Where Have All The Writers Gone?

By Deane Barker

Over the years, I’ve learned a big secret about building information-focused Web sites. This big secret is the single most important thing you can do for your Web site. It is the absolute make-or-break characteristic of successful Web sites. Without this, you really don’t have much. With it, it doesn’t matter how limited your resources are, you can still have a great Web presence and a successful site.

Are you ready? Here it is: the big secret to a great Web site is….

Find people who like to write. And can write well.

I always look at Web sites as a three-legged stool. Leg #1 is the aesthetics and design. Leg #2 is the functionality and programming. And Leg #3 is the content. But in a weird twist of physics, the stool can put a LOT more weight on Leg #3 than Legs #1 or #2.

Too many times I see Web sites being put together with no thought for the content that’s going to go in them. At the initial meeting, there are designers and programmers and project managers, but rarely do you find a writer. We’re so concerned with building the swimming pool that we often forget the water.

We had an intern in here this summer. She had just graduated with a degree in Business Communications and was kind of wondering what to do with it. I encouraged her to concentrate on writing for the Web. There’s a huge hole in most organizations of people who can put finger to keyboard and express an idea.

More importantly, there’s a lack of people who want to do this. And who don’t just do it when they have to, but who pro-actively think of things they can write about and ideas they can communicate. We need people who put themselves in the position of a visitor to the site and think, “If I was visiting this site, what would I want to know…” and then compose that information.

It’s funny when you think of all the time that we put into asking that same question to refine our usability. We ask ourselves that question to make sure our menus are correctly ordered and the title of the page is right and everything else is perfectly suited to get the user to that information…then we put very little time into actually writing the information. Someone else will do that, of course, because we’re the geeks. So long as the page executes and renders properly, what’s actually in the page isn’t our problem.

How many times have you heard of an organization that wants to put up a Web site so they go looking for computer geeks – people who know how to build Web sites? It happens with churches all the time. Lemme tell you – the first people you should look for when trying to build a site are writing geeks – people who know how to write, who are passionate about writing, and who will actually produce some text.

With all the hosted platforms out there today, you can get a great site with very, very little need for technical resources. Eighty percent of organizations would do perfectly well with a TypePad account or a copy of Radio, in fact. But instead we get some computer geeks involved, sink money and time into hosting accounts and platforms and programming until we have a technically awesome Web site.

And for what? A “Welcome to our site…” message, About Us, Contact Us…and what else? We’re all dressed up with no place to go. We’re a pro-wrestler at a spelling bee.

This then is a call for the writers. Where have you gone? We have enough programmers. We have enough designers. We have enough project managers. We need some writers. If you start your Web site project with with a group of good writers, you have 90% of the ingredients for a top-notch Web site.

This is item #311 in a sequence of 356 items.

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