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The new rules of writing for the web

Confab London 2013 and my presentation on future-proofing authors

I always look forward to Confab. There are great people to catch up with, excellent presenters and—for this year—a chance to visit London again.

While the freezing weather took a bit to get used to (hello -2C and sleet), the conference itself was fantastic.

One of the highlights was listening to Sarah Richards talk about how GOV.UK reduced its website from 75,000 to 3,000 pages. I admire any team that can tackle a project like that and have such an outstanding result.

Confab London also gave me the opportunity to share some ideas on the big stage. Martin Belam has written an excellent overview of my talk as part of his Confab post series, but I thought I’d recap the presentation here on this blog too.

Future-proofing authors: The new rules of writing for the web

When I first started working with online content in 2001 websites were repurposed print documents and the only people who cared about mobile were the companies making those annoying ring tones. Web was seen as a dark art driven by technology rather than content.

Fast forward a number of years and a lot has changed within the industry:

  • Our websites are flexible and mobile
  • Structured content is a priority
  • WYSIWYG is under siege
  • The rise of the CMS has meant the demise of editorial control
  • Content is everywhere and it’s turning into a production line

But when you look at what we are teaching our authors, not much has moved on since the early days of f-pattern reading behaviour, links and headings. The problem with this is producing great content means far more than knowing when to use bullet points. It’s an organisational attitude. It’s messy, it’s complex and it’s challenging.

So here’s the first new rule I think we should embrace. (I’ll bring you the rest in future posts.)

1. Everyone is an author (look beyond your CMS publishers)

For a long time we’ve focused on the obvious authors within the organisation. But if you’ve ever worked through a major content discovery or audit process it soon becomes clear, as you delve deeper into an organisation, that content is being produced everywhere.

  • The call centre is creating content, even if it’s a series of cheat sheets operators can use to answer questions.
  • The sales team is creating content, even if it’s a mash together of product descriptions for their clients.
  • The IT help desk is creating content, even if it’s a series of FAQs for the knowledge base.

Yet often it’s only the people with access to the CMS – the traditional ‘web authors’ who get the writing for the web training and the energy of the web team.

So let’s change that. If our authors are going to be future-proof they need to all be future-proof. Don’t overlook the content creators who are flying under the radar.

Future-friendly content spans beyond the website. Connect the dots between all your content centres. As you bring more structure to your content, you will need to align your approach to taxonomy and metadata across all databases, regardless of whether they sit in a traditional content or web area.

Do you look beyond your CMS authors when offering writing for the web training? See my slides on future-proofing authors.


This post was written by Sally Bagshaw

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Malcolm Gunn April 16, 2013, 3:20 pm

    Sarah Richards’ presentation looked amazing. Is there any chance audio would be available?

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