Most websites contain content that is out of date, inaccurate or just plain wrong. More worryingly, many websites go live with content that is factually wrong and/or already out of date.
What to do about it? The best thing is to ensure that one person has the job of looking after the content throughout the web development process and making sure that it is accurate, relevant, readable, current and useful when the site goes live, and is kept that way throughout the life-cycle of the site.
I’ve been through that process with a number of sites, and by now I’ve got an idea of what to look out for. Here are nine of the most common content errors on websites …
- Wrong phone numbers: To the web developer, your precious 0800 number is 0800 followed by a meaningless string of digits – so it’s really easy for them to get it wrong if they’re typing it. Always check that phone numbers are correct, even if it’s a number you’ve seen a hundred times before.
- Unfinished sentences: I’m amazed how often I see something like this on websites: “Kevin Example is the CEO of XXX Corp. Kevin joined us from [blah blah blah]. Kevin is always ready to” – and that’s the end of the paragraph, which has somehow got truncated during the content load. Chase up the content owner and fill in the missing part of the sentence, otherwise people might start to get their own ideas about what Kevin is always ready to do.
- Inconsistent spellings: Is it ‘organise’ or ‘organize’? ‘Metre’ or ‘meter’? Decide, and then keep the spelling consistent throughout the site.
- Inconsistent use of diacritical marks: Spelling nerd alert! But don’t get too worried – the term ‘diacritical mark’ covers all the little symbols that go above or below letters to show their pronunciation should be modified, like the accent over the e in cliché or the umlaut over the second ‘o’ in Motörhead. (Whatever you do, don’t put the umlaut over the wrong ‘o’!) Again, you need to decide whether or not your site will use these, and then apply the rule consistently throughout the site.
- Inconsistent use of macrons in Māori words: This is a special case of the above to which New Zealand websites need to pay careful attention. In te reo Māori, the Māori language, long vowels are shown by putting a horizontal bar called a macron over them – as in the word ‘Māori’ itself. It’s preferable to use macrons if you have words in te reo on your site, but you should try to use them consistently, rather than having the same word macronised in some placed and unmacronised in others. Download the Guidelines for Māori Language Orthography for more detailed information.
- Pages that contradict each other: This is very common, because when the content of a page is checked, it is usually checked by the owner of that particular content, not by someone who is looking at content across the whole site. If you say on one page that your industry is worth $1 billion a year in export earnings, make sure it doesn’t say on a different page that it’s worth $2 billion a year in export earnings.
- Links that go nowhere: I often see links that just go to a # – it’s been put in as a placeholder while the site was being developed, and then not replaced with the correct link. Check all links in the site.
- Broken links: Links get out of date all the time, but it’s really not a good look if there are broken links when a new site goes live. Boring, I know, but once again – check all links on the site, and do it as close as possible to the go-live date.
- Not calling things by their names: An especially common problem with links to pages or downloadable forms. If the form you’re linking to is called “Dog Licensing Form”, then the words in the link should be “Dog Licensing Form”, not “Canine Licensing Form” or “Animal Licensing Form” or anything else.