5 keys to a winning content strategy

If you’ve ever participated in a website redesign, you’re probably familiar with the seemingly inevitable panic that occurs at the end of the project. The team spends months discussing technology details and creating the perfect design, but for some reason they’ve forgotten the content. A couple of questions hang heavy in the air:

Who’s going to write the content for the site? What should we put on the site?

Usually a writer, or an intern if there is no writer, is pulled in and instructed to write, with little or no guidance. The result? Thin content that could lack vital details, quality, or any interesting information that your audience wants to read. Even worse, content is sometimes simply copied and pasted from your previous site without anyone reading it.

This conundrum costs you valuable time and money. You can lose money by launching content that doesn’t help you accomplish your goals, launching late, or spending extra money bringing someone in at the last second to create content. This can all be avoided with careful planning and the appropriate allocation of resources (both human and financial) to make sure that the plan can be executed. Today we’ll look at the planning side of the solution.

Content planning keys for your next website redesign

1) Give content a seat at the table from the start

On website projects at Masterworks, we start talking about content early in the process. Usually this means including me, the content strategist, at the table to think through the site’s content needs. This planning goes deeper than choosing which pages will be featured in the sitemap. We spend time developing what messages need to be communicated across the site to make sure the end product acts as a dynamic storytelling tool, by evaluating your existing site, thinking through content structure, and more.

2) Remember, design and content go hand in hand

You could summarize this point with the following statement: “Don’t let your designers and writers work in a vacuum.” On a project as involved as a website, it’s essential for the content creation and design teams to constantly communicate with each other. It’s the only way to ensure that the end product will be a cohesive whole.

3) Map out your content with a content matrix

The first two points were pretty high level (although very important). Now let’s get down to some nuts and bolts. One of the best ways to make sure you don’t wait until the last second to think about your content is through a nice tool called a content matrix.

At Masterworks, the content matrix is a spreadsheet that serves as the guiding document for content throughout the project. We document each page or content module on the site, assign a unique ID to it, and record the core message that module or page focuses on. Of course, each page is also mapped back to one of the core goals of the site. If a content page or module doesn’t seem to be relevant to the goals, we’ll have a frank conversation about whether it should be on the site at all.

4) Build content-rich wireframes

Wireframes serve as the blueprint for your site. The best wireframes demonstrate both the hierarchy of design elements and how content will fit into the designs. In other words, good-bye huge chunks of lorem ipsum. We’ve found that the best wireframes are developed when a content strategist and a designer collaborate together, or work closely with an information architect.

5) Define a workflow…and follow it

This last step is fairly simple. It’s all about defining who is going to do what…and what process will guide you from no content to a finished site. It’s important to consider who will be reviewing and approving the content, who will be creating it, where you’ll be finding resource, etc. Workflow varies from site to site, but the important thing to do is have a conversation about it, and then follow through. Of course, in order for a workflow to be successful, you must dedicate the necessary people and finances to get the work done.

The final word

It’s hard work to create quality content. That’s why it’s essential to spend time thinking not only about the content that should be created, but also the best way to create it. This process is called content strategy, and taking these five steps will help you get started. Best of luck.

Do you want to talk more about taking a more strategic approach with your digital content? Leave a comment, or get in touch with me on Twitter: @doughj. I hope to hear from you.