Website Development Pitfall 5: Worrying about content... last

By Angela Schuster

The last Pitfall in our series appropriately focuses on leaving content until last.

I’ve covered 'content is king' previously in this series but to reiterate, content is king. Too often companies dive into website development and then once they have the site ‘shell’ do they suddenly realise they need content and so start scrambling to fill the pages with words. Often this results in hastily (and therefore poorly) written content, delays in launching the site or the realisation that there are gaps in the new website structure.

The early stages of website development involve mapping out your information architecture or navigation (read Pitfall 1 if your process doesn’t). In doing this, you have an opportunity to start thinking about the content you are going to put on each page. This also makes it a good time to develop a content plan.

Pitfall 5: Worrying about content... last

Now I’m not advocating that you hold off on your project until you get all the content together, but you do need to plan your approach to content in the early stages. This means that while the site is being physically built, you can start pulling together content – the idea is that the two processes occur in tandem so that by the time the site is built your content is also ready to go up.

Content planning early in your website development process will assist in:

  • Site structure and navigation
    Quite simply, working through a content plan early on will help you identify sections on the site that might otherwise be overlooked and it can also assist with terminology, taxonomy and the labelling of your navigation.

  • Determining resource requirements
    Working out exactly what content your site will require for launch and post Day-2 will help you determine the volume of content and the frequency of content updates that the site will require. This in turn will give you a realistic idea of whether you can manage content internally or if you require external assistance. It also means you can factor this into your project budget.

    In Pitfall 4 we outlined the pros and cons for managing a site using external assistance or doing it yourself using a content management system (CMS). There are a number of options for content development - some companies choose to outsource the initial content writing for a new site but then maintain the site and develop new content in-house post Day-2. In other cases, companies develop draft content and then seek an external perspective to review and edit. In still other cases, companies do all of the content development and maintenance themselves. Again, a CMS gives you this flexibility and control and the choice of options.

    A final alternative of course is to outsource the entire content development and ongoing maintenance, although you would want to see real value in such an arrangement before going ahead with this option!

  • Identifying missing content
    One useful activity when considering content early on is to undertake a content audit. As part of this, you review all of your existing content, whether it’s online or offline, map this to your site structure and navigation and then identify what content is missing, what content can be repurposed, where the current content is housed and who is responsible for content. A content audit gives you the big picture and lays a pathway for working on the small details.

  • Migrating content
    Some websites are a simple redesign in which content is just moved or migrated to the new site. A content plan helps you determine if content can be simply migrated, as is, to the new website and if so how this will occur and who is responsible.

  • Getting authors on-board
    You will have a better chance of keeping your site maintained Day-2 and beyond if you identify early on who will be responsible for content creation, management and maintenance and outline processes that need to be in-place to keep the site updated. This way you can get the contributors on-board and committed to the project before it starts. That way they develop ownership of the process, as opposed to being ‘dumped on’ after the fact.

  • Developing a content governance model
    A content governance model captures a range of on-going decisions that need to be made as content is written, edited, uploaded, reviewed, approved, published and retired on a website. It is similar to a magazines editorial policy.

    A content governance model addresses what kind of content can go on the site and, equally as importantly, it outlines what kind of content cannot go on the site. It also factors in compliance and legal requirements for content, such as copyright and disclaimers, as well as corporate branding or style considerations.

    Other issues a governance model covers include: Who is responsible for content maintenance and generation, how frequently the site requires updating and what approval processes need to be followed. An important, but often overlooked, consideration is content archiving and deletion – sometimes content needs to be removed from a site; how will this happen, when and by whom?

    A content governance policy does not have to be long winded bureaucratic red tape. It can be as simple as a table with bullet points on one or two page.

Relevant, engaging and valuable content

Planning is all very well but quality matters. You can have a world-class content plan in place but if your content reads like back slapping propaganda and fails to engage with the reader then even the best laid plan will fail you and your site will fail to deliver on expectations.

Content for the sake of content is just junk and you would be better off sticking to 100-150 words (see Pitfall 2).

Your content needs to appeal to your audience, help them solve their problems and move them onto the next step in your ‘purchasing’ process (I say ‘purchasing’ because even if you’re not selling anything there is still a step you can move them to). Anything else is just self-promoting, fluffed up blah blah blah text (and we all hate blah blah blah text).

Avoiding the pitfalls of website development

The road to a new website is paved with traps, snares and pitfalls for the unwary. 

By taking the time to familiarise yourself with just the five pitfalls we’ve covered in this series, your journey will be more pleasant and you’ll end up with a useful and usable website that grows with your business and delivers value to your audience and to your company.

This brings our series on this subject to a close. We hope you find a few gems in here that will help you with your next website project. If you do need some external help, feel free to contact us for a no-obligation discussion.