The 8 most common pain points on a web content project (and how to fix them)

When it comes to web-project horror stories, Rob Mills of GatherContent has heard them all. Here he looks at the common pitfalls – and how to avoid them.

We all know website projects can be prone to delays, frustrations and tricky conversations, and many of these are related to content. That’s because content is hard. Determining what you have, what you need, how you’ll get it, who’s responsible, where it’ll be published, and how it’ll be governed… these issues are all tricky to manage individually, but it all gets even harder when you have to make them work together, on budget and on time and on brand.  

Before joining GatherContent two years ago as a content strategist, I worked agency-side with clients on website projects. I saw lots of these challenges first-hand. I’d find myself in the position where signed-off designs were being cut-and-shut to allow for late content; or well-written and purposeful content was being edited and changed to be shoehorned into the design. Worse still, sometimes content was never delivered, projects were left in limbo, and morale plummeted.

I still hear horror stories from teams struggling with content on website projects, and there are distinct themes across these experiences. So here are my 8 most common pain points, together with my tips for how to stop them happening again…

‘We didn’t have the right people to write the content’

Without dedicating resource to the production of content, you’re making an already difficult process even more stressful. By tasking people who have other roles and responsibilities within the organisation to write content, it will mean content creation gets fitted in amongst other tasks, so that it inevitably slides down the to-do list and doesn’t get delivered on time. 

Not having the right people to write the content also results in content being produced by people for whom writing may not be a core strength. So content can end up being poorly written, inconsistent in voice, tone and brand language, and not structured as needed for the website.

Tip: When assembling your content production team, make sure you use real writers. Bring them into the project early, and give them access to your project brief, content style guide and brand guidelines. 

‘It wasn’t really clear what the content was for’   

Writing content is hard. Especially when you want it to serve a business goal and meet a user need. Add in the need for it to be on brand too, and there are lots of requirements to consider. So if your writers aren’t clear on what’s required, doing the content becomes an intimidating and confusing task.

Make it clear for authors what they need to produce and why. Arm them with as much information as possible about the purpose of the content, the target audience, any rules around house style, guidelines for word limits, and where the content will be published. 

Make it easy for them to get on with the writing, rather than them having to spend time trying to figure out what exactly is needed before they put pen to paper or fingers to keys. 

Tip: Provide a full brief so authors know what to write, who for and what purpose the content will serve.

‘We just didn’t really realise how much content there was!’  

When working with clients on website projects, and on some in-house redesigns too, I’ve seen it happen that the time and resource needed to produce content gets seriously underestimated. 

Content always takes longer than expected. Even with a clearly-defined workflow and an experienced team, there will always be something unexpected that could derail the project and cause delays. 

Delays and problems are part and parcel of website projects, of course – but some realistic, up-front planning can help keep things on track.

Tip: By creating a content inventory and using that to audit content, you can assess the state of play as you kick off a project and gain an understanding of what content you have to work with, what can be archived/sunsetted and where the gaps are. This will help with planning the resource you need.

‘The content ended up delaying the launch of the new site’ 

Without a content-first approach to website projects – ie, asking questions about the content up front and not treating content as an afterthought – you may end up experiencing one of these three scenarios:

  • design gets signed off before content is produced, then the content has to be edited and shoe-horned into the design
  • final designs get changed after approval to accommodate the content
  • content never actually gets produced and the entire project is left in limbo 

None of these scenarios is good for the bottom line or for team morale. Here are some content-related questions you can ask which will help keep things on track:

  • do you know how much content you have on your existing site?
  • does the current site have dedicated (subject expert) content owners?
  • have all content types been considered?
  • can content be published in phases after the site launches?
  • does someone have overall responsibility for content quality during the project and beyond launch?

Start thinking content-first and give yourself the best chance for content not to delay your website projects.

Tip: Take content seriously, and your users will thank you for it as much as your team. If you don’t have a content strategist on the team, find a content champion who can ensure content is seriously considered and discussed. 

‘The design was lovely, but the quality of the content let us down’  

Poor-quality content can be the result of the wrong people writing the content, content being rushed, a lack of planning up front, no content style guide – or any combination of the above! 

Among other things, poor-quality content…

  • …is full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors
  • …isn’t written in the brand voice and tone
  • …is factually inaccurate
  • …is full of jargon and not written in plain English
  • …doesn’t meet a business goal or user need

Assembling a content team, providing briefs and guidelines and defining a workflow can ensure your content will be good quality.

Tip: Read your content out loud. It will really help you understand how it sounds in terms of voice and tone, and how it will read to your users. It’s also a good way to sense-check and proof-read your content too.

‘The project went over budget so the content got cut’ 

Without a realistic understanding of the resource needed to get content done, budgets can easily spiral out of control, particularly when third parties are involved. And if there has to be a compromise here to keep costs down, it’s likely to be the content that will suffer.

It’s not just about the actual content production though. Remember the three scenarios we covered earlier with content delaying website projects? They can be expensive situations to find yourself in too.

Tip: Don’t present content strategy as an additional service. Stakeholders will see the extra money needed and say no. Instead, make it part of your process, not optional, and include this in the project costs at proposal stage.

The overall user experience suffers

Content is UX. If the primary purpose of websites is to deliver valuable content, we should be designing content-first for the best UX. 

This allows us to test and validate content as well as iterate, with content and design being considered together so informed decisions focused on the overall user experience can be made. Poor-quality content can result in users not being able to complete the task they need, which is a poor experience indeed.

Tip: Design with proto-content (until final approved content is available) to test and validate content early in the project. Proto-content could be existing content, competitor content, draft content, or content you have had commissioned. In any form, it will have more context than generic placeholder content such as lorem ipsum.

Key takeaways 

All these content pains can be avoided by taking content seriously, having someone on the project who is responsible for ensuring content is considered and delivered, and by effective communication and collaboration. 

Don’t treat content as an afterthought if you want to give yourself the best chance of launching your website projects on time.

For further information on Sticky, please contact: Rajet Gamhiouen, Head of Marketing, +44 (0)207 963 7281

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