by “Happy Cog”:http://www.happycog.com/ , and we plan and design real websites for a living. And if you look at our “Masthead”:http://alistapart.com/about/ , just about everyone listed there works in web design and development. So, yes. Yes, we do.
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  11. @triple sec: Real-world implementation concerns are fair enough. But you’d balk if a client provided you with a crap, last-minute design and expected you to implement it. So why accept crap, last-minute content? Until, as Pepi suggests, designers stop viewing content as merely “one last deliverable” and start viewing it as an essential part of the process, this low-value-proposition argument will creep in anytime someone suggests hiring a writer or editor. Ask yourself this, though: If you’re stacking your portfolio with good-looking, horribly written sites, are they truly great? And isn’t making truly great websites worth the cost of keeping a content professional on _your_ payroll?
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  12. Nice piece Pepi. I had a good experience when I translated a website which promoted a spinoff product from an international maker of sport shoes.
    I had questions about the meaning of names on buttons, headings, some US English expressions and all the usual stuff when translating meanings into another culture.
    That led to a revision of the English text as well.  The multilingual work we had to do, like asking very basic questions to the informationarchitect I had to deal with, forced the client to rethink about message on the web.
    Its of course not necessary to translate the text to get it proper, but at least this time the webteam had to think and they even got the copywriter (a TV guy) out of is room to look at it. It helped.
    Text and other content are too often badly treated by webagencies and such.
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  13. Casey wrote: bq. “Rather than persuading the client to hire an editor, why not make a web editor part of the design company team? I don’t see many help wanted ads on, say, 37signals for editors.” _Word_. Most advertising agencies do this. I don’t know how many strictly design agencies do this, but I wish they would. I’ve long been an advocate for making writing on the web suck less since that’s where so much of us get our daily language intake. But the problem is that everyone thinks they can write. And if they can write, they can damn sure edit, because that’s much easier, anyway—you don’t even have to create nothin’. Fo’ shiz. I really want to dedicate my life to writing for the web, and on the web, and with the web. But it’s a difficult business to get into when so few people recognize the value in the work.
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  14. I’ve always marveled how clients want you to do the work and when you ask them for any current content or literature that can help me create the new and improved them, I get 1 and a half pages of fluff… Then I rewrite and make seo friendly and they reject it..
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  15. As a writer and editor specializing in content for the web, of course I agree with Casey. Whether you use Pepi’s suggested (and well-written) editorial cure for this perennial problem or offer to start the content from scratch, introducing a team member or “strategic consultant” who works with content can’t hurt. His or her very presence (face-to-face or virtually) informs the client that from the start of the project, content will be taking center stage—right alongside design, IA, usability, and development. It won’t be an afterthought but a critical part of the original vision for the site. If clients balk at paying for content, they may reconsider when they are falling behind schedule and see that a specialist is already at hand—one already recommended by the designer or web development company. Even one well-written sample paragraph placed in a key area can open a client’s eyes to the power of compelling content that not only persuades visitors but also engagingly conveys the personality of his or her company. @triple sec I feel your pain. :) The delayed-content problem runs rampant, and most clients are convinced that they can write just as well as anyone they could hire. You can just feel it in your bones that if you say, “Sorry, I need content before I can start,”  another web company will come along and cheerfully say, “Oh, we can do a fabulous job for you without the content, add seventeen flashing whirligigs for free, and have it for you next week!” Result? You’ve lost a client. I think Pepi’s done a great job of offering a possible cure, and web companies need a medicine bag full of ideas like this to get the job done and deliver websites that make everyone—client and web company—proud. Ah, I just checked, and Amber Simmons just left another comment agreeing with what some of us are saying (and she says it so well). If you can’t afford to have a full-time content person on your team, choose someone who can be, as I suggested earlier, a “strategic consultant” listed on your company’s roster, and brought in when needed. I say we’re needed all the way back at the beginning when ideas are flying around and sketches are just starting, but until the magic moment when a wider segment of the client world “gets it,” at least we can join the process later in the game and still make a remarkable difference.
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  16. Pepi, Great article. I love your suggestion that clients need editors, as opposed to copywriters—so that the client can do the writing, but a professional can make it work as a coherent piece. I’ve started to think that the great content problem stems from a lack of realisation that creating a website is, as you point out, publishing more than marketing—we’re all publishers now. And publishing requires a whole different skill-set to marketing.
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  17. Stick minimal placeholder content in then give them access to “CushyCMS”:http://www.cushycms.com That way you’re not getting held up.
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  18. Well put Pepi. In the end, a web site with content that isn’t compelling or persuasive is empty. Let’s coordinate the parts to make a greater whole. I think, Jonathan and Carolyn, that sounds an awful lot like your vision of a publisher.
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  19. Hey everyone - thanks for the feedback, ideas and comments - it’s all tops!  There are so many different variations of clients - which does make it difficult to rationalize the additional expense.  If you’re making a site for a local small business then, no, they’re probably not going to invest in an editor.  On the other hand, if you’re making a site for an organization that’s more serious about their Web presence - and prepared to invest in IA, user scenarios etc. then an editor can make a huge difference and frankly our clients would be fools not to invest in good copy (/editing).  As many of you have pointed out, a good site ultimately does include good content.  And yes I agree that the sooner an editor onto the task the better. The 37signals thing is a dilemma - not only because there are no want ads for editors there, but also because editors probably aren’t looking there either (!) There are lots of freelance editors (who are happy to do short projects). While it would be great if we could all go out and hire a full-time editor I realize this is not always an easy business decision.  Still, there’s nothing to stop us from suggesting the idea to a client and - once approved - bringing in a good freelancer.  Once you have a strong business case a full-time editor (/strategist) could come on board.  I agree that the best way would be to have an editor as a part of a team. I hope it will be only a matter of time before that happens - the profession could make a significant difference to the quality of sites that we create. All it takes is for all of us to make it happen!
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  20. I can agree with the frustration alluded to in previous posts. Clients don’t fully understand the requirements for content to be useable as well as helpful with search engines. Perhaps though it is a failure of the search engines that the text has to be so managed to get good results.
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  21. I can agree with the frustration alluded to in previous posts. Clients don’t fully understand the requirements for content to be useable as well as helpful with search engines. Perhaps though it is a failure of the search engines that the text has to be so managed to get good results.
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  22. I just happen to be in the same stage as the one you describe : waiting for the client to deliver content. Hopefully, I have older content to use and build up something that might loook like actual content and a boss who’s pressed on the schedule : “let’s get things done! If there’s no content by tuesday, I’ll do it myself, orask someone else”. I saw it coming, but I’m exactly in the position of a writer who knows how to express things that others have trouble expressing, and so a lot of things depend on him. I’m lucky I also have little things to do on the design to keep me occupied (as well as project mananement). It’s a small corporate site by the way.
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  23. bq. The 37signals thing is a dilemma — not only because there are no want ads for editors there, but also because editors probably aren’t looking there either (!) You raise an excellent point, Pepi. Where do writers / editors go to find writing and editing gigs? Where can designers / developers find writers / editors to work with?
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  24. You could go around all the time and moan about how the client sees the content as a low priority. Or you could describe to them the benefits of a good content, and the benefits of you getting the content before you start designing - to get a broader view of the site and vision. That’s what I do on my projects, and even if I tell that the design process won’t start before I get some content to work with, they’re still contracted. Make sure your client knows the benefits of getting good content, and making it a part of the design process.
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  25. bq. “The 37signals thing is a dilemma — not only because there are no want ads for editors there, but also because editors probably aren’t looking there either (!” But you know what, though, I bet you there _are_. A lot of us are wearing different clothing—perhaps web designer, or information architect or some other skin—because we haven’t managed to find that perfect niche for ourselves where we can be what we were (gasp!) _meant_ to be—web writers and editors. Taking myself as an example, while I am happy working in print, my real love is the web, for various reasons. My day job is web designer, but I would give it up in a heartbeat for the right web writing/editing gig. And I know I’m not alone in that: being in the field of web publishing and looking in these job boards for the right gig to come along. Because a lot of us who have a real passion and drive for the web are here in some fashion or another—we’re just not _there_ yet.
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  26. This is a very good read. One more point to keep in mind is that sometimes poor editors gets selected for the job, which leaves client with the impression that they are better off without hiring an editor.
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  27. According to our experience, most clients are happy when offered help with creating, organising and editing content, not just design and development. Many sigh with relief, saying that they would have needed a website years ago, but simply did not know how to go about it. Since many web agencies do not provide the said services - or for some reason fail to advertise them if they do - many clients are not aware of the fact that help is available.
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  28. Our agency Brain Traffic offers web writing, web editing and content strategy ... and that’s it. Our company’s tagline is “Smart, useful web content. Finally.” Just this past Tuesday, I gave a presentation at Adaptive Path as part of the “Queens of Content” evening: http://www.slideshare.net/khalvorson/content-strategy-by-brain-traffic/ Erika Hall also presented on “Copy as Interface,” available here: http://www.slideshare.net/mulegirl/copy-as-interface I went to Adaptive Path as a first step in engaging the UX and design communities in this all-important conversation. We need to stop passing the buck to our clients - or, worse, the web writing - and start being responsible for teeing up content strategy, requirements and process at the BEGINNING of a project. We find that if we can clearly outline content requirements even during the UX/IA phase, clients quickly realize they’re not equipped to handle the writing themselves. Often, we end up putting teams of 4-8 writers on projects, overseen by either the content strategist or a web editor. Creating great content is HARD. It’s complicated, it’s time-consuming, and it’s expensive. But without great content and interface copy, it’s impossible to really deliver on a stellar site experience. www.braintraffic.com
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  29. Krista asks: “Where do writers / editors go to find writing and editing gigs? Where can designers / developers find writers / editors to work with?” My understanding is that www.mediabistro.com is the publishing industry’s equivalent to 37signals.  It’s a good source for both freelancers (via their register) and more permanent staff (via the want ads). It’s great to see that there are companies out there who are specializing in content for the Web.
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  30. Great article, Pepi! I truly enjoyed it and have now passed the link to a number of people. I have been experiencing a dilemma lately where senior executives are far too involved AND have experience as either copy editors and/or or marketing language leads. It’s funny how even though they say they know how important it is and how much time and work is needed that they *still* slow down the process. As for job boards, there needs to be a better destination in a grass roots way. Something similar to Authentic Jobs with a focus on content would be great.
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  31. Content is everything to start with, it’s the heart of the beginning and beats for the whole life of every text.
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  32. Re: Matthew’s comment: “Clients don’t fully understand the requirements for content to be useable as well as helpful with search engines. Perhaps though it is a failure of the search engines that the text has to be so managed to get good results.” The first part is all too often true. The second part? I don’t think this is the case at all. The search engines’ primary mission is to provide meaningful and useful search results and, to the greatest extent possible, they strive to reward those sites that feature well written, useful and/or interesting, accessible and appropriately referenced content. SEO tricks aside, most people with some depth of experience and a balanced perspective will tell you that organic SEO is key to producing search engine results. And organic SEO is achieved by (you guessed it) crafting well written, useful and/or interesting, accessible and appropriately referenced content. Successful web sites and search engines have very similar and complementary goals: Successful web sites provide well crafted, user-friendly and useful / interesting content, and search engines should—and for the most part do their best to—reward those sites with good rankings. (Leaving out for now such factors as linking strategies and others.) Neither organic SEO nor good copywriting are especially magical; they simply require some skill, experience and knowledge. It’s a bit like trying to write a successful book; if it’s not well written, interesting / useful, accessible and well-organized, it’s not going to sell (produce results). The same for web site copy and content: people want good content, and good copy is rewarded with results. (Good copy sells.) If you want results, you have to put out the effort to produce good content and copy. If you’re not willing to do that, then don’t blame the search engines when you don’t get results.
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  33. I’ve only been freelancing as a web designer for a year (though in the industry for over 10 years) but this has been my experience too - content always last to arrive. And yet, as designers we are expected to come up with concepts, layouts and final designs, often without much more than a vague idea of what the content of the site will be. Given that, in my opinion, the purpose of the design of a site is to complement the content, and to make a user’s journey through it as easy as possible, how can you even start thinking about a design without knowing what that content will be? To the question ‘why do you need a website?’, the client’s answer (if they have one) is often ‘because other businesses like mine already have one’. Therefore the challenge of creating a design is made easier - go and look at the competitors and come up with something more eye-catching and visually appealing than theirs. The content is then shoe-horned in at the end, and it’s often pot luck as to whether it fits. The result is often a case of style over substance, and the sad thing is that for many site owners this is quite acceptible.
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  34. I appreciate this article and what I’ve learned from it. For example: “The Cure for Content-Delay Syndrome”
    Hire an editor.
    The End.
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  35. I’ve had a few listings at www.authenticjobs.com passed on to me by colleagues/clients who happened to notice one for a writer or editor. It’s definitely worth following.
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  36. In some projects I was wondering why we have a very detailed style guide for designing the website but at the same time the quality of the texts added to the website are completely inhomogeneous. Sometimes a style guide on how to write texts for a website would really help editors.
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  37. I always refer people to the phrase “Content is King.” I am in the process of starting a new project to redevelop one of our NHS (National Health Service) websites. I have insisted that we need to ask the public what they want from the website in order to gain an understanding of the content that will be required. However, the project group have decided that we should produce design visuals first. As most designers know, this can prove problematic later on when you’re trying to fit structure and content into a design.
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  38. Pepi, I couldn’t agree more, but I especially love the opportunities to grow the “editor” you described into an even more proactive, up-front role. Final content on the page, that’s on brand and appropriate for the medium, is a byproduct of content strategy. Neil Bradley commented, “The project group have decided that we should produce design visuals first. As most designers know, this can prove problematic later on when you’re trying to fit structure and content into a design.” I think I’m echoing Kristina Halvorson on this, but without upfront content strategy, I’ve found that often there’s no good way to develop the design strategy. How do you know what a site needs to communicate and really be “about” without understanding how the client envisions their hierarchy of messages? Without helping the client prioritize that messaging, how can you guide them on the right types of content—and in what volume and level of detail? Without knowing what content will be there, designers are often left wading in the backwater of content dumps with empty-bucket layouts. I’ve been lucky to find many clients appreciate strategic help in the daunting task of figuring out what to write. Wearing the content strategist hat, I help them prioritize key messages, then translate those qualities into more tactical guidelines: an editorial style guide, sample copy, and a prescriptive content matrix offer guidance on goal character counts, embedded messages, and embedded keywords for everything that we need to create. These tools help shape what we be there—but getting THERE is another story. I appreciate the perspective you offer on the editorial review to help achieve this. An editor and editorial review process is an appropriate way to rein in their ponies, but I wonder if it could be more proactive? I like the idea of starting the process with content strategy and using the tactics described in the article to bookend it and ensure quality execution.
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  39. For designers looking for editors in the UK, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders directory is a good place to start: http://www.sfep.org.uk/pub/dir/directory.asp
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  40. I wanted to hire a professional editor, but cost and the exaggerated assessment of my own skills led me to do it myself.  Afterwards, I noticed that traffic was slow. So I finally shelled out some bucks and hired a professional to assess my site. The recommended changes were spot on and definitely increased traffic and the length of time that visitors stay. Live and learn.
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  41. Thanks for the piece Pepi. You’re certainly speaking my language. I set up my own website content consultancy here in Australia precisely to address the issues you’ve identified. Content should be developed _at least_ simultaneously with other project elements. I would take it one step further: what are businesses doing (re)designing websites if they don’t know what the content is? The content is their brand, their product, their message. How amazing that it’s invariably the last piece of the web project puzzle! Arse backwards. The plus side - for writers and editors, at least - is that the mad scramble to go live means that premiums can be charged and easy dollars can be made. Organisations wanting to avoid this additional cost would do well to consider what they’re saying and why _before_ embarking on substantial redesign projects.
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  42. @Daniel Schwarz:
    bq. In some projects I was wondering why we have a very detailed style guide for designing the website but at the same time the quality of the texts added to the website are completely inhomogeneous. Sometimes a style guide on how to write texts for a website would really help editors. I guess it depends where you work. Some organisations _do_ have good guidance for writing on the web ... but probably most don’t. That’s largely because it’s not a well-understood science. Some people think that writing for the web is just like writing for print so their print guidance will be enough. Wrong! Some people think the web is so informal that it doesn’t really matter how you write. Wrong! And others think that as everyone uses the internet, they must know what sort of writing is on there, so no need for guidance. Wrong! There are some useful articles on “useit.com”:http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/ on specific ideas for web writing, and plenty of general resources if you search for “writing text for the web”:http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=writing+text+for+the+web If it’s a small website, you can probably get away with the content editor doing all the tidying up and getting everything in a house style. For a larger website, with content coming from lots of different authors, you should try to get some guidelines laid down early on, maybe even run a seminar for people who will be contributing, to get everyone speaking the same language from the outset.
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  43. Last year a client send me an urgent email: “Who is this ‘Lorem Ipsum’ and why is she in our new corporate directory re-design? I don’t have her in my current address book.” The Law of Web Client Review holds true: “In any client meeting about navigation or design, the customer will *always* focus on the slug content.”
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  44. What;s the sense of developing a web site before you have content? Content should be the first thing that is considered. How do you know what to put on the pages if you don’t have content? This article inspired me to write a post about content on my blog: http://garyagood.blogspot.com/2008/05/content-comes-first.html Feel free to comment on it.
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  45. If you want to focus on search engine traffic it is much better to start your website with a certain framework so that the urls are already online. You can add the content then from time to time. Websites normally rank better when they are older - and this counts for subpages in the same way.
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  46. This is probably the most enjoyable and subtly witty posts I have read online. I have read a number of posts on this topic before, but this surpasses all of them. You have outdone me on the longest content wait - I am at 1 year and 3 months. After a year of the client dodging, he came back and wanted the whole site re-create, and for free of course. He has since disappeared, probably never to be seen again. At my old company, whenever I was running a project, I refused to start the site until the client had agreed to a full brief, supplied us with all the content and any materials needed. Clients got pretty upset with this, but I know what will happen if I don’t put my foot down and make them do it all my way.
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  47. Yes, Virginia (I mean Pam). There is a public online course for web content writers. At Contented.com, no less. This post expresses perfectly the reasons why we developed CONTENTED. After 13 years of training people to write for the web, I became disheartened. I thought, what’s the point of training a single web editor for a large organisation in which hundreds or thousands of staff are producing web and intranet content. Head in the sand, many managers choose to believe that a tiny team of specialists can transform garbage into usable web content. So now we provide self-paced training online, focus fiercely on the minimum number of skills with maximum impact, and offer big discounts for big numbers. Now that practically all business operations happen online, web writing is the not-so-new business writing. But it’s still largely regarded as a techie specialty, not a core employment skill.
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  48. It still amazes me that clients gladly spend large amounts on copywriters for print ads that will run for a week, yet insist on being able to write all text on their website that will most likely be around for at least a couple of years.
    Chances are more people will find you, read your stuff and judge you on your website rather than your print ad.
    I simply do not get it.
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  49. You can convince clients with the powerful argument of search engine optimization. Content is one of the most significant attributes for optimizing a website. Therefor is should be handled with care and considiration.
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  50. Over the past two years I’ve become a editor specializing in Web content. I’ve taught myself on the job. It’s definitely still a new, evolving field. There’s no certification yet that I know of—there’s not even that much CE available, only the odd seminar here and there. But I can’t stress enough the value of having a Web editor on a project. I’m biased, of course, but we’ve all seen what this article describes—beautifully designed and architected sites that end up being nearly useless because their content is poorly executed. I think the editing and writing can be done by the same person, if you pick the right person. But if your client is drafting the content and he/she isn’t a professional writer, then you should have a good Web editor that you can recommend. It will make for a much more professional, consistent, user-friendly final product. There aren’t a lot of us around yet, but as more work becomes available, more people will get the training and experience, and Web editing will become its own specialty.
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  51. very useful
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  52. Maybe ever company must have a web design team i think thats will happen in the future
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  53. Whatever helps out in getting the content to you is a good thing. Of course, that may mean—as was pointed out in the article—bringing on people to assist. Unfortunately, smaller clients normally are busy with their businesses; larger clients may need to pass content through a multi-tiered set of people. And the end result can be delay. It’s a good idea to provide for this ahead of time, so that content can be delivered in a timely manner. It can be done. :)
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  54. Dear Ms. Ronalds: I enjoyed your viewpoint and delineation of publishing roles. I think reading your blog might help web publishers decide to add editors to their creative teams. An editor, I am hoping to establish a freelance connection with website creators and publishers. Would you mind if I provide a link to this column, or add credited quotes, with letters to these businesses? Thank you.
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  55. I have been working professionally as an editor for the last three years (previously working freelance for spot jobs).  It has been a project of mind to approach as many websites as I can that I find have problems with their content.  It’s a hard task as there are a number of them, but it’s also difficult to convince small companies to spend the extra to money to hire someone on the outside to edit the copy once it’s written or have someone else write the copy for them. I work locally with a number of small businesses in that regard, helping them put together a small informational packet to use when they have to do all of their own editing and copy.  It helps alleviate some of the embarrassment of posting unpolished copy to their website. If you’re in the market for a copy writer/editor, I have plenty of contacts here in the States who would be more than happy to help you with your project.
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  56. Being a small time entrepreneur I do all the job myself. Frankly, it easier and takes lesser time to edit than to put in fresh and unique content to your website. Lian Vaiphei
    “Work from home Internet job”:http://www.letssharewealth.com
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