Your Site: Get with the Plan

Lack of planning – especially content planning – is what keeps many Web sites from success. That’s what a recent article contends, and I couldn’t agree more!

Writer Gerry McGovern urges executives and marketers to “Develop a Five-Year Plan for Your Site.” I’d encourage anyone involved with site planning or content development, corporate or otherwise, to read this article. It’s a fabulous reality check.

This article sparked several thoughts, which I’d like to share…

McGovern writes, “Too many of your senior managers still don’t understand the Web. They use it only occasionally and thus lack practical experience. This often results in their caring more about what color a button is than what the content is communicating. They need winning over, and that takes time.”

Amen to that! I find too often in Web projects that key people in an organization (the people who most need to understand and support each other in order to create a great site) quickly lose patience with each other. I’ve seen more projects hopelessly sabotaged by bitterness and frustration, especially toward management, than I care to recall.

In my opinion, it’s usually best to accept that executives typically have little real interest in or experience with quality communication or publishing. Executives tend to be steeped in business-ese and political posturing, because those are important and inescapable facets of their world. Educating executives about content and communication is an ongoing task that must be addressed in little ways, often indirectly, every day.

One strategy hint: The more you can lead executives to believe that important content-related epiphanies are their idea, the more likely it is that good content policies and practices will become reality.

…McGovern also writes that often Web staff often are “…not being trained to create quality Web content. Writing for the Web is different from writing for print. It is hard, but not impossible, to get people to think Web instead of print. It takes time and training.”

Again, amen to that! Longtime CONTENTIOUS readers know I’ve been beating that particular drum for the better part of a decade.

Yes, changing how people think about content, and reworking the way that they create and publish conten, does indeed take time. Still, getting the right information and training to your staff up front can strongly influence how well your content progresses in the long run.

I’ve seen many clients make huge strides over time, based on getting appropriate advice up front, setting realistic priorities, and focusing their efforts. You don’t have to suddenly start doing everything perfectly when it comes to content. Simply pick a few important things to fix first, and start there. Any improvement is much better than none! Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

McGovern also writes, “There is very little recognition for people who create quality Web content. It’s not written into their job profiles. They don’t get part of their bonus because of it. If you want quality content, you must motivate and reward people to create it.”

Absolutely! Those are all valid and good recommendations.

Unfortunately, I must admit that it’s often not realistic to expect that sort of sea change in an organization’s internal culture. It’s dreadfully hard to change entrenched priorities and values.

To be honest, if your organization doesn’t currently possess the skills or culture to foster consistently excellent content, it’s probably better to outsource that function to skilled writers and editors. When it comes to communication, people who are not enmeshed in your organization’s internal politics and perspective often can do the job better and faster.

Yes, contract writers and editors may ask maddeningly basic questions at first, but that is a good thing! By being outside your organization, their perspective is much closer to that of your various audiences. That’s important, because if your Web site or other communication efforts don’t succeed with your audiences, then they don’t succeed at all.

…Anyway, please read McGovern’s article. Print it out and leave copies lying around your office. Try to ignore the unfortunate associations that the phrase “five year plan” might have for anyone from the former Soviet Union. I guarantee this article will spark intriguing and useful discussion.

One thought on “Your Site: Get with the Plan

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  1. Amy, we had Gerry give a content seminar to our organization this summer, and it was a great success. Finally I could see some lightbulbs going on, and now, when we have decisions to make about dubious content, we ask ourselves “What would Gerry do?”

    Our organization is finally about to adopt a two-year rolling editorial calendar, which will be a great help in coordinating the publishing of content across the various channels.