Imagine you could improve your search engine rankings, increase user engagement, gain real returns from your CMS, cause a jump in conversions and have a positive impact on brand perception?

Imagine how that would transform your online presence.

Believe it or not, many organisations are just a single employee away from making this a reality. All they need is an online editor.

The role of an online editor

The majority of clients I work with have no clear long term leadership over their website. There is no one individual responsible for the site’s success.

Yes, many have steering committees that oversee the site and yes, some have a project manager assigned to the site while it is redesigned. But, these don’t replace a person whose job it is to make the site successful over the long term.

An online editor, who has real authority over the site, and whose job is dependant on its success, will transform your online presence.

This person will fulfil roles sadly lacking from most companies. Roles such as:

  • Visionary – Too many sites evolve based on knee jerk decisions. An editor can develop a long term roadmap and ensure that the sites evolution is apart of a considered plan.
  • Advocate – The editor not only creates the vision, but maintains it overtime. This means protecting it from others within the organisation that wish to undermine its focus to promote their own agenda.
  • Evangelist – Websites are often under utilised within an organisation. An editor should be evangelising the potential of the web internally and finding opportunities for it to be more beneficial to the business.
  • Content guardian – Probably the biggest role of an editor is to ensure the content on the website is up-to-date, relevant to users and reflects the organisation accurately.
  • Project Coordinator – Content isn’t the only aspect of the website that needs managing. The editor will also be responsible for managing any contractor who is involved in improving the website.
  • Referee – Often a website can become a battleground between different priorities. Different stakeholders have different views and it falls to the editor to strike the balance and make a final decision about direction.

As you can see it is a large and complex role. Not something that can easily be done by an existing employee. Also, if I am honest it is not a junior position which means the person will not be particularly cheap to hire. However, if you consider the benefits, it is a role well worth embracing.

The benefits of having an online editor

At the beginning of this post I outlined a number of benefits that an online editor can bring. These were not flippant claims. I really believe that an editor could transform your site and have a significant impact on your business.

Lets look at each in turn so you can better understand where I am coming from:

Improved search engine ranking

I am amazed at how much money companies are willing to pay SEO agencies to manipulate search results. This money would be better off being spent on an online editor.

Google makes it clear that all they care about is relevancy. They want to connect their searchers with the best content for them. The answer therefore to being ranked well is simple, produce the best content.

The Google algorithm is very sophisticated. If you have an editor producing great, focused content, Google will realise and your ranking will increase.

Part of the reason for this is that great content gets linked to a lot. My own website ranks number one for the term “call to action” and yet I spent no time or money on SEO.

I just wrote a great article and lots of people linked to it. Spend money on content, not SEO.

Increased user engagement

An online editor wouldn’t just be responsible for the content on your website. He or she would also be responsible for properly managing social networks, blogging and other forms of engagement.

Too many organisations’ idea of engagement is posting press releases and news stories to Facebook and Twitter. However, it can be so much more.

By building up an engaged community you create advocates that promote your brand, give instant (and free) customer feedback and will be the people who link to you so improving your search rankings.

A better return from your content management system

Not only am I amazed at the amount organisations will pay for SEO, I am also shocked at the how much they will invest in their content management system and how little in the content!

Many organisations recognise that they have problems with content and think the answer is to simply throw technology at it.

However, although a content management system does help with the problem of getting content online easily, it also creates problems of its own.

When content is written by multiple individuals across the organisation it becomes fractured with different writing styles, perspectives and personality.

An editor can ensure a consistent style, be responsible for removing content and monitoring the accuracy of older content.

It’s not that you shouldn’t have multiple content contributors or that a content management system is unnecessary. Its just that a site needs somebody who is ultimately responsible for the quality of content being produced.

Improved conversion rate

Having an online editor insuring the quality and consistency of content across the site will in itself have a positive effect on conversion. However, this is just the start of what an online editor can do in this area.

The editor can also run an ongoing program of incremental improvements to your site based on multi-variance testing. This has proved time and again to be the secret to improving your conversion rate online.

A positive impact on brand perception

Finally, all of this work by the online editor in terms of content consistency, engagement and even conversion rates (which will be primarily about improving usability) inevitably leads to a more positive impression of your brand.

With so many obvious benefits to having an online editor, why do so few organisations have them?

Objections to hiring an online editor

A large proportion of the work I do these days is consultative. Organisations hire me to advise on their web strategy and governance. Yet despite asking for my help, the one idea they are most resistant to is hiring an online editor.

Typically three objections are expressed:

  • We cannot afford a content editor.
  • We have a web steering committee that does this role.
  • It would be politically too difficult.

Let’s address each in turn.

We cannot afford a content editor

I find this a particularly confusing argument, especially when it comes from companies who have spent tens or even hundreds of thousands on a new website and who hand money to an SEO company every month.

It seems insanity to me that companies invest in design and a CMS to support content, but are unwilling to pay for the content itself!

Also, if the editor does his or her job correctly they should cover the cost of their salary and quickly become profit making.

Of course some organisations honestly cannot afford a full time online editor. However, that doesn’t mean they could not have a part time one. This could either be an outside contractor or somebody within the organisation who takes on the website as part of their role.

In many ways the latter approach is preferable because they are situated within the business. However, often when this does happen the website is added to an already overwhelming list of things the person has to deal with.

If you are going to assign the website to somebody already in your company, you need to do two things. First, write it into their job description so they are held accountable for its success. Second, remove some other responsibility so they have time to tackle the new role properly.

Unfortunately another misconception is that the responsibility for the website can be spread across numerous individuals. This is where our second objection comes from.

We have a web steering committee that does this role

Many organisations have recognised the importance of their website and the fact that it does not sit nicely within departmental structures. Their solution to this problem is to form a web steering group. Unfortunately these groups fail to address many of the problems associated with running a successful website.

Part of the problem is that no one individual is responsible for the success or otherwise of the site. By spreading the load of running the site, you are also spreading the responsibility so that the buck does not stop with any one individual.

In addition the people who sit on these steering committees are often relatively senior with a lot on their plates. They don’t have the time to invest in actually making things happen.

They are also not experts in the web. They don’t have the time, experience or motivation to stay up-to-date on latest best practice online. Outside contractors such as myself can help bridge this knowledge gap. However, ultimately we are never going to replace having that knowledge in-house.

Of course there can be political and oversight reasons for having a steering group.

It would be politically too difficult

The website can be a ‘political hot potato’ for a company. It stirs up difficult questions around the direction and organisation of a business. Steering committees are often formed in order to deal with this tension.

Instead of a single individual or department owning the website and potentially shutting everybody else out, the responsibility is shared across all committee members.

The second political issue surrounding the appointment of an online editor is that individual departments have got used to being in control of their own content. They don’t want to loose control of it to a central editorial power.

Fortunately neither issue is insurmountable.

First, there is no need to disband your web steering committee. In fact they play a valuable oversight role for your online editor. The editor would report into the steering group and have to demonstrate progress to them.

The steering group would be consulted on all major strategic decisions, but the day to day work and ultimate responsibility would fall to the editor.

Second, there is no reason why departments cannot still produce their own content. The role of the editor is not to write all of the content on the website, but rather provide strategic direction and ensure quality.

The editor should work alongside these content contributors, providing training, advice and helping them manage their content effectively.

Essentially the editor is an addition to your existing way of managing your site, not a replacement.

Yes, this is an additional cost, but can you really afford not to have one? Without an editor you will never generate the maximum return from the investment you have made into your website.

Ultimately the benefits outweigh the financial costs.