The Importance of Web Content Strategy

May 15 2011 by Rick Sloboda | 22 Comments

The Importance of Web Content Strategy

Some web design and web development agencies have it all. They provide their clients with a complete site solution from beginning to end, from site planning and information architecture to web design, web hosting, and SEO. It’s tough for a smaller web design company or the solo freelancer to compete.

Or is it?

It may be easier than you think to broaden your competitiveness by adding web content writing services to your web design company.

By adding content writing services, you will be better able to adapt to the needs of potential clients. Some clients prefer to deal with one-stop shops. They don’t want to track down specialists for each component of their website project. If you can offer both site-building and content-writing expertise, you too can appeal to the one-stop shoppers.

Benefits of Providing Web Content Writing Services

In addition to landing more clients, adding professional content-writing services brings many other benefits. Here are a few of them.

Fewer iterations and revisions: If you have authority over all aspects of a site build — design, development and content — your work will be more efficient. There will be less need to go back and make changes because you can synchronize design and content from the outset.

Better content: Clients receive error-free, professional content. They can have web content that complements and works well with the web design.

Better branding: Clients benefit from web content that positions their brand well, along with a style and voice that engages their users.

Fewer headaches and project delays: By incorporating content writing into your services, you eliminate the headache that stems from clients delivering web copy that’s weak or late (who needs another delay?).

Optimized content: Quality content is optimized for search engines. Google and other search engines will rank your clients’ sites higher and more people will visit if the content produced keeps good SEO practices in mind.

Better conversion rates: Professional web content writers can increase conversion rates by optimizing calls to action and by writing compelling web content, making more money for clients to invest back into website development. You might get more work (and referrals) as a result.

Assistance with other website project components: Some content writers — especially those that focus on web content — can help with sitemaps, information architecture, wireframes, unique value propositions, calls to action, taglines and more.

Stronger client relationships: Content-writing services often extend beyond website launch. If you can maintain client relationships by updating or adding new content on their site, they are more likely to call you when their site needs a redesign.

Adding Content-writing Services to Your Web Design Company

So how do you incorporate content-writing into your web design company? You have a few options, and you don’t have to pick just one.

  • Develop referral agreements
  • Hire freelance web content writers
  • Subcontract a professional web content-writing company
  • Employ in-house web content writers

Develop Referral Agreements

In a referral arrangement, you refer clients to your preferred content-writing company. Your preferred content-writing company, in turn, refers clients to you. Obviously, you need to vet the content-writing company thoroughly and make sure they are capable and reliable.

The greatest advantage of referrals is that they create new revenue streams. With just a phone call or email, you can set clients up with your recommended company and receive a referral fee. You don’t have to manage the content-writing process, freeing you to focus on website design.

This approach also sidesteps possible cash flow issues. You don’t need to pay contractors out of your own pocket while waiting for the client to pay.

Similarly, you could work out a referral arrangement with a web content writer or web content-writing company, without paying fees. You will still help each other by generating more business.

Hire Freelance Web Content Writers

Another approach is to post an ad on job boards like Authentic Jobs, Smashing Jobs, etc. and then see if you can hire a few content writers. In this scenario, you manage the writers directly.

The biggest advantage of this approach is its low cost. You pay the writers directly, with no infrastructure to support. You pay only when you require the writer’s services, so you have a great deal of flexibility in how you use them.

If you find a good freelance writer, then you have the benefit of possibly grooming him or her to work for you in-house should you have enough work to justify it.

But there’s a downside to hiring a freelancer. Your content-writing services will be limited by the ability and availability of your freelance content writer. Not all freelancers are versatile, or experts in usability, SEO, or conversion tactics.

You also run the risk of the freelancer not delivering. If the freelancer fails to deliver on time or delivers poor quality web content, then you are responsible and your professional reputation will be at stake. You can’t just go back to the client and say, "my writer got sick," or "my writer’s computer crashed" or "my writer disappeared." The client will not distinguish between your company’s performance and the performance of your freelance web content writer. They’ll hold you accountable.

Subcontract Out to a Professional Web Content-writing Company

In a subcontracting arrangement, clients hire you to provide content-writing services, and you subcontract the work to a web content-writing company. (Full disclosure: as a web copywriter with a professional content-writing company, I have some bias here.)

Professional web content-writing agencies typically have a stable of writers working for them in-house, under contract, or both. These companies can often accommodate short deadlines because they can free up a writer to meet the deadline or divide the work among writers.

Having a bevy of writers and communications specialists also allows professional content-writing companies to offer a wider scope of related services, i.e. keyword analyses or meta data development, video script writing, etc., and match writers to clients. If a writer has a particular area of industry expertise or subject knowledge, the content-writing company can assign him or her to clients who will benefit from this expertise.

Many professional content-writing companies also have the advantage of additional copy review. Copy is often routed through other writers and editors for feedback or to catch errors. For instance, at my company, Webcopyplus, a senior copywriter reviews all copy before it’s released to clients.

There are some disadvantages to hiring a professional web content-writing company. Prices may be higher as there is more infrastructure to support. Also, it may be difficult to get adequate attention if your project is small and the web content-writing company has bigger projects on the go.

Employ In-house Web Content Writers

Your most integrated solution is to employ a part-time or full-time content strategist. As an employer, you have direct control over your employee’s project priorities and performance. As a result, you may have quick turnaround times as your writer is dedicated solely to your projects.

By having the web content writer in your staff, you also get to know the writer’s strengths and you will be less hesitant to invest in his or her professional development.

The risk is, at some point, you may not have enough content-writing work to keep your writer busy and cover his or her salary. But you don’t need to hire a full-time staff writer, and in some cases, you can make flexible arrangements.

There are also added training and costs, not to mention administrative demands. You will have to manage payroll deductions, vacation pay, medical plans, insurance and performance appraisals.

Finally, it can be very challenging to find talented, reliable content writers. At my company, we reviewed more than 400 portfolios before we filled our last position.

Conclusion

Don’t limit your ability to win projects by taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Consider the client’s preferences: if you want to appeal to one-stop shoppers, consider adding content-writing to your web services arsenal.

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About the Author

Rick Sloboda is a Senior Web Copywriter at Webcopyplus. Their company’s client list includes AT&T and Scotia Bank. He advocates clear, concise and objective website content that promotes readability and usability, and conducts web content studies with organizations in Europe and the U.S., including Yale University. Follow him on Twitter @Webcopyplus.

22 Comments

Butch V.

May 15th, 2011

This article has some great advice for competing in today’s market. Thanks for sharing! :)

Theo

May 15th, 2011

I dare to say that content is the most important thing when it comes to a succesfull website. I work alone and my clients provide the content by them self, i try to make them clear how important the content of a website is and let them know that the design of the site depends on it but in the most cases i end up with waiting for the content to fill up the site… so yes your suggestion would not just increase the bussines it would also help creating better websites and that would bring benefits to both the client and the webdesigner.

olive

May 15th, 2011

I’m curious why you chose to include content strategy in the title for this post when it is about web writing.

Isiah

May 16th, 2011

In my experience – and we are currently in the throes of redesigning/structuring/writing our company’s website – the real difficulty comes in getting consistency in the right tone of voice.

In our case we have devised a ‘copy style guide’ if you will, with examplar text pieces that we consider the ideal writing style for our target audiences needs. But even with this and the best efforts of the team of internal copywriters we have pulling it together, the result is still surprisingly uneven across the 500-600 individual content areas.

It is achieving this consistency of style and message that is the real challenge as getting it wrong can break an organisation’s site in terms of content copy quality I think.

Eric Reiss

May 16th, 2011

Rick – this is a really important article, because you point out how to ensure better on-line content and do so in an exceptionally capable manner. But your piece doesn’t have anything to do with content strategy. Perhaps you need to change the title of this post. And perhaps you’ve also discovered that “content strategy” is merely a waypoint, not the ultimate goal :)

Keith

May 16th, 2011

I have to agree with Eric here. It’s a great article, but doesn’t quite match the title.

A content strategy would consider what content should be ready for launch (or relaunch), how that content would be developed post-launch, what type of content should be used throughout the site and how / by whom individual pages will be created, among other things.

Having said that, I don’t want to dtreact from this article,which presents a great argument as to why more companies should offer (and more clients should use) professional copy writers.

Great Stuff! :o)

Arif Riyanto

May 16th, 2011

Great idea, it helps me. Thanks :)

Jacob Gube

May 16th, 2011

The title choice was mine; not Rick’s.

AndrewSCH

May 16th, 2011

Yet another great set of pointers compiled by 6 Revisions. However, we have rarely had success with any outsourced content providers for STRATEGIC copy. For informational copy that they can pick up from a few pieces of collateral and the “About Us” sections, they’re fine. But many times it’s very difficult to put outsourced writers in the place where they can completely see our client’s big picture. That may be due to some difficulty with our communication, and a simple lack of time. But I’ve found this to be so for the last few years. We usually get in-house writers for that.

robert p

May 16th, 2011

I think copywriters are a dime a dozen and unfortunately don’t understand the complex parts of communicating nline. It takes more time to train a writer than to just do it yourself.

Chris Moritz

May 16th, 2011

Content writing services ≠ content strategy.

Rick Sloboda

May 16th, 2011

Thanks for your comments!

@Olive @Eric @Keith I agree with your assessments, and as Jacob indicated, some edits were made to the article post submission. The original title was ‘Bait Your Hook with Copywriting’ and the intro discussed how designers can broaden their services and appeal by adding content writing to their offerings.

@Theo I hear you. We often get called in to write content (due to the clients’ lack of delivery) at the 3- to 6-month month mark (or later). I feel for designers because you take care of a lengthy list of deliverables, and then have to sit on a semi-completed project for months. Not good for continuity or cash flow. That’s when we get to step in and look like heroes, getting the content written and approved, typically within a three-week timeframe.

@Isiah When several stakeholders are involved (from the marketing coordinator to the founder), attaining a consistent voice and style is indeed difficult. Everyone has their perception of how things should be done, not to mention office politics. The style guide is a smart move. However, if you can’t afford a professional copywriter, consider getting an editor to comb over all your content. If the copy is generally well written, it would cost less that starting from scratch or doing a complete rewrite.

@Andrew Strategic copy requires extra research time, planning and a certain level of marketing and branding sophistication. We get writers applying for positions pretty well weekly, and over the years I’ve found that even seasoned journalists who excel in their field often can’t write good web content. You really have to have a good marketing mind to tackle strategic content.

@Robert That’s funny! I agree; copywriters are a dime a dozen. There are probably as many hobbyists in copywriting willing to work for a buck or two an hour (or for free) as there are in design. But just like there are kick-butt designers, there are serious writers. Fortunately, Google’s recent algorithm update, Panda, is clearing away a lot of the spammy, rehashed content churned out by amateurs daily for $4 an article, or less. As Google’s getting smarter, the demand for good content is increasing, which is great news because people will not have to wade through as much trash on the Web.

The same goes for your comment on copywriters not understanding the complex parts of communicating online. Weak writers don’t, skilled web copywriters do. Our copywriters have helped clients in many industries — from junk removal to medial diagnostics — define goals, objectives, audiences, calls to action, etc. We recently helped a telecom enterprise streamline 400-plus pages of conflicting info on three sites down to a slick 80-page website, and boosted a promotion company’s conversions by almost 400% with a single landing page rewrite. It’s not fair to lump together recreational writers with proven professionals.

James

May 16th, 2011

I know you disclosed WHO chose the title, but the only possible reason you put ‘content strategy’ in the title of this compiled list of reasons to have writers on staff when offering design services, is for ‘SEO’ dishonesty.

There’s nothing wrong with the article, but calling it what you have? What a load.

Chase Sagum

May 16th, 2011

Maybe I’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere… but I’ve never heard of AuthenticJobs. I’ll definitely have to check it out.

Barrie

May 17th, 2011

Some useful advice here. I have always proposed that content should be high on the list of web site development priorities and this is even more the case since Google have applied the Panda algorithm to searches. But perhpas a word of warning should be sounded. Not all web site developers, especially at the smaller end, have sufficient understanding of marketing as a discipline to be entrusted with the preparation of copy that can further a strategic marketing plan (which will encompass the full spectrum of inter-related marketing mechanisms). And not even professional copywriters with substantial online experience can be expected to have a comprehensive knowledge of every market sector. Product and industry knowledge, and an understanding of the competitive climate, is essential to the preparation of effective copy. All of this argues for the use of sector specialists when outsourcing copy; or for literate and market-attuned inhouse writers! It is amazing how much inhouse copy is either ungrammatical, uninformed or both.

WPWebHost

May 18th, 2011

Hiring a creative writer was never easy as thought. The writer him/herself must be a person that happened to be in the same industry or in the end you will find more problem than it used to be.

We are in search of creative writer and receiving many applications but none of them are what we looked for.

@threegs

May 19th, 2011

Berry interestink & economicable. I particularly liked Rick’s responses to the commentators by way of clearing the air. Thx for taking time to do dat. It helps.

Suzanne McDonald

May 20th, 2011

Fantastic discussion that underscores some fundamentals:

1. You get what you pay for.
2. Copy will only highlight holes in the marketing strategy.
3. To call oneself a web content strategist, the “writer” should be well-versed in any area that touches what we do: information architecture, landing page optimization, conversion, SEO, design, social, even mobile.

The client doesn’t care about your specialty, and if the team can’t come together to deliver an effective site, everyone fails.

If you don’t have a top-notch in-house team, you’re risking your business by not maximizing the budget for experts, whether it’s copy or not. Copy is something everything thinks they can do better, until they actually do it, hence there’s an additional layer scrutiny.

@Barrie Indeed, thank you Panda update! Check out my Recovering from Panda presentation for SEOs: http://bit.ly/fLfAtC

Popartgal

May 21st, 2011

Interesting article as I am in the midst of polishing this website im working on.. thank you for sharing this! :)

Greg Taylor

August 2nd, 2011

Constructing content without a game plan will make you fall short of your site’s goals. Here’s a great tool I developed to help organize your content and create a quick content strategy outline.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/46430323/TMC-Blog-Post-Worksheet

Jonathan Bosley

October 19th, 2011

I appreciate this post, at least it gives me a few more options to think about as a freelancer who wants to provide content strategy services to my clients. I am having some difficulty selling them on the additional costs in dollars, and time in the development cycle. I at least now can present them with the option of shopping their own company for a good deal on the content.

josh

October 25th, 2011

Great Article, you made some very excellent points!

I was looking for information about web content strategy, and this will work perfectly.

I found this one site, but it was geared more towards providing content to your design company.

http://www.back40design.com/news/m.blog/22/website-content-bliss-and-mishaps

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