From the outside, this is what the typical web project might look like: We have a kickoff meeting. We have a lot of meetings and do a lot of work. One day, the site launches. We celebrate and eat cake. Yay! Then, we move on. The project is done!
Or is it? What about Day Two -- when the crumbs have been swept away and the website is really, truly out there?
The work done on a web project should meaningfully resonate long after the last bite of launch cake has been eaten. That means having the content guidance, processes, and workflows in place to help your site stay fresh, relevant, on-brand, and accurate for the long haul.
Some parts of this, we call web governance. I also like to call it “knowing a lot and giving a damn.”
Asking the Right Questions, Now and Later
We can dream up incredible solutions to our digital challenges that may look and work great. But once the fervor and focus of the project is replaced by the hum of the day-to-day, do you have the resources (meaning money, people, and/or time) to support it?
In thinking about this, I always find it helpful at the outset of a project to consider what I call the client’s “organizational realities.”
- What is your staffing? What types of content can you support? Do you need additional resources to meet content demands?
- Are there established roles? Do people know their roles? Has room been made to accommodate these web roles within their everyday work?
- Do people know how to do the job? Do they have the appropriate workflows and processes in place to get the right work done in the correct fashion?
- What is your process? Is content production centralized? Is it farmed from contributors across the organization? Is it outsourced?
- How is content reviewed and approved?
- How do you ensure the voice, tone, and quality of your content remains consistent?
- How well does your website align with the expectations of your communication strategy?
By taking stock of reality, we can build a solution and an accompanying governance plan that is appropriate and sustainable, and identify areas where we may need to scale up, if possible.
There’s Magic in the Mundane
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” - Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future
When you visit the website of a competitor, you may be dazzled by what some call “wow factor,” or what one higher ed colleague of mine calls “whizbang.” But as you might expect, there is more than meets the eye.
To come to life, a successful web project requires most if not all of the following:
- Research and best practices
- Stakeholder interviews
- Content audits and analysis
- Search engine optimization
- Focus groups
- Usability testing
- Design drafts and revisions
- Copy editing
- Code development
- QA testing
And that’s just to name a few. It all depends on the project.
But after launch, the site is not a self-perpetuating success. There is ongoing work required to ensure it remains effective and sustainable, and it’s work we start thinking about before we commit a single word or pixel. (That’s where a lot of those questions we asked at the outset of the project come into play.) Most of this is built into a governance plan, which addresses roles, processes, and training.
This work includes:
- Training (on skills, roles, and in some cases even educating stakeholders on the value of investing in content for the long haul)
- Workflows (for CMS usage and access, as well as offline content review and approval)
- Editorial calendars (to guide content planning for key pages and sections)
- Guidelines (which may include content criteria for homepage and other key pages/sections, style guide, voice and tone, photo and video guidelines, social media guidelines, and more)
- Content templates and worksheets (to help structure content submissions from site contributors)
- Measurement planning (to determine how well our website supports our communications goals, using Google Analytics and/or other tools)
- Social media (how to use our social media channels to strategically promote web content)
- Search engine marketing and PPC advertising (now that we’ve built it, let’s make sure people can find it)
- Usability testing (that first time around was just to establish a baseline -- now we need to test and make sure the solutions we’ve developed actually work)
- Content auditing (audit and inventory don’t just happen once -- they should happen on a regular basis to ensure we remain acquainted with the state of our content)
Success requires more than just showing up. You have to prove your worth over the long haul. That’s where governance comes into play. The right planning and processes, however mundane, are what keep your site vibrant and effective over time. So save a piece of that cake in the freezer -- one year later, there should be just as much to celebrate.