Web content planning should be a straightforward thing to plan for but it often ends up being as difficult as alchemy. Why is this?
Too often the technical team decides on a delivery date and the content team is then told the date and everybody expects things to be okay. In this magical land there may be several weeks to transfer or input the content and then in reality much of the time is spent with broken systems, lost work, restoring work, re-inputting work, bad internet connections etc. Too often planning is based on a best-case scenario that never happens.
Problems occur in every project, but in content planning they are too often ignored. These can greatly vary in nature, but because content is too often seen as just a cut-and-paste process, the mistake is made of thinking that extra bodies – any bodies – can be thrown at the problem and it will be solved.
The 20% rule
No content plan can be relied upon until 20% of the work is done. Ideas and assumptions fall away quickly in real-life. Once 20% of the work on a content task is done you can quite accurately predict the timeframes needed for the rest of the project.
Lack of respect for the web content planning process
Unfortunately this is endemic in web development to this day – the talented people design and code the empty website and the plebs then populate it. It is a surefire path to online failure and it happens over and over again. The content manager must be part of the process from the beginning. Even then, failures of the technical team impact on the content team and so the eternal war continues…
Proofreading is not included
If you are putting up content that represents you or your company, it needs to be proofed. End of. That is a slow and mentally taxing process and simply cannot be hurried. There are no shortcuts to this part.
So you have decide to conduct a web content review. Great. You need to examine what you have already and why you have it. Every piece of web content that you create must serve a purpose for the user. You thinking that something is cool is not enough to justify putting it up. Engagement or entertainment value is a reason to justify creating the content. There are other reasons:
1) Information – you can place additional or obscure information on your site that can be easily searched by your users. Generally, the more detail the better for your users, as long as it remains navigable.
2) Sell – if you’re selling products, a lot of your content will be oriented solely towards selling, whether you do it explicitly or subtly.
3) Persuade – you may be selling nothing but using your content to persuade people to act or think specific things.
4) Entertain – some content will only need to engage and entertain users for a variety of reasons – e.g. to sell advertising, to gain visitors or to generate social media attention.
Whatever the reasons for creating your various pieces of content, it is important to know them and to assess whether they are achieving their aims. More informational content may lead to a reduction in customer service emails needing to be processed and pay for itself in that way.
A web content review and your web strategy
By identifying why your content is there you can more easily identify its deficiencies and identify the areas in which it can be improved. Identify what works well from analytics and feedback and determine if this content can be expanded. Similarly, you can move the site away from the content that is just not working for you.
If you define yourself as being the most user-friendly online worktools shop, your product demonstration videos might set you apart from your competitors. Are they working? Are they prominent enough? Are they the right length? Are the scripts good enough? Are they easy to follow? Are the presenters likeable? Do you need more of them?
Answering such questions is part of your web content review. Go for it!
Who is Miles Fisher? He is the prototypical actor of the future. Is that too extreme? Ok, let’s try again. He is a talented and successful actor who approached the business from the off with a hardnosed mindset. In this video he talks eloquently about how he exploited the possibilities of online media to carve out a career for himself.
‘Even before I made the first video that really popped off, I was in dialogue with people that were doing it on a bigger level than I was’. He didn’t make something and hope that it went viral, he researched the area intensively, planned his impact and made his first video.
‘We went all out – I took a little bit of a risk, I paid for it out of my own pocket’ – on his first video – he committed to it fully.
‘Be a good consumer – always looking around’. Being a good consumer is almost his first rule of being a good creator of online content.
‘I want to create a very-high production value, very cinematic-type videos that come out less often, so they are kind of an event.’ This is his way of differentiating himself from the surfeit of video blogs which often use webcams and are weekly – he was not content with following the crowd.
‘I put a lot of emphasis on everything I do – I think about not what the marketplace wants right now but where it’s going down the line and what sixth-graders (12-year-olds – LOC) are doing right now. And it’s not so much what they are watching but what they are making is amazing… and it’s only going to get more and more.’
‘Boredom has just evaporated… there are so many things to do now.’
‘Prove over and over again that you are worth people’s time.
Miles Fisher on Youtube:
Miles Fisher: How a Viral Video Star Is Reinventing the Acting Biz
This Must Be The Place (NSFW)
Don’t Let Go
As you can outsource virtually any part of the web development process, so it is with freelance web content. This can be a really good idea if you do it right – let’s look at the pros and cons:
Pros of freelance web content:
- You get access to a level of experience that you may not otherwise be able to afford
- You can get talent even if the role is not a full-time or permanent one e. g. for a microsite.
- You can be flexible and try things out without committing to the cost of a full-time member of staff.
- You can get a fresh perspective on the site – if you get someone good to do this it can save you a lot of money.
- You need to efficiently plan your content to be sure that everything will go smoothly.
Cons of freelance web content:
- The freelance content writer does not cultivate the familiarity with your business that a full-time content producer/manager would have. They won’t know your products or customers in absolute detail.
- An in-house content producer may (not always) offer a greater likelihood of imposing a consistent voice on the site.
- They are always available, even if that is only in theory.
- You can train them more easily in the needs of the business.
- Physical proximity to your team/business/products can be an advantage.
Freelance web content checklist
Define your site’s tone of voice – this should not be longer than a couple of paragraphs. Link to three or four examples on your site that best exhibit this voice. This will be the introduction for any writer to your site.
Write a biography of your customers/users. Outline their issues, what they are looking for, why they choose you, how they find you, what they complain about. Keep this short and to the point.
So you want to start blogging? How do you avoid your blog (which is going to be amazing) becoming part of the 90% of blogs which fall apart and die within a few months? That’s not an official statistic, by the way, I just made it up to make a point.
Most people take enthusiastically to blogging – for the first few fevered posts anyway. Then they slow down a bit and the posts become more infrequent. Then they seem to run out of things to say and switch to once-a-month posting. The last couple of posts look like orphans, separated from their families by several months of inactivity, and the topic is usually how the blogger is going to become more disciplined again. And then – poof!! – it’s gone.
Here is how you avoid that:
What is the reason you exist?
Or, to be more accurate, ‘why does your website exist?’ – this will come out of your web content strategy. What does your website do better than every other website out there? If you can’t answer that then you can’t think of a reason for people to visit your site.
If you know the answer, if it is ‘the best value furniture in X area’ or ‘the most comprehensive guide to y area’, or ‘the best way to waste time at work’ then great. How are you communicating this?
On the header of cycleireland.ie, I have a tagline. I chose to put the three most important pieces of information into this, so that it would be entirely explicit what my site did.
Web content strategy in the tagline
Decide your approach
The 404 error message is a small thing in the bigger picture, but you want to make sure that it fits with the tone of your site. You have several options for how you approach this:
Gather Content (www.gathercontent.com) is an intriguing new way of organising your content planning. There, of course, are various methods you can use, starting with the trusty old spreadsheet (it’s a classic for a reason).
Gather Content is a piece of cloud software that does a few neat things. Once you enter the content that you have, and need to plan, you can assign each piece to an individual and give it a deadline. A content map is automatically created, which is great, but the pages are not clickable, which is a disappointment.
You can assign a current state to each piece of content – a feature reminiscent of WordPress.
When you would use Gather Content
Gather Content appears to come into its own when managing multiple different projects as you can do it all in one place. You can give elaborate structures to pages beyond defining what text is required. The ability to make notes on an individual page is neat, and this is the area in which it goes far beyond the spreadsheet concept. You can attach images and metadata to individual pages.
Gather Content Logo
While it feels a little early stage, it is a promising piece of software. The more complex your planning is, probably the more likely you would be to benefit form it. For any content strategist, it is worth taking a look to see if it is a fit for you.
Content Management is misunderstood by many people. They don’t know what a content manager does exactly.
Well it’s easy to answer. Content Management is the generation and publication of information for your users. This information will be different for different organisations. An online store will have info on products, returns, delivery times etc. A company’s intranet will have info on company policies, background, strategies and plans etc.
An online magazine will have articles, quizzes, photo galleries and more. A forum will have numerous threads (usually requiring monitoring) and info on policies.
The types of content possible are numerous and varied. You need to determine what is useful to your users and what they want, and manage your resources so that you can give them as much as possible.
Content Management and Content Strategy
Content strategy involves the analysis of data and the investigation of your users’ needs and wants. Through this you will identify what you most need to provide for them and examine what you can provide with the resources that you have. Who will you target and how will you attract them?
Once you have decided this, you then move on to the planning phase.
Web Content Planning can be tricky to pin down accurately. Creating a new page can take an hour or a day or more, depending on how well you know the subject and on what exactly you need to do. Here is a method I have been using to finish the content required for the launch of the Cycle Ireland App – a process which has lasted over 6 months.
I mentioned Workflowy as a great project management tool and a way to keep everything in one place. But I found it lacking as a task tracker. For this I will use trusty old Microsoft Excel.