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Stop Fussing Over Your Content!

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"All is flux." - Heraclitus

Years ago, when the company I was working for was going through yet another website makeover, someone commented that such makeovers were rarely the result of customer feedback. To use a popular meme: "I would do more business with you if you would just change the color palette and font on your website," said no one ever.

Rather, many website overhauls are driven by fatigue, and usually fatigue starting at the top. The CEO gets sick of looking at the same website day in and day out, and pushes to have it changed. Thousands of dollars later, you have a brand-spanking-new website but, frankly, the business that website represents is exactly the same. So what was the point?

I was reminded of this scenario when speaking with Ardath Albee for this week's episode of Marketing Smarts. (Note: Ardath will be speaking on content marketing at our upcoming B2B Forum. Use the code "SMARTB2B" to get $200 off when registering!)

Ardath was talking about the "shiny object syndrome" that many marketers fall prey to when it comes to producing content. As she put it, "We just want to keep changing because it makes it interesting for us, but it doesn't have anything to do with what our prospects are interested in."

Just like the CEO looking at the website, we as marketers can get sick of looking at the same content over and over again. We want to change, so we decide to make infographics or videos or launch podcasts---regardless of whether these forms of content meet the needs of our potential customers or even match their information consumption habits.

Before we change any of our content, however, we need to recall something that Ardath told me during our conversation: "All of your prospects haven't read all your content."

Read those words again and reflect on what they mean. Yes, you may have looked at that white paper or those blog posts a thousand times, but there are (at least!) a thousand people who have never seen them even once. So what's more important: creating something new for you or working harder to make sure that more new people see what you already have (given that it has proven its value and effectiveness up to now)?

Let's face it. There is plenty of great content out there already and, if you're lucky, you may have even created some of it for your industry. Do you or your customers really need new content? Isn't it time that we considered a moratorium on new content until we've squeezed every drop of goodness out of the content we've already got?

Saying "never change your content" is a little extreme (plus my mom always told me to never say never). But how about this, don't change your content or add anything brand spanking new to your content mix until you are absolutely certain that you have not yet provided your prospects with the content they are looking for (and, by the way, who wants to admit that?) or until you are absolutely certain that the content you have simply does not reflect the current state of your company and its expertise.

If you have produced the quality content that needs to be out there, and it is more or less current, just leave it be. Alright? Enough with the change already!

If you'd like to hear my entire conversation with Ardath, you can listen here or download the mp3 and listen at your leisure. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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  • by Harry Hallman Fri Sep 7, 2012 via blog

    Excellent points. I always suggest small changes to web sites in order to increase SEO value or to increase conversions. Overhauls rarely work well, unless you have a site that is so poor it reflects badly on the company image.

    Content should be updated and added to so that customers and search engines stay happy.

  • by Mike Lovas Fri Sep 7, 2012 via blog

    What a coincidence. I'm currently in the middle of researching websites. This is for a webinar I've been asked to teach next week, and I'll be showing a LOT of screen shots. One of the major points is the psychology behind the presentation.

    Let's assume for a minute that every paragraph on every tab throughout the WWW is good, solid copy. The problem that pops up immediately is that very few copywriters and designers understand how to layout the content for readability. For some unknown reason, they approach the content as though it's a freaking brochure that the world is dying to read! That's simply NOT how people read websites.

    I hope we all know that a great deal of the online content is mediocre. So, what is the world looking at? Mediocre content that is "we" focused and poorly laid out for readability.

    Could be that many of the website make-overs are inspired by boredom and a failure of the sites to communicate.

    -- Mike

  • by James Gradidge Fri Sep 7, 2012 via blog

    A quality website will contain a stable blend of elements which are fixed, juxtaposed with others which are programmable, and therefor changed on a regular basis. These must be built in to the original design, which should remain as unchanged as possible for as long as possible.

    For instance, include an audiovisual place holder (with a menu), and update the playlist on a regular basis, but don't alter the look and feel without serious consideration. Some areas may be adaptable between purposes, such as an advertising header, which could host a microsite for special events, when required, and revert back to the banner role again when the event is over.

    If you are altering the flow and format of your site more often than once a year, this will lead to perceptions of instability amongst your viewing audience, and impact negatively in the long run. The same rules apply as for CI formats in traditional advertising media.
    Unless, of course, if the website refurbish is part of an overall upgrade of your image, in which case fanfare applies. You should not treat your website as a separate entity.

    The key is to get as close to the final configuration before you publish, so do some customer research before you go online with your offering.Treating your website as a corporate toy will reduce it's effectiveness as a tool.

  • by Harmony Major Sat Sep 8, 2012 via blog

    EXACTLY. This is quite a weird perspective for a Web designer to so vehemently support... but as a designer with a *marketing* background -- in fact, the marketing came before the design -- I "get it." Totally.

    OMG, this has me so amped right now.

    I love the fact that we're realizing here that site overhauls are not always the answer, AND that we're realizing the need to place a higher value on content. What most people don't realize is that the design exists to *support* the content -- *not* the other way around.

    That's where so many people get it wrong.

    I crafted a press release for our launch, with the headline "Web 'Design' Doesn't Matter." And that's so real. It was risky, and I know that we'll lose a few people by taking that perspective, but only a select few that didn't realize anyway that their website should be about creating *results*. It should be attractively packaged to do so -- of course -- but your website exists to DO something. For YOU. Don't let your design get in the way of that... as so many often do.

    People don't come to your site "to see how beautifully you've designed it today," they come to your website seeking to accomplish a particular goal. You'd better make it doggone well easy for them to do that, or they're out of there -- and fast.

    I got so excited I almost lost my point. (lol) Going back to the author's point about quality content versus design... that, however, is where our agreement divides.

    Effective, *results-oriented* design WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT design "versus" content. Again... where most people drop the ball.

    If you already have a website, this is where you need to get with someone who truly understands Web marketing to evaluate your analytics (current website traffic) to see where your results are coming up short. THEN, you get your designer to devise a website design s-t-r-a-t-e-g-y to counteract and eradicate negatives found, accentuate positives desired, and just do the doggone thing.

    Your redesign (or initial design) must be based around this concept and only this, or else as Harry and Matthew both said, it's a colossal freaking waste of money. And what's THAT about?

  • by Harmony Major Sat Sep 8, 2012 via blog

    Mike,

    Is it free? Would LOVE to see this. May I?

    -HM

  • by Ken Wilson Wed Sep 12, 2012 via blog

    Change can be a good thing, but there are three basic rules too many tinkerers fail to follow: test, test, test.

    This comment was sponsored by the letters A and B.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Wed Sep 12, 2012 via blog

    Agreed. Incremental changes to websites (and even content) are often best.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Wed Sep 12, 2012 via blog

    I would add that there is a tendency to add content willy-nilly without taking the time to think about, as you say, whether or not the existing content is laid out for readability and is actually being read.

    Companies would benefit from focusing on their core pieces of content (the evergreen stuff) and making sure that a) people can find it and b) when they do find it is is user friendly and readable.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Wed Sep 12, 2012 via blog

    I like that last line about treating your website as a "corporate toy" - and quite an expensive one!

    I also like your emphasis on planning for the long term when implementing a web design. Putting a basic, stable structure in place, with placeholders for expansion in the future, seems like the wisest approach.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Wed Sep 12, 2012 via blog

    ;-)

  • by Matthew T. Grant Wed Sep 12, 2012 via blog

    I would like to think that, at this stage of the game, people understand that function on the website comes first and that function needs to be: make it easy for the user to find what they're looking for and do what they came to your site to do. Everything needs to be subordinated to that end.

    I also like your emphasis on the design supporting the content - your visitors are there for the content, after all, and rarely if ever to soak in the wonder of your design (unless they are web designers themselves!).

  • by Nikhil Tue Sep 18, 2012 via blog

    Nope. Sorry, I must disagree, and not only because I am a content writer myself!

    You see, depending on the particular vertical or niche where the business belongs, updating content has to match the developments that occur far beyond the scope of the business and its content. For example, even a company such as Apple must create new content every six months on its own site and spend on third-party content to drive the buzz on that new iPhone or iPad or iPod or whatever.

    Sure, there isn't a business that requires new content on the site every day. I don't think there are any sites that do it. But what about blogs? A couple of posts or three per week are the standard, aren't they?

    It all depends on what business the site represents and how frequently they have something of value to offer to the customer. Content is communication and therefore it is king. Quality communication is not a charming festoon on your site. It is a bare necessity. As and when you have something important to announce to the client or help change his or her perspective on your products, you need content. You also need content to help market your products. Unless you communicate frequently, you cannot expect the client to conclude from your colorful headers and banners what all the fuss is about.

    Content is king because it just works! All the time! Ignore at your own peril.

  • by Matthew Grant Tue Sep 18, 2012 via blog

    You may have misunderstood the point of this post, Nikhil. I wasn't saying that sites don't need content. I was merely suggesting that companies, at times, seem to produce content for the sake of producing content and that adding new content to one's site seems to become an end in itself. In my view, companies need to focus first and foremost on making sure that people can find their most important content. Adding regularly to the content mix, while it may have some SEO benefit, will not, for most organizations, be the top priority. In fact, it can be a distraction both from an operational as well as a customer standpoint.

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