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.
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 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.
Orchard CMS was recommended to me as a fast-improving alternative to WordPress. I approached it with trepidation. I have some knowledge of PHP, which is important to understanding WordPress whenever you need to look under the hood, but none whatsoever of .NET. Also, it has a reputation for being less user-friendly than rival CMS systems.
Orchard CMS background
Orchard is open-source software but was initiated primarily by a group of Microsoft employees, and is believed to be well-regarded by the company. That suggests that there could be significant support if the project continues to grow.
We love to see outstanding content. xkcd is a “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language” by American artist Randall Munroe. It has been one of the most successful webcomics of the past few years. Munroe decided to do something out-of-the-ordinary.
He created “Time” – a 3,099 panel comic that updated one frame every 30 minutes, later hourly. It began with two people building a sandcastle and wondering why the water level is rising so quickly. They go on an obscure and difficult to understand journey where not a lot of note happens.
It was completely impractical for anybody to follow the comic in real-time, and previous panels were not made available on xkcd.com. When the comic was finished, it was left to fans to extract them and compile them into gifs, videos, and interactive pages such as http://geekwagon.net/projects/xkcd1190. The fact that xkcd had a highly successful forum helped greatly.
The comic generated a lot of discussion and publicity for its sheer ambition. There was nothing else like it out there. After some time, Munroe did an interview with Wired explaining that it took place in the Mediterranean Basin 11,000 years in the future, and pointed to various clues to its location within the comic.
xkcd: Time panel 1067
This is anexample of content not created by examining analytics or user needs. A great piece of content was created and it worked. What can you do that’s as ambitious?
So you want to redesign your website. It’s exciting. But before you jump into what could be a gamechanger for your business or a nightmare that sucks time and money out of it, why do you want a new website?
There are good and bad reasons for doing this and it is important to understand which are prompting the change that you are making.
5 good reasons for a website redesign
You want to change CMS
If you feel that your content management system is not serving your needs as well as another option can, you face a significant job to transfer your site. Redesigning the site can kill two birds with one stone and minimise disruption.
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!
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.