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The process of gathering content from clients is a bottleneck for almost every web agency. Relentlessly reminding clients and digging through email trails of piecemeal content can be infuriating. It delays payments and in extreme cases destroys profitability by wasting so much time.
And you’ve probably got better things to do than chase content.
I speak with countless agency owners that sign up for Content Snare who want to get content from clients faster and with less editing. Some have a great process already, some don’t. Over time, this has built up a picture of what is and isn’t working with content collection.
This post summarises those lessons. Implement them in your agency to streamline your content collection and keep those projects moving.
Set expectations early and repeat
The biggest mistake I’ve seen is waiting until after clients have signed their proposal before surprising them with a message that they need to write their content.
Even if it was mentioned in the terms and conditions, can we really blame them for missing it? No one really reads 94 dot points.
Your client’s responsibilities need to be communicated as early as possible and reiterated several times throughout the process. This applies to all their responsibilities, not just content.
Here are some of the places you can do that.
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In your onboarding
Starting from the website brief, initial questionnaire or in-person meeting, seed the idea of content. Ask them if they already have their content, plan on writing it themselves or need help from an external copywriter or content strategist. Explain the importance of content in their overall strategy.
Not only does this get them thinking about content, but if they need help you can add on more services or refer work to a partner.
If you have a page on your website that talks about your process, this is a great opportunity to highlight the points at which you need input from your client. It doesn’t have to be a public page. Some agencies send a special link or document to their clients once they’ve expressed interest.
On that page, highlight the points at which projects often get held up – waiting for content, design approval or any other friction points.
In your proposal
The typical proposal buries the content clause deep in the terms and conditions, which of course most people do not read in detail. Sure, if it comes down to a dispute, you’ll be able to refer to the contract they signed but, by that point, the relationship is ruined. That’s not a good position to be in.
Instead, make it obvious. I like to include a quick summary or “at a glance” section at the beginning of the proposal that outlines the things people forget about. That includes content and what happens to their website after the project is complete.
This is a good spot to pre-empt those questions like “why can’t I find myself when I search for dentists” 3 days after the site goes live.
Include a “timelines” section that reiterates the points where projects get delayed. Allow a reasonable time for them to provide feedback, but have a plan in place for when they don’t respond in time.
I’ve seen varying degrees of “penalty” when clients fail to provide something on time. Those include:
- Stopping work until they respond
- Sending the project to the back of the queue
- Archiving the project
- Charging a reactivation fee after a certain number of days
Whichever you choose, make sure it’s clearly communicated in the proposal and not buried in the Ts&Cs.
Break it down
Another mistake we have seen and been guilty of in the past is sending an email like this:
“Ok, let’s kick off your website! To get started we’ll need the content for your home page, about page and team.”
For clients that aren’t experienced copywriters (most of them), they will have absolutely no idea where to start. Writing copy for an entire website is a daunting task. It’s the kind of task that gets put on the bottom of the pile because it’s just too hard. That means no matter how much we follow up, we’ll get nothing back.
The trick is to break it down. If you can create bite-size chunks of everything you need, it’s so much easier for your client to get writing. It also enables them to fill it out a little at a time, rather than having one big task of “write all your content”.
Of course, being able to break it down requires you have a plan for the structure of the site. How you create that structure is up to you. Some pages might be based on templates. Some might be created during a kickoff meeting or video call.
You can even break it down into individual content pieces. An easy example is a hero header. A structure might look like:
- Home page
- Main header
- Background image
- Main header
Now it’s like a checklist that your client can follow to make sure they have provided everything. It’s much easier for them, which makes it more likely that they’ll complete it on time.
Tip: To save your own time, reuse sections from one client to the next. Contact pages often need similar information, so you can simply copy that part to your next client. The same goes for typical header layouts.
Help them out
Our clients usually don’t have the same ability to visualize the final product like we do. Even during the first meeting, we can start to form a picture of what their website might look like based on what they are telling us and what kind of business they have.
This is because of the vast amount of experience we have considering each detail of many, many websites. It’s easy to forget that most other people don’t have this ability.
To get your clients onto the same page, help them out as much as you can. This can be done with a range of media like:
While it is the simplest form of guidance and seems like the least effort, a few words can go a long way.
A good example is a headline. You could just ask your client for “a headline”. Or you could ask that their “headline should be 6-12 words in length, no fluff and focus on the benefit of working with them”.
Just a few words can mean the difference between getting an unusable headline that you have to go back and forth over to get it right, or something they get right the first time.
For pages, describe each page’s purpose and objective so your client thinks about this as they write.
For each piece of content, provide info that clarifies how it will be used on the website. On a contact form, you might ask for an email address that is displayed to visitors, and one where the contact emails are sent. That’s a difference that might not be obvious to your client, so explain it.
Images and wireframes
In my experience, this is one of the most important parts.
Like we’ve discussed, clients aren’t able to visualize the idea of their website the same as us. Showing screenshots or wireframes help them create this picture in their mind.
It doesn’t have to be an actual mockup. Generic wireframes can still help you show where a heading would appear and where the button will be in relation to it. They can also be reused across clients.
Going one step further, you can label pieces of content within the wireframes so they know exactly where the “heading” you ask for will appear.
I have seen some people create a mockup of pages which are pasted into a Google Doc alongside areas for the client to write their content. That way your client can follow along and see where every bit of content they write will end up.
Given how easy it is to create personal videos now, they are one of the most effective methods to communicate what you need.
Using a tool like Loom, you can hit record and share your screen for a few minutes to explain what your client needs to do. That’s often faster than writing, gets more information across and is great for client relationships.
Creating your process
Gathering effective content in a timely fashion comes down to having a good process in place. There, unfortunately, is no magic button that you can push and suddenly your content woes are gone. Using the right tools makes a big difference though.
Content Snare is one of those. It takes everything we’ve learned about content collection and wraps it up into one platform. But you can also use well-formatted documents (Google Docs or MS Word) or even web forms in some situations. Both of these come with their downsides, but ultimately it depends on your business and the process that works best for you.