Thou Shalt Not Build a Website Without Content


My first job out of college was at Enterprise Rent-a-Car as a Management Trainee. This is a fancy way of saying I worked the counter, fulfilling rental orders. Back then, we offered an economy car option that always came without power windows. The difference between the economy option and the next size up was often only a few dollars per day. Still, almost everyone chose the economy option when booking. Why? Well it seems there are two main reasons for this.

When you are booking a car and not driving it, something as simple as power windows doesn't seem like a big deal. Most of the time people don't even notice this is missing from the feature list. This was in 2010. Most people didn't realize manufacturers even made cars with roll down windows. I imagine some people reading this don't even know what roll down windows are. If a person is astute enough to notice this difference, they think, well it's only a rental who cares?

Most of the time we as agents tried to point this out and offered to make the upgrade on the lot. This would benefit us as an up sell but most of the time customers still didn't feel like this was worth it. Unless the car was bigger or had some other more flashy feature the few dollars a day didn't seem worth it.

The problem with this comes upon return. Without fail we asked every customer to rank their experience on a scale of one to five (five being the best). On the back end of this question we knew two things. One, that customers ranking service a five out of five were return customers 70% of the time. Two, customers ranking service a four out of five were return customers 30% of the time. The drop off from a five to a four is massive. Trying to correct this difference at the end of the rental was essential to the business.

When it came to most customers giving a four, they usually didn't have a specific reason for it. People driving economy cars often couldn't pin down the why the service was good and not great. When it came to our back-of-the-napkin math on this, economy vs. compact made a big difference. We started to prefer to give away a compact car rather than let a customer leave with roll down windows. It subconsciously leaves a bad taste in a customers mouth, they don't love it, but they can't pinpoint why.

What does this have to do with copy writing? Copy writing as a service is like power windows. Almost every customer sees that option and says, "I can handle that part myself, I know how to write." It saves them some money, but it also straps them with a burden they aren't prepared to bear.

Writing great web copy often takes a lot of time and a lot of research. We begin with a complete competitive, keyword analysis across the customers' industry. Our team uses this information not only to inform what to write, but also where it needs to live on the website. Our copywriters are working as long as or longer than our design team. All to ensure we meet the information architecture needs before we build.

Contrast this with when a client decides to handle copy themselves. We still do the competitive keyword analysis, but instead hand it off to the client. The problem is, client's cannot see the information architecture in abstract space the way a seasoned copywriter can. They also have their day job to do, the one they are actually paid for. Copy writing becomes a disjointed activity and saddles clients with weekend overtime hours. This strain shows in the quality of the output and we have to push designs with Greek text to the client. Clients then resort to trying to match word counts rather than focusing on the quality of the words. When development begins, it's often premature. Features get built that never see the light of day because the content never comes. The project timeline gets stretched out. Our team stresses to meet deadlines, only to find they are weeks ahead of the copy needs of the project. This ends up being a bad deal for everyone and a sour taste develops.

In the end, clients are happy with the final output. They are not happy with the amount of work it took to get there. They feel exhausted and overworked. The output is good but not great. Senior stakeholders, do not see the pain because they are not the ones that bear it. It's their own salaried employee doing free overtime, so why not save the money? This question is easy to answer when you are not the one living the experience and in over your head.

At some point car manufacturers stopped sending economy cars without roll down windows. Customers could no longer make this distasteful choice. The lesson still remains, these tiny cuts create small differences in satisfaction. This become huge differences when it comes time to choose your service again. We have decided to make the same decision as the car manufacturers. Copy writing is a must for every, single content-first website, no questions asked. We're willing to die on that hill because the results speak for themselves.