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How to project manage a content-first website launch

by , Marketing Manager, GatherContent

When you’re managing a content-first website design project there’s a chance it will be the first content-first website project for at least a portion of the people involved. It’s your job as the project manager to get everybody on board with the process and keep the project on track. This can be a tough job, but these rules I learnt as a digital project manager helped our team launch websites with content that drove measurable results. I hope they can help you too.

What do we mean by content-first?

Liam King says it best in Content Strategy: A project guide. ‘If websites are primarily a vehicle for content delivery, why do so many web projects still disproportionately focus on visual design and functionality, at the expense of the content?’ Treating content as an afterthought limits the ability to make informed (and good) design decisions.

Going ‘content-first’ doesn’t mean waiting until you have all final content from your team or client before you do anything else. Rather, considering and thinking about content at each stage of a project steers us to appropriate design decisions, which delivers better websites.

Talk content-first from day one

Working in a small design agency, naturally we were focused on winning clients but it was a pleasant surprise to find that talking content-first in our pitches actually helped differentiate us from the competition and secure more exciting projects. Going ‘content-first’ isn’t a new approach but when you use this as the reason why working with you will lead to stronger results for your client, that’s what can draw them in.

Gone are the days of pitching creative ideas before you’ve been signed up to a project. (Note: if this still happening for you and you want out, learn how to say no to spec work at NO!Spec). Your client may know they need a new website but as the agency you cannot know what that website needs to do, say or how it should look without understanding details about the business, its objectives, their customers and the marketplace. To get all these answers you really need a full discovery phase and to work content-first. This was the biggest motivator for me, but the benefits of content-first go don’t end there.

Going content-first allows you to:

Need more convincing? Read Liam King’s article on Designing Content-First for a Better UX to help get content onto the agenda as early as possible and get stakeholders on board.

Communicate what your content-first process will look like

The earlier the better when it comes to effectively communicating what your content-first project process will involve. Include a top-level summary at proposal stage to help set expectations and keep your project on track.

Decide and communicate:

This probably sounds like your project will be front-loaded with work but the payoff is worth it because by setting expectations from the beginning of your project, it will run smoother as a result. Energy levels are highest at the beginning of a project – work this to your advantage and get everybody on board with your process from the get-go. Believe me, it’s much harder to persuade somebody that quality content is critical when a deadline is looming.

Accept that some work will need to be redone

One of the major attractions of a content-first approach for agencies is that less work (be it the design or development) needs to be redone. Without a content-first approach, content typically arrives in a different size/format than expected meaning the design or development need to be adjusted.

In my experience it’s not realistic to believe that any project can truly receive all final content up-front. For instance, let’s say you plan to provide a thorough content brief alongside wireframes to help guide your client in providing content. When the client comes to writing the content they may well find that the user needs are different and then the wireframes will need to be reworked. That’s OK! The best laid plans are really just that – plans. Don’t feel too disappointed or that you’re breaking the content-first “rules” if content arrives and you need to re-work any stage of your project. You can be sure that by bringing content forward in the project you’re significantly reducing the margin for error by basing your design and development decisions on real content.

And if you ever need to feel better, just remember the pain of projects that weren’t content-first with Lorem Ipsum plastered all over your beautiful website!

I hope these simple rules help you deliver successful content-first website projects.

About the Author

Marketing Manager, GatherContent

Becky is a Marketing Manager at GatherContent. She is a business studies graduate and has previously worked in digital marketing roles in both London and Aberdeen based agencies.

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