Your brand-new shiny website is set to go live at the end of the month. Your company has been anticipating this upgrade for more than a year. Once it launches, it’s time to sit back and watch the profits roll in, right?
The content creation needed to make your new website viable and robust is a much bigger undertaking than most clients realize. IMPACT Website Strategist Stacy Willis has seen it all — and time and again, companies vastly underestimate the time and resources needed to produce the content necessary to drive traffic, generate leads, and bring in revenue.
John Becker: Why is the topic of client content creation on your mind?
Stacy Willis: Without fail, every single client we've ever had for a website project — the site does not launch on time, and it is not through the fault of design or development taking longer than expected. It is the fact that the client doesn't have the content ready at the date that they were expecting to have the content ready.
So our team goes through a whole lot of "Rush, rush, rush, rush, rush. We have to finish this by the launch date." And then, on the content front, we often have clients hit a wall of, "Oh, wait. Actually, we don't have anything to launch. We're going to just take a few months, and then we'll call you when we're ready to launch." So, we’ve pushed our design and development timelines to the limit ultimately for no reason.
...and it takes longer than you think
JB: Is that because people start too late?
SW: There are a couple of reasons. The biggest one is that, in a client’s mind, they think they’ll be able to produce the necessary content. They think it will be no big deal. They always underestimate the amount of time it's going to take on their end to do it, and they think they can get through it a lot faster than they can.
What we've found is that if it's not someone’s sole job, if you literally have any other job besides writing content for the website, you should not really expect more than a volume of about five pages per week that you can produce. And that's if you're talking about ten hours a week away from whatever your primary job role is to produce content.
So that is the biggest thing. People have the misconception that "if I spend half an hour a week, I can put out ten pages," which is completely, 100% wrong.
The second thing that often causes a problem is that there usually needs to be more than a couple people involved in the process. There are usually multiple subject matter experts who are responsible for helping write content for different areas of the website. Wrangling those people is not easy.
If you, as the middle person, are struggling to get content, and the subject matter experts think that they can produce content faster than they actually can, and then you are struggling to get everyone on the same bus, it turns into a very big snowball effect.
The other piece on our side of the project is that, for a lot of people, it's very hard to visualize the content on the page. They can get stuck with writer's block. Thus, making sure that the design structure for a page is done is really helpful for getting them to get started. That is a piece that does need to come back to us. We need to say, "Here's the structure, here are the elements, and this is what it's going to look like." Then it is ready for them to be able to write those pages.
Different forms of content
JB: When you say content, what forms do you mean?
SW: It is primarily written, which is the hardest part, but the other part that people overlook until the very last second is visual. In other words, what kind of imagery do you need to associate with the written content you're producing?
So, there's a combination of things that may need to be done. There is photo selection, which needs to happen. We highly recommend that you don't use something that looks horrible and stock photo-ey, you might even want to do a custom photoshoot. This, of course, takes time — sometimes more than you think.
The other category of still imagery is custom illustration. If we need to create graphics that aren't photo-based, in other words. Most of our clients want to produce those themselves, but we do have some clients who want to give us the raw material and have us produce graphics for them. We've seen it both ways. In either case, there needs to be a determination of what is that graphic going to look like, it needs to be handed off to somebody who's going to create the graphic, and only then can it go on the website page.
Lastly, and most importantly, there is video. Every website needs to have video in order to produce real results. It is that simple. Some clients come to us with a great selection of videos already created, that are ready to immediately use on a page. But this is very rare. I’d say close to 90% of our clients come to us with little or no ready-to-use video. Which means, you need time to create some.
Content and webpages: the chicken and the egg
JB: I would imagine, from a design and development point of view, some of those pieces of content — be they written or visual — might influence the way you build a given webpage.
SW: Very much so. That's why it's really important that we think about what's going to go there during the design phase. We try not to put in elements that feel very much like placeholders. We try to put in real images if we're suggesting an image, or we'll work with clients to do a graphic illustration if that is what’s needed.
But let's take a product page, for example. You're going to have the same structure for a product page across perhaps 30 products. We'll create the design for a single product and we'll show you the realistic imagery that would go in for that product. But then there are still 29 other products that you have, and you still need the realistic imagery that goes there as well. A lot of the knowledge of what kind of image is needed comes from the design itself, but there is still a whole lot of collection of images for the variations of that page.
A realistic timeline
JB: So what is a realistic timeline for content creation if you're preparing for the launch of the site?
If you have a person whose job it is and they are solely responsible for creating content for the website, they can maybe produce 15 pages a week, 20 if they're really fast.
At that point, then you would take your total number of pages and divide it by 15. And, to be safe, I would make sure you give yourself some buffer.
If you have multiple subject matter experts who are providing content to a single centralized content manager, you're going to max each one of them out at five per week, absolute max.
So, say you had three subject matter experts. That's 15 pages a week that you could expect, combined from all three of them. So you would divide your total number of pages by that. And I'd still give yourself and your content manager a buffer of at least a couple extra weeks on top of that.
SW: They do. And they will need one going forward, too. The best way to get results out of your website is regular and continuous content production. If you aren't producing content regularly after the launch of your website, it's not really going to drive the results that you're looking for. It just will not happen.
The equivalent would be if I gave you a Ferrari, but I didn't put an engine in it. You just spent a boatload of money for a car that's going to sit in your driveway and look pretty, but it isn’t going to go anywhere. You're going to want a content manager going forward to get those results out of the website. Hiring that person will provide a ton of ROI. We’ve seen that time and time again.
JB: When you’re producing content for a launch, you have to plan to keep producing content AFTER the launch if you hope to keep driving traffic.
Advice from a website strategist
JB: So, if you had the ear of potential future clients, what would you advise?
SW: I would say the most important thing is that there's a reason why you're redesigning your website, and it's most likely because it's not currently producing the results that you want.
Almost everyone argues against doing consistent content creation because they have a limited budget set aside just for the website redesign. They say, "this is my budget for the website and that's it." But you're going to spend all that money and get no results if you don't also focus on content.
You need to be thinking not just about your website budget. You also need to be thinking of your larger marketing budget or sales budget if you're going to continually get results.
Having a content manager is critical. It produces substantial returns every week. If you're approaching a website redesign, you need to approach it as the time to make this fundamental shift. Don't waste a bunch of money on a website that's going to do nothing for you. Redesign your website and make the shift to content marketing at the same time. Make sure you realistically plan for the resources you’ll need to do it well.