thoughts and opinions on the business of building websites

How to overcome the no.1 cause of web project delays

  • John Pitchers
  • Blog

The single most underestimated task and the number one cause of over runs when building a website will be writing and delivering the content. Most of that task will be the clients responsibility, unfortunately.

In Web Redesign 2.0 | Workflow that works, an excellent book on web project management, Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler say "Late content is the number one reason for project delays... About 99% of the time content is late. Accept it. Plan for it. Charge for it."

Any web designer or developer will testify to this fact. If there is a delay launching a site it's usually due to late delivery of content.

Right from my very first project, it was clear that content delivery was a big issue. Everyone I speak to in the industry has the same problem. Often waiting months past defined timelines for clients to deliver usable content.

In the first few years of running Viperfish and Joomstore we included content entry as part of each project. We were reliant on the client delivering usable content before we could deliver a finished site. Most projects fell behind schedule which greatly affected our cashflow. So, we started quoting content entry separately and encouraged clients to enter the content themselves after delivery. That way we could concentrate on design and development and get paid on time.

The result? Sadly, we have sites sitting on our development server over 12 months old still waiting on the clients to enter content. I kid you not.

Who is responsible for the content?

A website is really just a means to an end. It's a marketing tool. A container for delivering information, generating leads and making sales. Without quality content, it's just packaging. Good content doesn't write itself. Nobody knows a business like the people working in it, so it will fall on the business owners or managers to provide the content.

Hiring a copywriter is highly recommended. Especially, if they are experienced web copy writers. They will have knowledge of users browsing habits, SEO and online marketing principles. However, a copywriter's role is to customise your content. They still need a site map, information, guidance, direction and goals for each page.

That makes sense. So what's the problem?

Writing content takes time. A lot of time. Generally, about 10 times longer than most would expect. Copywriters are much more efficient at it but hiring a good copywriter is expensive. It is money very well spent.

We make it a point of discussing content creation and delivery early in our strategy meetings to highlight the importance of it.

Usually during a scoping or strategy discussion, clients are so focused on website design and functionality that content requirements are quickly brushed aside. The task is usually delegated to secretaries or low level staff. Often, it's expected that we can pull information from a few brochures.

Given that purchasers make up to 80% of their buying decisions online, do you think it makes good business sense to delegate the development of website content to junior staff or to just recycle content from other sources and hope for the best?

Content designed for print is not suitable for the web

When a customer sits down and opens up your glossy, printed cataloque, there is a good chance that the content within will be read. If a customer lands on your website, there is a very good chance they will be gone within 5 seconds.

The difference? The first customer has made a decision to read your catalogue. The second is searching for information and your site is a click away from thousands of other resources.

Big paragraphs of text are fine in the catalogue because you have the readers attention already. Web content needs to be easily scanable with lots of headings and imagery. It needs to be punchy, have short sentences and have clear calls to action.

So how do we ensure content is delivered on time?

Firstly, don't underestimate how much time you think it will take.

  1. We'll need to work with you to define the sitemap and goals for each page.
  2. The content will need to be written for each page. This is the most time consuming part.
  3. It will then need to be reviewed and revised. Usually, the initial content will need to be modified after everyone involved has read it and provided feedback. It should also be revised from an SEO point of view.
  4. Internal links between pages will need to be defined.
  5. Images need to be sourced and provided on a disk or uploaded to a file depository. Will you need to hire a photographer? We'll need a chart with the image file names, a description and corresponding articles for them to be placed in.
  6. We'll also need all downloadable documents with descriptions for the link text and where they should be placed in content.
  7. Do you have video. If it's on a DVD, it will need to be ripped and converted which takes time. If it's on Youtube, we'll need the exact URL and discuss where to place it. ie, In the content or in a module in the sidebar, etc.
  8. Each page needs a title, meta description and keywords defined.

Our recommendation is for clients to appoint one person within their organisation with the sole task of content creation. This person should be involved in marketing for the organisation already, have a good knowledge of the organisation and it's products / service. They should have the ability to write compelling and persuasive copy.

Ensure that this person has adequate time for this task. If content creation is just another task on top of their regular busy workload then it will not get done. It needs to be a priority task and given a lot of focus and time to get right.

How much time should you allocate?

Generally, we work on 20-30 minutes per page just to enter it into a CMS. We need to enter it, format it with headings, bullet points, bold text, etc. Links in the text need to be set up and other articles usually need to be edited to link to the new page also. Images will need to be resized, uploaded and positioned, a menu item needs to be created and modules positioned on each page.

If it takes 30 minutes just to enter the content how long do you think you'll need to write it? Work on at least 4 hours per page of information. If you have a ten page site that will work out to about a full week of work.

In conclusion

The old mantra "Content is King" has been used all over the web from it's very early days. It applies today probably more so than ever. Users are becoming selectively blind to anything that flashes, blinks or looks like a promotion. People are after the content. The internet is used to gain information - it's what the internet was originally designed for.

If people like what they read they'll tweet it and share it. If they find what they are after quickly, they'll absorb it and hopefully move to the next step and become a customer.