“We still live in a ‘publish and be damned’ world,” Sarah Winters says. “Now, it’s up. Now we can forget about it and move on to the next thing. I’d quite like to see if websites could only have a finite amount of pages, a finite amount of services because then it would be like one in, one out.” Wouldn’t that be great? Like a nightclub. “Sorry. You can’t get in. You’re dressed like a PDF.”
With the pandemic, “organizations have gone into campaign mode,” Sarah explains. “Many teams have been capable of doing it well, but someone over the top came in and said, do it this way.” Yes, invariably it’s someone “senior” who is doing the most damage. I came across a government health website that was doing an excellent job delivering simple, functional content, and someone on the team was telling me that they were under constant pressure from someone “senior” to be more “innovative” and “engaging”. One idea that this senior person had was that they should have more pictures of people blowing their noses.
“There are teams who are brilliant,” Sarah says, “and they are just being stopped by the higher echelons who either don’t understand the impact of overpublishing, or they are pushing their teams so hard and so fast that they can never go back.”
What is the total cost of all this publishing? I have not come across one organization in more than 25 years of working in the Web industry that could answer that question. Sarah and her team have been doing critical work in calculating the total cost of content.
“We do value mapping with organizations,” she says. “We work out how much it costs them in terms of time and tech to produce information. I’ve been doing this around the world for years now. In the UK, it usually costs £2,000–£2,500 per piece of information. If you add government or legal, something with a really long governance process, it can top £8,000–£8,500 as an average. That is flat content. We’re not talking services, transactions, tools. Just words on a page.
“We also calculate how much it’s costing the user. We do risk and damage. And we put it all together and we present it to the directors and the board and we ask them, how do you feel about that? It’s a penny drop moment because it’s quite a stark picture.”
Between £2,500 and £8,500 for a piece of flat content. That’s a lot of money. Where do all the costs come from? “The process might be like,” Sarah explains, “somebody thinking it up, then discussing it in a meeting. And we would estimate how many people were in the meeting, how long was spent discussing the particular piece of content. And we would take the middle of the salary band.
“Then we worked out how long it took to write it. And then go through governance and workflow. And that’s always the funny one. People say, oh it takes me twenty minutes. Hmmm. Track that. I bet it takes you about four hours. It’s always workflow and governance that costs the most. Because it goes round the houses and it changes and changes and changes. Nobody trusts anybody else. And they’re rewriting it, and then it’s got to go around the houses again. And then it goes to someone for final, final, final sign-off, and then it gets published. And because that process is so painful, nobody ever wants to see it again.”