One of Amazon's biggest sellers in recent months is Heart Surgery for Dummies. The world is now full of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) heart surgeons.The concept is straightforward: Save money by doing your own heart surgery. Each book comes with a free scalpel, needle and thread, a pair of gloves, and a large mirror so you can see what you're doing. Why trust these experts? All they do is charge exorbitant fees.
Thankfully, the market for DIY heart surgery books is rather limited. Most people readily accept that when it comes to heart surgery, it's best to leave it in the hands of experts.
Pretty much the opposite is true when it comes to writing. Rarely will you find someone who accepts that they don't have some sort of expertise when it comes to content. Some will admit that perhaps they're not expert writers. However, few will accept that their comments on a piece of writing should not be given weight.
Writing is a very exacting skill. Anybody can scribble down a few lines of atrocious poetry, but great poetry is truly rare. Many have tried to imitate Bob Dylan. Few have come even close.
Words have changed the course of history. Plagues and meteors have caused revolutions but so too have mere words. Melvyn Bragg has written about "Twelve books that changed the world". These include Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton, and On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.
The Internet is another content revolution. It's where people are going. Listening to the radio recently, I heard the commentator discuss some soccer issue with a listener. "We'll check it up on the Internet," he said, after they couldn't agree.
The Internet has become deep and all-pervading. It is becoming the global memory. Content has wrapped itself around the world many times. We depend on it for so many things now, from doing our jobs, to booking our holidays, to educating our children, to planning for our retirement.
When someone visits your website, imagine that they are being wheeled into a hospital theater for heart surgery. They are still conscious, very conscious. Their eyes quickly and critically scan your page. If even the smallest thing is out of place, they are likely to hit that Back button.
One word can make a big difference. I have seen links where one word was changed, resulting in three-times more people clicking on them. Every word that you use should be carefully thought about. Every single word. From your classifications to your headings and summaries.
Most websites still don't treat their content seriously. They often give the role of "putting up" content to junior staff. If they do hire content professionals, they rarely give them the appropriate support and authority. These professionals often end up in needless and counterproductive conversations with egoistic authors.
It's time to put content professionals (editors) in charge of running websites. The dictatorship of the author leads to vanity publishing and filler content. The organizations that succeed on the Web will be those who recognize that quality writing and editing are specialist skills.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.