When I’m brought into a website refresh project as the content strategist, I have a checklist of questions I run through in the kick-off meeting with my new clients.
I do this before anything else, and I do it for several reasons:
- it forces the client to put content front of mind (where it belongs)
- it confronts them with the reality of their content challenge
- what they don’t know speaks volumes about their expectations
- content risks are identified nice and early
I’m not expecting exact answers at this early stage, but I am gauging the client’s awareness, emphasis, and appreciation of the content strategy elements that will make or break a website project and the longer term success of the site.
Q1. Do you know how much content you have on your current site?
YES: Good start. The client is already thinking about content and probably considering its impact on the project.
NO: Alarm bells. Commissioning a website project without considering how much content currently exists is not a good start. Quickly get that answer, and share it with client.
Q2. Have you (or will you) audit the content on your current site?
YES: Excellent. The client understands the value of auditing content and the whole project will benefit from the insights. Get your hands on the audit / inventory ASAP to see how good it is.
NO: The client may be thinking: “We don’t like our old content, we’ll just start again.” That is a serious case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and should be confronted.
At this point you may be able to sell a content audit activity into the project. It is always worth doing.
Q3. Are you archiving outdated or poor quality content on the current site?
YES: Great. The client already respects content as a finite resource that has a life-cycle and they understand that a new site is the perfect opportunity for a spring clean.
NO: Warning. They may be expecting all the old content to be “lifted and shifted” into the shiny new site. Nip that assumption in the bud.
Q4. Do you know who is going to (re)write all the content for the new site?
YES: Good. They aren’t assuming that improved content will magically appear in the new site. Enquire who is lined up and assess their skill level and availability.
NO: Big risk. They’re failing to think about one of the most resource intensive work streams in the project. They may assume the content can be easily migrated from the old site to the new. Set expectations now!
Do they have a budget for hiring writers? You can sell this service in.
Share my previous Stop underestimating content production for web projects blog post with your client if they need a reality check.
Q5. Does someone have overall responsibility for content quality during the project and beyond launch?
YES: Good. There is someone with a lot riding on the new site and will be (in theory) working hard to produce good content. Start building a strong working relationship ASAP.
NO: Alarm bells. If such a person does not exist and is not considered necessary, then the content beyond the project is rudderless.
Q6. Do you know (roughly) how many hours per week will be dedicated to maintaining content on the new site?
YES: Good. They are thinking ahead and not seeing the launch of the new site as the finish (but as the beginning). They will also be more realistic about how much content is sustainable and prioritise harder throughout the project.
NO: The client is being short-sighted and dangerously missing the point that a website is a living and evolving medium that needs continuous attention. Set expectations with them.
Q7. Does the current site have dedicated (subject expert) content owners?
YES: Good. They appreciate that good content needs ownership and are more likely to work smoothly with the content owners during the project for better results.
NO: Indicates that content is unloved and probably in a state of neglect. The project will need to (re)build ownership between subject experts and the new site’s content. This takes time.
My previous Map people to content during a website project. ASAP! blog post will help with this.
Q8. Do you know if any current content is syndicated from other systems?
YES: Good. They seem to know their own content eco-system. You need to look at any syndicated content ASAP because you can guarantee it is going to add functional requirements to the new CMS.
NO: Warning sign. What else don’t they know and failed to include in the brief? Conduct a content eco-system audit ASAP before an old legacy content feed catches everyone out.
Q9. Will you have a (digital) content style guide?
YES: Somebody cares about content quality and consistency and probably understands the difficulty of producing good digital content. Get a copy of the guide to see if it’s up to the job.
NO: Have they even started to think about a content production process to deliver consistent, good quality content? Potentially not.
You may be able to win some extra work if they need a style guide.
Q10. Do you have analytics running on your current site?
YES: Good. Some value is placed on evaluation (even if little has been done with the data). Get full access to the analytics tool.
NO: Warning sign. So nobody really knows how the content on the existing site is performing or shown any interest in finding out. The project needs to change that.
Q11. Can content be published in phases after the site launches?
YES: Good. They presumably appreciate the true effort of producing good content and are anticipating ways to ensure the content doesn’t delay launch, including prioritising content.
NO: They maybe being unrealistic about the content challenge ahead or approaching the project with a print-publication mentality, i.e. it must all be published together. Closely examine the reasons why content can’t be rolled out in phases and challenge them.
A clearer brief
And that’s about it. Working through this checklist for 30 mins will immediately focus you on where the client needs to be educated, what red flags to wave at the project manager, and if extra (content strategy) activities need to be added to the project.
It won’t catch everything, but it is a good start. Try it for yourself.
What content questions do you ask clients during the project kick-off phase?