After 16 years in web design you would think I have the solutions to most website problems. However, I cannot solve the biggest reason most websites fail.
Sure I can make a website more usable, accessible or visually appealing. With the help of Relly I can also establish a good policy for the production of content. By working with Dave, Craig and their team I can ensure the site can be easily updated and integrates tightly with other business processes.
However, the one thing I cannot do is ensure the website is adequately resourced and updated regularly. That falls to you the website owner.
Next time you redesign your website don’t think it is enough just to employ a web design agency. You also need to consider your own responsibilities.
A relaunch requires new content
Ask any web designer and they will tell you that the single biggest point of weakness in any redesign project is late delivery of content. As a website owner it is easy to forget that although your web designer can create you a new website they cannot populate it with content.
Rewriting all of the content on your existing site is a major undertaking and without adequate resources it will simply not happen. What happens instead is that content is copied and pasted from your website, printed material or any other ad hoc source that can be found. This not only leads to a horrible Frankenstein mix of content, it also makes relaunching the website pointless.
Without new content essentially all you are doing is re-skinning the old site. This does nothing to reposition your organisation or provide any kind of tangible return on investment. Design in isolation is worthless. It needs to be accompanied by a review of the sites content.
Ask yourself who is going to be involved in writing the new content for your website? It is a big job and you’re going to probably need several people. Who are those people going to be and do they have time to do the job? Questions like this need answering before you undertake any significant rebuild of your website.
But these questions do not end once you have relaunched website. You also need to consider your ongoing content production requirements.
Ongoing editorial resource
Unless you are happy for your website to stagnate it is going to need somebody constantly updating the content. Do you have a clear idea of who is going to do this job?
Many organisations think that a content management system is the answer. However that is not the case. A content management system is not going to write the content for you! Although it does allow for the work load of ongoing content production to be spread across the organisation that does not mean people will embrace that additional work.
I think it is also important to be realistic about just how much people can take on. I often hear website owners say “so and so can be responsible for that section of the site” without considering whether they really have the time or the inclination to do the job. Do not take people’s participation for granted but instead ensure you have their buy in before listing them as a content provider.
Unfortunately in many situations all a content management system will do is ensure that nobody feels fully responsible for the content production. Instead content production is tagged on to existing roles and responsibilities. This means it is often the bottom of people’s priority list, well below their “proper job”.
If you want people to take content updating seriously you need to ensure that it is written into their job description and expectations are set about their responsibility. It needs to be seen as just as important as other aspects of their role.
Another solution to this problem of who is responsible for the site’s content, is to appoint a website editor. Because this individual would be ultimately responsible for the content on the website they will take responsibility for chasing content providers and ensuring that they regularly update the site.
Another benefit of a website editor is that they can bring a single voice to the website. One of the problems of having multiple content providers is that it can lead to contradictory information and radically different writing styles. This can give any website a slightly schizophrenic feel. However having an editor who can issue style guidelines and check peoples work will help prevent this from happening.
Of course the question is: “who is going to do this job?” This is a significant role and not something that can be easily tagged onto somebody’s job. It either needs to be a full-time position or taken on by a passionate individual who is given adequate time to work on the site. What is more this time should be ring fenced to ensure the website does not stagnate.
Can you honestly say you know who this person should be? If you do not then I would warn against biting off more than you can chew with a website that requires constant updating. Instead you are better creating a small, self-contained website that does the minimum required rather than having something larger than is obviously neglected.
The issue of creating and maintaining content is massively challenging and I would be interested to hear how others have solved this problem. Do you have a full-time web editor? How do you ensure your content providers actually take time to update the site? Does anybody have website content production as part of their job description? Let me know in the comments below.