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Toward a Comprehensive Content Strategy for Websites

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Clients and Content

Why does it take clients so long to put together content for their new web site? Because creating content is complex. More complex than it appears at first. Because everything takes longer than you think. Because we all get interrupted all the time and we don’t plan for it.

Using copy from their existing web site (short sighted, stale)
Writing all new copy (all the old content is garbage? really?)
We’re writing the copy for them (fastest, best results)
They’re writing the first draft of the copy and we’re editing it (standby for substantial delays)

What about photos?
Flash animations!?

Putting together high quality and relevant content for a web site is hard. It is. Just a fact.

Thoughts on a comprehensive content strategy for web sites

At we like developing web site content for clients. We work with several great copy writers, and we enjoy the overall process. I’ve been giving some thought to a comprehensive content strategy. Here are some of the steps involved with creating great web site content if you already have a web site. And I bet you probably do.

One: content inventory. What content do you have now? Catalog it: URL, page title, headings and sub headings on the page, possibly a one sentence summary, staleness on a scale of 1-5 (one being still fairly relevant, five being completely stale, planning to dump it)

Two: competitor research. Who are your top three competitors. Content inventory of their web sites. Skip the one sentence summaries unless staleness factor is a one or two.

Three: SEO keyword research. This is gold. Hire a fantastic SEO person to do your keyword research. If they’re good they’re going to discover a bunch of topics your web site constituents are searching for that you don’t even address on your web site. You need content on these topics to meet the needs of your visitors. You’ll attract a lot more relevant traffic if you do. Rank the new topics from 1-5. One = highly relevant to your industry and lots of searches. 2 = highly relevant and moderate searches. 3 = very interesting or unique topics don’t worry about how many searches. 4 = moderately relevant. 5 = relevance is a stretch, wishful thinking really. I just made those definitions up. If you have a better way to grade the new topics on a numeric scale I’d like to hear from you.

Four: Content sorting. Combine steps one through three in a blender, then sort with a centrifuge. Drop everything with a rating of four or five. Be brutal with ratings of three.

Five: Information Architecture. Time for card sorting with sticky notes. Organize the survivors into content silos, make sense out of the chaos.

Six: Finalize the site map.

(Wow, we haven’t even started writing yet! Yep, that’s right!)

Seven: Content strategy. Where will the content for each page come from? Is there value starting with what’s on the current web site? Or are we starting from scratch? Who needs to be interviewed to get the needed info? Does other research need to be done other than interviews? Who is going to write the first draft? Who needs to review it? Who will edit it? Which stakeholder is responsible for signing off on the final draft? What’s the expected lifetime of each page of content. Write down the refresh rate in months for each page. Then assign responsible parties to all content pages. Who’s going to refresh this stuff at the appointed time? There’s more to content strategy than this (voice, tone, when do you refresh the research and look for new content, and more, but this is an important slice).

Eight: Start writing. Write down deadlines and group content by deadline. Distribute the schedule to the copy writers. Some may be internal to the company, some may be hired hands. You had a project manager involved five steps ago to organize this, motivate the writers, and hold their feet to the fire, right?

Nine: Drink a bottle of wine. Sleep well.

Ten: First draft. Review, edit. Second draft. Keep everyone on track. Adjust time lines that have slipped. Hey – how far behind schedule is the photographer? (Yeah, there’s other stuff going on too!) Edit. Stakeholder reviews, edit. Final draft and sign off.

Eleven: Hand over the content to the web designers and developers. While the PM gets the design process rolling with your ace designer, have a party, the writers get to have a drink now, and take a day off for a job well done.

That’s it – great web site content development in 11 easy steps. Is it that complicated really? Maybe. Maybe not. But there’s always more involved than we think. And we never budget for the interruptions.

Tell us how you manage content development for web sites. We’d especially like to hear how you educate and inform your clients about the content development process and how long it takes. We want to hear from you!