Tag Archives: content review

Avoid content delays – treat content like code

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The age old mantra ‘content is king’ still applies when attracting big audiences. So why is content still an afterthought in many web development projects?

Granted, the content production process has become more complex over the years as audience expectations and preferences develop and shift. Many of the websites originally set up with a traditional ‘one-to-many’ approach to publishing web content are adopting a more ‘read-write’ participative approach, where user generated content complements a site’s dedicated editorial output.

But even with the added challenge of catering for audiences that demand the right to re-write, re-package and share content, site owners dedicate far too little time or resource to content strategy development. This error, if left unchecked, can lead to severe delays in a site’s launch.

So, In a bid to dispel some of the common misconceptions about the content production process, we thought it worthwhile to outline some of the core components required to ensure its smooth running.

When talking about what the content production process consists of, it’s often helpful to compare it to other more well known elements of a site’s development – like technical development. As teams can often find themselves dealing with complex legacy materials, the same principles often apply.

As with technical development, content production can be vastly improved if a number of measures are in place before build even begins. Obviously, these measures don’t have to apply to every web development project, but more often than not they should include:

• Content strategy or content specific brief
• Sitemap and wireframes
• Content outline specification
• Sufficient lead in time
• Keep your site relevant

Content strategy or content brief

A pretty obvious one this, but when it comes to defining a website’s content elements – namely what content will be required for the site’s functionality and features – things can sometimes get a little sketchy.

Many site owners still assume (or should that be ‘hope’?) that the content part of the job will only involve some form of cut-and-paste – whether from an old website, Word document or an entire content database table. If only this were the case.

A content audit is a document which benchmarks the effectiveness of existing editorial against organisational objectives or key audience requirements and expectations. Clearly, the findings of this document can help vastly improve the quality and effectiveness of a website’s editorial. Document included in this audit normally also include a spreadsheet which transcribes the current sitemap to a tabular format and gives each page a description, status rating and so on.

For example, if the full picture of a site’s editorial content is unknown – particularly after years of amendments or neglect by marketing departments – key stakeholders may run into problems when it comes to identifying which content areas need updating before integration into the site’s shiny new architecture. Put simply, without a content audit, organisations are in danger of focusing the majority of effort on technical features and the look of a new site, only to fill it with out of date or off-key editorial.

Sadly, it’s this eventual realisation – often near the end of the production cycle – that causes many sites to be delayed. Granted, it may only be words, but the reality of hurriedly re-writing an entire website’s copy (the average site hosting around 20,000 words) is not something your internal stakeholders will thank you for.

Avoid under estimating your content needs by producing a dedicated content strategy – preferably one which answers difficult questions. Briefing documents should provide guidance on tone, language, audience and timings, but why not try to apply some rigorous journalistic questioning to your brief’s content approach, namely: what, where, by when, how, why and – perhaps the least most asked question – by whom in which department?

Sitemap and wireframes

A sitemap is required reading for technical teams when estimating resourcing requirements and / or developing a functional specification document. The same should apply to the content production team. A sitemap allows for improved scoping, which helps with all aspects of planning and resourcing during the content production or content migration process.

This can also help to identify typical functional pages that need content, such as terms and conditions, a privacy statement or instructional text for any uploading functionality. As pages like this often fall outside the ‘subject matter’ of a site, they are often left to the last minute or forgotten completely.

Content outline specification

If you really want to help your copywriter, editor or internal marketing team produce editorial that’s on brand, on message and on budget, go beyond a simple sitemap and set aside time to produce a content outline document.

Like a functional specification document, this document provides a detailed walkthrough of the site’s copy section by section (and page by page if necessary). Minimising any confusion about tone and detailing all assumptions about content sources, length expectations and topic focus, this walkthrough document should provide any external suppliers or internal stakeholders with a rock solid blueprint of all content requirements.

Sufficient lead-in time

Like a technical team needs sufficient lead in time to produce effective code, editors need time in order to develop best practice editorial copy. As with rushed code, rushed content will not work. Avoid leaving content until the last minute, even for migration work.

Deadlines help focus everyone’s efforts, none more so than copywriters and site editors who require a minimum period of production time to produce targeted, call-to-action, SEO compliant editorial content. Help editorial teams even further by informing them of final copy deadlines – they will then be able to estimate backwards.

So, now you’ve provided your editorial teams with all of the above, only one more task remains – post launch maintenance.

Keep your site relevant

Why spend time and money developing branded, targeted content your users will thank you for, only to let it go out of date? Content can become outdated very quickly, particularly if you’re dealing with information and guidance materials which refer to timely services and offers.

Users judge your site’s content by its breadth and usefulness, but they also decide whether to trust its information by its date stamp (no date stamp at all is even less assuring). Don’t give users reason to doubt the usefulness of your site’s content – set aside resources to update content on a regular basis and they’ll be more inclined to return to your website.

Copywriting at UPS

Walking past a UPS van this morning, I was stunned to see what must be the most curious example of copywriting witnessed so far.

Parcel delivery firm UPS is global. It’s big. So this may explain why one of its vans had the following strapline:

‘Synchronising the world’s commerce.’

Huh?! Was this dreamt up by committee?

Why ‘synchronising’? Has it got something to do with how its business straddles multiple timelines? And how it’s so efficient that differences in time zones are, er, managed seamlessly. Like, they’re so good, it’s like, as if global commerce, like, works on one timeline?

No? What does UPS say?

Create the perfect editorial style guide and ‘tone of voice’ doc…somebody – please!

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Nine times out 10, client style guides for editorial provide obvious top level advice on how to write. There, I’ve said it.

A ‘style guide’ should provide guidance on in-house formatting conventions (e.g. whether to use an upper or lowercase ‘g’ in government). But where these docs often fail is when they get on to the more conceptual / wooly ‘tone of voice and language’ section.

Sure, there’s the odd paragraph on how tone and language should ’embody our brand values’ (no matter how vague they are – ‘Our approach can be described as burnt ocre – not just brown’). Rarely do you see practical guidance on how to pitch the tone of copy.

Good tone of voice docs provide ‘before and after’ examples of copy. Or they build up a picture of someone tangible. One teen advice magazine I wrote for said to pitch copy as if it’s being explained by a friendly and trusted older sibling.

But what other elements make a good editorial style guide / tone of voice doc?

Has a style guidelines doc ever taken your breath away? No – I’m serious. Like, when you open the guidelines, you start reading, and you start hearing the music from Scanners and start choking. Like some lost / deleted scene from the original Evil Dead, which they edited out because despite being ‘one for the copywriters,’ it was a bit unbelievable…like THAT impressive.
Anyone..?

Advertisers – how to audit a site for your ads

Another day, another post about iMedia Connection. But this is genuinely useful.

As I said in my recent post about the Facebook advertising ‘storm’, advertisers have always been at risk of being placed on a page with objectionable content. It happened a while back with another major portal apparently.

Read the ad audit article in full.

An MP moves on – what happens to their quote?

I love government websites. One thing that always crops up is the outsted MP quote.

Campaign or policy websites for central govt always have the odd sprinkle of Cabinet member glitter on pages to provide their endorsement. But what happens to the quote when said member moves on?

Should the quote be taken down? Should it be amended to ‘Dave Tea-tray, former Minister for Peanuts’? What’s the score?

It’s OFFICIAL: Most content editors are crap.

I once got a freelancer in to review editorial on a youth focused website.

We’d developed it over time and wanted to get a second opinion on whether it was doing its job properly. An editor can get a little too comfortable after a while so I wanted to make sure we weren’t suffering from ‘beige creep’ (yes, a completely made up word).

Her CV was above average and her experience at a number of decent youth sites (MTV, BBC etc) convinced me that her £180 day rate was good value.

The anecdotal feedback and opinion on audience preferences for language and tone were sound, but when I asked about the basics, I got a shock.

“Best practice web copy says avoiding passive sentences, so keep an eye out for those,” I said.

“What’s a passive sentence?” came the reply…

Content editors – is the market screwed?

I’ve just spotted something on new media job markets.

Talking about the life that Account Executives lead, Ask.com’s Sean X Cummings calls for higher pay for staff and observes: “In a tight job market two things happen: You pay more for talent that is less talented, and that talent never ceases to stop reminding the AE of their other options.”

Reading this reminded me of the recent staff / pay review by NMA which suggested that content staff and web editors are some of the lowest paid staff in new media. Yet, whenever I’m looking to hire a decent editor, I’m experiencing the nightmare scenario that Sean describes.

Have all the decent content editors run for cover at Sky, the BBC, MTV or ITV, because freelance isthin on the ground and the market’s slowing down? Or is it the lure of employers paying higher than average salaries?

It’s nigh on impossible to find a decent content editor who can turn their hand to all things content – ie copywriting, uploading content via a CMS, IA work, content review work and even a little journalism. It’s really tricky getting an expert in just one of these disciplines. Does no one try to develop their skills in all areas? Do they not buy books on copywriting? How to be a better journalist? Ever read Andrew Marr’s book on journalism ‘My Trade’?

Perhaps it’s time I set up a recruitment agency…
[Via iMedia Connection]

Phil Elliott appointed as new editor of GamesIndustry.biz

Holy crap – gaming news site GamesIndustry.biz has appointed Phil Elliott as editor.

Taking over from Ellie Gibson, Elliott joins GamesIndustry.biz after one year as editor of GameSpot UK. He’s also worked at BBC Radio Five Live.

I’m hoping Elliot’s first action point is sort out the site’s impenetrable e-newsletter. Any suggestions on what else Phil should change?

No idea who this Phil bloke is? Read some of his posts on GameSpot UK, including his not-so-tearful farewell post.

GamesIndustry.biz newsletter – do they read contentcontent?

Has someone at Gamesindustry.biz towers read my post on how to improve their weekly newsletter?

As per my last post, I waffled on for an age on how text could be broken up, bulleted, other alliterative b’s.

Have they taken note of my comments on headings too? The latest newsletter breaks up text with some bold headings…but little else.

Sigh.

GamesIndustry.biz newsletter

Before we begin, can I just say that I’ve subscribed to the gamesindustry.biz email newsletter for years.

But good god, it’s painful to read sometimes.

Why? Well, take a look at the latest newsletter, which deals with the ban of the Manhunt 2 video game by Rockstar.

Tackling the topic of video game censorship means it won’t be short of eyeballs, but I’m prepared to bet a bloodied ice hockey mask that less than 10 per cent of all recipients of the weekly newsletter read the whole newsletter.

At best, I’d say they read the opening paragraph, scan for keywords in the main body, then maybe, just maybe, they scroll to the final paragraph to read the last two paragraphs. But I doubt it.

Some thoughts:

Bone up on web copy basics

Insert sub headings, limit each paragraph to one idea or issue. Help users navigate around the article with signposting sub headings, images or pull quotes. As a last resort, bold up keywords throughout the piece – a bit messy, but at least my eyes have something to hold on to. *I can’t believe I’m wheeling this one out* but get familiar with Jakob Nielsen: e.g. around 16 per cent of web users read web copy word for word, while the rest skim or scan. I’d bet that statistic drops to single figures for readers of this newsletter.

Bite the big one and cut the word count

The text is way too long and no matter how good the text is, no one will read it. And if they do, I bet they’ll print it off and save it for the train journey home. Then they’ll decide it’s way too long. Or just plain unattractive to the eye.

Get another editor

I’m guessing the length of the piece has more to do with gamesindustry.biz’s limited resources than anything else – in that I bet it’s been researched, written, edited and posted by the same person. A second pair of eyes would edit this down. And if there is a second pair of eyes, get another editor.

Don’t get me wrong – I read (or at least try to read) every gi newsletter I get. Loyalty dictates that I try to ignore the horrific formatting I’ve outlined above and the repetitive. laboured. hammering in. of each. point. again. and again. But I can’t.

I just don’t have the time to read really long and immersive articles…and I’m guesing its core audience – gaming execs – don’t either.

Please don’t take this the wrong way gamesindustry.biz – I just think you could be so much better.

On a more positive note, VNUnet.com (which favours a raw text email newsletter) reports that online games are grooming business leaders of the future.