Content Delivery

Deliver high quality website content, on time and in budget

by Liam King


Practical, systematic, and focussed on delivering real value through user-centred content. It's hard to argue with that.

Liam's fine-tuned approach to content development is clearly the outcome of years of experience fighting the good fight, in the trenches of digital projects.

What's great is that Liam doesn't take a stance of "follow this exact process or be eternally miserable". Instead, thankfully, he understands that we might not be in a position to adopt change in one fell swoop.

Liam's process is repeatable, and encourages iteration at every step. Learning what works for your audience and your team. The processes outlined in the book ensure that you're delivering content that works, and doing so sustainably.

This sustainable approach to content, and to project development in general, is increasingly essential. We still see so many website projects (and the teams responsible for maintaining them) show signs of stress and strain just weeks after launch. This book is the cure to thinking that content is a one-time consideration.

Combining strategic thinking, with a practical process to actually getting content out the door, make this is a perfect book for anyone wanting to improve their projects. Whether you're dealing with the anxiety of delivering your first project, or looking to improve and build upon an existing process, dig in and start applying the tried and tested techniques to your work immediately.

Photo of Angus Edwardson Angus Edwardson Product Director at GatherContent

About this book

We know just how hard it can be to get good quality content planned, produced and published. Whilst every project is different, the same basic challenges crop up again and again.

Are these pains familiar? Content is late and causes project delays, content is delivered but in the wrong format for the CMS, content never arrives so projects are left in limbo and can’t be invoiced for. It’s also common for the effort needed to deliver content not to be considered, or to be underestimated, and so budgets swell to get content done. All the while, team morale plummets and relationships with stakeholders and clients break down.

To overcome these challenges you need a content delivery plan. This helps you to establish a fluid workflow around the creation and management of your website’s content.

This book will help teams put content first and arm them with techniques and know-how to deliver content on time. From upfront planning, to getting a team and process in place and implementing your plan, this book shares advice for every step of the way.

Whether you’re part of an in-house team or an agency working with clients, this book is for those who are responsible for websites with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of content items.

Sit back, have a read and stop content from delaying and derailing your website projects.

Table of Contents


Get ready to deliver content

Start your website projects with everything in place to keep them on track.


Assemble a content delivery team

Ensure you have the right people onboard to plan, produce and deliver content.


Define a content delivery workflow

Put a process in place to get content done, with clear stages, roles and responsibilities.


Prioritise your content

Prioritise your content, calculate the costs and then kickstart the production.


Optimise your content delivery workflow

Discover the best tools for delivering content and tips for collaborating with others.


The inconvenient truth

Producing website content that meets user needs is time consuming. Fact. Underestimate this and your wider website project is at risk.

Bad things happen when content is an afterthought...

  • The projects run late (as you wait for the content to catch up);
  • Which means poor quality content gets rushed through and budgets blow-out;
  • Which means the overall user experience suffers;
  • Which means the site's business objectives fail;
  • Which makes the project a failure.

So if you only take a few things away from this book:


  • Prioritise the content needed for the website launch, and publish more in follow-up phases
  • Identify the content owner and Subject Matter Experts ASAP
  • Archive as much of the existing site content as possible before beginning
  • Minimise review points and be clear on the exact remit of each Reviewer
  • Stagger content production to reduce bottlenecks (like a factory assembly line)

Do not

  • Underestimate the time it takes to produce content (it always takes longer than you expect)
  • Migrate all of the current site’s content (this is the time for a Spring clean)
  • Dismiss hiring professional web Copywriters because of cost
  • Start writing until you have a digital style guide
  • Allow Reviewers to make direct edits to the content
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Get ready to deliver content

Content delivery checklist

These are the things you need in place for a successful content delivery phase on a website project:

  • An inventory of the content on the current site
  • An assembled content delivery team
  • A list of researched, validated and prioritised user needs or stories that your new website is going to meet
  • A list or sitemap of the content items you expect to deliver on your new site
  • A web content style guide
  • A content delivery workflow
  • A tool or method to track the ownership and progression of content items through the production process

Expect all of these items to evolve during the course of your website project and content delivery as you learn and iterate.


Content style guides: 6 must-read articles

Writing user stories

As you plan your production process, be sure to build in a way to establish goals for each piece of content. You can use a template for this or even a simple questionnaire. If you set goals before the research and writing start, the rest of the process will be much faster. Clearly articulated goals help your Writer know what questions to ask and what to write. They give your approvers and Subject Experts a framework for evaluating the content. They even give your Copy Editor a better idea of what changes should be made.

Photo of Michael Metts Michael Metts Designer, Writer, and Speaker

Assemble a content delivery team

Content delivery requires people and there is no way round that. If you don’t have the right people with enough time then all the methods and tools discussed in this book are pretty much futile.

So what does a content delivery team actually look like? In reality it varies from project to project, but let’s look at the main roles, some of which may be fulfilled by the same person:

Content Strategist

Somebody with the overview on what content is required to meet user needs and business goals. Expect the Content Strategist to:

  • Develop the content models for the web page templates (this is a breakdown of content elements you need to populate)
  • Develop a content governance strategy
  • (Co)produce the web content style guide

What are Content Models and why do they matter?

A content model documents all of the different types of content you will have for a given project and the way that they relate to each other. Defining a content model that underpins your content early will give more time for insight into what content is needed.

Where to find:
Content strategy is a specialist role so you may need to look to your digital agency partner or freelancers to fill this role.


Content modelling a Master Skill, A List Apart

Copywriter / Content Designer

It should be obvious that a website project will need people to write and edit the actual content, but they are often absent. Expect them to:

  • Research and consult with the Subject Matter Experts for content items
  • Draft and revise quality content according to the web content style guide
  • Source relevant media and populate content templates

Where to find:
Copywriters may be existing staff, from your agency, or a third party. It should only be an ideal that they have subject area knowledge - far more important that they have the hard content writing skills.

Senior Editor

There should be one person with full view of the content that is going to be published on the website. They should have significant experience writing for the web and be intimate with the project’s objectives. Expect them to:

  • Review all content (before publication)
  • Own and enforce the style guide
  • (Co)own the content production process
  • Manage conflicts with Subject Matter Experts

Where to find:
Ideally the Senior Editor should be appointed from the in-house website team with the authority of “an insider”. This means their intimate understanding of the site’s content is not lost at the end of the project. The Website Manager is an obvious candidate.

It is not uncommon, or wrong, for the Senior Editor to also be the Content Strategist role.

User Researcher

An experienced User Research Facilitator will be able to steer the rest of the delivery team to meet the site’s user needs. Expect them to:

  • Plan user research activities
  • Recruit user representatives
  • Run usability testing sessions
  • Interpret user feedback into actionable insights
  • Report research findings back to team

Encourage the Copywriters to keep a running list of user research questions they encounter during their work: “Would our users prefer to use the term X or Y when searching for this information?” The User Researcher can then provide the answers.

Where to find:
Digital user research is a specialist role and they may come from your partner digital agency or as a freelancer.

CMS Editor / Uploader

The content has to get into the content management system at some point in the project. Even if this is largely an automated, scripted process of migrating the content from one system to another, there still needs to be a human hand. These people need to be confident with the CMS and populating content templates. Expect them to:

  • Build page structures from a sitemap
  • Import content into the CMS
  • Add links, images and files
  • Apply metadata such as taxonomy labels, and search content
  • Format content to best work / present in the page templates

Where to find:
Ideally in the in-house website team so they preserve the deep learning experience of uploading large amounts of content into the new CMS.

In-house CMS Editors need to be trained and supported by the people that build the CMS. Ensure dedicated CMS training is part of the contract with the technical partner that builds and implements the new CMS.


Stop copying and pasting content into the CMS and automate instead

Delivery Manager

A Project Manager type needs to have a close eye on how content is progressing against the timelines of the website project. This can easily be the Delivery Manager for the entire website project, but they should have experience of content delivery. Expect them to:

  • Track the process of content delivery
  • Coordinate the prioritisation of content (to deliver)
  • Remove roadblocks

Where to find:
In-house, digital agency, freelancers.

Subject Matter Experts

SMEs are the people that will make or break your content delivery and ultimately your website launch. They are the authoritative voice in your organisation and have access to the latest and accurate info. Expect them to:

  • Take ownership of their content items during the project and after launch
  • Collaborate with the Copywriters (more on this later)
  • Fact check the content for accuracy (more on this too)

More roles

Depending on your project you may also need to consider:

  • Photographers and Photo Editors
  • Videographers
  • Illustrators
  • Lawyers
  • Marketeers
  • Translators
  • SEO Specialists

Scaling your content delivery team up and down

You don’t need all these people all of the time. If you have time, try to pilot your content delivery workflow with one or two Copywriters to see what’s (not) working before you get everyone else involved.

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Define a content delivery workflow

A content workflow or production process feels like a factory assembly line, as each content item moves its way through the stages towards eventual publication on the new website.

Content items

The modern best practice is to step away from thinking in webpages, and to think in content items. A content item is any piece of content you need and could be a webpage, an element on a page or different content components.

How long does it take to produce a single content item like a webpage?

Well that depends! A reasonably detailed info page on a university or council site could easily take 10+ hours of total effort to write / heavily edit and publish, whereas a short product blurb page could take far less time.

Things do speed up with practice and there are efficiencies of scale on larger sites. But never underestimate the effort needed to produce quality content. A bad approval workflow can delay things by weeks so investing time to define your workflow should not be ignored.

Big(ish) data

During the GatherContent online masterclass, we ask participants to estimate the time it takes to perform each stage in a typical content delivery workflow for a guidance webpage about student visas. This estimation happens in a Google spreadsheet and results in an average for the total process.

The mean average for delivering one page of content is around 15 hours. This data is the average we have ascertained from thousands of our masterclass attendees over the years.

Screenshot of the masterclass spreadsheet


Calculating the cost of creating website content

A typical workflow

Every website project is different and the most appropriate way of producing and moving content through a workflow differs.

Some sites will need a legal review (shudder) and others may require the CEO’s sign-off on every page (double-shudder). Perhaps you have to deliver multilingual content.

And remember that different types of content may require additional stages or skip stages. If you have decided that some content on your current site such as blog posts or news articles can be migrated to the new site as they are then you can skip many of these stages.

So be prepared to adapt the stages of your workflow.

That said, there are common content delivery workflow stages across website projects. We will look at some of them now before seeing how to design your own bespoke content delivery workflow.

Brief Research Write User test & Iterate Review Revise Upload to CMS Review in HTML Publish Govern / Maintain Brief Research Write User test & Iterate Review Revise Upload to CMS Review in HTML Publish Govern / Maintain

1. Brief

Typically the Content Strategist briefs the Copywriter on what the page needs to include to meet the user needs.

If the Content Strategist has developed a content model for the template, that will act like a checklist of what the Writer needs to collect and craft.

For example: a webpage template for Senior Manager profiles could include content elements (also called fields) for their name, job title, career biography, responsibilities, and a pull quote.

One of the most important things you can do for your Content Producers is to help them understand your strategy, from what business goals you’re trying to achieve to what your users want and expect from you to why you decided to create the content you’re asking them to produce.

Photo of Meghan Casey Meghan Casey Author and Content Strategist

2. Research

The Writer may then review existing website content, print materials, third-party and competitor examples. They could also conduct interviews with their audience as this can often reveal surprising insights, as well as validate existing thoughts and assumptions.

It is important they now consult the content item’s Subject Matter Expert (SME) to pull together the info, facts, quotes, and materials to write the page.

3. Write / Produce*

*This could easily be illustrate, record, film, or animate, depending on your content.

The Writer now has what they need to craft the actual content and to apply the style guide. It is natural and advisable for them to check back in with the SME for clarification as this progresses.

Do you have a style guide yet?

A good content style guide will cover the tone of voice for your digital content, house style rules, and writing for the web best practice. Don’t start content production without a good content style guide.

But remember: it takes time to develop the structure and apply the body copy, headings, descriptions, snippets, captions, call to action labels, and links.

The content team may also need to produce images and other media at this stage.

4. User test (and iterate)

The User Researcher can now work with website user representatives to see if the emerging content item meets their user need.

The temptation is to wait until the content is populated in the final webpage template, but a text file or Word doc is plenty to get initial feedback on how well users comprehend your content. They don’t need a pretty website to tell you that they don’t understand some of the terms in the body text.

The Writer and ideally the Subject Matter Expert should observe the testing for first-hand insight on how well the content performs.

Ideally test the content again once it is in the website templates.

Log your user research questions

Encourage your Writers to capture a running list of questions and clarifications that the user researcher can help to answer: Do our website users prefer to use term X or term Y? Do users want this bit of detail or can we cut it? Note any questions as they occur.

5. Review

Content reviews are an important and often difficult stage in the process. Depending on the project you may want to break this stage up into multiple steps.

Typically Subject Matter Experts should be asked to perform a fact check: is this content factually accurate, on message, complete?

The Senior Editor then checks the content is well written, consistent with other content, and applies the style guide and house rules.

Think carefully before letting Subject Matter Experts make direct edits

Yes, everybody can write, but that doesn’t make everybody a good writer. People that know a lot about a topic can be particularly bad at succinctly communicating their subject.

In our experience it is unwise to allow a Subject Matter Expert to directly edit the text during their factual review - the temptation is too great not to jump in and start making a change here or there. This might be well intentioned, but it can quickly stall progress as the Writer and SME enter a troublesome phase of to-and-fro to agree on the final wording.

It is far better to give them the means to add comments to anything they are unhappy with. For example: if the SME strongly believes it is appropriate to use a specific and technical term, the Writer can use their skill to introduce and educate the users to that term.

6. Revise

The Writer interprets the Reviewer’s feedback, updates the content, and reissues a new version.

The Writer may need to speak with the Reviewer for clarification to avoid the risk of the content getting stuck in a loop.

7. Upload to CMS

The CMS Editor populates the CMS page with the approved content, adding links, images, files, feature content, and metadata (taxonomy labels and descriptions).

Only at this stage can you see how well the content works in its website template.

8. Review in HTML

Time for quality assurance: Is the formatting suitable? Is the page consistent with other pages? Do the links work? Did any typos creep in during the upload?

The content item may also need to be signed-off by the Subject Matter Expert or Project Owner who will want to be satisfied the content achieves its brief.

The content is then ready to be published.

9. Publish

Web content items in a project are usually published when the entire site is launched.

10. Govern / maintain

Publishing is just day one

Ensure there is a plan for maintaining the site’s content after the project finishes. In the hurry to publish content for a new site, this critical planning is often overlooked and the site soon deteriorates.


Sustainable content governance guide

Co-design your content delivery workflow

Every website project is different. You need a process that’s up to the job or you will struggle to produce good quality content on time.

Take the time, as early as possible, to design a process around your website project.

Producing the content will still be a big challenge, but you’ll be better prepared with your plan.

Run a workshop

A well run workshop (typically led by the Content Strategist) is a great way to kick-off this planning process. It gets the content people working together to develop a workflow they can adopt.

Run the workshop as early as possible in the project, even if you are not ready to start producing content.

Workshop goals

  1. (Begin) to design an appropriate workflow for the project (it certainly won't be perfect)
  2. Identify content delivery gaps and red flags early
  3. Inform content governance (post project / launch)

Prepare the workshop

  • Book a meeting room for 2 hours
  • Invite Project Owners, Senior Editor, Writer rep/s, CMS Editor rep/s, Subject Matter Expert rep/s
  • Bring plenty of post-its, pens, and some big sheets of paper

Workshop activities

Introduce the workshop participants:

  • Split the room into two teams with a mix of roles in each team
  • Handout / show a generic workflow diagram to give them a mental model of what such a process looks like
  • Give them a specific example of a content item on the new website that needs to go through the workflow (they are about to design)
  • Share print outs of that content on the current website and / or the latest sketches and prototypes of that content type

Task 1: Map your content workflow

Allow 20-30 mins

Ask both teams to capture the appropriate workflow steps for producing the example content item during the website project.

Ask them to use a post-it note for each stage (to move them around)

Task 2: Add people

Assign and label a person or role to each stage in their workflow.

Look out for:

  • Are all the assigned roles already filled?
  • Is the same person or role appearing time and again?
  • Are the named people aware of the project and their responsibilities on it?

Tip: Use colour-coded stick-men or post-its to quickly visualise recurring roles

Task 3: Identify risks and pain points

Allow: 10 mins

Highlight and annotate potential pain-points in your workflow.

  • Consider bottlenecks, known issues, lack of skills, internal politics
  • Give the teams red dots for visual impact

Ask these questions:

  • Are there lots of people with a say in the content?
  • Is an unfair workload falling on one person?
  • Do we have the required skills? Where might things get political and contentious?

Task 4: Design solutions

Allow: 15 mins (if you have time to spare)

Develop ideas that could help to mitigate or smooth out the potential pain points.

  • Consider the use of software, systems, and tools
  • What are the current techniques and coping strategies for producing content?

Task 5: Estimate time

Allow: 10 mins

Estimate in fractions of hours how much Effort each stage may realistically take and total them.

Attempt to estimate how much Effort (as fractions of hours) each stage could realistically take to perform – write the agreed number against each stage.

Remember to be realistic and go with previous experience. Better to be conservative until proven otherwise during the project.

Calculate the actual man-hours of work (Effort) required to complete the stage rather than the span of time (the Duration) it takes for the stage to be completed, although both are important when planning resourcing.

  • Total up all the stages at the end of the process
  • Multiply the total with the anticipated pages on the new site to get an estimate of total Effort for all your content

Task 6: Pitch and critique the workflows

Allow: 10 mins per team

Present your workflow for the rest of the team to critique.

Each group walks the whole room through their workflow and invites discussion.

Video the presentations to watch back later, take lots of high-res pics of the outputs and back up ASAP.

After the workshop

Digitise the draft workflow plans from the workshop and refine them into version 1.0 and share back with the team for feedback.

This can be a simple Powerpoint, Word or Google Doc diagram that you can easily iterate with the team’s feedback and the inevitable insights you will get once you actually start to move content items through the workflow.

You may need to do some more thinking at this point about how you are going to address the gaps and pain points that emerged from the tasks. For example: make a recommendation that you need to hire a dedicated Copywriter for some of the project, or to recommend that the CEO does not get to review every item of content in the workflow.

This can be a good time to circulate and present to Senior Managers to get their buy-in. It will help to set their expectations about:

  • Who is involved in delivering the website content
  • How much effort it will take per content item
  • Where the pain points are expected to be (and your solutions)

You can also use the diagram to communicate to Subject Matter Experts where they fit into the process.

Remember to make sure the latest workflow diagram and supporting docs are easily available to the project team and stakeholders. Hosting your workflow in a central place (like GatherContent!) makes it accessible to the entire team so there is no mis-understanding as to who is responsible for what.


How to define a workflow that keeps content production on track

The value of keeping your website content workflow simple

Content process documents are simultaneously paradigmatic and iterative. That is, there are likely aspects of the planning process that you find don’t work in practice, or which your in-house team flouts in order to get a piece of relevant, topical content pushed through production quickly enough. Digital content production is, by nature, fast-paced and constantly evolving. Track these areas and update your process documents accordingly.

Photo of Andrew McKernan Andrew McKernan Content Strategist

Prioritise your content

Content is a serious investment to create and then maintain. So it’s better to be sure what content you actually need to produce - which could mean brand new content, a heavy rewrite or an update to existing site content.

Once you have a provisional list of content items for your new site you are ready to prioritise them.

Apply several criteria for a more credible and satisfactory prioritisation:

  • Does this [content] directly support a prioritised user need? Is there hard research to back this up?
  • Does this directly support a business goal?
  • Are we obliged (legally or politically) to have this content?

You can easily end up with hundreds of content items that get a big thumbs up to those first questions, so you further order them by asking:

  • Is this [content item] unique to our organisation or can similar content already be found elsewhere?
  • Is this content frequently required or just occasionally?
  • Is the content relevant to lots of users or just a few?

You need a way to capture the outcome of your prioritisation, ideally with the content items in the tool you are using to track them.

Re-prioritise your content

In the spirit of Agile development, get into the habit of re-prioritising your content items throughout your website project.

As the project unfolds you will learn more about the content you need to produce:

  • User research may uncover new content items to add to your to do list
  • Some items will be more time consuming to produce than expected
  • Business goals may shift

So continue to re-prioritise the remaining content items to invest in the content that best meets user need and business goals.


How to prioritise content for website projects

It’s tempting to complete easier sections of content first so things get ‘ticked off the list’. But be realistic — more complex sections of content will take longer to produce. Make sure the sections you focus on are important to the success of the site.

Photo of Sally Bagshaw Sally Bagshaw Content Strategist

Estimate your content Effort

You only need two things to start estimating the Effort and cost of your content delivery. If you have been following the book to this point you should know these numbers:

A) The number of prioritised items for the new site in the content backlog (list)

B) An estimate of how much Effort (in hours) it will take to progress a single content item through your workflow

Number of content items [A] Workflow time estimate per item (hrs) [B] x Estimated accumulated content Effort (hrs) [C] =

Remember that you don’t need to include existing content you have decided to lift as it is into the new site - blog posts and news articles are a common example of this. But do allow some time for applying any new tagging and checking they look ok in their new home.

Warning: the time estimate from the workflow design workshop is the accumulated Effort (in hours) of several people working on the same item of content - the Subject Matter Expert + Copywriter + CMS Editor, etc. This total is important to know, but it is more useful to strip this back to the estimated Effort for the Copywriter in the workflow.

Copywriters (and other content creators such as Animators and Illustrators) will contribute the most Effort to delivering an item through the workflow. Understanding and resourcing their Effort is therefore the most important thing at this point, especially if you need to find budget to hire them.

Now start to dig a bit deeper for insights you can act on.

Estimated accumulated content Effort (hrs) [C] Hours in a working day ÷ Estimated accumulated content Effort (days) [D] =

Now calculate the number of Available working days [E] between your proposed project start date and the launch deadline (if known).

If Available working days [E] is smaller than Estimated Accumulated content Effort (days) [D] then you need to know about it because you are heading for a project delay as the content catches up.

You have 3 levers to operate at this point to balance the equation:

  1. Increase the number of Copywriters in the team (to increase available working days)
  2. Reduce the amount of content items you prioritise for launch
  3. Extend the window for delivery - start earlier and / or push back the website launch date
Quality No. of Copywriters No. of Content Items Time for Delivery

The temptation at this point is to reduce the estimated Effort to move a content item through the workflow. I know: I’ve done it. Don’t. Stick to your guns or you will simply feel the content pain later in the project when you run out of budget or have to delay the launch of the site. If, and it’s a big if, you have overcooked it then you will deliver early and have some budget left.

Piloting the workflow is a good way to validate and adjust your estimate before you commit. You can then update your calculations with more accurate numbers.

If you need to hire in Copywriters (or other content creator types) you can now go out for quotes or do some day rate multiplication to estimate the price of content delivery.

If you want a quick way to do this, please use the handy calculator I built that lets you plug and play around with these numbers.

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Optimise your content delivery workflow

By this point you know:

  1. Who is in your content delivery team
  2. The workflow process you expect to follow
  3. What content items you need to produce
  4. An estimate of how much Effort it will take (and cost) to produce your content

You are now ready to put your team into action.

The right tools for the job

You need a tool or combination of tools to:

  1. Craft the content
  2. Manage the review and feedback process
  3. Track and manage the progress of content items through the workflow

You are not short of options and there is no right or wrong set of tools for this.

Content templates

Your team needs a consistent way to handle all the items of content you are producing. In most website projects the content management system (CMS) is not ready to be used or not ideal for the level of highly-collaborative content creation in a website project. So you need to look at other tools for creating and handling the content.

At a minimum you should create a template for each of the main types of content you are producing for your site. This could be a Word document, Google Doc, GatherContent or a template page in a wiki like Confluence.

Content templates versus content types

A content template is a collection of different content elements that ensure consistency across related content. For example, a template might be a web page with the different components defined.

A content type is more specific such as a staff bio, event listing or product description.

The template should include a breakdown of the content elements (also called attributes or fields) that make up the item of content.

For example a university website might have a dedicated template for student testimonials. That template would include the specific elements of [student’s name] [country of origin] [degree / course] [testimonial quote] [photo of student]

Student’s name Country of origin Degree / Course Testimonial quote Photo of student Student testimonial template Student’s name Country of origin Degree / Course Testimonial quote Photo of student Student testimonial template

Iterate your content template

Don’t kill yourself to nail the model of content elements in your template/s first time. Make sure you include all the content elements you will need to meet the user needs you have identified. As the templates begin to be populated with real content you will soon realise you have missed something. Simply learn and update the template.

Each time a new item of content is commissioned to begin the workflow a new copy of the template document is copied ready to use.

The template documents are simply a vehicle to deliver the content through the workflow up to the point it is uploaded to the CMS.

Embrace collaborative documents

Versioned Word documents that fly back and forth by email have a nasty habit of confusing a busy content delivery team about which one is the true latest version. Collaborative tools like Google Docs and wikis ensure everyone is looking at the same (and latest) version of the content item.

Tools to handle review feedback

The review stage can be the most difficult. Setting up your tools correctly can really help.

Use tools that:

Allow the team to directly comment and provide feedback on the content in context.

So if a fact in the body text is wrong, let the Subject Matter Expert highlight that in the actual text (with a comment) rather than in a list of comments on a separate email. It is documented in the right place and everyone can see it.

Control who has permission to directly edit the text

The second someone (other that the Writer) thinks “I’ll just rewrite this sentence like this…” is when the wheels start to come off and everyone starts to get grumpy.

Most content editing tools let you control read, edit, and comment permissions. Take advantage of them by making it impossible to directly edit the text

Tracked changes are not the answer

The tracked changes functionality is not actually much help because it still means the Reviewer can directly edit the text. The Writer and the Reviewer then get into a dance about accepting changes or editing the edits. In most cases it is better for the Reviewer to add a comment that explains their concerns rather than attempting to fix it themselves.

Of course this needs to happen with good communication to the Subject Matter Experts. They might resent being “locked out” and not trusted to edit the content they are experts in.

Explain to the Subject Matter Expert that they are welcome to provide their feedback as inline comments to a passage of text or as general comments on the content item document template. The Writer can then work with that feedback to improve the content and consult with the Subject Matter Expert if necessary.

Track and manage the progress of content items through the workflow

If you have more than a handful of content items progressing through a content workflow then you really do need a tool to track them.

We know that late content can seriously delay website launches so having your finger on where things are up to (and where they are getting stuck!) is essential.

At a minimum your tool of choice should let you (and the wider content delivery team) clearly see what stage each item of content is at.

The tool should allow you to capture some meta data for each item of content:

  • Owner of item (at each stage)
  • Name of the Subject Owner (plus contact details)
  • Notes about the delivery of the content such as risks

Some content delivery teams set up a simple Excel spreadsheet or a Google sheet (which means everyone can see the latest version). Other teams go for task and production tools such as Trello.

Consider using GatherContent

GatherContent is designed to support the content delivery of website projects. It has all the functions we’ve just looked at in a single space. GatherContent helps teams organise and produce lots of content for websites. You can:

  • Gather and organise website content in one place
  • Ensure content is in the right structure, well written and ready for the CMS
  • Write, review and approve content with your team
  • Define a bespoke workflow to suit your organisation and process
  • Migrate approved content into the CMS, ready to go live.

GatherContent helps you take the chaos out of producing content for website projects and helps you deliver content on time.

Find out more

How to work with Subject Matter Experts

The quality of your working relationship with SMEs will make or break your content delivery (and the overall website).

No two SMEs are the same of course. Some will care passionately about their website content and others may have no interest. Some will have web writing skills (they want to use) and others will be hopeless communicators.

So there is no one size-fits-all approach to working with them to produce content. The options fall on a range and will take a combination throughout your project:

Approach Benefits Downsides and risks
No consultation with the SME - just go ahead and write it Appropriate for content you are confident you can produce without input, e.g. copying over existing website content that is known to be accurate and not contentious. Higher risk of pushback during the review stages as the SME has had no input or ownership early on.
Light interaction with the SME - ask them to populate a questionnaire or content template Can push lots of items of content through the workflow simultaneously which potentially saves time if dealing with lots of SMEs. Works best with well structured content that is not highly editorial, e.g. staff profiles or shop store profiles. SMEs can feel frustrated that they don’t have any input into the design of the content. Does not develop a strong working relationship and can lead to resistance in the review stages.
Personal interaction with SME - interview and mapping of content Builds strong working relationships with SMEs and gives them early ownership in the content. The Writer can understand and learn from the SME and confidently craft content with less risk of tension and delays during the review stages. Time consuming to dedicate one-to-one time per content item. May require the Writer to travel (to the SME).
"Pair writing" with the SME Highly collaborative approach that builds a genuine working relationship which mitigates review stage holdups. Most time consuming option. Some Content Writers uncomfortable with such a highly-collaborative method.

Approach 1

No consultation with the SME - just go ahead and write it

BenefitsAppropriate for content you are confident you can produce without input, e.g. copying over existing website content that is known to be accurate and not contentious.

Downsides and RisksHigher risk of pushback during the review stages as the SME has had no input or ownership early on.

Approach 2

Light interaction with the SME - ask them to populate a questionnaire or content template

BenefitsCan push lots of items of content through the workflow simultaneously which potentially saves time if dealing with lots of SMEs. Works best with well structured content that is not highly editorial, e.g. staff profiles or shop store profiles.

Downsides and RisksSMEs can feel frustrated that they don’t have any input into the design of the content.Does not develop a strong working relationship and can lead to resistance in the review stages.

Approach 3

Personal interaction with SME - interview and mapping of content

BenefitsBuilds strong working relationships with SMEs and gives them early ownership in the content. The Writer can understand and learn from the SME and confidently craft content with less risk of tension and delays during the review stages.

Downsides and RisksTime consuming to dedicate one-to-one time per content item. May require the Writer to travel (to the SME).

Approach 4

"Pair writing" with the SME

BenefitsHighly collaborative approach that builds a genuine working relationship which mitigates review stage holdups.

Downsides and RisksMost time consuming option. Some Content Writers uncomfortable with such a highly-collaborative method.

Silo Collaborative Ask SME to populate questionnaire or template No consulation with SME Page table mapping with the SME Face to face or phone interview with SME “Pair writing” with SME Silo Collaborative Ask SME to populate questionnaire or template No consulation with SME Page table mapping with the SME Face to face or phone interview with SME “Pair writing” with SME

Which approach should you take?

Ask these questions when deciding which approach to adopt for each item of content:

How familiar is the Writer with the content?
If they have been working on the topic area for a while then they probably won’t need as much input from SMEs.
How complex is the content?
It does not matter how good you are at writing if you don’t understand what you are trying to communicate - you need early SME input.
What is the existing relationship with the SME?
Have you even worked with them before? Are they someone you already work well with or perhaps you have a rocky history with them?
How does the Content Writer prefer to work with SMEs?
Trust professionals to work in the way that works best for them to get the job done.

Of course, like most things on a project it comes down to time and budget.

Tips: Working with Subject Matter Experts

Develop and iterate a plan for onboarding SMEs
Use a standard email template to approach SMEs, and follow it up with a call
Take the time to educate SMEs about the project
If they understand the goals, research, and user needs they will know what you are trying to achieve
Maintain contact and set expectations at all stages
Your website project is not their top priority so tell them when they are required, for how long, and what you want them to do
Start with SMEs who are up for it
If possible learn and iterate your process with the SMEs that are positive about the project
Be clear about who actually owns the content
The SME you work with may not have the final say or ownership of the content item so find out who does


Practical techniques to resolve differences of opinion about content

To collaborate on content, find an approach that works for everyone

Introduce (and enforce!) a website content standard

A website project is the perfect time to introduce governance standards for your content. If your old site has lots of outdated, poor and irrelevant content then it is definitely the time to do this.

A simple checklist of minimum standards for each item of content lets everyone see what you are prepared to publish. For example:

We will only produce and publish website content that satisfies all these points:

  • Meets a valid user need (backed up with evidence)
  • Meets an articulated [organisation] communication priority
  • Is unique to the [organisation] (and appropriate for us to provide rather than others)
  • Is accurate
  • Conforms to our Website Content Style Guide
  • Is appropriate for public view, with no legal or copyright issues
  • Has a named high-level Content Owner
  • Has a named and engaged Subject Matter Expert (SME)
  • The Content Owner has agreed to review the content according to the review schedule (or the content will be unpublished from the website)

These might seem a bit obvious, but the internet is littered with content that fails against this standard.

The standard is applied to the production of all content during the website project and beyond.

A document is not enough

Unfortunately intranets and team folders are full of such abandoned governance policy docs. Like any tool they need people to exercise them or they will achieve nothing. The Website Managers need to distribute, educate, and above all enforce the standards with vigour.

Pilot your content workflow

If you have a lot of content to produce (50+ pages) then it is worth setting up a content delivery pilot before you really get stuck into all your content.

A pilot lets you:

  • Establish if you have the ability as a team to produce content
  • Learn what isn't working about your workflow and tweak it
  • Learn how much effort it actually takes, to revise your estimates for timelines and cost
  • Develop exemplar content to demonstrate what the content needs to be
  • Introduce real content into the design process to iterate the template designs

Produce a few items of each primary content type and then take the time as a content delivery team to review what happened, and how you want to change things.

Thanks for reading

Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to check out our book.

Hopefully you have learned a few things which will help you through the content delivery process on your website project.

If you have any questions, or feedback, for us please email [email protected]. We would love to hear from you.

Good luck with your next website project.

About the author

Photo of the author Liam King
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