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In praise of content wrangling

A website is nothing without content. And sometimes the content you start with needs a fair amount of "wrangling" before it is in good shape for the Web. Often this is true even if it was wonderful content before you started, because the Web has its own demands and ways of doing things.

Well-written and well-structured site content can not only convey your message, but educate, motivate and influence visitors who read it.

Good website text catches people's attention and draws it to the things you, as the site owner, want them to know. It explains what your site is about and answers the questions people most often come up with. It is also clear, simple, easy to understand and grammatically correct. It presents things in a logical order and directs people to where they can find more information.

Good visual content includes logos, appropriate photos, visual layout, site themes and custom text styles. These graphic "signals" direct the visitor's eye, and provide structure and direction to the text. They also make the site visually appealing and give it a distinctive look.

Content wrangling also includes such things as organizing all the information into pages and blocks, deciding what goes where on the site, and knowing how to set things up so they are easy to use (for instance, putting the answers to the most common questions at the top of the page).

On the text side of things, it includes editing and writing as necessary to fill gaps, or to re-purpose text written for a non-Web context.

One of my favorite examples of editing is an article I once received that started out:

Aquaculture -- the cultivation of fish, invertebrates and plants in an aqueous environment -- is not new to the United States.

This sentence lands with a thud.

It was supposed to be the beginning of an article on how backyard gardeners could start their own small fish pond. But the tone is all wrong for this audience, and it's awkward and wordy. This isn't going to draw people in to read the article, get them enthusiastic about starting a fish pond, or tell them how to go about it. On the Web, where people tend to skim rather than read text thoroughly, just this sentence will probably cause people to skip the whole thing.

So I changed it to something like this:

Did all the rain this year turn your garden into a fish pond? A backyard fish pond is easy, practical and fun.

Other content that needs wrangling includes announcements of upcoming events, explanations of what your website is all about, and sets of instructions for doing things. Writing all of these well for the Web means thinking them through and deciding what to present, in what order, and how.

For instance, the first thing people want to know about an upcoming event is WHAT. You need a title that will convey in just a few words what it's about and who it's for. "Mother-Daughter Lunch and Fashion Show" gives a pretty good idea about what will happen and who will probably be interested.

Once they're interested, the next thing most people want to find out is whether they can go. This means the next pieces of information they need are WHEN, WHERE, and the COST (if any). Any other details can all come after that, but those four items need to be right up front.

Creating simple, clear, friendly and easy-to-navigate content for the Web is not a talent everyone has, and even good content often needs polishing. Fortunately, there are people who make content wrangling a specialty. That's one of my roles at SK+.