Cubic Street Interview with Helder Miguel
We interviewed our client, Helder Miguel, CEO of Cubic Street, about his experience with writing web content for his website.
- Read the full transcript here
- Check out the related blog post "Why web design and web content go hand in hand"
- Download to the full interview (audio file, MP3).
Helder (Cubic Street): I hear you have some questions for me.
Kate (Rocksalt): I really do, about Cubic Street, the website that you built, and how web content factored into the whole website building process.
K: Firstly, I wanted to ask you how long have you been building - how long has it taken you to build Cubic Street.
H: So I’ve been working on this for about a year and half, almost two, concept stage. The development of the actual database, the program, to the pages that customers will experience that takes them through you know the product that we’re selling.
K: So the aspects that you’ve been working on, you’ve been doing the whole thing: so that’s working with developers, designers, and you’ve been writing the content.
H: Yes, well, you guys have been writing the content.
K: But, originally, you were doing it all.
H: Yes. So, Yes.
K: And, in terms of the writing aspect, which is the key part I wanted to have a talk to you about, was what do you find or did you find difficult about writing content for your website?
H: So, I’ll answer that question second. Just to go back to the previous point that you made. I think it’s important — because you said that I was building the whole website, and you’re right — but I wasn’t actually… it’s important to notice that I was actually working with lots of different skilled people, and they all had different very specific skills, and so actually the challenge for me was not knowing originally what order to put them in. How to instruct the programmer to build something when I didn’t yet have the picture for it or the content for it. So, the biggest learning experience for me has been how to put all of these things together in the right order, and what to get concerned about earlier on, which I didn’t get, and now I’m kind of paying the price because I’ve had to redo a lot of things, and vice versa. And things that I got stuck on for, like, weeks, were actually, they didn’t really matter in the context of things that would have been a lot easier in the future. So that’s context; it’s probably not so much to do with the question.
K: It has brought up another point which we’ll kind of go onto in a minute, but, you know, you’ve mentioned that you’ve been working with lots of skilled people from the outset and developers and designers...um, so you hired a developer, you hired all of those people to do that… why didn’t you hire a writer to work with you from the outset.
H: I always imagined that the writing bit came at the end, if I’m honest. I sort of imagined that, you know, I created the boxes in which I thought there needed to be messages, so there was going to be a title here and a you know, subtitle under the big title, and then there was going to be a button on the right hand side. So I imagined all of those things, and so I created the frame first and then basically tried to put the content into that frame. So, I think intuitively, I knew some of the messages that I wanted to give. But actually one of the things that I’ve learned is not only just the content, but actually positioning the product — understanding who the target market is, is actually very, very important. I sort of had an idea at the beginning, but actually I tried to build a site that was about the product hoping that the audience…
K: … as a container for the information…
H: Yeah, and exactly, and I kind of built the product...sorry, I kind of wrote about the product and hoped that, you know, whoever lands on the site is gonna read this and go, “Oh yeah, I can see how I can use that”, but actually when you write — and I think this is one of the things that you guys did that was very different was actually understanding the audience, and then writing for that audience. Because people just don’t go to the trouble of reading that product and going, “Oh, I can see what that does, and I can see how that will help me”. You have to tell them straightaway how that’s going to help them. And therefore you need that strong positioning and it also means that you change the way the structure works on your site. Another thing that I missed that was quite important was the pictures.
H: So then I got a designer and the designer did a bunch of pictures and then after that I built the content on it. Now I’ve got some content where the pictures aren’t really matching. So the actual content, it’s important that, I think, where possible, to build the content upfront, even if it’s not the final version, but it’s a really robust version that actually tells a story because that helps a lot of other people. It helps, it helps you understand, um, what pictures you need to be able to tell the story, which also means that if you find a very good picture you can take some of the content out because you’ve just explained it, or you put a different caption on it, so that was useful.
H: The other thing that’s important as well was if you understand your audience you understand how they interact with it. So a very young person will interact with the site in a kind of playful way: buttons need to be here or there or whatever; whereas, if you’re targeting, like we are, a more business market, and you know, a more experienced, age-wise a little bit older on the scale, those people have a different expectation of how a site should work, so, and how things should be called and how they should be described.
K: So you’ve gone through this process of hiring a developer, getting a designer, and then you’ve realised ‘I probably need a little bit of work on the content’, well you were working on the content that whole time, which goes back I think to that question of what you found difficult about personally having to write the content for your own product.
H: So I actually did get somebody to write content and to help me write content. This was a junior person, they weren’t terribly experienced, and I think this is another important thing about content writing is to get somebody that gets your product and gets your audience and can write, you know, you can agree the tone of voice and those sorts of things, things that I can say now which I didn’t quite understand at the beginning. This idea of the tone of voice and, you know, is it motivational speak, or is it sales speak, or is it informational speak, what are those kind of words that need to be used? So I think understanding that was useful.
— We took a break to move somewhere quieter —
H: So I was saying that I did get somebody to help me to do the content, it was a junior person, and they had little experience in the market, so that was a learning experience that I think frustrated me a little bit, in the sense that I had to, I could share the ideas but then they were being transformed into a tone a voice and you know, they were absolutely correct but not pitched in the right way, and I wasn’t able, because I’m not a copywriter, I wasn’t able to guide that person. So it’s not like they were doing anything wrong, it’s that they didn’t have that — if you work in an industry as long as you guys have, for example, there’ll be things that you just pick up straight away, and you would have been able to advise that junior person how to do that, but anyway. So what was the question again?
K: It’s just the difficult parts of writing, what was difficult for writing content?
H: For me basically, writing the content, is that I don’t like it, it’s not what I do, I don’t like writing content. The level of accuracy that you need to have — people that read your website, they’re intolerant, in the nicest possible way, they expect things to be at a high standard. So that was one thing that was difficult. The other thing that was difficult was pitching it at the right level and actually not understanding the — actually because I was doing so many things, I was managing so many different things, actually getting into a frame of mind where I could actually keep the consistency of how I was describing the content was a difficult thing for me.
K: Because you have a lot of content
H: It’s quite a lot of content on the site, there’s the visible pages which are where you sell, and because we’re selling reports, we’re almost writing little books every time, it’s that kind of size.
K: So you had help, you had somebody: a junior copywriter; at what point did you sort of think, “ok I’m struggling a bit with this”. I need to get some additional help.
H: So my ideal in the future is, when I can afford it, I would work with people like you guys, who I — cause we’ve built a relationship now, I can just say, ‘Look, I’m about to develop this new assessment, this is the key message.’ You guys will probably ask me questions that will make me think about the things I don’t think about to start with and then you can almost take the whole thing away and write it for me. And, of course, but there’s a cost implication in that, you guys are doing a bit of consulting, learning the product, developing that and then writing the content, so in my case, because I had to manage my budget as well, it was easier for me to develop some sort of idea of what I needed and then to give it to you guys and the result that came back was magnificent because it was just — it was really nice to work with you guys because you didn’t sort of tear it apart and tell me how you needed to restart everything and whatever. You actually took what I wrote, understood it, and I think you were fair in the evaluation, but also I think you made some, you almost changed a little bit everywhere, but just that little bit of change was really really valuable. And it wasn’t proofreading, it was actual changing of words that made the message come across very clear and compelling.
K: Do you think that was one of your reservations? That we would tear it apart, or that we would make you feel bad about what you’d written, or that you would just in general feel bad about what you’d written?
H: Well, interestingly, not so much that I’d feel upset that somebody’s torn it apart, but more in the sense that of “I need to go live with this now, I don’t have time for somebody to tell me this is all wrong, and it all needs to be rewritten” or whatever. So that’s one concern. The other concern of course would be are these guys just gonna tell me that it’s all wrong so that they can then come and pitch to me an enormous project to go and rewrite the whole thing, because I’m not at that stage; I just need to get it done. We’re all like that, we just have to get it done.
K: So it was a time-based reservation? Budgetary.
H: Budget and time. And I think you guys turned it around very quickly. I saw you do part of the work and you just sat there, both, two people brainstorming almost sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, and then going back to the different paragraphs, and that’s the sort of skill that you can pick up and that you can see what’s behind those letters and numbers that appear on the pages that I don’t — normal people don’t see that.
K: Did you find that exceeded what you expected from us?
H: Yeah, I sort of imagined somebody would read it and change some words here and there, or maybe rewrite whole paragraphs, but I kind of enjoyed to watch the way it was being done because actually even when I’m talking to someone while I’m writing it helps a lot. But the fact that there was two of you guys working on that content, and actually tearing it apart bit by bit, and actually not just tearing it apart because you weren’t just tearing it apart, you were actually deconstructing every sentence and almost every word and then rebuilding it. Most of the stuff you were saying, and I lot of stuff I heard, was: ‘No, no, I really like the way it is, I think that tells a story’, and so there was a lot of positivity that went into it which was very good.
K: And when you say ‘deconstructing’, when I hear those terms I think, ‘Oh, that’s really time consuming’ — deconstructing sentences and paragraphs — but do you feel that that was a time consuming thing or do you feel like the way that we did it was fairly efficient?
H: So for me, I think the way you did it was fairly efficient; it was interesting to watch you do it. It was nice to see that you did do it, because it kinda felt like, “Oh ok, somebody’s actually paid attention to all of this”. Is it time consuming for me? It would be terrible. I could not do it because I would deconstruct it but almost not know how to put it together again or I’d just end up putting it together with the same kind of mistakes that I originally did.
K: Ok, so there’s great feedback for me in the sense of that skill shows the value of what we do is deconstructing but doing it in a way that, because we’ve got the skill to do, that it’s effective.
H: Oh it’s efficient, I mean, you wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t sort of, efficient, I guess, is the word.
K: In terms of other value that hiring professionals, professional copywriters, in addition to that, do you feel that there’s other value that we added?
H: So in your particular case, because you’re specifically digital copywriters for web, and I think because you took the time to understand what I was trying to sell, really trying to understand what I was trying to sell, for me was very interesting, very valuable. I think the, one of the values that I got from you was the storytelling, as in, “Does it tell a story and does it flow?” You know, does it make sense that the person goes from here if they read this bit then they click on it and they end up somewhere else, does it flow? Have we lost the person? Is there a way that they can come back?’ You gave me all that advice, you told me to put buttons here and there, little links here and there, and to change the order of things because it wasn’t obvious that things were not being prioritised, were not being highlighted in a way. Basically what you said was, “That sounds really valuable, but it’s so far down that nobody’s going to see it.” So there’s a lot of that that goes on with what you do.
K: In hindsight, having built the site now, with hindsight, would you do things differently if you had to rebuild your website?
H: If I had to rebuild the website, um...I would...So in the design phase, the first thing I would definitely do is really really understand who your target audience is; you know, it almost sounds like a marketing exercise and it is a marketing exercise. And once again, the thing about you guys was, that because you’ve got all the marketing skills and branding as part of your team, there’s somebody in your team that does that, there was a lot of, you know, even though we didn’t work with that person, you guys have obviously worked with them so much that it was in your psyche. So, I think understanding that target audience is really important because then you can do your content, and I would do the content in two phases.
H: I’d get a very, kind of, 70% of the content and the proper form done, and that’s the sort of thing you guys would naturally do, but you’ve got to remember it’s 70% done and all the magic will come in the 30% at the end and I would have to be quite disciplined about that, and not sort of give you the work and say “can you do the 70% now?”. Get all the content in such a way that the designers, the programmers, everybody can have a bit of content. And actually it helps you a lot, as the website’s being built, if the programmers are actually using the real stuff, that actually helps you to visualise the whole thing. Sorry, and if it’s 70% done, and by 70% I mean don’t spend a lot of your budget then because you can get 70% done and then spend more money on the 30% because that’s where you add the magic. But at that point, the designer’s also had a chance to come up with the pictures and everything, so it’s then, then it’s the final phase, so I think ultimately content also has to be the last thing as well.
H: At that point you’ve got all the magic of how the site works and you know, sometimes you’ve missed something. There’s a number of places where I’ve missed a user experience, I’ve missed a button, I’ve missed whatever, and actually by simply describing the button in a different way, the button that does exist, or putting a little big word that explains what something is going to do has helped a lot because you’re reading it in a way that’s going to drive the customer to do what you, to do the journey that you want them to do on your website. So that’s what I’d do.
K: If you were in a hypothetical situation, a friend is building their website starting from scratch, doing the same thing, what advice would you give to them?
H: If they could afford it, I would suggest — well the advice would be, understand who your target audience is first; really really get that done, write the profile, it helps everybody: it even helps the designer pick the colours for the website and the pictures, etc., and I would suggest that if they could afford it to work with people like yourselves to explain what the product is and let you come up with the content but also by coming up with the content, that 70% rough copy, will even help the designers and the programmers do their work as well. If he was on a budget, I’d say to them, write 40% of your content yourself, even if it’s rough, use that to go to the copywriters, get them to add another 30% so you’re at 70 and leave the magic to the end cause then you know what’s going to come.
K: Thank you, Helder, that’s been really insightful.