If you’ve ever sat back and thought to yourself, “Gee, I really wonder what goes into getting a website’s content from a hot mess to an elegant experience for the reader…” Well – have I got a doozy of a blog post for you!
Let the Content Wrangling Begin!
Content management and strategy are no small feats. Managing your content has become as vitally important for scaling your online website as managing your codebase. If you have ever worked in web development, you know how convoluted and messy a codebase can become; well, content is similar. If not wrangled in, it will become an unyielding force to reckon with!
When you find yourself in this position (you know, when you DREAD the idea of even looking at your actual front end content of your CMS) it’s time for Content Overhaul.
How to Approach a Content Overhaul
1) Determine the Purpose for Site Content
Know your audience. Know your users. Know your software/product/market. Simple enough, right?
Not really. Depending on your market, your users could range from complete newbies to seasoned professionals. And surprisingly enough, most of your users are not on your website because your awesome header font drew them in. They are there to consume information. And it’s to your advantage to make that as easy as possible for them.
That should be the overarching purpose of all site content: to help your users, your community, your readers, your customers, your clients, etc. That’s not to say every piece of content has to be technical, boring, or dry. There are different types of content and they are used for different site purposes. Point is: all your communication should purpose, and it should support the mission of your organization.
2) Create User Personas
To arrive at this end you must spend time talking about your users. Sketching out formal User Personas is a critical step for any major content overhaul; especially if you happen to be working with a client to complete a formal content review, audit and upgrade where in you might not necessarily BE the end user. Taking the time to streamline who your users are, what they need, and how your site will serve them will make a huge difference when it comes time to divide and conquer existing content – or setting up a content strategy for future communication (posts, pages, social media.)
Usability.gov has one of the most straightforward How-To’s on creating user personas.
3) Perform a Systematic Review
Anytime I start a new content overhaul, I open my saved links, review info, and make sure my understanding of the steps at hand are consistent with any current standards for content planning, strategy, etc. Web standards change often for code & they change for content as well.
I have quite a few resources booked, but the following are what I consider the best authority sources regarding Content Inventories, Content Audits and Content Strategy:
- Content-Insight > What is a Content Inventory?
- GatherContent > How to Perform a Content Audit
- SiteLiner > How to Scan Your Site for Duplicate Content
- Usability.gov > Content Strategy Basics
These resources are not WordPress specific – just high level “Holy cow we have a lot of content, where do we even start!?” level work.
4) Perform a Thorough Analytical Review
Your deliverables from step 3 will tell you a lot about what kind of content you are dealing with. Now you need to know how existing content is performing on your website. And, you need to know how users are interacting with your existing content. There are so many tools you can pick from (and pay) for this, but personally I find that the combination of data from Google Analytics and JetPack Stats reveals enough information.
- Google Analytics and/or JetPack Stats
You can glean a LOT from your JetPack stats if you are running a WordPress site. Combine JetPack with your GA and you’ve got most of the quantifiable data you’ll ever want for pretty much anything you need to do with your content.
- Inbound Traffic
–Found in GA or JetPack Stats
- Social Media Shares
- Outbound Clicks
Basically – how are users finding your site, what are they doing with the content, where are they going when they leave. If you approach your analytics review by filtering all the information you will have into one of those three categories (How, What, Where) you’ll be off to a good start.
Yes, this step can become very granular and tedious – but don’t get lost in the forest because of the trees. Approach this from a high level view (the 3 categories) and you’ll be able to navigate your way through it all.
5) Research Your Competitors
This is important, but shouldn’t be a huge time suck. Check out your competitor’s sites and look at how they are using their content. Just spend enough time on each section of these sites to get a high level overview/feel for your competitors. Too much time, and their content/site could be counterproductive – your imposter syndrome might set in! Just take a quick look at their site, navigate it as a user, and write down what you love/hate about it all. Then move on!
6) Now – Put the Content to the Test!
After you have gone through the steps above, you can start digesting your existing content. This step is a little time consuming if you have a lot of content but it’s vital. You are going to decide what content stays, and what content goes! (Yes, you will end up deleting content in this process.) You can use the following four questions to help keep the process moving:
- Does this content help or hinder the user? (Which user?! You should have several.)
- Does this content leave the user ready to take action or left wondering what’s next?
- Does this content help build our company team?
- Does this content help build our community?
If yes – then the content stays (somewhere) on the site. If no – ditch it.
So, Now What?
Once you have all this in place, you’re ready to move on to the next phase of a content overhaul – preparing to deal with the words and writers that make up the actual content. Up until this point all you’ve done is gather your information.
Did you just think to yourself, “Ugh, I’ll just skip all this…. who needs all the prep work… all I really need to do is [insert a component from what will be Lesson 3].”
I’m going to give you some more free (sage) advice – Don’t Do It! The end result will be a sloppy pile of content that will require even more work later on. Just trust me…if you’re going to take the time to do it, you might as well do it right.