In previous posts, I shared ideas about the content-first web design process and how content strategy bridges the gap between content creation and making a website come to life. In this post, I'll share some of the ways for content strategists and web developers to work together to make that happen.
The web is mature enough for most everyone to know that content is the point. But we're still in early stages of getting everyone to work together to make better websites and digital products. A common question from the technical side of the web world is "When is the ideal time for you to come in?" Here are my answers.
When someone is thinking about a redesign
Whether you are in charge of an organization's web presence or have clients who are thinking about redesigning a website, it's best to get a content strategist in before doing anything else. You're about to make a big investment. The content will make or break its success. If you are not prepared to create useful content that is easy to use and well organized and that your team can maintain, don't bother taking another step.
A content strategist will help you get real. UX heuristics are great, but they won't look at your content with much of a critical eye. When I look at a website from a professional's perspective, I look at what's on the screen but also ask questions about what's going on behind the scenes.
- Does the site use words the target audience understands?
- Does the content match the context for use?
- Are the content and navigation structure user-centered or org-centered?
- Is the underlying code using best practices for SEO?
- What is the plan for governing (reviewing, updating, deleting) the existing content?
- What is the process for creating new content?
When getting ready to build a CMS
Sometimes you are moving to a new content management system without changing the design. For one reason or another, you have a new CMS and need to get all that content from the old web repository to a new one. You want it to be a smooth path, don't you? A content strategist – one who knows their way around a CMS and a migration plan – is your best friend.
Even if you aren't rewriting content or changing your navigation structure, this is an opportunity to make sure your new system works well. Building a new CMS is a big investment and a major project. Set it up to be ready for the future – a future where authors understand how to enter content and don't avoid the CMS. A future that allows you to make changes to part of your website without the whole thing crumbling.
With a little extra thought and planning, a content strategist can help make a plan for a smooth transition to the new system.
- Build a content model and plan content types with the developers
- Advocate for authors as users of the system - the system is for them, not the developers
- Build in governance and style rules (see more about this in Training the CMS)
- Provide author and editor training for the new CMS that includes guidance on content entry not just how the tool works
When you or a client realizes their content or website "isn't working"
You can get medicine to reduce the duration of flu and prevent complications. But only if you take it in the first 48 hours of the illness. Similarly, if someone recognizes the symptoms of a website not meeting expectations early, getting a content check-up could save them from a full redesign later.
One of my missions as a digital professional is to stop the 3- to 5-year redesign cycle. And that means we all have to stop ignoring the warning signs of a site not working. If you invest a level amount of time and resources to your site after it launches, it will last much longer.
Most of the time the reason a website "stops working" is content. Bringing in a content strategist to help with a diagnosis could save tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars or more over the life of your website.
- Perform an evaluation of the quality of the content
- Review the quantity of content through an audit
- Provide web writing training for authors to keep the copy in shape
- Review the editorial and governance policies and check for compliance
- Inspect the CMS for inefficiencies that could be causing authors to take short cuts or use it improperly
- Check that the HTML structure supports SEO
Note to developers: Don't worry that fewer redesigns will put you out of business! You'll have time to create better systems and build functionality beyond the basics. There is always work to be done.
Right after a website redesign
Think it's too late to bring a content strategist in because you've just launched a new website? Fear not! Having a shiny new website is an excellent time to start working with a content strategist. We'll help keep it shiny. Chances are that external partners created the site with direction from inside. Now the insiders need to maintain it.
Once again, content is the point (I really can't say that enough) and it needs proper care and feeding. A content strategist can help a team get set up for ongoing success by providing guidance and training.
- Provide web writing training for authors
- Creating or enhancing a content production process
- Ensure governance policies and standards are reasonable and followed by building them into the production process
- Consult on hiring a successful content team (either specific people or incorporating responsibilities into other roles)
Creating CMS plug-ins or enhancements
If your development shop sees opportunities for enhancing a CMS with a plug-in or module, consult with a content strategist who understands the CMS and the needs of the users (authors, not the website users). After all, it is a content management system. The dynamic duo of developer and content strategist is powerful. (Wonder Twin powers, activate!) The developer knows how to make something. The strategist knows why. Together they figure out what, for whom, and where to fit it in.
A side benefit here is that you'll also build exposure for the new tool outside of the CMS world. If a content strategist knows that a certain CMS supports authors by making it easier to maintain and govern content, you better believe they'll spread the word.
These are a few examples of how content strategists can work with web developers to make the web better, build more usable content management systems, and support clients. But really, anytime is good time. There is always a way to fit content strategy work into a project or an engagement. It might be small at first and grow into something bigger. Just like any relationship.
Recognizing that you know what you don't know is the first step to improvement. Building a relationship between content strategy and web development is a win-win-win combination.
- Content gets supported by the systems that are built
- Users of the system can create good content without the dread of having to login to the CMS
- Happy clients come back for more and make recommendations
Tanzen is always happy to talk about partnerships with others who are working to make the web better. Give us a shout if you want to talk about how we can support your web development (or design or general digital transformation) efforts.