The content creation battle is real. For years we have been hitting our heads against the wall to try and figure out how to get our clients to create GOOD content ON time. While I truly believe our future will provide us with a form of content utopia, our current reality often involves project teams without a content strategist and a client on a tight budget. The good news is that there are several content challenges that can be solved with good old fashion project management.
Without a clear process, every website project would go off track. Same holds true for a content strategy plan. Someone needs to lead the charge to determine the process, outline the milestones, list the tasks and select the people doing the work. Since this is second nature to project managers, it makes sense that we also define these for our team and the client.
I recommend that you take an MVP approach to your plan. Start with only the minimal required tasks in order for your content strategy plan to be successful and then add to that plan with each project. If you try to do it all from the start, you will run out of steam halfway through. The plan will change too depending on what type of project you are working on and what skills your clients have.
Write the plan down and share it with your internal team and your client. A written plan is clearer and has visible deadlines for teams to achieve.
In order to stay on track, provide clear boundaries along the way to guide their work. For instance, tell them they have to cut 50% of their content from the inventory, require that they meet as a content team every week or assign ‘X’ amount of pages to be written each week. Even if they don’t end up cutting half their pages, everyone now is focused on a target and there is no confusion about the goal.
Be the leader and champion of this plan. It should be clear to both your team and your client who to talk to when there are questions about content.
Creating and implementing a plan will cost more the first time around but you will soon find that the additional hours will be minimal compared to the costs associated with an out of control project timeline.
A Gallup poll from 2014 showed full-time U.S. working adults average 47 hours a week. In fact, nearly 4 in 10 people work 50 hours a week. How can we possibly expect our clients or subject matter experts to have time to both create content and do their jobs? Our role here is to help them (and their boss) understand the importance of high quality content and make it clear that they won’t have the time nor skills to create it. The good news is that we can help them find the right help for their project.
Content Marketing Costs 62% less than traditional marketing and per dollar spent, it generates approximately 3 times as many leads as traditional marketing
– Demand Metric
Ideally, we want to set aside enough money in the budget to pay for a writer to create all written content but the truth is that most project budgets can’t afford it. In those cases, consider hiring a writer just to review and edit the work or have the writer create 10-20 key pages that the team can use as samples to create the rest of the content.
Online video accounts for 74% of all web traffic. This is is a massive piece of the content pie and we should discuss how both high-end evergreen and regular low-end video fits into the content plan. Look to hire a professional for banners, service explanations and who we are videos. Look at how the client or team can create on-going lower quality videos for news, events, and more.
It turns out that articles with images get 94% more views. That shouldn’t be surprising since social channels have pushed us to demand visual content. Consider hiring a photographer for more evergreen content and then use high-quality stock photography for recurring content.
The use of custom graphics is rising, in fact the demand for infographics has increased 800% over the last two years. Determine how the project designer can create graphic elements that can be reused over time.
As a site begins to age it tends to grow baggage. More and more pages appear yet no one can explain how they got there. A content inventory is needed at the start of every project to take stock of what they have. This is a detailed oriented task and well suited (though maybe not liked) for a project manager. This task allows us to dig deep into the project, making our voice more critical to the discovery phase.
For the creation of the document, I recommend using Google Sheets. That way you can work collaboratively both internally and externally. What to include really depends on the type of project, size of project and your personal preference. I tend to lean towards a MVP approach – what at minimum do I need to capture to get the job done well and usually include the following:
The most useful part for me is the recommendations we can provide of what should be kept, combined or deleted. Providing that recommendation gives the client or team relief knowing that many of their decisions have already been made. They can always challenge your recommendations since you won’t always be right.
Here is an example of what is might look like:
Once you finalise what is in or out, you will take the remaining pages and map them to the new site map. This process will remove the clutter from items we no longer need to think about. It also helps you quickly see that there are still some pages that don’t have a place in the new site map.
Use of images permitted by Waconia Public Schools.
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to get rid of content. Not because it’s personal but simply because it is a very overwhelming task. What should encourage us all is that the more we can help the clients eliminate, the less time we will need for writing. As a project manager we can clearly explain to our clients why we should keep or delete a piece of content. We do this by helping them understand what makes a piece of content valuable for their project. I would recommend that you write down your own recommendation in a formal content assessment document. A written document not only allows you to be clear, it also allows your message to be consistent when it reaches additional client stakeholders that you will never meet.
Here is what I include on that list:
Useful: Are your users coming specifically to you for this piece of content? Does this content support your client or team’s key initiatives?
Fresh: Has it been updated in the last year? If not, should it? Will that change going forward?
Accurate: Is the content credible? If you are the source of key information, should you be?
Ownership: Does each piece of content have an owner going forward? If not, it should be removed.
Mobile: Will the content work well on smaller devices?
Traffic: Is anyone going to the content? Is there a good reason why not?
I am ashamed when I think back to a time when I would tell my clients to ‘go write’ and that is all the direction I gave them. How did they ever overcome the blank white page? Project managers are awesome at breaking projects down into tiny digestible pieces with firm deadlines. So why not do that with content?
First start with the creation of content templates. Once the wireframes are approved, grab all the planning documents and sit down to create a list of unique types of content that are needed for the new site. While doing this, also list out the various components needed to make up each template. You will find that there are lots of holes and decisions that still need to be made. Grab your User Experience Lead and work together to fill in those gaps. Doing that early, allows for the initial build process to go much smoother.
The content scope (or full site navigation) needs to be finalised. Grab the approved site map and begin mapping the current content you decided to keep to this navigation. You will expose pages that still don’t have a home. Once again work with the UX Lead to determine how to handle these pages. This becomes our official content task list.
Clients need clear boundaries which is why word limits are so helpful. As a project manager you might not initially feel comfortable creating these but trust me, you know better than the client. Use the wireframes, their current site and competitor sites to guide your decisions. While you might feel like you are making them up at first, over time you will feel more comfortable and knowledgeable at this task.
Someone needs to determine what approval steps a piece of content needs to travel in order for it to be ready to go live. Simply create an initial workflow and then let the client revise it as needed. Most likely your first guess will be correct.
This step we need the client to do. Once you have all the templates and pages into the tool you are using to organise and produce content, ask the client to assign each piece of content to a person. They know best when it comes to who should be responsible for that content and frankly, who has time. Give them one week to complete this task.
Finally, set deadlines for the content. Start with one group of content and make it due over the next two weeks. Make sure your choices don’t put too much workload on one person. Also ensure that you have 1-2 pieces done of each template by the time your development team starts build. Then assign groups every week or two to take you to the content creation deadline.
This might sound like a lot of work and I am not going to lie, it can be but the time you spend here will save you from delayed projects.
It also is much easier when you use a tool created exactly for this like GatherContent. The image above is a workflow within GatherContent. All of these tasks (and more) can easily be done with this tool. On top of that, it provides one of the most important things we need during this process – transparency! You can clearly see how on (or more likely off) track your client is with this process. That is worth everything!
Months have passed and content is mysteriously being written at your client’s office or out of sight within your own organisation. After several phone calls and emails, they finally show you some work and your heart sinks. The content simply isn’t good enough and you have lost so much time. While we can create a process that involves transparency and frequent check-in points to avoid this surprise, the truth nobody can be sure that the content is going to be successful without user testing. As a team we can complete simple testing that can ensure our content is readable, findable, and comprehendible.
Readability is the users ability to read the words on the page. According to a study conducted in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million U.S. adults (or 14% of the population) can’t read and 21% read below a 5th grade level. What this tells us is that we need to ensure our content is usable by all reading capabilities which happens to also make the rest of the scan-crazed population happy. You can test how readable the content is by using a tool at read-able.com
Simply copy the body text from a page, click a button, and you will receive a grade level score for your content. This is a task that clients can compete themselves while writing. We are looking to be around or below 7th grade for most of our content.
Now we need to make sure users can find the right content on the right page. Jess Sauro of Measuring Usability did a study that found if a user clicked down the right path on the first click they would complete their task with a 87% success rate. If a user clicked down the wrong-path, they were only 46% successful. Therefore, I recommend we focus our testing for findability on finding the content in the first place and I prefer one of two testing options to do this. The first is Tree testing which tests if users can find the right content within your navigation structure. The other is First-Click testing which tests if users can find the right components and calls-to-action on the page. The Optimal Workshop testing suite provides services for each.
Testing for comprehension can often take the most time but is critical. We are asking users if they can understand what we have written and then take the desired next step. Comprehension should really be done in-person and with 3-5 people. Just go to your favourite coffee shop with your 5-10 testing questions on hand. In exchange for coffee, someone will be willing to give you 30 minutes of their time. This type of in-person testing will give you the most feedback and therefore the most revisions. Make sure you tackle this early in your content writing process to ensure you can stay on track.
Organisations that are large, work in silos or are simply missing strong project leadership often have politically charged projects. A turf war begins immediately as they debate who’s content goes where on the site. As Project Managers we are in a unique position of power allowing us to defuse the situation so we can move on to creating the content.
Setting regular time periods to gather feedback on content and other documents allows extra stakeholders outside of the inner circle (core web team) a consistent opportunity to provide their thoughts. Providing a clear path will remove backchannel conversations and panic. I recommend setting aside one hour every three weeks to review the redesign progress and allow for feedback. For individuals that are a bit more challenging and vocal, schedule two to three one-on-one meetings at the start of the project. Clear agendas and set times will bring them to your side.
Take the time to schedule 45min interviews with key internal stakeholders before you kick-off the project. Ask them about their roles, what challenges they face, how we can make their life easier, what new ideas they have and what they think the organisation’s priorities should be. This process will allow them to feel involved as well as help you come up with new ideas.
Once you have exhausted all your amazing persuasion skills, it’s time to move to testing. I recommend using Optimal Workshop’s Treejack test. Run one test with 50-100 external participants and a second test with the internal staff. This test will ensure that you have the right content in the right places so users can find it quickly. Real data from users always turns the conversation around. The bonus is that you will learn something too and improve your user paths.
People that aren’t comfortable with change or have challenges with technology sometimes panic when you remove or move their content. Arrange for a copy of their old site to be stored for a limited time period. That way they can ease into this new change.
At the end of every good content strategy comes Governance. Governance guides how to create and maintain content in order to meet your goals. These guidelines are put in place to make sure you have the right roles, a clear process, a workflow in action and tasks are identified. The only trouble is that by the time a client gets to the end of a project, they are exhausted and most likely required to get back to their ‘real’ job.
The truth is that there is no perfect solution yet. It takes time and organisations rarely provide that time once the core initiative of redesigning the website is done. My recommendation is wait. I know that they adore you (after all you are their project manager) but everyone needs a break from your helpful (demanding) ways. Let them take that needed vacation and allow them to catch-up on their job. Then, 3 months later schedule a follow-up meeting. Use this time to help them get a minimal viable Governance plan in place. Pick only four to six items to focus on in order to not overwhelm them. Some potential topics might include:
It’s also a great time to complete a mini project retrospective and see if they have a phase 2 project on the horizon.
While this won’t get us quite to content utopia, it will make a big difference. If we take on this challenges, content will be given priority throughout the project lifecycle, our timelines will stay on track and our teams will be less stressed. So my only question to you is…what are you waiting for?
Lynn has been managing people, projects and processes for over 17 years, focusing on nonprofits that are utilizing open source technology. Besides project management, she has worked with her clients on content strategy, user experience, user testing, and more. Lynn is currently a freelance consultant located in Minnesota.
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