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.
“But I’m a photographer/artist/retailer” – It doesn’t matter. You should never use sliders according to this fascinating post on sliders on Yoast.com.
It is very easy to think that there are exceptions, but if you truly believe that, you should test out your beliefs. I like the points made in the post about sliders diluting the focus of a site.
Read the post in the link. If you couldn’t have a slider, what would you replace it with? Why?
Then why not test that out and see where you get?
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:
In July of 2012 I got my logo designed for cycleireland.ie. I had put the task off for a while as I was nervous about ending up with something that I didn’t like, and I felt that a bad logo would leave the whole project looking about as attractive as a tramp in a heatwave’s underpants.
#1 Don’t stress over it
That was my first mistake – I attached too much importance to it. Logos can be amended, improved and changed at will. It is not the most important thing in the world. There is a very clear process to follow. If you end up with a bad result just examine what went wrong, change what you need to change and start again. If you don’t have time to do that, review it an appropriate later date and keep that in mind when you are doing any printing work.
#2 Verbalise what you want
Some people have the idea that they don’t want to influence their graphic designer and would prefer that they come up with a blue sky idea. If you are one of those people, you are a designer’s nightmare, and they are only working with you because better people won’t hire them. You don’t want to be in this situation.
As broadband speeds slowly – painfully slowly – improve in country after country, it’s important to look at how that impacts the web content that we create. Web images are second only to videos in their impact on downloading times for your site.
Web images can now be used more creatively
Optimising your images has long been vital to having efficient sites, but it is time to loosen the restrictions we place on our image sizes, if we haven’t done so already. Web design is trending towards larger and larger imagery, and if yours is any good you should show it off in its most impressive way.
I have just reworked Cycle Ireland to make all of the imagery bigger and more prominent (that’s not a tautology – I placed it higher up in the page so that it is the first thing the user sees on a route page). In optimising images my only priority was how good they looked. File size came a very distant second. That said, all of the images were jpgs, and from my experience you get no discernible benefit with a file size above 80% of the maximum.
Have you heard about Adobe Kuler? Have you ever tried to do a simple graphic and have it turn out just plain ugly?
Why did that happen? If it was just fonts and colours, how hard is it to get them looking, at a minimum, alright?
Colours can be difficult to match up. You can spend hours changing shades and never get it right.
Adobe Kuler offers thousands of user generated swatches. Just search for a word and scroll through the options that it returns. I typed the word “freedom” and it returned the following on the first page:
Freedom in Adobe Kuler
Each swatch has 5 colours. If you pick one you like you can either screengrab it or download it.
Adobe Kuler fast forwards your creative colour thinking
It is a great tool if you are looking for a couple of matching blues or greens for a banner ad or suchlike. The quality tends to be quite high. Forget about messing about with colour wheels and take the easy option.
There is quite an active community on Adobe Kuler, and you will find colour suggestions for an incredible range of topics. Have you ever wanted to know the colour of a clown stabbing? Or the colour of Love in Tromso? Or why sadness comes in fishes or the imaginary road?
Adding a swatch is easy. You can pick the colours from a wheel, type in the rgb or hex values, or upload an image and use the colour picker on it. Then start editing and amending your swatch until it is perfect – as creations they feel remarkably personal and you won’t want to let shoddy ones get out into the world bearing your name. And coming up with a good title is half the fun.
Any good content manager knows the importance of good photography on their site. If you are a beginner and need to get up to speed as quickly and efficiently as possible, you need Ben Long. And with Pinterest and it becomes even more important, particularly if your users are women, who form the vast majority of Pinterest’s users – at least for now.
If you are a talented photographer – great. Skip this post.
Ben is a photographer based in San Francisco with a real talent for teaching the basics and breaking down components of a shot. He has a book – Complete Digital Photography – and numerous courses on Lynda.com. These include Photoshop CS5: Landscape Photography, Foundations of Photography: Exposure, Shooting with the Canon 60D and Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light. There are many more.
A hairpin on Achill Island – does this make you want to cycle here?
This Adobe guide helps you navigate your way through what is a fantastic suite of products. The Adobe suite sets the standard for software to aid the creation of both great content and also great web content. Let’s run through the products in the suite and see how useful they are to a web content producer/manager:
Adobe Photoshop is the market leader in photo manipulation software. If you can think of it, you can probably do it in Photoshop. And while you won’t have much call to smurfify people for your web pictures, it is a superb tool to clean up images quickly and easily. And it supports camera RAW, so if you are shooting images for your site, you can bracket your photos in order to take three exposures of each and between them get the perfect exposure. Quite apart from saving time in setting up shots, it means you need never come home again with unusable shots.
Use to a web content producer: 10/10
Dreamweaver is a superb tool to manage websites and to assist with coding or even just manipulating code. It keeps everything together under one umbrella and should be your programme of choice if you do not use a CMS. On of its best features is sitewide find and replace, and the ability to change a filename (most useful when building out a site) and have all relevant links change automatically.
Use to a web content producer: 8/10 (10 if you do not have a CMS)
Loco2 is a London-based startup looking to make finding and booking European trains as easy as possible. They combine a sophisticated booking engine with an informative forum and beautifully presented travel ideas. Their content strikes the perfect tone between being serious enough to be credible and being, yes, fun. “Our mission - Trains, planes and automobiles, except without the planes or automobiles. So, just trains then.”
Being described as ‘fun’ is often the death-knell for content due to the fact that most people think that they are funnier than they are, and the lack of context on the web – you don’t know the backgrounds, interests, cultural touchstones or knowledge of your readers, even if you can believe you can make an educated guess. Loco2 gets it right and is a rarity.
It is refreshingly direct and straightforward. The third question in their FAQs is: How does Loco2 make money?
Over the course of 47 detailed enquiries, the FAQs describe every aspect of the site in ludicrous and admirable detail. It is prototypical. Too many content people think a FAQs section is for the stuff they want to talk about. It is not, it is for the stuff that your users want to talk about. And most of the time that is the dirty, grubby stuff that you pretend doesn’t exist.
The Loco2 Engine Room