When we kick off a website redesign project with a client, one of the first things we discuss is an area where the bulk of the work might not happen for months down the line. That’s right, I’m talking about content.
To be frank, it can be a scary conversation. With these kinds of projects, the content expectations can be daunting — especially if you wait to think about it until you are well into the design phase. By that point, a significant number of content decisions have already been made, and you’ll end up in a tight spot if you don’t have a plan for how to address them.
But with some advance planning and by elevating content to a primary topic of discussion at every phase of the project, it doesn’t have to be that scary. In fact, it can be fun! (No, really, I promise.)
Here’s our guide for how we think about website content at every phase of a redesign.
Kicking Off Content Strategy and Writing for a Website Project
As we begin to dive into the goals, opportunities, and challenges associated with a given project, content considerations play out in many significant ways.
Before the first pixel is placed, so to speak, it’s time to be realistic about resources. One way or another, there will be some sort of content effort associated with this project, whether it is a light revision of existing content or a total overhaul complete with new written and multimedia content.
The subsequent phases will refine the scope of that effort, but you can still use this time to be mindful of your capacity:
- Will I have available in-house writers and editors? As we have written about previously, sometimes to focus on the needs of a web redesign, you need to evaluate your other efforts and make decisions about where to place resources. Maybe you skip an issue of the alumni magazine, or you forego a select print project or two, and commit those resources to the content lift associated with a redesign. Also, to address ongoing content needs and achieve cross-platform cohesion (not to mention efficiency), it’s important not to silo various communications and marketing efforts and look for reuse opportunities — for example, adapting magazine features as website brand stories, or aligning writing, photography and research efforts for printed program brochures and website program detail pages.
- Do I have a budget to hire freelancers? The above comment about resources applies here, as well. If internal resources are otherwise committed, where is the money coming from to secure external support?
- Is our publishing process effective? Do content authors experience pain points? Do they have the knowledge and resources to support their role in the publishing process? The best way to answer these questions, of course, is to ask the players involved directly.
- Who needs to have a say? Legal? Leadership? Other stakeholders? Mapping out the voices that need to be heard throughout the process as early as possible can help avoid roadblocks down the line.
- Is there a clear, established sense of content ownership and governance? This is an important question to answer as we look ahead toward potentially changing the paradigm of how content is organized on the site, aligning content ownership to institutional priorities, and reconsidering how we make decisions about what content is published on the site.
Content Strategy Discovery – Begin with the Content Audit
One of the primary ways we suss out the content needs of a project is via the content audit. The root of a thorough qualitative content audit is a quantitative content inventory, which helps us map out the current site structure and pull out high-level details.
From that foundation, we then comprehensively evaluate the state of a website, assessing everything from content quality to SEO to brand expression. Analytics data and research findings, if available, help provide context to our heuristic evaluation and shape our analysis.
You may be asking, “My site is 15,000 pages! It would take five years to audit that much content!” (That’s not true—it would only take three years! Kidding.) Fear not. There are multiple ways to tackle this challenge:
- Audit a representative selection of pages or content types
- Audit a subset of pages/sections of the site based on specific criteria (e.g. analytics, institutional priorities)
- Split the audit between an external partner and internal resources
- Train and empower outlying site owners (e.g. schools, departments, offices, centers) to audit their own content and feed their findings into a collective pool of knowledge
Planning for Website Content During Information Architecture & User Experience Design
The output of our content audit directly informs sitemap development, helping us know what new content is needed to fill gaps, how content needs to be revised, what content can be consolidated, and what content can be archived or removed.
We also take the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach — if something is working, we want to give it more prominence. Don’t throw out the good content with the bathwater, as it were.
It likely comes as no surprise that the sitemap is the first major articulation of content expectations for your new site. You will begin to have a sense of what entirely new content types, sections, or pages it may contain, as well as what content will merit revision via consolidation of multiple pages or editing to improve quality and brand alignment.
As we present a sitemap, we indicate these high-level content expectations, as they should be a top priority in the client’s assessment of this deliverable — after all, this is beginning to establish the workload for content development. In some cases, we will create a content matrix that maps back to the current site to “show our work” of how content is consolidated, carried over, or removed in developing the new site map.
Subsequently, the wireframe begins defining content needs at an even more granular level, exploring what information each content type can represent and how best to do so. Where will the information come from? Who owns it? What volume of content should we account for? How should images be presented? What elements are optional or required? When evaluating wireframes, these content governance and content development considerations should be top of mind.
CMS Development to Support Your Content Strategy and Publication
Remember all that thinking you did about content types and ownership? And the content expectations defined in the wireframes? Those considerations are typically baked into the functionality of the content management system. That is why it is critical to ensure that the way your content management system is structured supports your organization’s publishing workflow.
The content entry interface will reflect the structure and rules defined in the wireframes — what elements require a photo and which don’t, what is the maximum number of links to be added to a given element, and so on. In addition, the structured content approach reinforced by the CMS is part of what empowers a robust content reuse strategy, allowing different views and uses of content like news stories, program pages, and bios across the site, all pulling from one canonical datasource.
The development phase is often closely aligned with the creation of content governance recommendations, which provide direction and guidance around publishing, training, content criteria, roles and responsibilities and other considerations. These recommendations define the process and accountability that reinforce effective content development going forward.
Finally, It's Time for Content Creation
With all of the content needs, structure, and guidelines defined, it’s time to write! (Or make pictures. Or shoot video.)
In some cases, we will create content templates (or employ tools such as Gather Content), which function in alignment with the wireframes as author-facing guides for creating content that meets requirements for site structure, best practice, strategy, and brand. We may also develop a style guide that defines best practice for web content writing as well as institutional guidelines for voice and tone, language, and other content considerations.
Ideally, the conversations and reflection during the discovery phase yield a sustainable plan for managing the content development phase of your project. By being thoughtful about content needs and resources from day one, your project can remain on schedule, on brand, and on target.
Not sure about what your content needs may be, or need help managing your content development work? We are happy to talk through your concerns.