Our Blog

When You Know Your Content Is Bad

by Tenessa Gemelke on May 3rd, 2012

Time and again, we meet people who hang their heads in shame, remorsefully confiding, “I don’t even want you to look at our website.” It’s usually whispered like a guilty confession, as if this one delinquent person is solely responsible for letting down the entire Internet.

Whether you’re in a decision-making position or not, it can be difficult to figure out how to use your powers for good to defeat bad content. Fear not! If you’ve been quietly suffering the knowledge—nay, the CERTAINTY—that your content stinks, here are a few ways to take steps in the right direction.

Quantify “bad”

The danger of writing off a website as “bad” is that making such blanket statements can obscure opportunities. That’s the kind of thinking that results in waiting for the next redesign—which, by the way, has no budget, is not currently on the schedule, and may or may not happen in the next three years. Many of us know from experience that there’s nothing sadder than neglecting your content indefinitely.

Rather than throwing up your hands in despair, see if you can get a handle on the badness:

  • Is all of the content bad, or just some of it? It’s possible that your generalized concern is actually reflected only in a few high-profile areas of the site, such as the help content or the product descriptions in the store. Conducting a qualitative content audit can help you document and narrow in on the biggest problem areas.
  • What are the consequences? Low quality is one thing, but awful user experience spells even more trouble. Take a close look at unclear calls to action, broken purchase paths, and other flawed conversion activities. Be sure you understand how the user’s dissatisfaction relates to your business model.
  • Is it really the content that’s bad? Once you start evaluating the situation, you may discover other problems. Determine whether content is the culprit. Poor functionality or design can cause frustration or distract attention from important content. Try to pinpoint exactly which things aren’t working.

Once you have a good handle on the problems, it’s much easier to convince others to invest in efforts to fix your content.

Make way for better content

As content creation moves forward, find ways to avoid the mistakes of the past. Rally your team to take better care of your content:

  • Clean out the fridge. When people report that their content has gone “bad,” they often mean that—like a forgotten carton of milk—some of it has passed its expiration date. Out-of-date, inaccurate, or irrelevant leftovers languish, unwanted and moldy, enticing nobody. Clear out all of that yucky stuff nobody should be consuming.
  • Step up your style. Sure, your style guide covers the use of trademarks, but does it truly help content creators write well? Rather than simply addressing grammatical rules, develop nuanced style guidelines to describe your company’s voice and tone. Use “less like” and “more like” examples to demonstrate exactly what you want to avoid and achieve.
  • Rethink your roles. Maybe everyone on your team has the best intentions, but it’s not clear who is doing what, or how their tasks fit together. Fill in any gaps in your workflow that contribute to the problems you’ve identified.
  • Allow time for success. High-quality content almost never happens in an accidental rush. Plan for a manageable quantity, and put it on a schedule. Adhere to an editorial calendar that reflects what you’re actually capable of accomplishing rather than a reactive, haphazard plan that sets you up to fail.

So. You’ve figured out what’s wrong, and you’ve figured out what’s right. But there’s one more thing you need to recognize if you’re truly going to reform your wayward content …

Canary on stretcher

Unfortunately, this canary didn’t make it out of the content coal mine.

Image courtesy of erozen

Bravely shut things down

Now is the part where I say that thing you quietly know in your heart of hearts: Not every problem is worth fixing. (Forgive me while I pause for emphasis and resort to all caps.) NOT EVERY PROBLEM IS WORTH FIXING. Go ahead. Print that out and stick it up on your cubicle wall. It’s true that there may be portions of your content that simply need to disappear quietly.

Nobody wants to believe they’ve been working hard on the wrong thing. But the fact is, some content efforts are so time-consuming, costly, and fruitless that there’s no point in continuing them. Maybe it’s an abandoned forum or a newsletter that generates little or no response. Whatever the case, you may need to be the person who says, “Hey, guys? The canary doesn’t look so good.”

Make a new life for yourself

You may identify yourself as someone who has criminally neglected your content, but please accept our forgiveness. You can put the past behind you. You’ve seen the error of your ways. You’ve paid your penance. You’ve turned over a new leaf!

But if you have trouble escaping your life of content crime? Call us. We can help.

  • http://twitter.com/pepperypen Caroline Roberts

    I love the style guide suggestion, but how do you get people to adopt a style guide for the long-term? The phrase “style guide” makes members of a team think it is either just grammar-oriented or design-oriented. Perhaps “site template”? Or even just a checklist for each team?

  • Tenessa Gemelke

    That’s a great question. If “style guide” is a loaded term in your organization–or if you’re trying to communicate a different point–you might have better luck giving your tools different names. MailChimp has a great example of a guide that focuses exclusively on voice and tone: 
    http://voiceandtone.com/

  • http://twitter.com/vasukolla vasu kolla

    test

  • Ian

    I’ve done a few documents in the past that are checklists for CMS users, and I’ve also had long-term success with giving them regular and gentle feedback over time to eliminate the most common errors.

    Ultimately having a document called a ‘style guide’ isn’t going to do any good except to give you something to point to when people have broken the rules.

    I’ve found incorporating writing tips into content requirements and content structure guides is a good idea – so they tell writers what to think about and how to write the section, as well as how many words long it should be.

blog comments powered by Disqus