When you Google ‘content definition’, Oxford Languages offers the adjective first: ‘a state of peaceful happiness’. Of course, this article’s about content as a noun rather than an adjective—‘information on a website or other electronic medium’—but with the right approach, these disparate definitions actually go hand in hand.
I’ve been lucky enough to work on many website redevelopments, spanning many sectors and different styles of organisations. Publicly listed multinationals. Federated charities. Private enterprise. Government departments. Not for profits. Healthcare providers. Humanitarian organisations. Sportswear retailers. Technology companies. The list goes on.
As you’d expect, all of these projects have unique requirements. Different objectives, audiences, and catalysts for the work.
However, many have one thing in common: website content is almost always a massive source of anxiety. Particularly for marketing teams.
Why is that? Well, if you’re in a senior marketing role, you’re likely juggling the priorities of:
- Canvassing stakeholders: the website is a significant touchpoint for any marketing team, but it’s a key tool for other interested (and often vocal) parties. They each want to be represented and served by the content.
- Connecting with subject matter experts: to ensure all the content you produce is factual and accurately representative of what you do.
- Getting things on brand: ensuring all the material published to your site is hitting the right tone-of-voice and reflective of your organisation.
- Ensuring everything you build is actually effective: after achieving all of the above, does your content actually serve your mission? Does it encourage more revenue? Support key journeys? Procure more staff or volunteers? Contribute to your objectives?
You can see why it’s a source of anxiety, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Regardless of how sophisticated or expansive your content requirements, the process can be smooth, easy, and… dare I say it… fun.
One of my favourite projects—particularly from a content perspective—is our work in partnership with Animals Australia. Firstly, they’re an incredible organisation doing incredibly important work. Secondly, there were many unique challenges to overcome:
- Thousands of legacy content pieces.
- A requirement to publish many more content pieces in future: frequently and in a wide range of variable formats.
- Many different stories to tell—from factory farming to deforestation—with each needing their own distinct space, but also to cohesively and logically hang together.
Given this complexity, the team at Animals Australia had some pressing content questions.
Here are three of the big ones, answered in a way that you can hopefully apply to your own project.
Question 1: How much of our content is valuable? What can—or should—we keep?
The answer here is usually both quantitative and qualitative.
Assuming you’re redesigning an existing website rather than building something completely new, you’ll have a body of legacy content.
In this case, your first port of call should be to look at the data. This is the quantitative side of the coin.
Datapoints will give you an objective perspective—or at least an indicative yardstick—on the types of content that people find valuable.
We can use tracking and analysis tools to determine things like:
- Website pages visited as percentage of total traffic: meaning, of the sum total of visitors to your site over a certain period, which pages did people most go to? This is particularly useful when you see the pages that account for 0% of traffic (i.e., no one accessing the material). With that insight, you can determine whether the content is still relevant at all, whether it needs to be articulated differently, or whether it should be more prominent and easier to discover. This can also include PDFs and various files or attachments on your site, as long as they have a stand-alone URL.
- Number of unique visitors to a specific page: meaning how many different and distinct people viewed each page within a chosen timeframe. Again, this is helpful to understand the importance people place on different materials and pages throughout the site.
- Date of publication: your newest content isn’t always your most valuable. This datapoint can be a helpful indicator for content that should be refreshed. For example, if you have some material that was published eight or nine years ago—and is no longer perfectly reflective of the way you talk about what you do—but that still delivers significant traffic, that’s a perfect candidate for an update. Give it a lick of paint tone-wise and ensure there’s a clear and compelling call-to-action that aligns with your current objectives. Your old content can start delivering serious value.
Then there’s the qualitative side of the equation. This is a little less scientific, but equally as key.
This may change slightly depending on the scale and structure of your team. Still, it’s helpful to ask yourself and key stakeholders, purely anecdotally: what content on your current website is useful and reflective of the organisation?
For example, some helpful prompts include:
- Do you still point people to specific case studies, pages, or articles on your website? Which ones? In what scenarios?
- Do you still copy and paste certain sections of website content into reports, proposals, or emails? Which sections?
- Are there certain pages or sections of the website that you actively avoid? Does anything make you shudder? Why?
Sure, this approach is a soft science—and some of the answers to these questions may be entirely contradictory, depending on who you ask in your team—but the point here is to identify and quantify any potentially valuable content.
If something’s delivering even the slightest smidgen of value, it’s at least worth a conversation as to how it manifests in the new site moving forward.
Question 2: How do we organise our content so people can find what they need quickly?
There are a couple of things to consider here.
1. Start thinking ‘outside in’.
Consider your content from an ‘outside in’ perspective. In other words, think about your content—including labelling and grouping of content—in the way it might make sense to someone experiencing your organisation for the very first time. Not the way you talk about it in your team.
There are usually significant discrepancies in the way you discuss or produce content internally, and the way audiences understand it.
A helpful starting point is to consider the impulse behind each content piece or groups of pieces. What do people want from this content? Or equally, what do they achieve by reading, watching, or visiting this section of the site?
For example, in our work with Guide Dogs, there are many services available to support people with blindness or low vision. These services typically have clinical names like ‘Adult Mobility’ or ‘Orientation and Mobility Training’.
2. Embrace a ‘no wrong door’ approach.
In many cases, there’s a requirement for more than one pathway to the same piece of content.
In the above example, ‘Move with confidence’ works for some people, but what about clinical referrers looking for a very specific service name? If they can’t find it, they might defer to a competitor. So, we also sit the ‘Adult Mobility’ service under a clear, prominent button on the Guide Dogs home page, labelled ‘view our services’.
Another example—back to our work with Animals Australia—involved the requirement for the same piece of content to live in multiple areas of the site.
After conducting a series of user research interviews, we learned people have two important content goals when visiting the Animals Australia site.
- Get a sense of recent issues they should be aware of (i.e. ‘Latest updates’), and
- View all content in relation to a specific theme of interest (everything about ‘live export’ for example)
Of course, there’s no point in having these two destinations be mutually exclusive: a news article or a campaign about live export should be visible in both destinations. So it is.
We built the system so that content is published once and automatically syndicated to multiple places in the architecture of the website.
That means you can find the same material in whichever context is most relevant to you.
Or, go through any door you choose and still arrive at a meaningful destination.
3. Test your proposed content structure.
Again, there are a couple of ways you can approach this.
The proposed grouping and structure of the content in your website is called an Information Architecture (IA).
A user-testing technique called ‘tree testing’ can evaluate how easy it is for people to find different content pieces in your IA. This can provide insight into:
- How clear and compelling certain labels are for different sections of content.
- Whether certain pieces of content are where people would expect to find them.
- How effective one proposed IA is in comparison to another.
Question 3: How and when should we get our stakeholders involved to approve content?
For websites with a lot of content (‘a lot’ being anywhere from 50 website pages to 3,000+), we typically use a pre-CMS content management platform.
This ensures that while your site is being designed and developed, we can concurrently work on writing, reviewing and approving written content. There’s usually a separate process for managing imagery and video content.
The pre-CMS platform provides a simple interface so you can:
- Create a structure that maps to your Information Architecture.
- Upload content and style it with basic formatting.
- Attribute personal accountability for individual content items.
- Set due dates.
- Upload attachments in support of specific content pieces.
- Have a central, single source of truth for content, with automated version control.
- Create custom approvals workflows, and get a quick, clear sense of the status of all content items.
- Provide accounts and access for multiple contributors and reviewers.
- Create tiered permissions of access for different roles (for example, later rounds of review are typically configured as ‘read and comment only’, so we have greater control of any amendments or changes that come through late in the process).
Crucially, once everything’s approved, you can export all the content directly across to your website CMS. So, there’s no effort associated with copying and pasting content into your new website when it’s ready.
Using a pre-CMS platform like this means we can start writing content from the minute the IA is approved.
Hypothetically, in a project where there’s around 3 months of design and development effort, we can have that exact same amount of time to write, review, approve, and migrate all the written content. We can also forecast when different stakeholders will be required for review, weeks or months in advance.
In my experience, this approach offers the perfect blend of flexibility and procedural robustness.
It’s the process we used to manage many content items with multiple rounds of revision throughout the Animals Australia project, but it’s also entirely scalable.
For example, I’ve used this approach in projects with only 2 or 3 people reviewing content. And, equally, in instances where there are literally hundreds of subject matter experts who need to approve content before go-live.
So there you have it, a starting point to hopefully alleviate your initial content concerns.
Of course, there are many more important content questions that inevitably pop up throughout the delivery of a project.
A couple off the top of my head would include:
- How do we choose which content formats to pursue? (e.g. video, infographics etc.)
- How do we manage imagery throughout the website?
- How do we ensure multiple content writers are aligned in their approach to tone of voice?
- We have our own in-house content teams and capability: how do we determine who’s responsible for writing different sections of content?
Before answering these, I’ll leave you with one last content tip: your written content should provide value for people reading it, but also create an incentive for people to return to the site and re-engage.
And with that advice, I’ll look forward to answering the above questions in another, upcoming article. See you again soon!