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3 Tragic Errors to Avoid When Building a Web Content Marketing Program

vintage train crash imageAfter 15 years building websites — first as a developer, then a project manager, and now as a digital strategist — there’s one thing I can say with confidence: Successfully planning and executing the design, development, and deployment of a dynamic website to support a new content marketing strategy is not a trivial matter.

Marketing stakeholders focused on generating a volume of compelling and valuable content are often at a disadvantage for a couple of reasons:

  1. While they are often world-class content creators, they aren’t necessarily seasoned interactive design and/or technology project leaders.
  2. Creating quality content is a big, distracting task all by itself — one that deserves the full attention of whomever is in charge of it, not just a small share amongst that person’s other core responsibilities. Ultimately, it is this, high-quality content that is going to be the real differentiating factor when the site is launched.

These disadvantages are compounded when well-intentioned project sponsors are forced to make difficult decisions about which partners to work with during content design and development. In short: Less costly agencies are less experienced agencies. Unfortunately, lack of experience amplifies these disadvantages, while experience is the antidote.

So what’s the smart marketer who recognizes the inherent risks associated with these disadvantages to do? Well, step one is usually admitting we have a problem, right? So if we can admit that a lack of knowledge and experience is at the root of our problem, then seeking partners with proven expertise is the most obvious solution.

If this scenario sounds at all familiar, hopefully some of what I have shared below will help you avoid some tragic, and costly, errors in developing your web content marketing program.

Tragic error No. 1: Pick an agency partner after you’ve chosen your tech

Nobody does web content marketing today without building it on a content management system (CMS). Not surprisingly, both the total cost of ownership and the complexity of these critical business tools have continued to increase as they become more and more essential to our roles in digital marketing. But despite this ever-increasing complexity, marketers often hire content agency partners after they have already chosen the content management system they will use.

Unfortunately, this is an organization’s first tragic, strategic error when it comes to building web content marketing programs: Enlisting the help of an expert on CMS (one who has no financial stake in what CMS is selected, no less) after the most important CMS-related decision has already been made. Ouch.

Furthermore, not selecting an agency partner first should raise the red flag that there are likely a host of other strategic decisions you have made without the benefit of an agency’s deep experience and expertise around these critical subjects.

This point can’t possibly be overstated: Hire an agency partner before you make any other decisions about implementing your web content marketing plan. In addition to providing much needed experience, the opportunity to be at the table earlier will provide these new members of your team with critical context and understanding — which will help them operate more efficiently and successfully as the project life cycle unfolds.

Tragic error No. 2: Underestimating the importance of discovery

Once, while explaining that discovery was a mandatory aspect of my team’s process, I had an executive director laugh at me and say, “Oh, you agencies and your meetings.” This client went on to insist that we shortcut our standard process to save time and money — and then, ironically, spent the rest of the project blaming every minor setback on a perception that we didn’t get the business they are in (a business in which, as it happens, we had already built dozens of award-winning websites).

While you may be hiring an agency with proven expertise in design and development, and even sometimes with deep experience in your industry, the agency won’t necessarily be an expert on you (i.e., your business), specifically.

Believe me, I’m sure there’s a lot about you to appreciate. And just like a patient wouldn’t consider visiting a doctor and demanding a cure without allowing the doctor to examine him and evaluate his situation, it’s a mistake to shortcut the agency’s process for getting to know your unique situation, what you have to work with, and what you want to accomplish with your website.

In fact, with regards to website discovery, the real opportunity for improving the odds of a successful project outcome lies in demanding that your partners do more of it, not less — as long as it’s done for the right reasons, and in the right ways. This can be accomplished by ensuring the guest list for the agency’s workshops and follow-up meetings with your stakeholders broadly represents both your organization and the customers you serve.

Tragic error No. 3: Not knowing your goals, or how to measure them

The final key to planning a successful web content marketing project is to know your goals. In my previous CMI article, I talked about coming up with a critical few metrics for success. Whether you are in the process of optimizing an existing content marketing property or are looking to build a completely new one, this recommendation stands. Outcome-centric teams get results.

But the most important wisdom I can share with teams that are looking to build a new content marketing property is to ensure everyone — even those in your organization who seem to only be tangentially connected to the effort — is aware of and agrees upon the metrics you will use to determine the success of the website content project on which you are working. The interesting thing you’ll learn when talking about success with different members of the team is how differently everyone sees it in the absence of a commonly shared vision.

For instance, designers will say a project is successful when the website looks good; copywriters base success on how well-written the content is; for engineers, success comes when all the bugs have been removed; and project managers gauge success on whether it’s delivered on time and on budget. The thing is, they’re all partially correct… but they’re all missing a fundamental truth about the overall success of the project — which can make it possible for individuals to step outside of their silos at critical moments in the project life cycle and make a difference in ways you will be sure to appreciate.

One way to ensure a shared vision of success is to kick off each new phase of the website’s development process with a team meeting dedicated to discussing the goals each stakeholder has for that phase. I’ve found it’s helpful to continuously ask the different teams to share their definitions of success, so that all perspectives can be accounted for.

Pro tip: Use this periodic reframing of success as a reminder to continuously reconfirm the vision with your executive sponsor. This minor exercise in managing up will mitigate the dreaded risk of an object lesson in “seagull management,” when seeking final sign-off on the project.

Got anything to share?

I’ve learned a lot over the years by keeping my head down and grinding out a lot of websites. Yet, much of what I know is from being fortunate enough to work with some incredibly talented people who were willing to share their experiences with me. If you have any past mistakes you’d like to share please let us know in the comment section. I know there are a lot of content marketers out there who have built a website content project once or twice, and we’d love to know what you’ve learned!

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Cover image via Wikimedia commons