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Is your in-house website redesign project really content first?

Robert Mills • 4 minutes

You don’t need a dedicated content strategist to adopt a “content-first” process for your website project, you don’t even need to be the ones writing or producing the content for the sites you’re designing.

Some simple, common-sense thinking and techniques from your team will make web content planning easier and push content to the heart of your work.

Here’s a checklist to gauge how ‘content first’ your in-house website redesign project is

This simple checklist will give you a benchmark to gauge how content-first you are:

1. Are you asking your team/business about content from the start?

It’s sort of obvious, but being content-first means talking about content, first. The earlier you do, the earlier you can start to make smarter strategic and design decisions.

Asking your team and stakeholders this one simple question at the start of your engagement should set a content-focused tone for the entire website project: “How many people will be resourced to regularly update the content on your new site?”

They may confidently tell you: “Well we ongoing resource once the site has launched.”

Great, you know you have the freedom to design a site with higher content maintenance demands.

But they may pull a troubled face and answer: “To be honest we don’t really have any resource beyond this project for someone to make updates.”

OK, so now you are going to need to reign things in and probably set your stakeholders expectations about what they actually need. Perhaps a whole new website is not that answer!

Check out the recent 13 Content Questions to Kick-off your Website Refresh Project post for (12 more) insightful questions to ask your team.

2. Are you auditing (and learning) from your existing content?

You ain’t content-first if you don’t bother to find out what content is already there.

A content audit will reveal insights and recommendations to help you make smarter and better informed decisions about a whole range of areas, including content migration and production, content modelling, CMS requirements, navigation patterns, functional requirements, style guide inclusions, bigger strategic objectives, ongoing content governance, the list goes on…

The afterglow of that content audit and analysis will be felt throughout the entire project.

The afterglow of a content audit will be felt throughout the entire project

Don’t skip this step. Take the time because new site always benefits from that learning experience.

3. Are you designing around real content?

The reign of Lorem Ipsum is over!

You don’t need to wait for content to be signed off before uniting it with the interface design to (inevitably) discover it doesn’t quite work.

Learn valuable lessons early in a website project by substituting in existing site content, competitor content, mocked up content, or pre-signed off project content into your wireframes, mockups and prototypes.

In a previous post about designing content first for a better UX, we explored how UX designers can work with imperfect “proto” content during the design process to make smarter, content-led design decisions.

4. Are you planning content production work?

Late and poor quality content is the frequent cause of delaying a website project.

The temptation is to just let someone else get on with writing the content. You need to have a defined workflow with clear roles and responsibilities. That yields accountability which ensures the content gets produced on time.

But this may be your first time running a website redesign project and so you can easily get caught out. We’ve heard from many teams who underestimated the effort, over reached, lost focus, rushed, panicked and pushed back the launch.

Be proactive and help your team to start web content planning nice and early. If the content is ready on time, the site can launch without delays, users enjoy good quality content, the business is happy.

If the content is ready on time, your site can launch without delays

You should read our guide on Content Production Planning, you’ll learn how to design a web content planning process for your next project.

5. Are you designing sustainable sites?

How healthy is your site going to be 6, 12 ,18 months after you launch?

Are all the content types you included being well used? Has that elaborate events calendar interface got many events in it? Has the blog got many recent posts?

In the heat of a web project, features are often discussed (and prioritised) in terms of effort to design and build, rather than effort to update and maintain beyond launch.

The result is over ambitious (and expensive) sites that feel empty and poorly maintained, potentially damaging the user experience and affecting the goals of the site.

A true content-first project constantly asks that inconvenient, kill-joy question: “Will we really be able to sustain the content for this feature / content type / interface?”

If that person who insisted on a fancy events calendar was hardly producing any events before the project, is a shiny new events calendar really going to mean events flood forth?

Push your team for assurances. And explain the implications of an empty looking site.

Content first is nothing special – it is just common sense

I think it is a safe argument to say that website’s are primarily a vehicle for the delivery and effective communication of content. Going content-first and putting the time into web content planning is simply a common sense approach to achieving that objective.

After all, it’s hardly a new concept – print has always been a content-first medium.

If designers, developers, producers, UX architects and Co. can let a little voice in their heads keep saying: “Hang on, let’s think about this from a content perspective for a second”, then we can design sites that effectively communicate content at launch and well beyond.

Is your in-house website redesign project really content first?

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Our content processes used to involve an ineffective mix of spreadsheets, documents, and a slew of file storage solutions. With GatherContent we've solved all of those problems and more. Mark McClendon — Partner & Executive Director, VML

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About the Author

Robert Mills

Content Strategist, GatherContent

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