I can’t tell you how many small business websites I have either created or been involved in creating. But given I’ve been at it since 1996, it’s a fair number.
And over this time I’ve dealt with all manner of clients. Fast ones, slow ones, sharp ones, not so sharp ones, wealthier ones and poorer ones.
Ones that will provide you with perfect base content about their business for use on their websites. And others for whom pulling teeth is far easier.
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But no matter how good it is, one of the common misconceptions about website content is that, like its printed counterpart, the content is ‘set in stone’, unable to be altered after the website is published.
Content problem? No problem
Given that most websites now have a content management system (editing platform) underpinning them, nothing could be further from the truth.
If you’re not familiar with the term, content management system, or CMS, is a website management system that allows ordinary users – providing the website has been established correctly in the first place – to edit most parts of the website. Or at least the parts you need to edit.
A good CMS will try to provide an interface that most users are familiar with – like an MS Word document.
The editing interface of a popular CMS
Content management systems have played a major role in transforming websites from static ‘brochureware’ to dynamic, topical and flexible communications pieces. A good CMS, set up properly, will allow you to alter your content whenever you need to, without upsetting its critical aesthetic appearance.
And what this editing capability also means is that your website is never ‘finished’ as such. They are designed – at least these days, to be altered all the time.
Not only does that keep your website interesting and fresh for repeat visitors (increasing the chance of a cross-sell or upsell) but it attracts the wily ways of search engine ‘spiders’ who reward fresh content with a boost in your website rankings.
Farewell to fixed
It’s this state of impermanence that smaller businesses are unfamiliar and often struggle with, leading to lengthy and unnecessary delays with content alterations and approvals.
Instead, they treat the content procedure like the thing they are most familiar with – print.
It’s easy to understand why. Many have endured several versions of their Yellow Pages print ads, where if an error is made, you are stuck with it for at least 12 months – not to mention the accompanying embarrassment and even loss of business.
Or newspaper and magazine advertising, where you can end up with egg on your face as long as the publication is in circulation. Or even brochures, where a mistake can lead to costly re-prints or ugly stickers overlaying the error in question.
‘Thereabouts’ will now do
Whilst I’m not advocating the provision of sub-standard content for your website for one second, the fact that most content can be changed easily, particularly prices and seasonal information, means that the content you provide to your web professional to set up your website doesn’t need to be written or provided in a way that is fixed or permanent.
This means that if you are uncertain about any aspect of your website content, you can simply provide a ‘publication date’ version of it, knowing that you can alter it later.
Just knowing this will be a considerable relief to the business operator or website co-ordinator, who can literally lose sleep over an error or inaccuracy which gets out in front of the gaze of the public.
And it means that your new website can turn around much faster than it otherwise would.
Easier damage control
This content ‘editability’ also has legal implications for your website. Unlike a printed document or video where an error is built into as many items as has been distributed – and hence create significant legal issues (e.g. copyright misuse), any damage the same issue can cause with a website is limited to the time it stays live.
To this end, those claiming a copyright infringement or other content problem can issue a cease and desist order rather than claim damages on irretrievable or already published/broadcast copies.
Yet another reason to help business operators sleep more easily at night.
In addition to being a leading e-business educator to the small business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs.