If you’re working on a website project, you need to put content front of mind (where it belongs). Asking a few content focused questions at the start of your project can make the reality of your content challenge known. This process will allow you to identify content risks nice and early.
When working through the questions, it’s ok not to have exact answers at this early stage. Rather, it will help you gauge the project team’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.
YES: Good start. It means you’re already thinking about content and probably considering its impact on the project.
NO: Alarm bells. Commissioning/starting a website project without considering how much content currently exists is not a good start. Quickly get that answer, and share it with the project team.
YES: Excellent. You understand 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: You 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 convince the project team to include a content audit activity into the project. It is always worth doing.
YES: Great. You already respect content as a finite resource that has a life-cycle and understand that a new site is the perfect opportunity for a spring clean.
NO: Warning. There may be an expectation that all the old content is to be “lifted and shifted” into the shiny new site. Nip that assumption in the bud.
YES: Good. Don’t assume 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. Don’t fail to think about one of the most resource intensive work streams in the project. And don’t assume the content can be easily migrated from the old site to the new. Set expectations now!
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.
YES: Good. Think ahead and don’t see the launch of the new site as the finish (but as the beginning). Be more realistic about how much content is sustainable and prioritise harder throughout the project.
NO: Don’t be short-sighted and dangerously miss the point that a website is a living and evolving medium that needs continuous attention. Set expectations with all those involved in the project.
YES: Great, and well done. Defining a workflow and determining who is responsible for what, and by when, is key to ensuring communication about content is efficient throughout the project lifespan.
NO: Yikes! This will reveal a lot of potential pitfalls. People on the team may not know what they need to do, what has to happen before and after they do it, who is responsible for sign off and generally how content will get from idea to published efficiently.
YES: Good. It pays to appreciate that good content needs ownership. Make sure content owners are included 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.
YES: Good. It’s important to know the 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 isn’t known and failed to be included in the brief? Conduct a content eco-system audit ASAP before an old legacy content feed catches everyone out.
YES: You’re on the ball. Knowing all types of content that you have or need is vital to efficient planning. It will also ensure you have the resource you need to obtain this content, especially if third parties are involved like film crews, illustrators, freelancers etc
NO: Content is more than the words on the page. It is imagery, video, infographics, printed materials. And you likely need to map all of this to appropriate platforms. Start by listing all possible content types and you’ll start to see exactly what you’re dealing with, who is needed and how this needs to be built into an overall strategy.
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 you started to think about a content production process to deliver consistent, good quality content? Potentially not.
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.
YES: Good. This shows an appreciation for the true effort of producing good content and are understanding of ways to ensure the content doesn’t delay launch, including prioritising content.
NO: There may be unrealistic expectations 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.
And that’s about it. Working through this checklist for 30 mins will immediately focus you on where education is needed, what red flags to wave, 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.
Rob is Content Strategist at GatherContent. He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and regular contributor to industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, 24 Ways, WebTuts+, UX Matters , UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy at leading industry events.
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