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4 Pain Points When Creating Client Content – And Effective Cures

Posted by Brad-Shorr

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When companies outsource copywriting for their websites, the experience can be painful for both the firm and the writer. But the rewards for producing high quality content have never been greater. In terms of SEO, Google’s latest Quality Rater Guidelines stress expertise and authoritativeness more strongly than ever. In terms of human readers, non-authoritative, non-trustworthy content is less likely than ever to convert, as site visitors are becoming ever more sophisticated.

While difficult, agencies or freelance copywriters can build effective site content on behalf of clients. Here are four significant pain points that must be overcome to do so, and several suggestions for how to relieve them. 

1. Not enough client input542ef1a1082be2.62686880.jpg

The Pain. Typically, on website development projects, clients focus their attention on design, providing little guidance or background information to writers.

The Relief. There are two ways to relieve this pain: 1) educate clients and 2) task them with a bit of the work.

Start educating at the very beginning of the website project. Clients must understand that both search engines and humans demand content that is authoritative, relevant, useful and engaging.

Once the rationale has been established, the agency is on solid ground to task the client for help in several areas:

  • Provide source materials (e.g., current site pages, brochure PDFs, etc.) so writers can refer to them when creating each page of the new site.
  • Provide key talking points and audience information for each page of the new site.
  • Make top-level personnel, especially sales personnel, available for in-depth discussions about messaging with the content manager.
  • Critically review and edit a small set of pages early on, which enables the agency to make creative adjustments prior to writing the entire site.

2. Too much client input542ef1a1736221.74477314.jpg

The Pain. Some clients smother the creative process by being too involved and too specific. Examples of this include:

  • Citing 10 websites that have great content and asking the writer to incorporate elements of each into the copy.
  • Providing a list of 20 “critical” talking points for each page.
  • Adding substantial detail to content during the editing process, which almost always detracts from the content’s readability and persuasive power.
  • Providing strategic and tactical input, often conflicting, from multiple voices within the client’s organization.

All this serves to confuse the writer, making them doubt every word and reduce messaging to the lowest common denominator. The result? Watered down, overly detailed content that has little impact on readers.

The Relief. All client input, no matter how detailed or conflicting, is useful, but it must be filtered and repackaged before being passed on to the writer. This is probably the most important job of the agency’s content manager/editor in a website development project. They must interpret and prioritize messaging points and convey them to the writer in a way that enhances the writer’s ability to communicate the client’s key ideas clearly, concisely, consistently and compellingly. 

For this to happen:

  • The content manager should attend high-level project meetings, before and during the content creation process, to obtain a comprehensive and unfiltered understanding of the client’s business, customer base and product/service offering.
  • Early on, the content manager should encourage the client to identify conflicting messaging within the organization. Seeking a quick resolution simplifies the editing process and makes it much less contentious.
  • The content manager should encourage the writer to ask questions along the way and should critically review copy in small batches. These activities accelerate the writer’s learning curve and prevent large chunks of content from straying from the client’s strategic purpose.

3. Uniqueness vs. repetition542ef1a210bc96.71285271.jpg

The Pain. Most clients strive to make site page content as original as possible in terms of wording. However, problems arise when balancing uniqueness and repetition in terms of messaging.

Clients tend to think of their websites as a book that people read from start to finish. As such, they don’t see much point in repeating messages. In reality, any page of the site is a potential entry page, and visitors move through a site on a variety of paths.

The Relief. An agency may inadvertently encourage a “book” perspective in the way it presents work to the client. For example, when doing a design reveal for a lead generation site, a “natural” procedure would be to show the homepage first and then move to an interior product page.

If, however, the agency wanted to mirror an actual user experience, they would do the opposite and start with an interior product page (i.e., a strategic entry page) saying, “This is the page a visitor is likely to find when doing a Google search. It is the page that will be the first impression you make on a potential customer.” Then, they would go to the homepage and say, “Now that we’ve aroused interest, the user will check you out here.”

This simple adjustment encourages the client to think of the page content in terms of user experience, which is crucial for effective composition, reviewing and editing.

For every site content project, I ask the client for 5-10 global messaging points that are worthy of emphasis on any page of the site, as well as 3-5 points that apply to specific sections of the site (e.g., product pages, about pages, portfolio pages).

Then, our writer composes several unique versions of each messaging point, so that when they begin the actual copywriting, these key points are already thought through; and the writer needs only to mix and match the most relevant ones to each page.

If you’re looking for a way to simplify, speed up and bring focus to the creative process, this technique is it. 

4. Poorly controlled editing process

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The Pain. If clients struggle to understand the ins and outs of copywriting, they will be totally lost when it comes to editing. (If you’d like a good understanding of the editing process for web content, check out my Smashing article.)

If an agency simply hands content drafts to the client and says, “What do you think?” edits are going to be a train wreck, a hodgepodge of grammatical fixes, deeply substantive alterations, deletions of SEO content, additions of irrelevant or counterproductive content, and more. To make matters worse, edits will be formatted in ways that make review and updates cumbersome and time-consuming.

The result: edits destroy the flow and cohesiveness of the page and the site as a whole; edits cause tension between the client and the agency; and edits delay the project timeline.

The Relief. The agency needs a solid editing processing as outlined below.

Tell clients to focus on these issues:

  • Accuracy. Are facts stated correctly? Are the correct terms used to describe product/service features? Do any assertions in the text need further support?
  • Voice. Is the copy written in a style appropriate for the target audience? Is it sufficiently businesslike? Does the phrasing sound like something a person in the business would say?
  • Emphasis. Are product/service features and benefits given the appropriate weight? Is too much being said about minor points and not enough about the major points? Are key messaging points missing?

Tell clients exactly what type of edits not to look for. These are likely to include:

  • Proofreading and copyediting. We let clients know that we always have a professional proofreader make proofreading edits as the last step before handing over content to the development team for uploading into the site. Therefore, clients don’t need to waste time looking for technical style points or grammatical and punctuation errors. 
  • SEO. Remind clients why keyword phrases are in the copy and why the specific phrases were selected. Highlighting keyword phrases in the draft document is helpful, so the client doesn’t delete or alter them inadvertently.

Structure the editing process in a way that maximizes efficiency.

  • Insist that client edits are filtered through one point of contact on their staff. The agency should work with one set of clients edits. Internal disagreements should remain internal.
  • Insist that client edits are executed in a specific way. Comments and Track Changes in a Word document are easier to handle than color-coded text notes, hand-written notes on a paper copy, etc.
  • Differentiate suggestions and questions from orders. Advise clients to use Comments for edits that could be made and Track Changes for edits that must be made.
  • Don’t force the client to write. Ask clients to use Comments for providing rough ideas about what needs to be changed or added. 

Communicate!

In the past, clients could afford to be hands-off on content development, especially when SEO was a big part of the equation. As long as keywords and links were present, the content could say just about anything and still do its job.

Old habits die hard. One of our biggest challenges is persuading certain clients to devote more time to content development, to get involved in the process.

  • As a writer or agency staffer, how have you persuaded clients to go from hands-off to hands-on?
  • As a client, what has convinced you to do the same?

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