A web content matrix can be an immensely useful in tracking your content. Before you create one, you need to decide what information you are going to record on it. Having too much information will make the document unwieldy and time-consuming, perhaps leading to its abandonment. Having too little information can lead to the excel content matrix not fulfilling its potential.
So how do you know what to include?
Creating a web content matrix
You need to make some decisions before you start.
- How long is the website going to exist for? A typical website may last 3 years before being rebuilt.
- What information will be useful for you to have in that time period before the website gets rebuilt? Some information will change regularly and some will be static (such as URLS). Having these all in one place can save you a lot of time.
- Who is going to use it? If this is just for one person (yourself) then you can be quite flexible (e.g. “I know that information is a little old but I don’t need to spend time updating it right now”). If it will be used by multiple people then it needs to be clear what is on it and how accurate it is.
Having a lot of information (such as photo URLs used) that change a lot make the content matrix very difficult to maintain, and you may be better off leaving them out.
The Cycle Ireland Content Matrix
I have 100 routes on the cycleireland.ie site, with 200+ pages, so I wanted all of the information that I would regularly refer to in one place. I used the following columns in my content matrix:
- Route ID
- Short name (used on the app)
- Main image
- Video URL
- GPX filename
- Long name (used on the site)
- Directions page URL
- Type (linear or loop)
- Status (on the free or paid app)
- Central co-ordinate (used by the app)
- Number of photos in gallery
- Word count
- Start town
- Finish town
- Published date
This matrix gave an an overview of the site in a number of important ways. A couple of columns – number of photos and word count – were not updated when changed but still gave a rough overview. If I needed accurate figures for these I could update them at any time. Others, such as rating, occasionally changed and the matrix was updated in tandem. The most important thing is that I understood what was accurate and what was estimated, which is easy to show in a spreadsheet, however you choose to do it.
What about large sites?
This web content matrix was for a small site. If you have a much larger one you need to decide for yourself what is important and how deep to go. Nobody else can make that decision for you. It is a good idea as you are starting off to quickly create a simple matrix and then add to it as you find yourself requiring information.
In this way you don’t need to make a huge blind commitment that you may later regret.
With the domination of the phablet, smartphone screen sizes continue to get bigger and bigger. The 16:9 aspect ratio remains king and is here to stay, but the pixel count grows and grows:
- 1136px by 640px (iPhone 5S)
- 1280px by 720px (Samsung S3)
- 1920px by 1080px (Samsung S5)
- 2560px by 1440px (Samsung Note 4 – rumoured)
This blog displays images up to 600 pixels in width. That is only half the width of the newest phones in portrait mode; less than a quarter of the width in landscape mode. The only way to avoid ugly pixellation is to use larger imagery that can scale down for the desktop and be used in its original form for mobile.
That leaves you in what would once seemed to be a bizarre position of increasing your image sizes so that they look good on the smallest screens.
On cycleireland.ie, I use 1200px wide images, which are reasonably future-proofed (at least for the next couple of years).
You should look at that as a minimum size for your images, depending on where they are most likely to be used and how central they are to your content.
Too often a website is designed by marketing/business development people and only then is handed over to a content manager around the time of the launch. The content manager is then left to develop content processes to fit around the site that has been designed, compounding any errors made in the site design.
Building a site for web content
When discussing what a Web Content Strategist does, it is very easy to get bogged down on all of the different requirements of a role that spans so many disciplines. It is a very useful exercise to reduce it to its most important elements. In the excellent The Web Content Strategist’s Bible, Richard Sheffield outlines 4 key qualities for a content manager which have nothing to do with technical requirements. He contends that the individual must be:
- A decent writer and editor
- Someone who understands how to plan and implement a project
- Someone who really wants to do this kind of work
- Someone who understands the bare basics of how the web works technically
And that’s it. Everything else is ‘gravy’.
Different jobs will have different emphases and technical requirements. I would fully agree with the above. Of course I can think of half a dozen other attributes to add to the list but that is self-defeating.
A content manager’s job is broad and varied. They are the link between various specialists while also needing to be specialists in several areas themselves. A talented content manager will propel a site’s strategy and development forward. But to do this they need to excel in numerous areas. Here are 7 key web content skills to start with.
If you are planning a site launch in 4 months you need to identify every piece of content that you will require along with all the other tasks involved in devlopment. For Cycle Ireland, I took around 8000 photos, selected 1650, photoshopped and captioned each of those, and then started work on the videos, text and supporting content.
Being an outstanding content manager requires the ability to plan in detail from the outset. Efficient processes and good organising is essential in order to keep problems and missed deadlines to a minimum.
Traditional sharing plugins such as DIgg Digg and Alternative Digg have been around so long that they look dated, and their position on the side of the page can lead to either unwanted effects or a lack of confidence that they work in all circumstances without plenty of testing.
Enter Simple Share Buttons Adder. It sits either before or after your primary content, or in both places, so you can be sure it is consistent across multiple devices. It offers 8 gorgeous button types and keeps things nice and simple by limiting itself to around ten of the most popular sharing platforms. It just works.
Simple Share Buttons Adder
I haven’t placed it on this site, but rather instead I have placed it on Cycle Ireland, where I am active on my supporting social media accounts.
If you want a simple sharing plugin, this is it.
I have been working on a retail site and the issue of how to label the Buy button cam e up. Different possibilities have different connotations:
- Buy – blunt
- Add to cart – impersonal
- Purchase – too formal
- Buy now – too bossy
To complicate matters the site is not traditional in that it sells high-ticket items that people are unlikely to buy more than one of. That makes the concept of a virtual shopping basket less appropriate than it might be on other sites.
I wanted to check out the labelling that big retailers use to get a pointer on this.
- Wiggle – add to basket
- Asos – add to bag
- Amazon – add to basket
- Fashionphile – add to bag
- Chain reaction Cycles – add to basket
- Yoogis closet – add to shopping bag
- Harvey Norman – add to cart
- Pixmania – add to basket
We have 4 “Add to basket”, 2 “Add to bag”, 1 “Ad to cart” and 1 “Add to shopping bag”.
I want my terminology to be consistent with what people are use to, so I will use the phrase “Add to…” on the button. But add to what? I don’t want to use “bag,” as handbags are what the site primarily sells. If they were one of twenty product types it would be ok, but they are the primary one. So that’s out. That leaves “basket”or “cart”.
I think “basket” is the less harsh and more modern of the two, so that’s the one to go for. We can test it at a later point if we don’t like the conversion rates.
In recent times there has been an increase in website footers that are packed with links that take you all over the site. They have so many links that it becomes very difficult to actually find the one that you want.
You can have 40, 50 links or even more across several columns. Some people don’t recognize when they reach the point of diminishing returns. The footer is not a dump. It is a place to show miscellaneous but necessary links. The exact links to show will depend on the type of site that you run.
As a rule, if the link would only be required by a specific type of user (as opposed to general users), it is a good candidate for the footer.
Keep it simple. Combine pages where it makes sense. If you do have a lot of links, keep the names of them as short as possible to save your users’ time while they scan the footer looking for the one that they want.
Your homepage web content is most likely the most important web content on your site. Naturally it is the part of the site that you should spend the most time on. A good exercise is to determine the calls of action that you most want to direct users to, such as:
- buy a product
- contact you with questions/complains
- sign up to a mailing list
- follow you on facebook/twitter/pinterest
- read your content
Once you have written them down, put them in the order of most to least important. Now take the first one. That is what should be the first thing on your homepage. All the others must fit around it, whether in navigation bars, sidebars, headers, footers or in a different part of the main content area.
Too often homepages look like a junkyard, with every possible action to be found there, and complete confusion as to where you intended journey through the site is meant to be.
Look at your homepage and see if you can simplify it. Make the most important thing that visitors can do clear to both them and to you. Other things should be findable and placed where people would expect them to be.
You may end up with something very different and very fresh.
A lack of knowledge or skill in proofing will kill the credibility of your website faster than almost anything else. Everybody has different levels of proficiency but it is important to be self-aware and to understand your own.
They are two separate issues. Your knowledge of grammar is important in the writing stage. If you don’t have the basics nailed down you are seriously limiting your potential as a web content writer or strategist – it is a key business skill. There are plenty of books available on the topic, such as Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss.
If you are weak in this area you should set aside some time regularly to improve your skills.