Monday, 13 May 2013

Content strategy: 5 warning signs that show you haven't got one

Does your organisation have a content strategy? If any of the statements below are true, it means you probably don't have one.

1. Your organisation produces content for print - and adds it to the web later.

2. You've lost track of the number of pdfs and Word docs on your site.

3. You launch new content and forget about it.

4. You do decentralised publishing. A large number of people in your organisation publish pages using your content management system (CMS) and they have very little editorial training or support.

5. You don't have editorial processes in place for creating, fact checking and publishing content.

1. Still doing 'print first, online later'?

If anyone's still in any doubt that 'print first, online later' doesn't work, here's a recent example. An organisation is staging an event. The name of the event, the logo and the descriptive blurb are created for printed leaflets and posters.

When it's time to advertise the event on the organisation's website, there's a problem. The name of the event is too long to fit into the CMS template; the logo doesn't work in its new smaller size online; and the descriptive blurb is vague and wordy - not great for mobile or web, where every character counts.

Suggestion: If you involve digital content editors from the get-go, they can adapt marketing content so it's web-friendly - and ensure wording and branding are consistent across web and print.

2. Lost track of pdfs?

Some organisations put hundreds of documents on their websites. The problem with pdfs and Word docs is that they:

  • often repeat information that's already on html pages (annoying for the reader)
  • are never updated (so readers don't know if the info is current or not)
  • often have multiple versions, as old versions are never culled (readers don't know which version to trust)

Suggestion: If pdfs and Word docs are truly necessary on your site, at the very least you could make a rule that no one can upload a new version of a document without first deleting the old one.

3. Why launch and forget?

I recently freelanced on a website with 40,000 pages that had accumulated over the years. It was overwhelming. No one was culling out-of-date content so the site was out of control. The end result? Daily complaints from people who couldn't find up-to-date information.

Suggestion: Set up Google Analytics and find out which pages are performing and which aren't. Once you know what pages are popular, you can prioritise those and draw up a schedule to review them.

4. Decentralised publishing

Decentralised (devolved) publishing is where you have a load of people publishing content, with little editorial training or support. It's a recipe for badly structured, badly written content. See the article Decentralised publishing = amateur web management by content management guru Gerry McGovern.

I prefer to work somewhere with a central team of digital content editors. Content editors can act as gatekeepers to keep bad content at bay. Content editors can ask:
  • what's the purpose of this new content? (ie do we really need it?)
  • what information do people really need?
  • who's the audience? 
  • is a web page the right place for this information? 
  • are you sure anyone will find your new page - how will you promote the URL?
Suggestion: Spend money on a central team of digital content editors.

5. Editorial processes

Traditional magazine or newspaper publishing uses a hierarchical set-up of writers and sub-editors. Stories are researched and written by one person, a writer, then sanity checked and polished by a second person, a sub-editor. Stories are also likely to be checked by a third person - a production editor or editor. It's a publishing model that's worked for decades in print - so why not apply it to your organisation's content online?

Suggestion: If your organisation can't stretch to a central team of editors to quality assure content, you should at the very least make sure that nothing goes live without a second pair of eyes over it.

Making content as good as it can be

Putting in place a content strategy is about making your content as good as it can be for the users. It involves:
  • planning the content you're going to create rather than uploading stuff on the fly
  • establishing processes for content creation
  • reviewing content regularly once it's gone live
  • removing content when it's past its use-by date 
Read about the complete content lifecycle.

Where do I start?

A good place to start is to carry out a content audit, also known as a content inventory. You can paste each URL of your site into a spreadsheet and note whether to keep content as is, merge with another page, update or delete. 

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