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Content Strategy for Websites
 

Content Strategy for Websites

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Why content strategy? What is it and how do you do it? What tools and deliverables can help drive an effective content strategy? Also, "user friendliness" is something everyone can recognize (and you ...

Why content strategy? What is it and how do you do it? What tools and deliverables can help drive an effective content strategy? Also, "user friendliness" is something everyone can recognize (and you don't have to be a UX expert).

This three-hour workshop talks about content and strategy:
• Why content strategy?
• What is content strategy?
• What is content?
• Tools for content strategy
• User friendliness, from sea to sea (to sea)

This workshop is for anyone who works in agencies who help clients develop web content, or who work in companies or organizations and are in charge of developing web content. It's also for individuals who work on a contract basis for others developing websites.

Learn how to rally stakeholders, focus on the purpose of content, manage the workflow, and how not to abandon site content once it's live. Understand some of the choices of deliverables and artifacts available and how you can tailor them to suit your project's needs. Learn the importance of developing a core strategy statement and writing content goals from both business and user perspectives.

Presented as a workshop for the Manitoba Editors' Association, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, April 20, 2013.

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  • This is me. I’m a consultant. I’ve been doing this, in-house or independently, for a dozen years.I love what I do. I’m a content nerd. For this presentation, I’ve borrowed heavily from the content strategy practice of Brain Traffic, my favourite guru, Kristina Halvorson, and a few others. All web content examples, and some of the templates, are from projects I’ve worked on. A few other examples (in the Tools section) are credited to others (as noted).
  • IA Summit – annual gathering (US) of information architects and experience designers.The Content Strategy Consortium was organized by Kristina Halvorson and Karen McGrane and included 20ishinvited participantsLarge digital agencies (Razorfish, Digitas, Sapient)Mid-sized agencies (HUGE, Inc., ISITE Design)Ad agencies Government Agencies (incl. the Federal Reserve)Corporations (REI)Frontline freelance consultants
  • All of the content examples in this section are from projects I’ve worked on.
  • Solvera is an IT company that serves large utility companies. It wanted to rebrand itself and come across as smart and accessible, so they put a lot of focus on banner content for the home page and each section’s landing page.
  • Muskeg Lake was a FN community that had gone through some internal strife and wanted to rebuild the community. Their main tool was creating a new website that told stories and gave everything, including far-flung members, a sense of pride and belonging. And lots of really useful information. An image can really make a page.
  • OEF is an agribusiness investment venture that wanted to educate potential investors about its history and values, which was born in a partnership between investor Eric Sprott and a former Grand Chief of the Fed of SK FN. As a result, much of the site content is centered around storytelling, including this rotating story feature that changes each time the user clicks on a main nav landing page.
  • Elk Ridge Resort is a 4-star destination resort in the boreal forest of Northern SK, right next to PANP. Any photos taken up there always look great, and this client hired a really good professional photographer. The banner auto-rotates if you don’t click on the screen, or you can choose one of seven images if you want to gaze lovingly (and longer) at a particular image. Oh, and they update their image content yearly.
  • Here’s a bit of functionality on that home page. You can book a reservation from anywhere on the site. That was one of the guiding principles in the content strategy, to make it easy to make bookings online.
  • This was a fun interactive feature thought up by an interaction designer working on the project. I wrote copy for about two dozen or so “reasons,” which we assigned random numbers to so there appeared to be LOTS of reasons to stay at Elk Ridge. Another engagement technique.
  • Autism Services in Saskatoon just launched their redesigned and redeveloped site about a week ago (i.e., April 2013). They had enough video content to warrant a separate page in the Resources section. Videos make for great content, but they should be short.
  • These are the subnav headings on the Autism Services website for the Resources section. You might not think of navigation titles as content, but they are.The “mythbuster” (persistent text feature) concept was interesting. The PURPOSE of these little factoids was to dispel preconceived and inaccurate notions about autism. (PURPOSE is key, in content strategy.)
  • A blog is content. Usually LOTS of content. So it has to be managed and presented well. This blog is on the website of a kitchen building and renovations site.
  • Forms are very important interactive content. There’s a whole area of specialization around online form development and best practices, including functionality and writing effective microcopy.
  • This is Goldcorp’s Investor section home page. Typically, IR sections have a lot of content, so their section landing pages pack in a lot of info. Users expect a lot of it, so then it becomes a question of organization and priority. In this case, they put their positioning statement at the top and followed it by quotes from the CEO and Chairman. And their images, for transparency. The investor kit is not uncommon to see on an IR home page, but its content will vary a bit from one site to the next. Here, we’ve included the latest AR and Annual Financials, an Annual Information Form, the latest Corporate Presentation (IP), a current Fact Sheet, and a link to the most recent online Sustainability Report. The feature boxes draw attention to and provide easy access for the online Sustainability Report and also for an 8-page PDF version of its highlights. Below the feature boxes (not visible here) are News and Events links, the 3 most recent of each.
  • Lots of tables on IR sites.
  • And charts.
  • With or without context.
  • Titles help. In this case, though, they didn’t need it twice. A developer might have caught this and removed it (or asked a designer to remove it) from the graphic, if they were aware the title was in the final text document.
  • The tag line (or slogan) and footer quote were small but important branding elements for this site and company.Tag line: SUSTAINABLE AGRIBUSINESS, FROM THE GROUND UP.Footer quote: Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. (FN proverb)
  • Even a tweet is content.
  • MargotBloomstein’s quotation is an excellent question to ask yourself, your client or your company.
  • To read about this process in great (and highly readable) detail, buy Content Strategy for the Web (2nded) by Kristina Halvorson & Melissa Rach. You can get it in hard copy or as an ebook (of course).
  • Let’s put things in context.Remember that your deliverables are just tools. And you don’t have to use all the tools in your box, either. Okay, so here’s my list of 8 tools. There are more, but we’ll talk about these 8.
  • Tools for delivery are a spreadsheet or a text document.
  • This is a concept developed by Brain Traffic and outlined in Content Strategy for the Web (2nded) by Kristina Halvorson & Melissa Rach.
  • 3 important questions will help you define your core strategy
  • This (engaging & specific) example was used in a workshop given by Brain Traffic in 2011. It’s also in Content Strategy for the Web. Let’s ask our 3 questions.What are you trying to accomplish?- You want to be the go-to reference resource for law students.2. What will you produce and how will it be valuable? An comprehensive online database for law studentsIt will give them needed information, reduce their stress, ANDhelp them become successful (and ethical) practicing attorneys.3. What will you need to do to support it?Curate information. This means someone else’s content, our context. We’ll collect and care for great works created by others and add context for our unique audience—law students.an entertaining, online reference guide means like a reference book, but fun.Stressed-out law students are the audience. We trying to help make law school survivable.Successful practicing attorneys is the end game, and it’s all about the end game. Law students don’t have time for anything that won’t help them reach that goal.
  • Elements of an editorial calendar (my own example):- Time breakdown (by week)- Content tasks (e.g., which section to work on; or, one column for Topic, another for Resource, i.e., what is it and who will write it?)- Type of work (admin, meetings, R&D, writing, editing)- Hours or Cost (budgeted, actual, remaining [burn-down rate])Deadlines (due dates for client & agency)- Holidays & scheduling considerations+ Anything else you need to keep track of e.g., Section/page name / Sitemap # / Topic / Content source (name) / Contact infoInclude whatever is useful to you for the project. In Excel, columns can always be added or deleted. You can also add tabs.Delivery tools:MS Excel
  • This is a visual sitemap (my own example, developed for a first nations community site). Linear, text-based sitemaps are sometimes created in an excel spreadsheet, but I find VSMs most helpful, especially when used in conjunction with either wireframes or a page strategy document. Figuring out how content should be structured is a whole other topic. Sometimes it’s done by a team; sometimes it’s one person. It may or may not be something you do as a content strategist. It doesn’t really matter what your title is (IA or UX designer or CS), but someone knowledgeable and experienced needs to work on the structure and navigation.Delivery tools:Microsoft Word (especially if the client is hands-on)OmniGraffle (above example)
  • Margot Bloomstein, who wrote Content Strategy at Work, loves cars, owns a Mini Cooper, and happened to work for Mini. The three communication elements that Margot and Mini came up with, that they wanted to convey to their audiences, werePremium technologyTheir cars are assertive, ready to perform, proactive and support spontaneityClassic DesignFor the experienced and savvy driverCheekyThe desired tone was to be smart, punny, hip, fun and gleefulWhat’s the PURPOSE of the Message Architecture?TO DRIVE THE USER EXPERIENCE (no pun intended)… IN CONTENT.
  • A content wireframe — or content template or page template — is useful for making detailed recommendations about web content.This example (mine) breaks down suggested content into visual layouts with a detailed description of each visual element. DETAILED can include suggestions to the writer about heading & subheading use, when to include an intro, or short summary or contextual text for videos, charts and tables. It can also tell the writer where to find source information for that piece or section of content (e.g., use charts on p. 4 in the IP or a web URL for an existing video).Delivery tools:Omnigraffle and exported to PDF so the client could access it.The final doc was a 36-page PDF, accompanied by a visual sitemap for the proposed website.This page describes proposed content for the landing page of the “Laser Therapy” section of a publicly traded company that makes cold lasers. This content wireframe was prepared in 2010. The next slide shows the actual site page, as launched two years later. You’ll notice there’s a new main nav heading (“Patients”). At the time, the four-nav-heading site architecture was (we thought) carved in stone. But with web content, nothing is ever carved in stone. Sometimes content development can be a long, multi-player process in which you don’t necessarily have control over outcomes. So you just offer your best information, given what you know and what the client has decided (to that point).
  • Here’s what that landing page ended up looking like once the site went live (2 years later).That’s content wireframing. It’s labour intensive and detailed. Clients may not want to pay for the time and detail, so a Page Strategy Document (which we’ll talk about next) is a good alternative.
  • The Page Strategy Document (my own example, based on the concept of Page Tables, by Halvorson) outlines page-level content development for a proposed website.Let’s talk about each of the elements in a Page Strategy Doc.PAGE PURPOSEBusiness Goal(s) and User Goal(s)AUDIENCE(S)- List any and all audiences you want to address FOR THIS PAGE.CONTENT SOURCE(S)- Where will the content come from? Who will create or provide it? What types of content?MESSAGE FOCUSPage Elements / Priority / Content NotesWe wanted a compelling image of a child behind fuzzy glass to illustrate the text metaphorically.We also chose, with the client, to present a few “mythbusters” about autism—on this and other pages—as a persistent text feature beneath the left navigation.Because Autism Services is a non-profit organization that focuses on fundraising to serve those with autism and their families, it was really important to find a way to promote giving on the site. This translated into persistent feature boxes with engaging photos, call-to-action text, and a “Make a Donation” pop-up button to inspire would-be donors to click and give.GOVERNANCEWho will update this page’s content & how often?
  • Here’s what the top of that page looks like now. There’s the compelling image to accompany the text, and one of the persistent “mythbusters” features, at left.
  • …here’s the bottom, with the feature box, contextual text, and a “Make a donation” call to action that pops up when you hover over the image.
  • In this case, more is more. Be specific about what goals — from both business and user perspectives — you want to achieve.
  • Note that these are for the same content as the business goals were, but from the users’ perspective.
  • The Web Content Doc (my examples) contains all the text content for the entire website. It canBe broken down and worked on by section (major navigation headings)Include style notes (heading & type styles) for the programmers [YOU CAN SEE THESE HERE: H1, intro style, H2, etc.]Reference images by file name & locationInclude persistent feature content (but refer to a separate document that has all the actual content, because a designer needs to work on it)Include file names and locations for other content elements: video, PDF, audio and other non-text contentThe PURPOSE of the Web Content Doc is to have all the written draft content gathered into a single document, so an editor can review it for style, consistency, grammar, and typosHave any other content elements noted and files/locations named, for easy referenceHOW MANY DRAFTS?Good question. You might want to decide this (and budget for it) ahead of time. Plan to go back and forth at least 3 or 4 times, or many more. It really depends on how many people are involved, how the editorial is handled, and how many micromanagers want to get their hands onto it. Don’t let anyone send it to you in pieces. Make sure everyone on their end has had input before they send it back to you for editorial review each time. Try to manage expectations, if you see complexities developing.This is the web content doc text for the Community Partners page on the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation website…
  • …and here’s what the final text from that Web Content Doc looks like on the live site. Note the heading styles that were referenced in the Content Doc.
  • And this is the Autism Services home page last week (early April 2013).
  • I should mention that these will all be provincial government websites. Okay, let’s have a show of applause for how user friendly each of these home pages is. I know everyone loves to gripe about the government, so try to applaud the pages, not the government. Or the province. Ready?
  • British Columbia
  • Alberta
  • Saskatchewan
  • Manitoba (entry portal)
  • Manitoba
  • Ontario (entry portal)
  • Ontario
  • Québec
  • New Brunswick
  • Nova Scotia
  • PEI
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Nunavut (entry portal)
  • Nunavut (Points for clarity, lack of clutter, and—from a usability perspective—providing one site in FOUR languages.)
  • Northwest Territories
  • Yukon