We've all heard some form of the phrase, "Start strong, finish strong," and that certainly applies to launching a website — what you do in the first month of your project has a huge impact on how happy you are at launch.
The first month that your website is being worked on is like the first leg in a relay race — if you get behind, it’s very hard to get back on track. But here’s the secret most web design firms don’t tell you at the beginning — the success of that first leg is largely dependent on you and your team, because even the best web design agencies can’t read your mind, and they don’t know your business as well as you do. To build the website that’s best for you, they’ll need to hear from you when pulling together the content (that is, the words and pictures) for your website.
Some clients choose to hire a copywriter and photographer, and in those cases, all we need is access; as long as we get the right people in the room with our professionals, we can hit the ground running. Others choose to pull the content together themselves, and while that is certainly more challenging, we’re set up to help you through it.
If you’re pulling content yourself, we’ve written a couple of step-by-step tutorials on how to do it:
No matter how you’re getting your content together, here are the top five pitfalls that cause struggles with content gathering and, ultimately, with site launch:
Underestimating the Task
It’s easy to underestimate how long content collection takes, but it’s important to budget realistic time for the assignment. It will probably take 10 hours a week just to orchestrate the process, and we recommend budgeting two to three weeks — any longer, and people are usually procrastinating, not getting better content.
Solution: Collecting content isn’t a job for an intern or whoever in the company has least to do; it needs a problem solver who’s good at delegating and decision making.
Letting Each Department Their Own Website Copy
Who knows more about each department than the people in it? It seems like this would be such an efficient way to gather content. But letting each division write about themselves creates infighting, missed deadlines and unbalanced copy. (Invariably, you’ll have one frustrated novelist who labors over pages of content and one busy person who hates to write and sends little more than a tweet.)
Solution: Put a leader who understands the overall perspective of multiple divisions at the helm. Assign each department a handful of specific questions about what they do instead of asking them to write a summary. (Pro tip: Short deadlines usually yield better responses. People tend to overthink the assignment when response times are longer.)
Trying to Make Your Website the “Wikipedia” of Your Business
Including too much information on your website can actually be bad for business. If you want your website to result in new sales and new clients, you need to create a clear path for the user to follow. Too much information confuses the user and distracts them from the key purpose of your site (probably making a purchase or filling out a contact form).
Solution: StoryBrand is an excellent resource for clarifying your message. We can set you up with a session with a certified StoryBrand consultant who can walk you through the process in an afternoon. Or, if your style is more DIY, you can read the StoryBrand book and walk through the process on your own.
Not Putting Content First
Almost every client who opts for design first so they can spend more time gathering content comes back to the table realizing that much of the content they thought they’d get isn’t necessary or available. Then, the site is designed for the content they hoped for, not the content they have. By contrast, a content-first design is perfectly tailored to fit the content that you really have.
Letting Content Slow Down Your Entire Project
You start gathering content at the beginning of the project, and that’s also when you have momentum. You’re excited to get going! That’s the time to engage your team in gathering content — words and pictures — quickly. Short deadlines are your friend here. We find that people who have three months to gather content don’t do any better than clients who have three weeks.
Solution: Don’t let your project get off the rails waiting on content — you’ll get out of the queue, your deadlines will be thrown off, and it’s not always possible to get you back on schedule. If content is taking more than three weeks, talk to your Content Strategist about how to get back on the right track.