Mar. 17th, 2010

afterthree: (typewriter keys)
After having worked with a lot of different people and -- now -- several different companies building websites, I would like to let the rest of the world know something that I see as obvious but is apparently a massive surprise to others.

Website content is not a 'feature': for the user, it is the entire point of your website.

People don't come to your website to see good design or a good user interface; these are all important things to have, yes, but in the end what those things get you is goodwill and happier repeat visitors. What users come for -- the reason they click a link or search for you -- is to see your content. To read the words. And watch videos or look at pictures, yes, but mostly to read what you have to say about whatever it is you do.

If you don't have content on your site -- good, text-based content -- then you don't have a good website.

I cannot stress this enough: unless you're work is primarily based in photography or video, what people are ultimately looking for is information that can only be communcated via words. And even if you are a photographer or an artist or a video producer, once they look at all your pretty they're going to want to know things that take words to communicate, things like 'who' and 'where' and 'how much'.

Good content takes time. A lot of time. Time to plan, time to create, and time to markup and format. Content is almost always the biggest time-spend, no matter whether it's being created from scratch or migrated from one platform to another. Trust me on this.

I have spent days, weeks, months and even years working on content pre-launch. I have written it from scratch. I have formatted it with any number of markup tools and languages in lists and tables and columns. I have copy/pasted more times than is possible to count. I have tagged content, catagorized content, pagenated content and aggregated content.

I have some expertise in this. So when I say with 100% certainty that whatever amount of time you've budgeted for content is not enough, you know I'm not pulling your leg.

The other thing good content takes is writers. And not just any writer, but a copy-writer. Preferably one with web copywriting and SEO experience, because writing for the web is different than writing for any other medium, just like writing a newspaper ad is different from writing a commercial is different from writing a book.

You should never just slap something up in online spaces, but that's what happens all the time; things need to be adapted. In print you write and design around turning pages; on the web, it's all about scrolling down. Print that can be read comfortably on paper is too small or too big on screen. Words in graphic elements can't be seen by search engines, and either the graphics need to be rebuilt with searchable text over background images or appropriate alt and title tags need to be added.

Remember also that content is never 'finished'. There's no 'done' like there is with design. Content changes, expands, and expires. There is nothing more frustrating to users than old, outdated, inaccurate, or stale content. Good content is always current content. Keeping archives of content is great practice, but the most important stuff you've got is the stuff that's relevant now: online content is always about 'now', and the first place new content should be available is from your website. If updates happen in other mediums before they make it to your online sites and media, then you're doing it wrong.

Here endeth the lesson.

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afterthree

August 2010

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