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.
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.
Start your website projects with everything in place to keep them on track.
Ensure you have the right people onboard to plan, produce and deliver content.
Put a process in place to get content done, with clear stages, roles and responsibilities.
Prioritise your content, calculate the costs and then kickstart the production.
Discover the best tools for delivering content and tips for collaborating with others.
Producing website content that meets user needs is time consuming. Fact. Underestimate this and your wider website project is at risk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes,. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Web content items in a project are usually published when the entire site is launched.
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.
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.
Producing the content will still be a big challenge, but you’ll be better prepared with your plan.
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:
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:
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.
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:
So continue to re-prioritise the remaining content items to invest in the content that best meets user need and business goals.
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.
By this point you know:
You are now ready to put your team into action.
You need a tool or combination of tools to:
You are not short of options and there is no right or wrong set of tools for this.
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.
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]
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.
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.
The review stage can be the most difficult. Setting up your tools correctly can really help.
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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:
GatherContent helps you take the chaos out of producing content for website projects and helps you deliver content on time.
(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.|
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.
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.
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).
"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.
Ask these questions when deciding which approach to adopt for each item of content:
Of course, like most things on a project it comes down to time and budget.
. 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:
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.
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.
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:
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 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.