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Website Copy – Why Lorem Ipsum Turns into a 3-Month Delay

Mike Sweeney | June 30, 2008

Raise your hand if your website redesign or relaunch has been delayed due to website copy modifications, or specifically the idea that 2-3 members of your senior management team need to review site copy before it goes live.

Based on experience, I am certain there are a bunch of you with your hands raised.  4 of every 5 website projects I’ve been involved in veer off track due to delays in the copy approval/revision process, not necessarily the copywriting process (although the initial copywriting phase is a delay candidate as well).

Why so many cooks in the kitchen, you might ask?  From what I can gather, the reasons are fairly simple.  In a mid-size organization, a Director or Manager level employee “owns” the website project, and may even have a webmaster or marketing manager as a “co-owner”.  Then you insert 1-3 members of the senior management team, all of whom (rightfully so) hold a stake in the success of the website.  Those members of the senior management team may be involved in the early phases of the website revamp process – they want to sign off on final design, general site structure, etc.  But what they REALLY want to get involved in is the copywriting of the website, or at least the critique of copywriting piece of the website.

Right or wrong (and senior management getting involved in copywriting is not necessarily a bad thing), here’s why senior management wants to get involved, and why it always causes delays:

1) While most members of the executive team can’t design a website, and can’t write a line of code, they all feel like they can write.  The reality – some can, and some can’t.  Most, even if they’re decent writers, don’t understand writing for the web.

2) Along the same lines, members of the executive team often consider themselves “closet” marketers.  They think, if given the chance, they could really come up with some creative marketing ideas that would turn the entire marketing organization around.

3) Members of the executive team mistakenly assume that if they write something intelligent and post it on the website, that prospects, customers, or other stakeholders will take the time to read the entire missive.

If you’re that Director or Manager in charge of the website relaunch, don’t try to fight the idea that members of the executive team want input on the copy piece of the website.  As a matter of fact, you should embrace it because that means you have some stakeholders who understand the importance of the website as a marketing vehicle for the organization.  That being said, here are a couple of suggestions to reduce potential delays on this piece of the project:

1) Establish the team in charge of copy review and revisions before you even begin the project.  Ask that each department assign one person who will participate in the copy review.  Set expectations, however, that those in Customer Service will only review Customer Service copy, and those in HR will only review HR copy, and so on and so forth.

2) Distribute the complete project schedule to your new copy review team, be very upfront that you intend to meet the launch date for the project, and be a complete pain in the ass (use some diplomacy, of course) about members of your team meeting deadlines.  If members of this team cannot understand why you’re being a pain in the ass about these deadlines, they’re not worth having on the team.

3) Inevitably, you will run into a member of your new copy team that will miss a deadline.  First, ask that they notify you that they’re going to miss a deadline a few days before the missed deadline.   Let’s be serious – most of us know if we’re going to miss a big deadline a few days before the deadline, it’s just that some of us aren’t willing to admit it.  Next, accept the missed deadline and set a new deadline for copy review/revisions.  Never, ever accept the idea that a member of your team will get it done “when they have time”.  If you’re in charge of a website relaunch, that means someone (probably your boss) has given you a drop-dead date for completion, and if you start accepting flimsy deadlines from Ricky the Product Manager, you’ll never get the project done.

Copy is a critical element for any website project, and I will consistently beat the drum that bad copy will ruin any good marketing vehicle or campaign.  Copy impacts the brand, impacts performance of the site in terms of “stickiness”, impacts search engine optimization (SEO)…you get the point, it’s very important.  Don’t let a mismanaged copy review team ruin a great website relaunch.

 

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