Avoid the seven deadly content mistakes

This post is for non-technical people who manage web content. It will help you avoid some of the most common problems related to website content.

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d1Mistake #1: “I’m finished with my website”

By far the biggest mistake with website content is what you DON’T do: keep it up-to-date. It can be a daunting task, whether your site has dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of pages. But few things will put off visitors and even discredit your organization faster than dated content. If visitors go to your calendar of events and find no new events posted since six months ago, it may be a sign to them that they can’t trust any of the content on your site.

Don’t let your content get out of date. Here’s how:

  • Start with an inventory of all the pages on your site (use your site map if you have one).
  • Then group the pages into categories according to how quickly the content will go out of date: weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. Calendars of events are examples of content that may go out of date every week or two (or maybe every day). Press releases or price lists or may need to be reviewed monthly. The history of your organization may only need to be revisited annually.
  • Once you have grouped all your site’s pages into these categories, put content review reminders on your calendar.
  • When a review date arrives, carefully look over all the content on the pages in the review group and make updates as needed.
  • Careful planning — and then setting aside the time and resources needed to update the content on schedule — will assure that visitors are never put off by stale content.

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d2Mistake #2: “I’ll use the text from my brochure on the website”

It’s tempting to just copy the content right out of a printed brochure and paste it into your website. Usually that is a mistake. People read websites differently than they read printed pieces. In fact people generally don’t READ websites, they scan them. So before you just copy and paste from your print materials, follow this checklist for web copy:

  • Break up blocks of text more frequently online than in print, using headlines and subheads.
  • Don’t cover more than one topic in a paragraph.
  • Change paragraphs into numbered or bulleted lists to help readers scan text quickly.
  • For the web, avoid long blocks of white text on dark background colors, these are much harder to read online than in print.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Eliminate text and replace it with a photos or illustrations.

There are also minor technical snafus when you copy and paste text from printed materials (or from Word documents – see mistake #3). For example, watch for special characters (like quote marks, apostrophes and dashes) that do not work the same on websites as in print.

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d3Mistake #3: “I’ll just copy the text from Word and paste it in”

Have you ever copied text from a Word document and pasted it into your web content management system (CMS), only to find that this action messes with the formatting of the text on your site? That happens because text copied from Word (or other rich text documents) contains formatting that comes along for the ride and can wreak havoc on your website formatting in the process. And once it happens it’s hard to undo.

An ounce of prevention will save you a pound of cure… just don’t paste formatted text into a CMS or web authoring tool. First, copy the text from Word and paste it into a plain text document, then copy it again and paste it into your CMS. Or, if your CMS has a “Remove Formatting” button on the toolbar, paste in the text from Word, select it all, and click the “Remove Formatting” button.

Voila! It’s that easy. To learn more tips including how to get the undesirable formatting out of your CMS if you fall victim to the “pasted from Word” problem, read more on pasting formatted text into a CMS.

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d4Mistake #4: “I’ll insert a JPEG of the logo”

Are you SURE you want to use a JPEG of the logo? Selecting the right type of file for images on your website is an important part of “image optimization” — the art and science of getting the best looking, fastest loading images possible. Did you know that most logos should probably be GIF or PNG files, not JPEGs? That’s because most logos are designed with just a few colors and simple, bold lines and text — and those types of images reproduce best online as GIFs or PNGs. A photograph, on the other hand, almost always reproduces best online using a JPEG file format.

These are general rules of thumb:

  • Use JPEGs for photographs and full-color illustrations (like full-color drawings or paintings).
  • Use GIFs or PNGs for text images and simple illustrations (such as line art).
  • Use GIFs or PNGs for irregular-shaped images when a transparent background is needed.

Of course there are exceptions to any rule, and that’s where the art and science of image optimization comes in. Read more in-depth information about knowing when to use a JPEG v. a GIF v. a PNG.

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d5Mistake #5: “I’ll shrink the photo to size”

Have you ever visited a website and it took forever (that’s like 15 seconds in internet time) for an image to load? The last thing you want to do is keep your visitors waiting while images load. At best it’s a bad experience, at worst they will get impatient and leave, never to return. Correct image optimization is critical to site performance and a positive user experience. And one of the biggest mistakes that adversely effects image loading time is reducing the physical size of an image in the CMS rather then before you place the image.

  • Don’t resize images in a CMS (or web authoring tool like Dreamweaver)
  • Use Photoshop (or another image editing tool) to crop and shrink images to exactly the right size for your web page BEFORE you put it in place using the CMS.

Read in-depth information about optimizing images for the web.

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d6Mistake #6: “I’ll drop in a Windows Media movie file”

Video is extremely popular on the web and fortunately there are now easy and effective ways to get video content on your site. Posting video in Windows Media (.wmv) or Quicktime (.mov) video formats is not the way to go, however. Those video formats require the user’s computer to have Windows Media Player or QuickTime software installed, and many people do not have those applications. Fortunately there’s an easy way to get videos on your site.

To get video on your site just follow these simple steps:

  • First, upload your video to YouTube (you can also use Vimeo or other video sharing sites).
  • Next, once your video has been processed and is ready to play, copy the embed code from YouTube.
  • Open the desired page on your site using your CMS or web authoring tool and paste the embed code into the html where you want the video to be on the page.

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d7Mistake #7: “I better proofread it before I publish it”

That doesn’t sound like a mistake, does it? The mistake is the “I” better proofread it. Don’t even think about it if you are the author of the text! It is nearly impossible for us to accurately proof our own writing because we know what we want it to say. And hope fully you no u Kant trust Microscope Word or dream weavers’ spell chick to kitsch your errors, four they did knot I dent a fie a shingle mistake in this cent tense.

Here is the best way to proofread a website:

  • Print the pages and read them from paper — mistakes are harder to catch when you read on screen, plus you need a hard copy to mark up.
  • Read out loud to another person while that person reads along and marks errors on the hard copy.
  • Read backwards! One sentence at a time, start by reading the last sentence and move to the beginning until all your copy is proofed. This keeps you from speeding over errors.
  • As you make the corrections on your web pages, check them off the hard copy one by one.
  • Proofreading a web page is more than just reading. Be sure all the links work and that your site functions correctly in all browsers.
  • Lastly, have someone else double check your corrections after they are made.

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Is it time to start again at #1?

Yes, most likely just during the time you spent reading this article, something on your site has gone out of date. Better check it out!

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