Sometimes I find myself having to explain what I do to people whose only language for it is the term website, and for whom there is no conceptual distinction between a virtual business card and an infrastructure that runs their entire business. This is a section excerpted from a report I wrote to tackle this exact problem:

What We Mean When We Say Website

In other words, why we bother with websites is because they convey knowledge and tools that make people—like your customers and staff—more efficient at what they do, or even achieve things they otherwise couldn't, without the manufacturing and distribution overheads of other media. In other words, the website is just a conduit. As with any other medium, what costs the money, and what generates the value, is developing the content.

Web professionals: When I say content, I mean anything that can have a wrong answer. The content of the text, the content of the business processes, and therefore the content of the code that implements them, the content of the page layout, the content of the site structure…

If it matters what the thing says or how it behaves, then that thing is content. This is why it's so damn important to impress onto clients that while the Web is infinitesimally cheaper to produce compared to other media, the cost of figuring out the individual elements of content is still irreducible. This is because content has other properties than being more or less polished. Content is actually capable of being wrong.

The value of a website is a function of the value of its content. What I mean is this: How valuable is a cookbook that only produces bad-tasting food? Or a repair manual that breaks things rather than fixing them? Or an appliance that is so unwieldy that it takes more effort to use than not to? Or a road map that sends you driving off a cliff?

What we want are gourmet cookbooks, helpful manuals, efficient appliances and maps that get us safely to our destination. How do we set up the conditions to make sure that happens?