How to make content that fails

Andrew Charlesworth

4 minute read

Are you numb from reading blogs by writery types telling you how to create great online content? They never tell you the other side of the story, do they?

So for a refreshing change, here are seven deadly content sins that are guaranteed to sink your digital service like a torpedo in the mid-ships.

  1. Leave content until last

    Content is just words, right? We’ll leave the images and videos to the designer to sort out. That’s their job, right?

    So when it comes to building our new digital service, we’ll perfect the designs with lorem ipsum, get stakeholders to sign them off, and then lock them into front-end build. Real words can be dropped in once all the hard work is done.

    Whaddya mean, the content doesn’t fit the design? Did I mistake you for a copywriter? Do your magicky wordsmith thing and make it fit.

  2. Publish what matters most to your organisation

    This website is all about our terrific organisation, right? So we’ll use the homepage to tell visitors everything we want to tell them. Then they’ll be even more likely to click through and buy more of our stuff — or whatever it is we want them to do.

    There’s no point asking the customers what they want. As Henry Ford said, they’ll just ask for faster horses. Thus the navigation will reflect our internal structure so that customers will know exactly how we expect them to relate to us.

    What’s that? The chief executive did a charity bike ride up Mt Kilimanjaro last year? What an amazing story that reveals the human side of our funky organisation. Let’s link to the 107min video highlights from the homepage. People respond to video, according to a blog I read about content marketing written in 2011.

  3. Allow everyone or just one person access to the whole CMS

    The web is all about the democratisation of information, right? So let’s give everyone in the company access to the whole CMS. Then our site will be a true expression of how we empower our people which will inspire customers to click through and buy more of our stuff — or whatever it is we want them to do.

    What? The new site is a clusterfuck only three months after launch? Departments are battling for homepage real estate and deleting each other’s changes in virtual internecine warfare, you say?

    Right! From now on, only the chief marketing officer is allowed to publish anything.

    What? A backlog of 2,487 change requests has built up in a month? We’d better open up the CMS so everyone can action their own changes.

    Goto line 10. Rinse and repeat.

  4. Allow stakeholder bloat

    We want everyone’s buy-in to the new digital service, right? So the content steering committee will comprise the following: departmental ‘content owner/sponsor’, subject matter expert(s), web editor, content strategist, copywriter, SEO specialist, IT director, outsourcing partner relationship manager, head of data security, head of PR, head of brand, head of customer experience (do we have one?), chief marketing officer, chief executive, ad agency client manager, ad agency entourage (including the cute one who never speaks), chairman’s PA, fire marshal from each floor… Anyone else?

    What? The new service is nine months late waiting for content approval? Get some new writers, this lot are clearly useless.

  5. Don’t publish until you reach perfection

    The new site is our premier shop window, right? This is how our customers, our suppliers, our shareholders, the whole freakin’ world sees us. That means zero-tolerance for errors.

    What? The site is error-free but no one goes there because everything is 12 months out of date? But this model works really well in book publishing.

  6. Don’t measure effectiveness

    The ultimate test of your content is how many people visit the site, right? We haven’t got time or budget for all this user-research you want to do up-front.

    What? We’ve got half-a-million page impressions a month, a bounce rate of 12 seconds and no up-tick in revenue? Right! Increase the volume of articles. We’ll hose down our visitors with content until they click through and buy more of our stuff — or whatever it is we want them to do.

  7. Never revisit your content

    “Digital” means being fleet-of-foot, right? We’ve gotta be agile: new service, new content, post it, wham! On to the next thing. Keep evolving. Keep moving. Like a shark. Sharks haven’t evolved for 420 million years, but don’t stretch the analogy.

    What? The site is silted up with hundreds of out-of-date and irrelevant pages and visitors can’t find what they want? So your answer is to audit the content against agreed KPIs and delete loads of it. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound very agile to me.

Andrew Charlesworth

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