Planning Your Content Strategy to Set Up a Successful Website Project

Too often during website redesign projects, a content strategy framework isn't even considered until the project is well underway. Here we outline why your project will run more smoothly if you tackle a content strategy plan at the outset. 

Planning a website redesign can be daunting. There’s a lot to consider:

  • How much will it cost?
  • How much effort will it entail?
  • How will you manage internal stakeholders’ expectations?
  • How will it better represent your brand and support your institutional priorities?
  • What clever 404 page will you have? (Maybe not so critical)

The more clear-eyed you can be heading into the redesign effort, the more focused it will be and the more likely you will be to achieve success. One of the best ways to gain this clarity is by preparing for a targeted content strategy plan ahead of the redesign itself.

While a content strategy framework should anchor any website redesign project, there’s a lot of content work you can do well before a redesign gets underway to more fully inform what that effort should look like.

Begin with the Website Content Inventory and Audit

A website content inventory and content audit entails both a quantitative and qualitative assessment of your web content, ideally informed by your website analytics. It is one of the most foundational activities you can undertake to guide your website redesign.

A website content audit will help you do the following:

  • Assess content quality and ROT (whether content is redundant, outdated, or trivial)
  • Identify the types of information found across your site, both at the page and component level
  • See where you have informational gaps or opportunities
  • Evaluate content against brand expression, voice and tone, and strategic alignment
  • Gain a high-level view of site status with regard to SEO, accessibility, and readability
  • Get buy-in around content decisions (whether to migrate, revise, archive, or consolidate certain pages/sections on your new site)
  • Help diagnose governance approach by surfacing chronic site issues (e.g. outdated content, prolific typos)
  • Identify content ownership for select pages/sections
  • Determine requirements for content migration, if applicable
  • Understand considerations for internal vs. external content
  • ​Inform overall project strategy

Your website redesign will be more focused (and set up for success) if you go into it knowing which problems need solving — and which don’t — and how to prioritize them.

Find the Gaps (and the Opportunities) in Your Website Content

How is your current site doing right now in terms of photography? Videos? Brand expression? Storytelling? Outcomes data?

These are some of the key areas you will want to consider strengthening as part of a redesign. Having a clear sense of whether you are doing these things well or poorly will help you determine a plan for either closing those gaps or seizing on an opportunity.

This analysis and evaluation is not just about informing design or information architecture to meet your communications goals  — it’s also about informing your ability to create and sustain those types of information. It’s much easier to conceive and design a great storytelling approach than it is to sustain it.

So once you identify your gaps, you can work internally to bridge them by pursuing the following actions:

  • Begin collecting assets and information for stories (e.g. organize photos in a digital asset management system, or DAM; begin identifying likely individuals, groups, or initiatives to feature via brand-aligned storytelling)
  • Establish internal processes to source necessary information (e.g. integrations with catalog, connections to outcomes data housed at the department level, accessing or instituting postgraduate surveys to solicit outcome data)
  • ​​Identify additional work necessary (e.g. extend brand guidelines to website)

Often, an audit can uncover “hidden gems” or yield broader insights about how to communicate more effectively via your website. These opportunities may shine a light on a new direction or emphasis for your website, or areas you might want to highlight more prominently going forward.

If you conduct a content audit in advance of your website redesign and uncover these needs and opportunities, that gives you valuable time (be it months or up to a year) to optimize your processes, build internal relationships, and curate necessary information to address those findings and be better prepared for your eventual redesign process. It also gives you time to collect the most essential fuel for any website redesign effort: resources.

Align Your Team and Budget to Your Content Strategy Plan

Once you unearth the gaps and opportunities lurking within your current site, these insights will not just begin establishing requirements for a future website design — they will begin a conversation around requirements for your organization. That entails everyone’s three favorite things: time, budget, and resources.

Let’s say the photography currently featured on your website is outdated, poor quality, and not brand aligned. We know from our user research that photography is important to prospective students. You need to do more than say, “we should have stronger, more prominent photography.” You also need to consider the following:

  • What resources are necessary to secure this photography? Do we have an available in-house resource? Do we have go-to freelancers and a budget to support them?
  • If we need budget, when is the best time to make that request?
  • What types of photos do we need? When are the best opportunities to make them?
  • How will we manage and organize our photo assets? Who will own that process?
  • ​Who is responsible for establishing standards and guidelines for photography? Who makes photo selections for the website? (Note: You may not need to do this pre-redesign, but you should have a sense of whether you will own these tasks internally or rely on an external partner to drive them.)

Another area where you will need to align your team and budget is content development. This is where your audit will pay for itself — by saving churn during the content development phase by setting expectations for that phase early on, allowing you to resource it appropriately.

The content audit will let you know what your needs are. Are there many information gaps that will require a great deal of new content creation? Are there quality or currency issues, or perhaps a lack of brand expression or style alignment, that will entail significant revision? By knowing the state of your content, you will be able to estimate the effort needed to improve it.

You can also begin identifying your content development resources and process. Who owns the content, and who is responsible for creating or editing it? (This and related insights may also come through a governance discovery, assessing your organization’s publishing process, which is a great parallel effort to a comprehensive content audit and inventory.) Do other projects need to be shelved or postponed to free up content resources for a redesign? (The more advance notice you have for this kind of decision, the better.) Do you need to secure a budget for freelance writers? What might the content development workflow look like in terms of writing, review, approvals, and so on?

By diagnosing the full range of your content issues, you can scope your content development effort more accurately, allowing you to make a well-informed case for the writing and editing resources necessary to bring your soon-to-be-redesigned website to life.

How a Content Strategy Plan Focuses Your Website Redesign Project

With a clear sense of the challenges and opportunities facing your website, and with your organization better prepared to manage them, you’ve made your redesign project a lot easier.

The reason is simple: by tackling some of the biggest problems that typically plague redesign efforts early and head-on, you focus your efforts less on discovery and more on targeted problem-solving. Your RFP, if you send one out, will be smarter, more specific, and more realistic. You will have gone a long way toward defining requirements for a content management solution and thinking about how you need to evolve as a publishing organization to better support your content. And your project stands a better chance of finishing on-time, because you found most of the landmines well in advance.

Why go blindly into a major marketing investment? If you take a close look at your content, you can bring clarity to your website redesign process by informing a content strategy framework that makes sense.

This article was originally published in 2018.