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Website Content Strategy 101

Probably the most rewarding part of managing a project is seeing the finished product come together.

Emily D 28 October 2013

Probably the most rewarding part of managing a project is seeing the finished product come together. Sure, there’s the part where you’re sitting in a scoping workshop getting excited with all the ideas flying back and forth, but seeing those ideas come to fruition, after months of hard work, is definitely the reason I love my job.

It’s incredibly satisfying to see the finished product: the aesthetic and design, crafted for maximum usability and conveying the client’s brand personality effortlessly; the cogs and gears of the site, built to run so smoothly that the user isn’t even aware of the expert engineering that went into it.

But there’s a final piece to the puzzle that slots in, one critical step in the launch of a successful website: content.

The website can be as pretty and efficient as it likes, but in the end it’s just a vehicle for your content. Content is the reason you have a website in the first place. Content is why users will seek you out, and why they’ll keep coming back. Yet content - the producing, gathering and organising of - is far too often left to the last minute, leaving your brand new website a very pretty, but not very useful husk.

Depending on your business, the kind of content you have online will vary widely - from your address and opening hours, to an archive of reading material or gallery of images. Either way, you need it to be primed and ready - and yourself skilled and prepared, for loading and maintaining the content when you’re building your website.

While there’s a gamut of articles out there on how to write blog posts and craft your facebook updates, I’d like to go back to basics, and outline a suggested plan for getting your website content in order.

With our powers combined, you are Captain Plan-it!

Now that I've caught your attention with a cheesy pun, I can make my first suggestion: PLAN.

You haven’t even decided on what agency you want to build your website, why should you think about content loading? Because, if you want a website that meets your needs, you’re going to need to understand and communicate to your agency just what you want it to deliver. And that means - you guessed it - CONTENT.

If you’re aiming for the stars at this point, it might be worth considering contracting a content strategy specialist that can help you understand the best kind of content for your future site - be it in relation to tone (serious vs. casual) or media (video, text, photo, infographic?).

If you want to go it alone, here are the three fundamental questions you and your team should answer at the very beginning:

Who are your audience, and what kind of content are they going to love?

Or, another way to frame it: what is the most digestible - and alluring* - medium for your message?

For example:

  • Videos (instructional? or movie-trailer-esque?)
  • Photos, diagrams, drawings, infographics, graphs
  • Text! Quotes, testimonials, statistics, articles, descriptions, plain ol’ information.

* If I were a brand specialist, this would be the slogan for Hob Nobs. mmm, Hob Nobs.

Who’s going to create all this content, and who’s going to make sure it gets done?

It’s all very well to decide that a blockbuster trailer with dramatic score is going to make your business go viral on YouTube, but who is going to script, film and edit it? Who’s going to take (or source and pay for) your photos? Create your infographics? Or - most common dilemma of all - write your copy?

Whether you end up with a team of twenty or two, you will ultimately need one person to take the lead in executing your content strategy, making sure it’s on track and all the steps have been completed - so assign this role to someone early. (And make sure to buy them a drink when it’s all finished.)

How long is it going to take & when are you going to get it done?

This one’s the kicker. Often preparing the content for your site will take as long as the site build - especially if you’re sourcing multimedia content. So whatever you do, don’t leave it to the last minute! Establish your content plan as early as possible in the process and map out a schedule for creating, reviewing and loading it, so everything is ready to go when your site goes live.

Make “Filofax” your middle name

OK, so you've been assigned the auspicious role of “content strategy manager” (or some variation thereof - I like “almighty content master”, myself). There are drinks coming your way at the end of this, not to mention praise and righteous glory. To get there, you’re going to need some righteous organisation tools, and decide on a method to tackle the madness. This means choosing formats and standards for your final content (e.g. text files with basic rich formatting, images at 72dpi resolution, etc. - more on that later), and management tools to coordinate and track the whole process.

Our recommended method is one that’s pretty scalable, and sensibly translates from organisation into application.

  1. First, you’ll need a sitemap. Much has been written on the sitemap (mainly in the discipline of information architecture/IA), but essentially this is the hierarchy of content your users will navigate through, to locate what they need. Often a sitemap will emerge as a result of determining business requirements, but forming one may spill over into the scoping period (where Salsa help to map your business requirements into a digital environment). (If you need a graphic sitemap,Cacoo is a great tool to create one with.)
  2. Create a folder hierarchy (or, less regal and more environmentally-friendly, “tree”), that mirrors your sitemap. Create a document for each page you’ve mapped out and save it in the appropriate folder. If you’ve got multiple types of content for each page (images, video), try creating a folder for each page instead. Within that folder you can have a master document with the copy and images pasted in the right place, and associated files (with - repeat after me, now - descriptive filenames), ready for you to upload when you’re loading content into the page. The master image you can copy/paste your text from, and use for reference for where you plan for the other content to appear.
  3. Last but far from least, whether you’ve got 10 pages or 100, you’re going to need something to keep track of it all - what needs writing, what needs reviewing, what needs loading. And for this complex yet glorious purpose, I recommend you use… dun dun dahhh! Spreadsheets.

The author with her favourite drinking receptacle

Here’s a content matrix spreadsheet template I prepared earlier. This spreadsheet covers:

  • Name and location of the page (both in your local folder hierarchy and on the final site)
  • Status of each step of content preparation & loading
  • Handy colour coding so you can revel in the wall of green of your own making at the end of the project
  • A tab where you can keep your standard content requirements in one place, for your producers to refer to

For a further description of the purpose of each field, see the comments in the column headings.

To copy the spreadsheet for your own use, make sure you’re logged in to your google account, then go to “File” → “Make a Copy”. Share it with your project team so that they can see what’s assigned to them and what needs working on. Share it with your boss so that they can see the progress that’s being made via a handy overview of red vs. green.

Which conveniently brings us to my next pun. Uh, I mean point:

Dalek-content manager’s mantra: DELEGATE

It’s quite likely that you’ll be collaborating with other people during your project strategy execution. Delegation is key - and you ought to establish in your early content planning meetings just how much work is going to be involved. At this point, when you’re scheduling in the work, make sure you have earmarked the time from the people you need to do it, and make sure they (and their managers) know about it.

Regardless of whether your team of content producers are going to be writing content, taking photos or nitpicking grammar, you’re going to need to share the material everyone’s gathering between them.

Rather than having several versions of the same document flying about in the email, try using the cloud to centralise all your documents. Set up your hierarchy of content folders in Google Docs/Drive and share with your content producers - they can upload their own files, edit centrally shared documents (Google Docs also comes with a revision history and the ability to comment, if you have picky proofreaders), and you can access it all from just about anywhere.

Similarly, you can get your team to update the super-awesome master spreadsheet you’ll be using on Google Drive - marking off when they’ve provided all the content required.

Make sure to kick-off your project with a quick session to demonstrate how to use these tools and establish firmly that you’re going to use them, no exceptions. Throughout the project, make sure to rap anyone who emails you a document, sharply over the knuckles before redirecting them to your beautiful, shared, centralised file repository.

My font-face! My valuable font-face!

Depending on the demands of your design, your website is likely to have its own unique image size requirements. And depending on your business requirements, your videos will need to adhere to an agreed-upon length and style.

But something that doesn’t change across projects is the best way to prepare text content. Yes, what I’m leading to here is a discussion of a webdesigners’ F-word. Formatting.

It’s pretty likely that during design & build of your website, the designer has created styles for “standard content”. This means your website comes with built-in styles for things like headings, links, tables and so forth, that fit within the overall style of your website and give it a coherent, consistent aesthetic that’s a joy to look at.

This takes all the worry out of having to decide on styles yourself! Below is a list of styles that will be built into your website’sWYSIWYG. While preparing content, utilise these styles so you know what to apply to it when you’re loading it in. Any other formatting you try to add - such as colour, sizes and padding - will be stripped out by the WYSIWYG, so it’s best that you just accept that your content pages are just going to look awesome no matter what.

  • Headings (level 1 through 6)
  • Basic text formatting - Bold, Italic, Underline
  • Links
  • Unordered lists (bullet point lists)
  • Ordered lists (numbered lists)
  • Tables
  • Image styling (borders, spacing)

Gin and tonic with lime, please

That’s my drink preference, by the way. Feel free to invite me to the pub for your celebratory drinks when your website launches smoothly and successfully, firing on all cylinders with all carefully-crafted content loaded up and ready for user consumption.

Though the journey doesn't end there, of course - you may want to remix that spreadsheet to use for keeping track of content maintenance, or as a schedule for adding fresh content. The most important thing to remember is that your website is a living thing that does need care and feeding, developing with you as your business grows - and being proactive about your content is a way you can nourish it and keep it relevant to your users.

Being a content strategy manager is not just for Christmas - it’s for life.

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