When you're managing the build of your organisation's new website, time will always be against you, no-matter how large or small your team.
The aim of this blog is to share some of the techniques and processes I've used over the last 20 years of content production.
Preparing content for a new website is something that's often overlooked within orgs and can be left to a last minute rush.
Here's how to make sure your content helps your new site perform.
Everyone knows that the words and images on your website are critical to give your potential supporters, customer or fans the best brand experience. But very often during a new web build, it's the content that can be left too late and not given enough time to create.
Here are my tips to get on top of creating new web content.... just in time.
1) Page listing
Early on in the web development process list all the pages of your current website as part of a website audit. This gives you a detailed understanding of what's on your site. All websites get bloated with age. By listing all pages you will be able to pinpoint areas to nip and tuck with the new website. You'll find pages you never knew existed.
Top tip: remember to list transaction pages, including email sign ups etc. You can use a tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your website and list all the pages and meta data.
To help catalogue your pages, give each one a unique number/code. This will make it quick and easy for people to understand where all pages appear in the website. I normally use a labelling system that references the level and section the content appears in.
- Homepage: level 1
- Main navigation: level 2
- Section hub pages: level 3
- Content pages: level 4 and 5
The code for a hub page could be: 1.2.3, or 1.1.2, or 1.3.4.
The code for a content page could be: 184.108.40.206, or 220.127.116.11, or 18.104.22.168.
I normally put all this information into an Excel spreadsheet, so it's fast and simple to share and update with colleagues. If this isn't clear, I can email you an example you can use as a template.
2) Content audit
Now review the quality of your website page content, then mark each page on your Excel sheet as: Delete, Review Facts, Improve, Merge (feel free to choose your own categories).
Top tip: The MOZ website offers some great tips and tools on content audits. Read their tips before starting your audit.
In Excel I also colour the cells around the action that's required, so it's easy to see at a glance how much needs to be done.
3) Fact checking
Once your page listing and content audit is complete (and I'm assuming you're up against a really tight deadline) send copy onto colleagues to start the fact checking, even before the new site map is ready. You can also discuss with colleagues whether certain pieces of content are still required, and hopefully help you delete more pages.
Top tip: Even if you send out copy early, label the pages (as above), so it's quick for you to trace where the content has come from/going to.
If you've developed web personas and defined user goals, there is likely to be new content that needs to be discussed and created. You can add this as a separate tab in your content audit as part of your Gap Analysis.
4) Site map testing and development
One of the key milestones for any web build is when you have agreed the top level navigation. You can test theories and ideas for the main navigation using tools like Tree Jack.
"Tree testing is a usability technique for evaluating the findability of topics in a website. It’s also known as ‘reverse card sorting’ or ‘card-based classification’. Tree testing is done on a simplified text version of your site structure – without the influence of navigation aids and visual design." https://www.optimalworkshop.com/treejack
Other tools are listed on Useful Usability. Your web agency will be able to guide you on things like this. Normally agencies have different ways of doing it. The Tree Jack route is pretty quick, simple and cost effective > you ask people to search for certain pages, or complete actions, using your test navigation. Results will tell you whether your theories are as good as you thought.
Once you have your main navigation tested and approved internally, you can create the rest of the site map and finally get motoring with your new content.
When putting your deeper pages together, you still need to have the user in mind. What are the user's goals? And how can your site structure make it simple for those goals to be achieved? Don't get sucked into departmental silos.
Champion the visitor's experience. Print out your website personas and stick them on your office wall. If you want to go to extremes, turn them into life sized cardboard cut outs - I have heard of that being done in one agency!
Once your complete site map is created I always advise people to discuss it with your steering group/managers, to make sure you/they haven't missed anything. It's also a great opportunity to keep the wider team up-to-date with progress.
Next, numerically label each page on the new website Excel sheet in the same way you did the content audit.
5) lighten the load
If you haven't done so already, divvy out responsibility for checking facts and editing content. You can either hire freelance editors to do this, or pick out key members of staff from different teams and hand them the responsibility of being Content Editors for their section. It would probably be wise to discuss this before dumping the project on their desk!
And remember, writing for the web is different from writing a business report or annual review. Read up on how to write for the web and brief people on how to do it.
Top tip: read the 14 safety precautions for inexperienced content editors by eConsultancy.
Put names against sections of the web copy on the site map – eg Geoff is responsible for sections 1.2, 1.4.5 and 1.2.4...’
To keep it simple for you to keep track of who's doing what, put initials on the Excel sheet and ask people to update the spreadsheet when their work is complete. This also acts as public naming and shaming if their content is late!
6) Scrape and share out content
Now pull together individual Word docs for sections that people are responsible for. It's normally a slow process of cutting and pasting off your current site.
Label all content on the pages with their site page reference number. Ask people not to delete the numbers on the pages. You'll need the numbers to quickly identify where the content is intended to be placed on the new website.
Email the docs to people and make it clear that it is their responsibility to make sure all content is correct and up-to-date. If there are mistakes it’s their issue. Basically, you can’t be responsible for all content being correct on the site. Responsibility needs to be shared.
Stagger internal deadlines for content, based around when pages are going to be built on the system. Some people may have a two week deadline, others six+.
7) Now create
Once you have chased (more than) a few times and the content is back in your inbox, you can edit it all, so it has a single tone of voice. Alternatively, some organisations decide to be less corporate and reflect the voices of its team, and leave the copy in a more individual blog style. It's your call.
After editing your colleague may want to approve it. Give them a limit on how many rounds of amends they can make. Sometimes people will write something and then edit continuously. This will eat all your time. Be firm. One or two rounds of amends.
8) essentials that are often last minute
.... Google friendly page title tags, meta data and compelling images are content elements we haven't covered so far, but are critical to the success of your pages. Moz is crammed with insights on meta data and title tags. Rather than repeat it here, pop over to Moz for a really in-depth understanding.
Photography and graphics can make or break a page and this is likely to be an ongoing challenge for you. A great picture often means you have to write less - which will save you time :)
Build a central library where photos can be added and categorised. This could be a great project for a volunteer to get involved with. Create a list of images you need based on the site map and set up folders on your server where the copy and images can be saved.
Top tip: if you don't have access to a library of photos or graphics, you can make your own using tools like the awesome Canva or Piktochart. You can also use Flikr images that are tagged as Creative Commons.
9) upload time
Once you have all the elements in place you'll be ready to build.
WARNING: pages will take longer to build than you think, ‘where does this page link to?’, 'that image isn't right'..... leave plenty of time to cut, paste and then craft.
It might be best to separate the content upload, meta data and quality control tasks into three waves of work. When you are in build mode, you're likely to be churning out pages ASAP. You could plan in a much slower second and third phase where you check and double check content.
Top tip: For consistent formatting , most CMS's will require you to strip out Word formatting before uploading it into the system. Otherwise, formatting can perform erratically and you will waste your time trying to fix it. Plan in to copy and paste into Notepad before entering into your new site.
10) keeping track of progress
If there's more than one of you building the site, I'd suggest printing out all your Excel sheets listing your new site map, gluing them together and putting them on your wall. Use highlighters to mark up who's doing what, what’s been done and changes as they happen. This is a really useful visual guide on how the project is going.
There will of course be a fancy digital way of doing this, but a old school print out and highlighters always work for me.
I know this is a really long post, but I've tried to include the main points I've come across and learned from over the last 20 years of creating content for sites.
All comments and additions welcome.
I hope you've found it useful. Please feel free to email.