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We Make Deadly Assumptions

Let’s say you’re a subject matter expert at your company. There’s a website redesign project happening, and you’ve agreed to take responsibility for your department’s content. Hooray!

You know the project kicked off sometime last quarter, but you haven’t heard much about it since then. Then one fine Tuesday around 2 p.m., an email pops up in your inbox...

SUBJECT: Website content: It’s go time!

Hey, you! [Project manager] here. We’re finally ready to have you start cracking on your share of the content. You should find all the information you need in the attachments:

  • Content inventory: Just look for your initials next to the pages you’re supposed to write.
  • Page templates: You can build your documentation off of these.
  • Source material: This is what we could come up with. Hopefully it’ll do.
  • SEO keyword guidelines: If you have any questions, just let me know.

Okay! If we could see a first draft by A WEEK FROM TOMORROW (next Wednesday), that would be great. Just send it to me. Thank you!

From where you sit, this email might as well have been written in Sanskrit and sent from a land of unicorns and fairy dust. What is all this stuff? What’s a page template? Why is your name next to random things in the “About Us” section?

This is exactly the kind of email you’ll flag for review, then proceed to ignore for the rest of the week. Why? First, because it’s confusing and overwhelming, and it makes you feel stupid. Second, you’re fully booked through next week and the project manager is going to have to wait. And finally, you’re just straight up resentful that the project manager would assume you could drop everything and do this.

Obviously, this situation sucks, as situations often do when our actions are based on assumptions and not reality. In this instance you (the subject matter expert) and the project manager made a tacit agreement at the beginning of the project: content shouldn’t be too hard, because it’s probably just some copywriting to support a bunch of content we already have. So let’s talk about it later when we’re closer to our deadlines.


“Doing the Content” Isn’t Like Copywriting

When people think about the content development process, they often think about it sort of like baking a cake. Get the ingredients (gather source content); stir them up (compile, write, edit); cook it (finalize and approve); then frost it (add it to the design).


copyright 2011 Sean Tubridy

This is exactly the kind of thinking that leads to eleventh-hour content catastrophes. Because, in reality, “doing the content” is a whole lot more like running a bakery. There are countless details to consider. You have to manage people. Equipment is expensive, and it breaks. And what if the recipes are wrong or the donuts burn or you’re losing money... you get the picture.

Getting your content right requires a whole lot more planning and upkeep than a print brochure. Helping others to understand this reality is a solid first step toward a successful content strategy.

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