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Content Production

Don’t let your client write the content

Kyle Racki • 7 minutes

We’ve all been there.

You’re in the early stages of talking about a new website project with a client and the question inevitably comes up, “Who’s going to be responsible for content?” Barely needing to think about it, the client responds with “I am”, or worse, “Our secretary is”.

It’s happened a hundred times before, and every time you bring up the fact that you have content people in-house, your client reacts defensively like you’re trying to up-sell him on TrueCoat. And, because your client is acting like you’re being salesy, you back down immediately to avoid damaging your relationship.

There’s a lot of very good reasons why your client should be paying your team to produce the content. The key is to help them see the value of the service, and not the cost.

Here are 7 great points you can use to discourage your client from writing their own content:

1. Launching on schedule

We all know the number one culprit when it comes to holding up a website project from launching; it has nothing to do with programmers wrestling bugs, or designers fussing about with line spacing: the project is delayed because the content isn’t ready in time.

But clients don’t know this like you do, they’ve not always experienced this before.

Even when you tell them that you need to have content by a certain date, you can bet with statistical certainty that it’s not going to happen. Your client will promise they’ll start immediately and it will be their top priority. Guess what? It won’t be. Other priorities will surface as they always do, and content is the easiest thing to push to the back-burner.

So, how do you communicate this risk (without being insulting or condescending)?

The trick is to use data to back up your argument. Look back at all the projects you launched over the last 6-12 months. Which ones got delayed because the content wasn’t ready on time? Which ones launched on schedule because the content was completed by in-house copywriters (instead of the client)?

And so you can now say something like:

Over the last year, 80% of projects our content team weren’t involved in launched late due to content delays. The projects where our content team managed the process launched on or before the deadline. If we don’t lead the content your deadline probably won’t be met which may affect the business goals we’ve discussed.

2. Making content a priority

Your client has a business to run. If the business owner is your point of contact, she likely has a million other priorities. The last thing she needs is another one. Even if you’re not dealing directly with the owner, all employees have their day-to-day jobs to perform and writing web copy isn’t always in their job description.

Clients think writing content is easy, but once they finally get around to putting pen to paper they realize what a massive pain in the neck it can be, which is why it always comes late. This is a pretty easy point to address, everyone is happy when their lives are made easier, and once they understand how hard content is to execute, paying someone else to take the burden off their shoulders should be a no-brainer.

And so you can now say something like:

“Many of our clients have told us just how deceptively hard putting together the content is and how it takes way longer than they anticipate- not to mention working it into their busy schedules. We can take that burden off of you so it becomes one less thing you have to think about.”

3. Better design

I may be dating myself by saying this, but back when I started my career working in design agencies I worked on a lot of print. For some strange reason clients usually came with draft content before they approached a designer to lay it out. As a designer, getting to work with real content wasn’t a luxury, it was a necessity. There’s no way you can lay out a 24 page booklet with Lorum Ipsum text, and clients somehow understood this. Once the files were gone to print you couldn’t change the content anymore so it had to be finalized early on.

Now that most of our design work lives on the web and is powered by content management systems, clients know that content can come later because it’s likely to change anyway. We need to change this mindset, both for ourselves and our clients! So often designers create beautiful interfaces that are plugged up with Lorum Ipsum text and then realize after the content is in place that it should have been designed differently.

In a post written by Alex Turnbull, the founder of Groove, he details how he and his team took a different approach to designing their marketing website:

In every prior iteration of our site, we put aesthetics first. More than anything, it needed to “look” nice. We would build designs, draft copy, and then cut or rewrite our words to fit the design. Looking back, this was insane… We were painting our house before we built it. This time, we thought about how we would tell the right story, based on what our [research was] telling us.

And so you can now say something like:

We’ve found that when we give our designers the content first, even if it’s just a draft, it makes for a more effective design process. This is because we aren’t putting the cart before the horse and just designing an empty shell that we’ll fill later. Instead we’ll be designing around real, or realistic content that can lead the design process and help prevent bottlenecks later on.

4. Keeping content consistent

Good copywriters have the uncanny ability to be chameleons in their writing, writing in a voice and tone that suits the subject matter. Should the tone be funny and light, or serious and sombre? A professional should be able to do both depending on the situation.

Clients who aren’t professional writers simply don’t have the ability to write in any voice that isn’t their own… if they can even write well at all. I can’t count how many times content has come back from clients that is poorly worded, has bad grammar and is either too long and wordy, or too short and not descriptive enough.

Even worse, if different people on the client side are writing different parts of the website then there’s often no consistency tying it together.

Try saying something like:

There’s no doubt we need your expertise on the subject matter since you know your business better than we do, however the benefit of having our content team engaged is that your copy will be written in a tone and style that consistently reflects your brand, and ultimately takes less time to produce.

5. Better communication with your customers

Even clients who have writing capabilities may struggle to produce effective web copy if writing for the web isn’t something they’re experienced with. Words lie at the heart of the web. Words are what Google looks for in order to index and rank websites, and it’s the first thing visitors look for in order to decide whether or not they’ve found what they’re looking for.

Great web copy needs to not only provide the right information and be written in the right style, but it needs to be formatted properly, using scannable headings, short paragraphs and an appropriate use of search keywords. There’s no point writing copy that users find laborious to read or that don’t get found in search engines.

Say something like this:

Even though I know you can provide us with content yourself, the benefit of using our content team is that they understand how to write content for the web. Using proven techniques they will make your content easier for people to understand and more likely to take action.

6. Uncover new opportunities

There’s something about vocalizing the obvious that somehow helps us solve problems and see new opportunities. I remember a developer on my team once cursing a blue streak because he was so frustrated by a bug. He asked me for advice. I started by asking some basic questions, like ‘What are you trying to do?’ ‘What is the issue?’ I didn’t offer a single suggestion but within 20 seconds he snapped his fingers “I GOT IT!” Simply talking about it with someone else forced his mind to see a way around the problem.

Creating content is a lot like this. Working with a copywriter or team will require the client to answer basic questions about their business, like “What is the primary message you want to communicate on the About Us page?” By simply vocalizing it you will set off lightbulbs in everyone’s minds and the content will be drastically better than if your client just put his head down alone and quickly cranked out the copy.

And so you can now say something like this:

Having great content is more important for your website than how it looks or what code it’s written in. Working with our content team will uncover new ideas and opportunities for your business that you may not realised.

7. The cost of bad content

If your client is focused on how much it costs to pay your agency for content production, try instead to focus her attention to how much it will cost to have bad or even just mediocre content. You may have noticed when optimizing a landing page that doing something as simple as changing a headline can mean the difference between 3% and 5% conversion.

Get your client to think about this: How much would it be worth to increase your customer base by 2%. Let’s say the client does 5 million dollars per year in revenue. Increasing their revenue by 2% would mean an additional $100,000 flowing into their business. Now of course every company is different and there’s no way you could foretell with certainty what impact your copy will make using precise figures, but the point is that good copy can literally mean losing or gaining a customer.

Back this up with something like:

Sure, we’ll require more budget to get our content team engaged, but did you know that the difference between good content and great content can make a very tangible difference in how many of your site visitors convert into leads or customers? The impact great content has will always bring a return much higher than what you invest to produce it.

Get buy-in on process

Hopefully this gives you the ammo you need to convince your client to invest in a process around the production of content. Whether that actually means they write the content themselves with a production plan or they decide on hiring in external content creators, the end result should be an understanding of the risk involved with content. Hopefully this stops delays, and gets your project launched on time, and on budget.

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About the Author

Kyle Racki

CEO & Co-founder, Proposify

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