Matthew Bruce Team : Web Production Tags : Clients Content Featured

Overcoming the dreaded 'content block'

Matthew Bruce Team : Web Production Tags : Clients Content Featured

There comes a time on all web projects when the discussion turns to content. As simple as it may sound, content provision can actually be one of the most difficult tasks befalling the client. Assisting the client with content and copy-writing is generally best left to a professional copy writer, though not every client chooses this path. Perhaps it is budgetary, perhaps they think they can write the content themselves, or simply never planned that far ahead.

It isn't unusual for a producer or project manager to find themselves assisting the client, because like it or not, until there is copy, we can't launch the site, and quite often it's the lack of finalised copy that is the remaining major blocker to launch towards the end of a build project. I've found myself in all sorts of roles, from simply reassuring the client they are making the right decisions, proof reading, finding professional copy-writing services, or just generally helping piece the whole site together. Sometimes we're just a useful sounding board. Clients often assume that we're pretty savvy around content, since we deal with it all the time, but that's not always true.

Neither does it mean we're all dummies! Thankfully there are a few tricks and tips to help get over the 'content block'.

Progressive Disclosure

We've written about this before, and it's still very relevant, if not more so, with the proliferation of mobile devices with small screens. The general principle is that you need to ease people into the detail. A website should be structured in a way that easy to digest, simplified messages should be displayed upfront, with content becoming more specific and detailed, the further the user dives into the site. In-depth content should never be displayed on the homepage.

A great example of a client who has excellent use of 'progressive disclosure' is You will see on the homepage that there are several important features called out, and the user gets a general overview of the product (a travel currency card) and what functions are possible on the website (buy or reload a card). As the user continues their journey, they are fed information relevant to the way they navigate the site. 'For use online shopping' or 'for use travelling overseas' exist at the secondary navigation level, and explore the product features in more detail. Finally, the fineprint of the product (T&Cs) and information such as specific fees and charges exist at a tertiary level or below.

If users are after specific information, chances are Google will drop them deep into your site at the relevant page. So don't go thinking that you need to cover off everything on the homepage. Cluttering your front door is about the worst thing you can do. Remember that the whole purpose of a homepage is to get people off it quickly, having made it easy for them to find what they're looking for. Having to read through piles of information that is likely not relevant is going to send them away faster than you can say 'progressive disclosure'.

Keep it Simple

It's an oldie but a goodie. Remember that those working on a website (not just necessarily from the client) will become familiar with the business, product and industry over the course of the project. Jargon and buzzwords that you are familiar with may not make sense to the end user or general public. Simplify the message, make sure it's written in plain language, or at least ensure that it will make sense to the target audience, if it is not intended for the general public.

Have a sitemap planned out

You're not going to be able to properly write copy for a webpage, if you don't know where that page will sit in the grand scheme of things. Your website is bound to contain multiple pages that will need to be structured in some form of hierarchy or logical order. So the first thing you need is a site map. There are exercises that you can undertake during the UX phase that will help lead to a logical sitemap, including card sorting and requirements grouping/classifying.

Once you have a rough or final sitemap, you can see clearly how much content you will be required to write and also where it sits relative to the whole site. It will be clear where you need to talk about certain topics.

Tell a story

It's not enough just to place copy on the right page in a logical order, but you also need to make it flow. Think about the user journey through your site, and tie in the theory of progressive disclosure. You need to weave a compelling story and your copy should take the user on that journey, through the discovery of your products or services. The user will read only enough information required to convince them that they want to use your services or purchase a product from you. Your story leads to conversion, whether that be something purchased via your eCommerce shopping cart, an enquiry form submitted, or another appropriate action.

Hire an expert

I touched on this earlier, but it's worth mentioning in more detail. Don't let the producer or project manager (on either agency or client side) become the de facto copy writer. Even if you/they are good at it, chances are you have better things to worry about, so delegate this important task to a good copy writer.

Don't sit back and watch the client make silly decisions like task their intern or web content manager with writing the new promotion blurb or newsletter EDM. Just because a person has the knowledge of an industry or an issue, doesn't make them good at communicating said knowledge. Inexperience at copy writing will be highlighted. There are reasons that government departments hire spin doctors and PR agencies - it's because things like complex policy documents need to be dissected and simplified before that policy can be marketed to the general public. The information needs to be released in bite-sized, digestible chunks, not as a lengthy legal-speak document that the average person will stop reading after the first few paragraphs. Copy writers are good at getting the simple message out there in an appropriate form.

Written copy isn't the only answer

There are many ways to communicate online, written copy is only one method. Consider whether your message may be better off relayed in a different form. Have you thought about video, sound bites, bulleted lists, info-graphics, interactive features, graph form or even through tool tips or some kind of wizard? Even copy can take on different forms, from free-text, to FAQ style delivery, content lists, tabulated data, etc.

Some forms of delivery lend themselves better than others when you consider progressive disclosure. A video on the homepage can be a fast way of relaying much complicated information. Likewise a picture can, literally, tell a thousand words. Bullet lists will be better on the homepage than paragraph after lengthy paragraph.

Just get on with it!

The most important advice is to just stop procrastinating and just start writing. So many clients are shit scared or daunted by the size of the task ahead. For most, the job of copywriting is probably the first time the client has really been asked to do some homework for their project. Until now, the Producer and the team over at the agency have done all the heavy lifting, in terms of the UX, visual design and the slicing.

Remember that copy can change, and nothing is set in stone. It's perfectly acceptable to think that the copy we write upfront will be completely different on day 1 launch, and then that will be tweaked again based on feedback and user testing. Copy for web is an evolving beast, and should change or be added to continually to aid with the 'fresh factor' of your website. (Why do you think we all keep writing blogs at Wiliam?!)

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. And be certain to write new copy for every new website. If you're trying to fit your existing website's copy into your new responsive template, you're doing it wrong. Pair down, simplify and review your message. Don't think that more pages equals a better website or search ranking. Be wary that you don't repeat content - each page should be unique and address different subjects.

Good luck!