Under the definition of cowboy on Wikipedia you’ll find references to incompetence and recklessness. This might sound harsh, but while I wouldn’t want to suggest that gunslinging, yee-hawing digital and marketing teams are just lassoing words into your company’s website, there are definitely a lot of content hacks happening out yonder.
These shortcuts happen for a number of reason. Sometimes it’s a lack of budget or time, sometimes it’s a lack of expertise, and sometimes it’s just an underestimation of the role that content plays. Taking shortcuts can really damage your user experience, but all those I list below could be avoided by having the right content resource in place.
How many of these is your company guilty of?
1. Letting marketing take care of all website content
While your marketing team are masters in writing compelling product descriptions or defining killer proposition messaging, writing for usability is a very different skill. Good site content is a lot more than just words. An effective website is focused on getting users to their task as effortlessly as possible — and that’s down to site structure, findability of content, the message hierarchy, and navigation. These are skills that content designers can bring.
While marketing teams are often measured on site traffic and sales, content designers think about other metrics such as task completion rates, bounce rates and qualitative feedback, to ensure content is usable as well as engaging.
When content designers work side by side with marketing, you get the best of both worlds — compelling, easy to use content, that’s clear, and well-structured. If your digital team sits inside marketing, it might be tough to convince marketing teams that you need specialist content resource, but user-centred content improves search visibility, sales and customer retention too.
2. Not using content experts to create UI copy
Lots of companies still don’t recognise that the words that sit within customer interactions are ‘content’. They see them as just words, and words are easy right?
But do developers, designers or optimisation managers have a solid understanding of tone of voice and when to dial it up or down? Do they understand the principles of writing for accessibility or localisation, or how the subtle difference between word choice can affect conversion? If not, they probably shouldn’t be responsible for your UI copy.
UX writers or content designers will overlay their knowledge of language with their user experience expertise to ensure your UI copy is clear, concise, and most of all — effective.
3. Relying on agencies for content creation
Not having in-house content resource means that editorial content, and even marketing messaging has to be outsourced. This means it’s seen as an expensive asset and content-heavy projects can get de-prioritised. This also means content is produced once, published and not measured or optimised. Often this results in old or out of date content on a website that never gets looked at until that in itself becomes a big new (expensive) project (that gets you guessed it, de-prioritised).
In-house content managers could produce content, housekeep your site, and make sure it’s always current and maintained, for a fraction of the cost.
4. Letting anyone publish to your site
If you don’t have an approval or governance process, or an in-house content manager, it’s pretty hard to ensure you’re publishing quality content. In this instance it’s probably also people are publishing with no objective or purpose for their content. The result – content with no strategy, that quickly spirals out of control and exists to serve the publisher and not the users.
Content builds up over time, and before you know it you’ve an unwieldy site bowing under the weight of pages that no one reads.
The other problem is with content that’s created by different people, without guidance, is that it will be lacking in a consistent style and tone of voice.
Content experts who define a strategy, style guides, and a governance process for your site, are no longer ‘nice to haves’ — they’re essential if you want good quality, consistent content.
5. Redesigning websites without content designers or strategists
Imagine trying to build a house without knowing which rooms were which, or how they’d be used. Designing sites and pages with no thought to the underlying content (or just using placeholder text) is the equivalent. Website design should start with a blueprint outlining the information architecture and page wireframes. These are the foundations that guide your visual and UI design.
Content designers possess skills in information architecture and strategy that can help define your new site. As part of this process, if you have an existing site they’ll carry out a thorough audit to see which content you should keep, what you can ditch, and what you need to improve.
6. Using machine translation for site content
We’ve all laughed at those bad tattoos people ended up with after using Google translate. Don’t make the same mistake on your website. Machines can’t identify the nuances of language or convert a turn of phrase to a local equivalent. Translated and localised content are also very different things. What works in one country might not work in another.
Using human (and if possible local) translators, or content managers that understand localisation requirements, will save you the embarrassment of poor content.