Calculating the cost of creating high-quality content

4 minute read

I spend quite a bit of my working life helping clients through content creation challenges on web projects. And sometimes that strays into project management/resource planning territory. And why not? Content creation is a massive deal on web projects so it deserves time under the project manager’s spotlight. But what is the cost of creating high-quality content? Without even a ballpark it can be hard to plan, budget and allocate resources for content.

The scale of the content creation challenge

I’ve had a spreadsheet with some variables and formulas that helps me to work out the scale of their content challenge and the cost of creating high-quality content. Out of that, I can make smarter recommendations around timescales, resource gaps, expectation setting, and approach, e.g. phased content rollouts.Each client and each project is different, but it usually boils down to filling the answers to these questions:

  • When do they need to go live / finish the content?
  • Do they know when they are ready or willing to start creating content?
  • How many capable writers have they got to work on the content?
  • How much effort (in hours) do they expect each page or piece of content to take to create (to research, to write, review, approve, upload, check, and publish)?

A Bit of theory with a diagram

You’ve probably seen the popular Project Management Triangle diagram (also called the Triple Constraint) that does the rounds:

Content creation: Content cost estimation triangle

I’ve lifted this definition from its Wikipedia entry:

‘The time constraint refers to the amount of time available to complete a project.
’The cost constraint refers to the budgeted amount available for the project.
‘The scope constraint refers to what must be done to produce the project's end result.
'These three constraints are often competing constraints. Increased scope typically means increased time and increased cost, a tight time constraint could mean increased costs and reduced scope, and a tight budget could mean increased time and reduced scope.’

… well, it’s pretty much the same for the content creation stream of the project:

  • TIME - the creation window (the number of working days between the start date and the deadline).
  • COST / RESOURCE - the number of writers.
  • SCOPE - the amount or volume of content to create - I typically use pages as my unit.

Depending on the project, Scope (the amount of content), Schedule (available working days), and Cost / Resource (amount of writers) can all be adjusted up and down to affect the other.If the number of writers is reduced then the number of working days has to be increased to create the same amount of content without impacting on quality. Or if a hard deadline means no extra working days can be added, it means reducing the number of pages.It’s not rocket science, but very important to the successful delivery of high-quality content on time.

What's the 'effort' for a unit of content?

With content, it's super useful to estimate how much effort (as units of time) it will take to create one unit of content, e.g. a page.

We estimate that a typical page on our new site will require 8 hours of effort by a writer during the pcreation process.

One page may be much quicker to write than the next page, but having a conservative number that can be used as a crude multiplier reveals the true scale of the content challenge.In my experience clients often don't even have a ballpark figure for how much effort it will take to rewrite all the content for their new site, or for the cost of creating high-quality content in general. Or understand what that means for the overall project timelines and rollout. No wonder content delays web project launches time and again. In our online Content Strategy and Delivery Masterclass, we collaboratively estimate getting a piece of content through a typical content creation workflow. The mean number of hours across dozens of classes is 15.Read my previous blog on Stop underestimating content production for web projects to learn more about how to estimate effort for all stages of the content creation process.It's worth saying that effort is the hardest variable to adjust as high-quality content will always take a reasonable amount of time to produce.

Creating high-quality content is never a quick process

Good writers will be quicker at creating high-quality content and the speed should quicken over time as the writers get into the swing of things. But high-quality content is nevera quick process. As much as we would like it to be!Quality is also a variable in content creation. The default for my clients (and hopefully all clients) is high-quality so that shouldn’t really be on the table to adjust down.The exception might be to create less expensive, time-intensive rich media content and fallback to well-written text content.

A calculator to determine the cost of creating high-quality content

So I’ve been building a little calculator that is a bit more user-friendly than my Google spreadsheet.


How many writers do we need?

The calculator handles all the key variables I’ve mentioned above, but I had to make it a bit more focussed on a specific user need.I reflected on my experience with clients and came to the conclusion that the most important need to help web project people answer is:

“How many writers do we need [to get this job done]?”

This is why it is such an important question:

  • Resource gaps - do we have enough writers for the scale of the project’s content? If not, how short are we? Where and how are we going to recruit good writers?
  • Budget implications - if additional writers need to be hired it won’t be cheap. How much are we talking about? Is there sufficient budget?

The calculator weaves in some suggested numbers based on my experience over the years, such as the effort (in hours) to write each page depending on the scenario.My hope is that it will help teams to focus on the key numbers around their content challenges and manage their projects accordingly.Note: I know I’m simplifying things a bit to just focus on writers. Producing web content can take illustrators, videographers, animators, etc to get the job done. But the principle is the same. Try the calculator now.


Content Creation: The Essential Guide

Practical advice to help you create effective content for your audience and your business.

About the author

Liam King

Liam is Founder of Lagom Strategy, a UK consultancy specialising in digital user research and sustainable content strategy.

With over a decade of content production and strategy experience in the UK and Australia, Liam has built up a wealth of practical knowledge on how to put content back at the heart of web projects.

He has led content strategy work for many organisations including the Royal Air Force, UK Department of Health, the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service and Vodafone Australia.

Liam was previously Senior UX Architect / Content Strategist with Sydney agency, Digital Eskimo, where he introduced and led the agency’s successful content strategy services. Before heading to Australia in 2009, Liam was a Web Producer at the UK Parliament and the Senior Web Editor at the UK Foreign Office.

Liam also has a Masters degree in Web Journalism.

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