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Translating 'Lorem Ipsum': This Site Is in Trouble

  |  January 18, 2012   |  Comments

If you want a sign that your conversion rate and budget are in trouble well before your site has launched, keep an eye out for "Loren Ipsum" design.

There is no better time to review a web page than while it is still in development. Often, changes are resisted after a site has found its way to the web.

The problem is that, even late into their development, many sites seem to be selling something called "Lorem ipsum dolor" that doesn't do much more than "sit amet." In other words, the site template design has neared completion, and the content is still filler. This can be trouble for sites that want to generate leads or sell something.

According to Fun With Words, the "Lorem ipsum dolor…" filler is a "pangram" from a passage by Cicero written in Latin. It is used by designers as place-holder text because it has lots of different letters and the word length is representative of typical English.

Fun With Words claims that there isn't a direct translation. I have one:

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, diam nonnumy eiusmod tempor incidunt ut labore et dolo..."

"He who labels the bottles without knowing what they will contain will have many unsatisfied customers."

Tell me what is in your site, and I'll tell you how well I think the design will best communicate it. This is the heart of conversion marketing.

If everyone does it this way, can it really be wrong? I asked my friend Jenny Magic, owner of Austin, TX-based content strategy firm Better Way to Say It. We were talking about how "Lorem Ipsum" is a good signal that your conversion rate, and probably your budget, are in trouble well before the site has launched. Jenny is a content strategist, and gets passionate about saving web projects that have no real strategy for the content; the "Lorem Ipsum" projects.

Brian Massey: Why do you think so many sites end up with Lorem Ipsum filler text so late in the process?

Jenny Magic: Because content is hard! For the client, delivering content is one of the most challenging parts of the process. There are so many stakeholders, so much old content to wade through, so many pages of beloved - but outdated - content that someone won't allow the team to edit or delete. It's usually a mess. Not to mention that picking colors, layout, and widgets is more fun. So content gets pushed to the bottom of the project schedule.

Unfortunately, the site isn't going to launch without content, and without a site launch there's no paycheck. So the web firm goes ahead with the design phase and just inserts filler text where the "captivating headline" and "compelling call-to-action" should be. It should be no problem to just drop the text in later, right? Wrong.

BM: So this method gets some projects in trouble?

JM: Oh yeah. First, even if the web firm is working hard, the original site launch date comes…and goes, because the company is still messing with the content. Now you've got an angry CEO who doesn't want to hear why it's late, he just wants it done.

So the marketing director, feeling the heat from his boss, starts scrambling. He schedules a few boardroom content sessions with the cross-department committee, and finally sends over approved content. The only problem is it's too long (or short) for the approved design by about half. And it's frankly just bad - anything written by a committee usually isn't too compelling.

BM: OK, so how does the web firm get the client to revise the content?

JM: Unfortunately, since it took something like three weeks and 14 hours of meetings to get them to agree to this version, the web team is instructed to "just make it work." At this point, whatever enthusiasm from the start of the project has long since dried up. Everyone just wants to be done. It's back to the drawing board to make the approved content fit what was already an approved design.

The development website often requires some pretty significant code changes at this point. And that angry CEO is not eager to pony up for a larger fee. So the website finally launches, late and over-budget. The less-than-stellar content doesn't lead to conversions, which means no new sales, which means…a really angry CEO. Don't even think about asking this client for a referral.

BM: I take it there's a better way?

JM: There is. And you'd be amazed how straightforward the process can be when a team understands that planning for great content is in the best interest of not only the client, but the web firm, too.

Once a firm figures this out, the first person they send to meet with the client is the content strategist, who deciphers what the client means by "a better website."

The content strategist doesn't just ask about form and function. It's their job is to get clarity about the client's larger business goals, key performance indicators, conversion metrics, and existing content resources. Content resources might be existing content we can work with, staff responsible for content, or both. The strategist's job is to plan for and create great content.

Working together, the web designer and content strategist create a sitemap, produce and revise draft content, and insert approved content into wireframes for final review before a single line of the site is coded.

What surprises most clients about this method is that the first design is often the final design, or very close - the web project is much more likely to come in on time, under-budget, with high conversion rates thanks to well-planned content. Now you have a happy CEO and a happy web firm.

BM: Sounds like a no-brainer. Why wouldn't everyone do it this way?

JM: Mostly habit, I think. It can be hard to make a case to the client for content strategy in an already expensive project budget. And until the web firm realizes how much margin can be saved by not redesigning the site a half-dozen times, they often don't want to give up a piece of their profit.

Earlier this year the folks at the Content Marketing Institute asked their contributors for their Content Marketing & Social Media predictions for 2012. Even though there's clearly a ton in store for both content marketing and social media, I felt like the biggest shift would be the importance of content for web firms:

"I believe 2012 will be the year when brand managers finally realize that the highest ROI marketing activities are the ones where content truly guides design, rather than the other way around. Planning for great content means that the first design is often the final design, keeping efforts, under budget, on schedule and focused on conversion. Specifically, I predict any web developer who doesn't fully embrace the role of content in the design process will become persona non grata for savvy brands."

If you find yourself wrestling with issues like how to add video to your site, you are feeling the symptoms of "Lorem Ipsum" design. Start your site development with the content and I think you'll find your designers will get better at what they do best.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Massey

With 15 years of online marketing experience, Brian has designed the digital strategy and marketing infrastructure for a number of businesses, including his own technology consulting company, Conversion Sciences. He built his company to transform the Internet from a giant digital-brochure stand to a place where people find the answers they seek. His clients use online strategies to engage their visitors and grow their businesses. Brian has created a series of Web strategy workshops and authors the Conversion Scientist blog. Brian works from Austin, Texas, a place where life and the Internet are hopelessly intertwined.

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