Tag Archives: strategy

Avoid content delays – treat content like code

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The age old mantra ‘content is king’ still applies when attracting big audiences. So why is content still an afterthought in many web development projects?

Granted, the content production process has become more complex over the years as audience expectations and preferences develop and shift. Many of the websites originally set up with a traditional ‘one-to-many’ approach to publishing web content are adopting a more ‘read-write’ participative approach, where user generated content complements a site’s dedicated editorial output.

But even with the added challenge of catering for audiences that demand the right to re-write, re-package and share content, site owners dedicate far too little time or resource to content strategy development. This error, if left unchecked, can lead to severe delays in a site’s launch.

So, In a bid to dispel some of the common misconceptions about the content production process, we thought it worthwhile to outline some of the core components required to ensure its smooth running.

When talking about what the content production process consists of, it’s often helpful to compare it to other more well known elements of a site’s development – like technical development. As teams can often find themselves dealing with complex legacy materials, the same principles often apply.

As with technical development, content production can be vastly improved if a number of measures are in place before build even begins. Obviously, these measures don’t have to apply to every web development project, but more often than not they should include:

• Content strategy or content specific brief
• Sitemap and wireframes
• Content outline specification
• Sufficient lead in time
• Keep your site relevant

Content strategy or content brief

A pretty obvious one this, but when it comes to defining a website’s content elements – namely what content will be required for the site’s functionality and features – things can sometimes get a little sketchy.

Many site owners still assume (or should that be ‘hope’?) that the content part of the job will only involve some form of cut-and-paste – whether from an old website, Word document or an entire content database table. If only this were the case.

A content audit is a document which benchmarks the effectiveness of existing editorial against organisational objectives or key audience requirements and expectations. Clearly, the findings of this document can help vastly improve the quality and effectiveness of a website’s editorial. Document included in this audit normally also include a spreadsheet which transcribes the current sitemap to a tabular format and gives each page a description, status rating and so on.

For example, if the full picture of a site’s editorial content is unknown – particularly after years of amendments or neglect by marketing departments – key stakeholders may run into problems when it comes to identifying which content areas need updating before integration into the site’s shiny new architecture. Put simply, without a content audit, organisations are in danger of focusing the majority of effort on technical features and the look of a new site, only to fill it with out of date or off-key editorial.

Sadly, it’s this eventual realisation – often near the end of the production cycle – that causes many sites to be delayed. Granted, it may only be words, but the reality of hurriedly re-writing an entire website’s copy (the average site hosting around 20,000 words) is not something your internal stakeholders will thank you for.

Avoid under estimating your content needs by producing a dedicated content strategy – preferably one which answers difficult questions. Briefing documents should provide guidance on tone, language, audience and timings, but why not try to apply some rigorous journalistic questioning to your brief’s content approach, namely: what, where, by when, how, why and – perhaps the least most asked question – by whom in which department?

Sitemap and wireframes

A sitemap is required reading for technical teams when estimating resourcing requirements and / or developing a functional specification document. The same should apply to the content production team. A sitemap allows for improved scoping, which helps with all aspects of planning and resourcing during the content production or content migration process.

This can also help to identify typical functional pages that need content, such as terms and conditions, a privacy statement or instructional text for any uploading functionality. As pages like this often fall outside the ‘subject matter’ of a site, they are often left to the last minute or forgotten completely.

Content outline specification

If you really want to help your copywriter, editor or internal marketing team produce editorial that’s on brand, on message and on budget, go beyond a simple sitemap and set aside time to produce a content outline document.

Like a functional specification document, this document provides a detailed walkthrough of the site’s copy section by section (and page by page if necessary). Minimising any confusion about tone and detailing all assumptions about content sources, length expectations and topic focus, this walkthrough document should provide any external suppliers or internal stakeholders with a rock solid blueprint of all content requirements.

Sufficient lead-in time

Like a technical team needs sufficient lead in time to produce effective code, editors need time in order to develop best practice editorial copy. As with rushed code, rushed content will not work. Avoid leaving content until the last minute, even for migration work.

Deadlines help focus everyone’s efforts, none more so than copywriters and site editors who require a minimum period of production time to produce targeted, call-to-action, SEO compliant editorial content. Help editorial teams even further by informing them of final copy deadlines – they will then be able to estimate backwards.

So, now you’ve provided your editorial teams with all of the above, only one more task remains – post launch maintenance.

Keep your site relevant

Why spend time and money developing branded, targeted content your users will thank you for, only to let it go out of date? Content can become outdated very quickly, particularly if you’re dealing with information and guidance materials which refer to timely services and offers.

Users judge your site’s content by its breadth and usefulness, but they also decide whether to trust its information by its date stamp (no date stamp at all is even less assuring). Don’t give users reason to doubt the usefulness of your site’s content – set aside resources to update content on a regular basis and they’ll be more inclined to return to your website.

Networked journalism – the viable face of citizen journalism

Citizen journalism websites can’t survive according to a post by journalism.co.uk’s John Ndege, the founder of start-up ScribbleSheet.

Instead, Networked Journalism sites which integrate users into their professional set up have more than a fighting chance. Why? Because they provide the collaborative appeal of CJ websites, while retaining the quality of professional publications. Read more about Networked Journalism at Buzzmachine.

Read John’s full post on journalism.co.uk

Is being the CEO of Second Life really a “career killer”?

I always read make time to George’s i-boy blog, but I’ll admit I’ve never seen anything as so damning as his latest post, which talks about Mark Kingdon’s move from CEO of digital agency Organic to CEO of Linden Lab, the owner of Second Life.

Sure, there’s been a strong reaction to Kingdon’s move on Linden’s own site (which i-boy has helpfully published), but George himself is just as scathing. Check out the multiple choice options!

Take a look for yourself at i-boy.

Business Week invests in citizen journalism and user engagement

Well, peel me like a beetroot and pickle me in brine – a publisher has woken up to the value of developing long term relationships with blog post commenters.
Backed up by a dedicated strategy and senior member of staff, prime commenters are to be cultivated and paid (yes, paid) to not only write articles, but also take part in wider news production. Hello user centred design!
I’m also excited aboout this content strategy because it has a good chance of taking off, thanks to the calibre of the commenters they’re looking to work with – namely high profile CEOs and directors. Users will actively seek out their content. B2B publishers should take note, as should consumer media owners: citizen journalism doesn’t begin and end with the Guardian’s Comment is Free.
Read more about Business Week’s citizen journalism content strategy [via paidContent]

FT.com web strategy – assuming the site isn’t down

Ien Cheng, publisher and managing editor, reveals in today’s Guardian that publishers should act more like tech firms than publishers.
Not sure what that means when the FT.com site doesn’t load and returns a ‘Cannot find server’ in the browser (as of 10.35am this morning).

Blips aside, Cheng appears to be working wonders by focusing on three strands (or ‘prongs’ if you’re Jemima Kiss). These include new products, subscription models and internal production. It seems to be working – a 33 per cent rise in users from last year to 7.1 million uniques a month.

The report also details strong growth in online advertising (40 per cent – helped by highly targeted ads) and an 11 per cent growth in online subscriptions (over 10,000 users are signing up each week). Hats off to web agency Avenue A Razorfish?

The nod to new products suggests that the FT.com – like the Telegraph and, more recently the Daily Mirror – could benefit from an internal web development team.

He also shrugs off any threat from Google and their strength in the new, more open marketplace. But I’ve always believed that specialist publishers, including the ‘niche’ business audiences of the FT and WSJ, were relatively safe from the advertising giant. More so than the Mirror or the Sun.

Impressive stuff nonetheless.

Mixmag print mag doing well – by keeping it real niche

The Guardian reports that DJ bible Mixmag is doing well (40k circulation) after going back to its pre-EMAP strategy of being a genuinely valuable resource for DJs. No more dancing girls in fluffy bras, it says. The site also supports the print mag in allowing readers to download around 90 per cent of the music covered in print.

Do advertisers don’t ‘get’ digital virtual magazines?

After using them since 2005, the editor of surfing magazine Drift says that digital mags are a tough sell to advertisers. Users also prefer print magazines that they can flick through in the cafe, in a surf shop or in the back of a van (this is so Point Break).

I disagree. If digital editions of magazines, as in virtual page-turning magazines, don’t work because advertisers don’t ‘get’ them, then why is monkeymag.co.uk doing so well? I’d say it’s all about targeting the right audience with the right content.

I agree, the prospect of reading an indepth wordy three page feature in a digital magazine like monkeymag doesn’t appeal to me, but skimming through half page short features about quirky videos or ‘and finally’ oddball features does seem to work better for this medium.

Don’t dismiss the likes of virtual page magazines just yet. I’d argue that advertisers DO get this medium as they can relate it to the traditional print mag ad space concept. Just don’t ask advertisers to place their ads opposite a 600 word 10-point font feature.

Read more about Drift’s comments at paidContent.org.