Website content creation takes time – lots of time. All too often, web projects are derailed by content being delivered late and not fit for purpose. Nevertheless, content is frequently relegated to the status of an afterthought when a web development project is being planned – as if the content will magically appear as soon as the rest of the website is ready for it.
Good, relevant, current, regularly updated content is what keeps your website users coming back for more – and it also plays a major part in keeping your Google search rankings going in the right direction. And the key to creating that high quality web content is planning.
Here are some simple questions to bear in mind as you move through the web content creation process.
1. Why do you need to create web content?
This is the most important question of all: what is your web content actually for? What is it designed to achieve?
At the most basic level, a company or organisation website says “Here we are!” to the world. And occasionally that’s enough. But in most cases your website needs to do more than this: it needs to communicate important information, or encourage a user to take an action, or let clients know about your range of products so they can find one or more they want to buy.
Answering the “Why” question is an important part of a website content strategy, which documents what goals you want to achieve for your content, and how you’re going to achieve them. A content strategy can provide guidance for the incremental development of your site, for a complete website redevelopment, or both.
The goals of your organisation and the needs of your users may both evolve over time. Your web strategy should change as organisational goals and user needs change. To be effective, it needs to be a living document that responds to changes in circumstances.
2. What web content are you going to create?
Once you know why you need to create content – in other words, once you have a content strategy – the next question to ask is, what content are you going to create?
This is a good question to think about at the same time as you are planning the information architecture of your site – also known as the site structure – because the content plan unites the structure and the content of the site.
Usually, a web content plan has one line for each web page you plan to create. This makes a spreadsheet a good tool to create a basic content plan, but there are also online content planning tools such as GatherContent which can be used to both plan your website content and create the draft content for discussion and approval.
You can create your site structure in a spreadsheet or online content planning tool, and then turn that structure into a content plan by adding details of where the content on each page comes from and who will write it and/or maintain it.
For more on what fields should be included in a website content plan, see chapter 5: Content Plan.
3. Who will create the web content?
Even organisations that pass the “why” and “what” tests with flying colours can easily come unstuck at this stage – especially if the people planning the website have little knowledge of the people whose job it will be to write the content. It’s very easy to assume that, by putting a person’s name next to a piece of content that needs to be written, you’ve solved the problem of getting it written. But that’s rarely the case in the real world of competing deadlines and priorities – and such untested assumptions can easily lead to late delivery at a critical time in the project timeline.
So you need to ask:
- Will all the content be written by one person?
- If not, who will be responsible for what sections of the site, or what specific pages?
- Will you use external content contractors for all or part of the content writing?
- Who will be in charge of the overall web content creation process?
- Does that person need any training in managing such a project, and do the content writers also need training?
Once you’ve answered those questions, hired any contractors needed, and booked any necessary training, you can add a column on who is responsible for the content of each page or section to your content plan.
4. How will the web content be created?
This point covers the nuts and bolts of creating high-quality web content. There is a great deal you can do to improve the quality of the web content you write, and the Webstruxure blog has a really good guide: Writing For The Web – 5 Tips To Get You Started.
This article has practical, sensible suggestions for making the quality of your web content better – the sort of suggestions that make content easier, not harder, to write.
The larger your site and the more web writers are involved, the more benefit a formal set of web content guidelines will be to guide content creation for your site.
Our post 6 Ways To Produce Better Web Content provides additional tips for writing good web content, including creating web content guidelines. Check out points 3 and 4 – they cover creating web content guidelines for your site, and making sure those web content guidelines are actually used.
5. When will the web content be created?
As we said above, the biggest problem in creating website content is late delivery. That leads to chunks of a site’s content being missing when it goes live, or for the content that’s posted to be at different stages of development – some pages polished and consistent, other pages rough and ready. The end result is confused, unhappy users who are likely to take their attention and their money elsewhere.
Writing web content takes time. So:
- If in-house staff are writing the content, they need to know that it’s a high priority – which means it must be given higher priority than much of their other work. Getting buy-in from in-house content writers is crucial.
- Their managers need to support these staff by giving them space in their schedules to write the content, and by pushing back against attempts to deprioritise this content writing task.
- If you’re hiring outside content writers, you need to set aside a realistic budget for content writing. While these writers will be specialists in writing content, they will need additional time to understand what your business needs and what types of content work best for your users.
- There’s more to writing content than creating a first draft, so allow time for draft content to be reviewed, checked for consistency both within and between pages, and amended if necessary.
- The expected delivery dates for each page’s content should be included as a column in your content plan.
6. Where will the web content be created?
While device independent content creation sounds good in theory, it’s not yet the case in practice. In particular, we recommend against creating web content in a word processor such as Microsoft Word or even Google Docs, unless no other alternative is available.
The reason is that it’s surprisingly hard to look at a piece of content in a flat Word document and predict how well it is going to fit within the content design of a web site.
Ideally, content should be developed in the actual Content Management System that the content will be maintained in. This is common for WordPress sites, but is often not possible in larger sites that use more specialised CMSs that only a small number of credentialed staff have access to.
Therefore, using a content planning and creation tool such as Gather Content, or one of its less sophisticated rivals such as Beegit or Content Snare, may be the best approach. These tools allow you to create the intended structure of both the site and individual pages and share them with other content writers and editors, without running the risk of accidentally making the content live.