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Why Content Is the Hardest, Most Time-Consuming Part of Any Website Design Project

The most important part of your organization’s online presence isn’t your website, emails, or SEO. It’s not your CMS, CRM, or AMS. And it definitely isn’t your social media presence.

The most important element of your online identity is your content — i.e., what you have to say to the world and how you say it.

Every day at Mighty Citizen, we battle with our clients’ content — helping to find it, shape it, enhance it, structure it, promote it, archive it, etc. And each time we launch into a website redesign or marketing campaign project, we immediately begin beating that content drum: “We need to figure out what you have to say and how best to say it.”

Why is content so hard? And why does it take so much time to formulate?

1. Content is the Essence of Who You Are — And What is That, Anyway?

“Content” is an unfortunate word. It’s been beaten to death in recent years, especially by marketing agencies. There’s no single definition. For some people, “content” refers to just text, blogs, etc. For others, it encompasses every single thing an organization puts into the public sphere, no matter where or how or when.

But whatever your particular definition, “content” should all link to the authentic essence of your organization. To say one thing online but be another thing in real, analog life is troublesome and harmful to your organizational goals.

The most important element of your online identity is your content—i.e., what you have to say to the world and how you say it.

Identifying what you have to say publicly is especially difficult because of the Curse of Knowledge.

The Curse of Knowledge says that once you know something, it’s impossible to imagine what it was like not to know it. The curse makes it difficult to talk about yourself because, after all, you spend 40+ hours/week thinking about you, while your users only spend one-billionth of that time thinking about you. Your knowledge of your organization is deep; theirs is shallow. And when you say something to your users, you say it packed with countless hours of knowledge and experience that they simply don’t have.

There’s a gap between your organization and your users, and creating content that bridges that gap often requires a sobering self-examination (or an external team of pros).

2. Content is Intra-dependent

Content isn’t a collection of discrete chunks of text. A better metaphor would be a spiderweb, where the content you create in one place will influence content in other places.

For example: The language you choose for your homepage hero message should be repeated throughout your website’s other pages.

To change one means changing the other. And to ensure your organization can keep an eye on the moving parts — how X impacts Y impacts Z — you’ll need a content governance plan in place.

3. Writing is Hard

Content is more than text, but text is still the king of content. And writing compelling text that speaks to your audiences, that “moves the needle,” isn’t easy. It requires a keen understanding of your target users’ needs and biases and expectations. It requires vigilance and a willingness to edit regularly, to test. And it requires a certain amount of talent.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” —Ernest Hemingway

One thing that will help is to remember: The writing is in the rewriting.

Flannery O’Conner once said she wrote to figure out what she thinks. We agree. The first draft of anything you write will be awful. Accept this fact, and don’t sweat it. Get the ideas out onto the page. Nobody has to see that first draft, anyway. Just get the ideas out.

Then rewrite, finesse, massage your words. Shorten your sentences. Lower the reading level. Pick unusual words here and there — words that pop off the page because nobody else in your industry is using them. Give your organization a point of view, a personality.

All of this happens in the editing, the rewriting.

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4. Content Governance Requires New Policies

If you have a medium to large website — i.e., with at least 500 pages — you need a content governance plan. This plan should detail everything related to content on your website (and, often, off your website).

The most common elements of a Content Governance Plan are:

  • Statement of Purpose
  • Style Guide — including a “Do Say/Don’t Say” list, grammar and syntax rules, etc.
  • Workflow — i.e., how content is created, edited, and archived
  • Web Content Governance Team outline

Without a Content Governance plan, your website will almost surely run on memory and instinct. For smaller organizations, this may suffice. But larger organizations will end up with an inconsistent user experience and inaccurate information.

Content is More Than Content

Are you starting to get the sense that “content” is a beast? Because it is. It involves words, images, operational rules, messaging fundamentals, and countless other inputs from across your organization.

But don’t despair: Done well, content can truly set you apart from your competitors and help you meet your organizational goals more quickly and fully. We’re always happy to help.

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