I’ve built a lot of websites for a lot of different kinds of clients. I’ve worked with small non-profits and churches, industry leaders and international security system distributors, and everything in between. From the smallest to the largest, from the simplest to the most complex, the most difficult part of every project has never been the technology. The most difficult thing is always the content.

As I write this, I have 2 websites for which everything is ready to go. The custom designs are implemented. The custom functionality is working. But the sites are not live. In both cases, I am waiting for the content. One has been waiting for close to 3 months; the other close to 1 month.

I launched a site last week. That site was 2 years in the making. Actually, though, it was ready to go nearly a year ago. It took a year to create the content.

Beyond the initial website launch, content continues to be the hardest part of ongoing maintenance. The most common issue I’ve seen with websites (and not just the ones I’ve built) is that content is outdated. Calendars of events with the most recent event several months to a year or more in the past come readily to mind. Or About pages with a “Welcome Letter from the Executive Director” touting organizational happenings just prior to the site launch three years before.

It’s not anybody’s “fault” in particular. It’s just that content is hard. So it’s often the last thing to get done and the first thing to get put on the back burner.

Sometimes it seems like the only way to get content in a timely manner is to make the cost of not providing the content explicitly higher. If keeping sites on a staging server cost a small business $100 per month, that might be enough of an incentive.

I’ve known developers who approached it as more of a carrot than a stick by offering a $1000 discount on the site build if content gets provided on time. (Of course, that $1000 discount is built into the estimate beforehand. But at least when the content is late, the developer doesn’t get holding that slot open in the production schedule without some compensation.)

I’ve also seen contracts that say when content is late by a certain number of days the project goes into “dormant” status, and then require a significant “reactivation fee” to get back on the schedule.

Some clients, clearly, need a lot of help with content creation. When that’s the issue, a content creation retainer of some sort may be in order, provided a developer has the resources to create content. This seems like something an agency might be more apt to offer. Not all developers (even very good ones) can write in complete sentences, or in a way that can make any subject at hand seem interesting. And poorly done content is no service to anyone.

So, what’s the point? Merely this:

Given that content is always the hardest part of a website, any website project needs a plan to make sure that its gets done, and gets done well.

If you’re a developer, it means possibly even having all the content in advance, before the first line of programming gets written. Or at least having a strategy for making sure it’s on its way.

If you’re contracting with someone for a new site, it means having a plan in place to get the content done. Have someone who is responsible for it, not just during the initial building of the site, but as an ongoing priority to keep content up to date.

There’s no silver bullet for this. Content is hard. It is also king. Nothing on the web goes anywhere without it. Have a plan for it. Work the plan for it. I guarantee that when you do, your website will be better than your competition. Why? Because they probably have a letter from their CEO about what they were doing 3 years ago on theirs.