Websites don’t have content: they are content


In the past, it was easy enough to outsource content production to creative agencies. But the ubiquity of publishing platforms, mushrooming of publishing opportunities and power of technology means organisations can, and probably should, publish relevant content and reap the subsequent marketing rewards.

Apart from the complexity of understanding blogging, social media and technologies like video and podcasting, there is the challenge of creating content. Excellent content educates, interests, amuses or challenges your key audiences and gets them to interact and engage.

Let’s take a small diversion into Web design. As design has become more user-centred, disciplines like user-analysis, information architecture, transactional and visual design and usability testing have emerged and contributed to the clarity of Web-based content.

While these were important steps towards developing great content, there was still a conspicuous gap between infrastructure and the content that went into it. Web content was considered outside of the scope of the theories of user experience and often left, by an agency or studio, to the client organisation to ‘sort’.

Content production should be built-in to a website development project

Content production should be built-in to a website development project

Content is still often considered as the last-minute stuff that goes into the design and is created in a hurry or migrated from its various locations to the new design. Content has, until recently, been considered merely an adjunct to the primary process, instead of being the core of the process.

One systems designer, Dorian Taylor, captured the essence of this conundrum when he asserts that “…the Web doesn’t have content, it is content”.

Giving content a peripheral role creates problems that are not easily rectified with a tweak to the design or even through more fundamental changes. Putting content centre-stage means changing some of the basic ways we think about content.

The form of an object must be based on its intended purpose. If the purpose of a website is to inform, sell, share or entertain, then the consumption of content is the function. If the content is not created before design begins, then form is not following function: the function is being compromised by the form.

The elements of design – from the architecture and navigation to the look-and-feel to the code functionality – are all components that come together to help the content reach the user effectively. If the content is an afterthought, the experience is likely to fail.

Content development has become too complex to be left in the hands of a website manager, junior marketing executive or site moderator. Not everyone is, or should be, an expert at content strategy and management.

Neither can authors within an organisation necessarily be expected to know enough about content management – keywords, content standards and modelling, re-use models, content for metatags, microformats and writing for syndication. Decisions about content strategy should be made at marketing director and board level or outsourced to a creative agency who has a grasp of content creation.

When website developers say that the content elements of online projects are a major sticking point, they recognise that the launch is being held up by a poor, or non-existent, content development process.

The absence of quality content can often be attributed to a few key failures or omissions. Content on an old site could be unsuitable, inconsistently structured or difficult to migrate neatly to the new site. The content could also be trapped in attachments, such as PDF files or in email, which can’t be moved very easily.

The content, whether written or migrated, could be unusable for the new site or app. It may describe out-of-date functionality or not be written in ways that are suitable for integration with the new design: the new design may not be able to accommodate the content. There is no way to provide the necessary information or instructions within the design that has just been, no doubt, approved in a lengthy sign-off process.

A situation could arise where there is simply no planned content for certain areas – often new, key areas – because there was no appreciation of how long it takes to create suitable content, or there is a lack of awareness about why accurate, readable content is so important.

There could be simply no budget allocated for content development. Content can be a major budget item, so the redesign proposal opted to omit content provision so as to lower the project cost. At a late stage, the client organisation is told they are responsible for content development themselves and they realise they have no time, budget and/or expertise to start creating content.

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About Jeremy
Digital marketing leader, blogger and speaker. Married with three adult children. Likes activities and sport not affected by weather.

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