Content plans aren’t glamorous. But they are vital. A content plan links the big-picture aspects of your website, like information architecture and content strategy, with the page-by-page detail of how content is written, edited and maintained.
A content plan is like a coupling that links a train to its carriages or a car to its trailer – it may not be fancy, but you sure don’t want to leave it undone.
When do you need a content plan?
You need a content plan:
- when you’ve got an existing website and you want to make sure it’s kept up to date, and
- when you’ve in the process of creating a new website.
The good news is that the content plan you create to help with maintenance of your existing website is a valuable resource when you’re putting together the content plan of your new website.
What is a content plan?
Pretty much what it says on the tin – it’s a plan of your website content, usually with one line or row per website page.
Content plans are often implemented as spreadsheets, but there are also proprietary website planning and content development tools which allow you to develop a formal or informal content plan for your website, in conjunction with developing the draft website content itself.
GatherContent is the best known of these tools, and others include Beegit and Content Snare. If you are developing a large site, you may well find that these are worth the expense, while spreadsheets generally work well for small and medium websites.
Unless you’re the sole maintainer of your website, your content plan will need to be shared with other members of your team – so it needs to be easy to understand and update, but as it’s not a public document, it doesn’t necessarily need to be fancy.
When you’re planning a new website, we recommend creating the content plan either immediately after or in parallel with the creation of the information architecture (site structure). In fact, you can create your information architecture in a spreadsheet, and then turn that spreadsheet into a content plan by adding the additional fields listed in “What’s in a content plan?” below.
What’s in a content plan?
There are no hard and fast rules, but here are the basics for (A) a content plan for an existing site, and (B) a content plan for a new site that’s under development.
Content plan for an existing site
Page ID: This shows where the page fits in the site structure. This can also be shown visually, e.g. by indenting pages in proportion to their level within the site structure.
Page address (URL)
Subject Matter Expert (SME) (if applicable): The page maintainer may be someone who knows about maintaining website content, rather than someone who knows a lot about the subject of the page. In that case, the content plan should identify the person (or role) who is the expert on the subject matter of the page, who can be consulted if any questions of fact about the content of the page arise.
Next content review date
Content plan for a new site
Page address (URL): In the case of a new site, the page address may not be known at this stage of the process
Subject Matter Expert (SME) (if applicable)
Source(s) of content: The content of a page may be wholly new, in which the source of content will be the page author and/or SME, or the page may partly or wholly reuse content from other sources. This field records where those sources can be found, whether they are online or offline.
What can go wrong with a content plan?
- Creating a content plan can be fiddly work – and while we at Webstruxure find them fascinating, some people may even find them a little bit boring. So there’s a risk that a content plan may be created without due care and attention, or even left incomplete.
- When a content plan for a new site is completed, with the page titles laid out and the sources of content carefully listed, it’s easy to get over-confident – “We’ve completed the content plan! That basically means the content is pretty much done!” Well, you’ve taken an important step along the way – but even if you’re only re-purposing content from your old site, there is still a lot of work to do. If you have to draft and revise substantial amounts of new content – or if you are depending on others, such as subject matter experts, to draft content for you – then you’ve got reason to crack a smile, but I wouldn’t be breaking out the fizzy drinks just yet.
- When a content plan is created for an existing site, it’s easy to forget that even though Nadia or Norman is listed as the content maintainer of a page, and a date is assigned for them to review that page, they may never actually get around to reviewing and if necessary updating the page. Does your content plan need an administrator to make sure things get done? Can you automate review reminders via your site’s content management system? Should content reviewers be identified by role rather than by name, so that when Norman leaves, the pages he maintains don’t fall into disrepair?
Creating a content plan may not be the most glamorous part of the website planning process, but it is a vital part. A content plan translates big-picture into a detailed, page-by-page, actionable tool for making sure your existing website stays current, and your next website starts as it means to go on: relevant, current, accurate and correct.