There are a lot of things that go into building a website, but the piece that's almost universally overlooked and underestimated in the design process is the content. The stuff that people go to your website for — key messages, images, videos, calls to action — can be overlooked in the pursuit of establishing wireframes and user flows. While it seems crazy, it happens Every. Single. Time. As a result, projects often go overbudget and past due, and everyone scrambles.
So, why does content always get the short end of the stick? Content seems easy — since it's just a bunch of words and images — but, in fact, it's the hardest part.
Content Is Who You Are
Even the most self-aware organizations aren't always prepared to articulate this in writing. They've rarely tackled the difficult work of fleshing out their key marketing messages or how to map different audience segments and products, and current marketing materials aren't sufficient replacements for a messaging strategy.
Strategy is as much about figuring out what you don't want to say as it is what you do want to say. If organizations don't know their customers' pain points, how their customers benefit from using their product or service, which features matter to which personas, and how to whittle down key messages to three to four primary points, they've got work to do.
Content Is a Team Sport
While the number of cooks in your content kitchen may vary depending on the project, the words — and visual media — will likely have to be reviewed and approved by multiple parties before they go live. From marketing specialists and brand managers to legal staff and compliance personnel, content is a contact sport. This means content can become a logistical nightmare and can expose the internal conflicts and priorities that inevitably come from siloed departments.
Clients often need guidance in creating efficient processes. They need a content workflow that makes it easy to review the latest work and collaborate in real time, while having someone to moderate conflicts and ground them in strategy.
Content Is Hard
Writing for digital is complex. You must be well-versed in best practices, how readers consume content online, as well as the language and messages that resonate with your audience. Niche industries require immersing yourself in the concepts and terminology of their business. While everyone can write, not everyone can write as well as experts trained for this task.
Another challenge of writing for websites is the parameters and restrictions of the wireframes or designs. In a perfect "content-first" world, we'd have copy fully approved before developing the look and feel of the page. However, that's rarely the case. There's more to writing than just the writing part. If you don't give your writers the time and budget to dig in and do their best work, you're going to end up with subpar copy and endless rounds of revisions.
Content Needs Experts
You don't have to be a great writer to contribute to the content. Some of the most important people in the process may not have any formal writing experience at all. They're often called subject matter experts (SMEs) — and they can make or break your project as much as any line of code can.
Finding the right SMEs is essential for accuracy. If you're working on a website with multiple product or service lines, you may need to track down multiple SMEs to gather their knowledge and expertise. Making sure you identify the right SMEs upfront and baking in enough time to involve them in the process is crucial.
Content Takes Time
Doing the actual content writing can be the final piece of the puzzle. Delivering accurate, compelling and effective content requires a well-thought-out strategy that ensures your copywriters aren't just shooting in the dark. Make sure to provide them with an editorial style guide, the user research and the emotional needs of your target personas, as well as the purpose of each page they're working on.
All this strategy takes time. Unfortunately, many teams don't plan for all the time that goes into creating truly strategic content. Ironically, that often means more time spent at the end of the project trying to navigate why nothing fits into the already-approved designs. At the end of the day, if you're just giving your copywriters a bunch of boxes to fill in with words, you aren't setting them up for success.
Content Deserves Better
The reality is that content strategy doesn't fit neatly into the design process of most teams. It's not a single deliverable or document that can be easily measured and scoped for. There's a lot of ambiguity involved, but that's even more reason to spend time up front getting it right. Because your content deserves better.