About PM4Web

The PM4Web blog was born as an outlet to return knowledge back to the web development community. My goal is to share my experiences as a project manager from over the years in a manner which helps you succeed with your own projects.

09 May, 2009

Missing or Poor Quality Website Content

Strategies for avoiding the debilitating effects of missing or low quality content.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of websites lingering for months whilst a client attempts to cobble together some semblance of worthy content for their ill-fated website. This problem doesn’t just affect freelance web contractors. It’s as much a concern for a project manager at a web agency. Why? Because a project can’t be considered complete until all its tasks are closed.

Content issues can come in a number of forms, but generally it’s a customer taking a long time to prepare text or pictures for use on their website. Also connected to this is the problem of poor quality content, that is; amateurish text riddled with spelling or grammar errors, or low quality photographs. If this problem was one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, it would be famine since nothing makes a website appear malnourished like missing content.

So far I can’t say I have figured out a fool-proof method for dealing with this issue, although I have developed a few helpful strategies over the years. One approach I use is to take some liberties with the client’s content. For example, if a client has a page called ‘Our Team’, I may paste in some generic content I find on another website. What does this do? For starters, it often gets the client saying “hey, that’s not my content”, to which you reply “no problem – it’s just a place-holder until you put in your correct text.”

As strange as this may sound, putting in the wrong content often encourages a client to put in the right content. Perhaps this is appealing to the ‘if you want something done right, you got to do it yourself’ part of the customer’s brain. This solution isn’t appropriate for all customers; it works best with people who will understand you are just trying to be proactive.

One approach I have used in the past to deal with missing content is to automatically turn-off pages which are empty. For instance, if there is no text for the website’s ‘Press Releases’ page, it simply doesn’t appear in the navigation. It will only be a matter of time before the client says “where is my press releases page?”, to which you reply “you have to enter some text for the page, otherwise it automatically hides itself”. True, you will get people putting in “Page under construction” or “Coming Soon”, but if you give a person a CMS to manage their website, they can write whatever they like (it is their website after all).

Another great solution is to use a content questionnaire. This is a simple list of questions designed to illicit responses which serve as the basis for producing rudimentary website content. Here are a few example questions: “what does your company do?” “Who are your customers?” “What products or services do you sell?” “Have you been mentioned in any media publications?”. As you can see, you are effectively acting as a basic copy writer, so some degree of writing skill is required.

A common strategy you will see suggested is to have the client engage a content publisher or copy writer early on. The beauty of this is that a copy writer will hound a customer ‘til the end of days for material to work off – it’s their job. Web developers often focus too much on the technology-side of things, neglecting the most important aspect of the website; the content. The downside of this solution is many clients will flag a copy writer as prohibitively expensive. When budget is an issue, things which appear to have the least value are culled. Some clients may even look at it this way: “why should I pay for someone to do something I can do myself? I know my products better than anyone”.

Understandably, if a client has never had any interaction with a copy writer, they may not be aware of how much they can help. It isn’t just a matter of ‘good writing’, a copy writer can create compelling text targeted at a particular audience. For instance, a business owner may write something like this on their website “Welcome to my dieting website. Please browse our extensive range of products”, a copy writer would instead produce “Discover the secrets to fast and permanent weight loss with our revolutionary nutritional supplements”. And if the copy writer is well versed in SEO, even better.

Before this article wraps-up, let’s go over a few tips which may help you avoid content headaches: 1) bring up the topic of content early on in the project, 2) instil a sense of urgency, the client needs to know the website is nothing without content, 3) use generic, place-holder content when appropriate, 4) switch off pages which are blank (manually or via code), 5) recommend a copy writer get involved in the project early on (if budget allows).

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When all is said and done, if a client wont supply their content or photos, or blocks your attempts at proactive assistance (e.g. putting in place-holder content), there isn’t a great deal you can do. Your best bet is to move onto your next project and check back periodically to see if they are ready to continue on with their work. This could be in the form of a phone call once every few weeks. You never know, a client may have some major disaster they are dealing with in their business which means they can’t spend time preparing content.

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