Bill Haenel

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Posted by Bill Haenel on 10-Sep-06

I have a CMS called MySiteWorx!, a software that I install and customize for most of my web site clients. It's great for them to be able to manage their own site without having to get professional help very often.

However, there are certainly times when the assistance of a professional is extremely helpful. With this first piece, I intend to begin publishing a series of juicy tidbits that might be helpful to my clients and others out there who fill the shoes of "Web Master", but who might also not feel as though they are necessarily "Web Professional". I was there once, I know what it feels like, and I'd love to help.

The timeless web

With that, this first tidbit is about the issue of content timelessness. As marketers and communications specialists, we become accustomed to the idea that our material is normally sent out as a physical entity, being delivered from a specific location, at a specific time, and to a specific audience. Of course web site content is a bit different, and we can throw at least part of that idea right out the window.

Web site content is delivered from a specific location, but more and more it is delivered through a variety of different viewing devices, and it is certainly not delivered to a specific audience. Sure, you can promote your site and target your marketing approach, but in the end, a web site delivers to the whole planet (at least for now, so long as we can maintain the practice of "network neutrality"). So we can assume that anyone and everyone will view it once the find it.

Most importantly, website content can be viewed at any time, day or night, today or tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, etc. That is unless we have another giant power outage. So while we may be comfortable with the idea that we know how and when visitors will absorb our message, this is a hopelessly misled feeling of comfort.

Watch those dates!

What does this mean for our approach to content development? It means we avoid language or material that is chronologically limiting. Que? Let's try an example. Here's an excerpt from one of my clients' sites, completely altered to protect the innocent:

"This past winter our friend died at the ripe old age of 104."

Okay, so when was this published? How long ago was the site created? We don't really know the answers to these questions, so we can't intuitively understand when "this past winter" occurred.

C'mon, how serious can this be?

In our example above, it hardly seems critical. I mean, how much does this really affect our business? However, let's say we operate a fly fishing association, and as part of our annual marketing and community-building activities we are holding a tournament. Now we might all assume that everyone knows that we should post a date with an event, but I tell you now I have seen well-meaning web masters forget such trivial details in their hurry to satisfy their many bosses for who they wear multiple headgear.

"Join us this winter for our semi-annual fly fishing tournament extraordinaire! The future of fly fishing and conservation in our region depends on your participation! Our tournament will be help on September 15th, 2006. Registration is half price for those fishers who participated in our last competition."

Let's see, here... it's a semi-annual competition, I fished two years ago, do I get half price registration? When was their last tournament? Hmmm... semi-annual, does that mean every other year? I'm just not sure. If it's half price I'll sign up right now, but if not I'm outta here! I know, I'll call in and ask and have them process my registration manually.

Well, you get the idea. Our fancy website with built-in forms and payment processing just lost part of its value. Sure we'll get the business, but we'll also take on additional work to get it. Work that we wouldn't have had to do if we'd simply included specific dates in our material.

"... Registration is half price for those fishers who participated in our 2003 competition."

Oohh, you meant semi-semi-annual! I get it now.

Or how about this quote from the Hiawatha Seaway Council of the BSA about camp dates: "Mini Mountain Man Resident Camp, Camp Portaferry, July 6-9". If I am reading this page in November, are they referring to next summer, or can I assume that someone simply hasn't updated the page yet since the past summer? Oy.

Remember, the web is timeless. No matter when or how often we create our content, the user always gets it "now", exactly when they want it.

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