Ellen Cline, writer
Creative communication that markets, informs, and entertains

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If content is king, why is it so often treated like a serf?

Author: ; Published: Feb 24, 2010; Category: Business Writing; Tags: , , , , ; No Comments

King John

A website is a communications piece.  The medium has its own requirements for organization, design, writing, and technical production. Like any marketing project, it’s always best if the writer is there from the get-go to help organize information and write copy. It just doesn’t seem to happen that way all the time.

There’s a famous saying that when it comes to websites, content is king*. So I wondered, if that’s so, then why is it so often treated like a second-rate citizen rather than the top dog?  I spoke with web developer Ray Gulick of Evolution Web Development to get his take.  Here are a few excerpts from our conversation.

*Although content can be defined to include both the text and images, today we’re going to talk about just the words.


“What happens is that when people decide they want a website, it doesn’t necessarily click that a website has to have content, or where content comes from,” Ray explains.  They think a website is a menu, a cool header, and footer and somehow all that stuff in between shows up.”

Ray says that of course he explains to people that website design is based on the content, and that a writer could help them present focused messages, but they often say they’ll do the content themselves, completely underestimating how much work it’s going to be. 

Sometimes they have an in-house writer or marketing director, but that person may be unfamiliar with how to write web content. Other times a smaller business owner will think they’ll do it themselves because who else understands what they do?  And anyway, why pay for a writer—they have Word so they can write.

When clients elect to do their own content, Ray sends them off to do their “homework.” By the time the next meeting rolls around, they quite often have come to realize that focusing their marketing messages and pulling together all the writing is going to be more work than they imagined. “Some folks need to have that experience trying it before they really understand what’s involved.” Sometimes at that point they are ready to bring in a writer.

“My best estimate is somewhere over 90% of my clients really could use the services of a copywriter,” says Ray. “There’s nothing worse than spending money on a website and finding that it doesn’t meet your goals because the communication is muddled. You could have spent a bit more and had something that actually works.”

Ray jokes that he wishes sometimes he had a computer application that would magically create content. He’d call it the Content Fairy and make a lot of money selling it to other web developers.  Until then, I guess he’s just going to have to bring in writers like me.


I guess I’m not the only one wondering why writers aren’t brought in sooner to web projects.

The Communication Arts Interactive Annual 2010 came out recently and Ingrid Bernstein, one of the judges of the international competition, was asked the question:

How can creative teams most efficiently produce the strongest solutions?

Bernstein, the digital strategy director at JWT New York, answered that the writer should be in on web projects sooner, and gave some of the benefits of that.

See and hear her complete answer in this short video clip.