The Cure for Content-Delay Syndrome

by Pepi Ronalds

56 Reader Comments

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  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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  9. 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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  10. 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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  11. 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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  12. @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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  13. 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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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. 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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  18. 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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  19. 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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  20. 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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  21. very useful

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  22. Maybe ever company must have a web design team i think thats will happen in the future

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  23. 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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  24. 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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  25. 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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  26. 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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