Recently Bayshore Solutions launched our new website. This was a big accomplishment because our internal teams have been working on this project for a long time, investing extra effort into developing the purpose, goals and strategy behind the website. The team also evaluated various drafts and iterations of structure, designs, functionalities, and numerous user-experience elements of the site – all before a single word was rendered on screen. This initiative also gave me the unique opportunity to truly walk in the moccasins of our customers and experience exactly what a typical Marketing Director does when their website is being built or redesigned.
After the designers and developers have worked their magic, you have a shiny, functional new website existing in a development or “Dev” location that is not yet live to the Internet public, but is ready for you to input all the content (words, pictures, logos, videos, SEO meta Data links, etc.) via the web Content Management System (CMS) interface to prepare your business website for its worldwide debut.
I often wondered why some clients experience delays in this space between “Built” and “Live” with their websites. I completely understand now. Although the mechanics of uploading content to a web page through a CMS are simple and quick, this assumes that every single content duck is aligned in their respective row, all ready to fly on board. This is rarely a realistic assumption.
The phase of website content development, creation, revision and population can be a huge task, requiring intense organization, time and focus. You may need to source a team of specialists to assist in this, but if your position is the place in your company where the Web buck stops (including all corporate marketing, messaging, exposure and performance-results aspects of your website), you want to be hands-on in charge of this effort – and you need a strategic plan of attack to successfully manage your website content population.
I’ve heard the comment, and can somewhat agree, that starting a brand new website from scratch is an easier content population task than transferring over and sifting through the page by page evaluation and refinement needed with redesigns of legacy websites. But the strategic principles are the same. Here are the lessons I learned and tips I can share to help make a website sub-project of content population easier:
Start by Organizing a “Website Content Map and Task Sheet”
I found Microsoft Excel to be my best friend for this part of the project. I started with a download of the site map of every page on my “old site”. I listed each website page on its own row with its plain-English name and URL address in the first 2 columns. Then using the new site navigation structure as my guide, I identified what all the new website pages would be. I mapped old site pages to their corresponding new site pages and inserted extra rows as needed in between to create a spreadsheet representation of each page on the new website.
This served as a handy and exhaustive list for all the URL redirects that would be needed to transition the old site to the new one. There were 445 rows in this “Website Content Map” and every page needed for the new live site was accounted for. (I wasn’t kidding that content population done right can be a huge undertaking.)
Next, add columns for each element or data-point you will need relating to each page, such as:
- New site URL
- Targeted SEO Keywords
- Meta Tags & Data
- Type of Web page design format (SubPage, Newsletter page, Thank You page)
- Visibility in Navigation & Navigation Level (Primary through 4th level) in the new site
- Indication if there is a form on the page or if it is a “Goal” page for Analytics
- Checklist of Content Tasks for each page including:
- Who is assigned
- Main content input completion
- Content Styling checked
- Links checked
- Forms input and checked
- Sidebars input completed and checked
- Analytics goals set up and any needed code input
Establish Your Styling Rules
If you have the website structure in place to have text and font styling governed by a Cascading Styling Sheet (CSS), I would strongly suggest you use this to keep your styling consistent across all the pages of your website. Doing this manually is also possible and just requires that you take a typical sample page of your site and determine what your type styling rules will be as you input content to all the pages of your website. This involves determining the font size, font face, and the treatment of bolding, italics, left, right or center justification, border treatment and even color choices for how words and images will appear throughout the website.
Make sure to establish rules for each of these font-instances:
- Page Headlines (also usually your SEO H1 tagged text)
- Sub Headlines (also usually your SEO H2 tagged text)
- Standard body text
- Emphasis text (potentially colored in your primary or accent corporate hues)
- Call-out block text
- Quotations and testimonials
A good Website designer will set up within your design some basic website usability font and styling rules. You should be aware of these and follow them for ongoing content development. These styling rules include selecting only font faces that are Web-friendly and will render as intended across all browsers. Also, avoid underlining as a font style, because an underline is universally interpreted as a link when it appears in website text.
Once you establish your styling guide, you might want to create a sample style guide on one of your web pages that is not visible to the public in your website navigation. It can be a useful visual reference for your content population implementation team (and is handy even if you are a team of one).
Plan Your Content Messaging
Whether your content developer is yourself, an internal resource or an outsourced copywriting professional, you’ll want to have strategic elements covered for every page of your website. In today’s Internet age Any page of your business website can be the entrance page and first impression for a visitor.
To keep that visitor on your site and progressing toward the path of becoming your customer, you want to make certain you have the following strategic content covered on every page:
- Communicate to your targeted audience in a manner and “voice” that resonates with them (This means you have done your marketing homework and have a profile defined for who you are writing the page for).
- Present relevant and informative content that delivers on the promise of the title or topic of the page (and the key words you are targeting to attract visitors there).
- Make it easy for your web visitor to get to the information they seek – don’t make them slog through lengthy blocks of narrative when you can use styling appropriately to communicate your message – even if they only give you 3 seconds.
- What is your call to action for this page? State it – and make it clear and easy to act on.
- Offer the visitor ways to find out more information about you and deepen their relationship of credibility and trust with your business. Offer easy navigation options on the page through site structure and linked content items (words, pictures, icons) that will encourage this.
Whether I was editing, rewriting or creating new website pages, and especially when communicating content needs with a professional copywriter, I found it extremely helpful to use a content development template document with a “Creative brief header” that laid out the parameters for each intended web page.
This succinct “creative brief” included:
- The main topic of the page (also helpful for crafting the page headline)
- The SEO Keywords targeted for this page
- A brief statement of who the audience is
- What the corporate “Voice” or tone of writing needs to be
- The critical point (If the reader gets nothing else, they should leave this page understanding or knowing X)
- The call to action
This approach serves as a guide for writing and as a great checklist for page completion.
Inventory, Plan and Develop Your Visual Content Items
Visual communication content elements are every bit as important as the words you select to represent your business in your website. A website redesign is the perfect opportunity to inventory all of the image elements you have, refine any that need to be optimized for web presentation (including file formats and sizes to render well and load fast for SEO credit), and to determine what you need to develop both for your website launch and ongoing.
This is also the perfect opportunity to clean up and organize your website’s file manager area of uploaded images and documents. Set up a file-folder structure that provides an organized way to store your files and images – and to then build upon them as you move forward with web content additions and updates. The re-linking exercise may be arduous, but it will be worth it to keep your ongoing website content administration tasks quickly accessible and easily understood.
Consider Enlisting Assistance
Once the styling guidelines are set and the steps are outlined for content population, the next tasks can be numerous, iterative and time-consuming, yet require meticulous attention to detail and quality of execution.
In addition to specific help from staff members, who have ongoing corporate responsibilities, I was very appreciative of having the assistance of a Computer Science student intern who was able to devote focus and aptitude in helping with the populating, linking, checking and perfecting of content presentation for the 350+ pages of our new website. It was a valuable experience for the student who understood the technical environment of the site. An added bonus was that from his “in-the-trenches” perspective, he was able to present some ideas for efficiency and improvement that were incorporated into the project. Having this added resource for the project allowed the regular corporate marketing needs of the company to be achieved without requiring too much burning of midnight oil.
I would strongly encourage that you form a team beyond yourself; either in-house, intern, or outsourced to assist with your Web content development and population, as it can be much larger than it first appears. The simple benefit of more than one set of eyes on the content will allow better proofing and open avenues for tactical refinement to ensure that your hit the strategic mark for each web page before it is released as your company’s first impression to the world.
Content population is its own project within the main website design and development project, and it needs to be managed as such. With your site content map and checklist spreadsheet (as described earlier) in hand, you can efficiently organize the tasks, teams and timelines required, and effectively manage the progress of content development and population. You will also have an organized way of identifying needed solutions from your design and development team relative to any complex content you have.
Plan on regular (I would suggest at least weekly) update communications with your team and with the greater Web project managers and stakeholders – which includes your executive management who are looking for the successful, spectacular (and reasonably speedy) delivery of our business results-producing website.