The importance of addressing the content issue from the start
Delayed schedules, budget overruns...it goes without saying that there are many high-impact risks associated with content. The consequences go far beyond the project itself, even impacting your brand image, which would take a hit from low-quality content when your platform launches. The delay caused by content that is not optimized for search engines could also cost your rankings dearly.
Additionally, content is the best way to test for bugs, whether cosmetic defects or bugs that break a feature or the site’s display. But you can rest assured: there are solutions to tackle content like a pro. As is often the case, anticipation is key, but it is not the only key.
Looking at content as a “project within a project”
From the moment the project kicks off, content must be clearly identified as a full aspect of the project in its own right. You must press the importance of this issue and the associated risks on all the project’s participants. Once everyone recognizes this, it needs to be identified as a “project in the project” with its own structure:
- A pilot, the project manager specifically in charge of content,
- A project team that includes all the participants and stakeholders in the issue, both internal and external, especially the writers, SEO experts, proofreaders, translators and integrators,
- A suitable methodology so you can successfully navigate the content design, production and testing stages,
- A specific schedule established alongside the online project’s overall schedule.
One of the key points to an online project that uses a CMS is the start date for content integration, which can only be done on a stable back-office to avoid losing any data entered. It is essential to begin entering the content at a reasonable date that is communicated well in advance. This date must respect the time needed to integrate and test the content without impinging on the developments that are still underway or have not been tested.
Finally, the content work must be tracked alongside the online project with dedicated committees because, while they are interdependent, the two projects often call on different participants.
Audit the current situation to identify the UI approach
One question remains decisive in designing the new platform: what content do we already have? In the design stage of your new website, organize your content into four categories:
- Content to reuse identically
- Content to delete (not re-used)
- Content to change (needs to be reworked for the new platform)
- Content to create
How you answer this question will help determine how you design the future interfaces, and you will be confronted with two possibilities:
- Either the mock-ups will be based on the existing content that you are able to provide,
- Or mock-ups will be created with fictitious content since you are unable to provide realistic content on time, and you will then have to take the presentation constraints of these mock-ups into consideration when producing your future content (text length, image formats, layout possibilities, etc.).
Equip each stage of the project appropriately
In general, you will have six major stages to your content project: production, approval, integration, translation, proofreading and search engine optimization (SEO). While the participants vary depending on the project, you will need a suitable methodology and tools for each stage:
When producing text and other media, set up file sharing for all team members to avoid versioning problems. Organize your work files in a folder tree structure similar to your future platform: this will make it easier to navigate your files. At the lowest level of your structure, have a folder per page so you can gather all the text and images to be included on that page in the same place.
Take care not to use a text editor that inserts hidden style tags that could pollute the display once it is on your site (this is the case for the most common editors like Microsoft Word). However, online tools like Word2cleanhtml allow you to clean up your text before moving to the integration stage.
For this stage, it is essential to set up the workflows and identify the people involved. Trello is especially helpful in tracking project progress. Create a card per page and move it to a shared table according to the different stages, from creation to approval on the site.
Oftentimes, the question arises of whether to integrate manually or automatically. The answer depends on your ability to provide data in a strict format and the development efforts that need to be made.
Automatic integration is recommended when there is a large amount of content to be present on the site and the structure is easy to standardize (product pages, news, etc.). It will then be important to define the expected import format as early as possible and to carry out several tests before importing the final files onto the production environment. Manual integration is preferred when pages have a more complex structure that is hard to make uniform. In this case, use an integration file with the same breakdown as the site’s back office. Excel makes the integrator’s work easier by following the “one back-office field = one cell” philosophy.
Ideally, provide one Excel file per page to reduce the risk of confusion and store it in a folder that also contains the images and other media to be integrated onto the page (which will be identified by name in the Excel file). If possible, provide this structure from the content production phase: it will save you precious time!
Finally, keep in mind that integration is bulk, assembly-line work. To be efficient, the integrator must have all the elements available to them and be able to simply copy and paste the data into the corresponding fields in the back office. The proofreading and correction stage comes later.
This stage can be done before integration, but it is often easier to translate your content in your CMS’s interface. There are many translation plugins available for the most widely used CMSes that can make your life easier. Using automatic translation can help prepare the work.
- Proofreading and corrections
At this stage, the content is tested directly online so that the page can be tested in its entirety (text and presentation, consistency and harmony with the integrated media, etc.). Any corrections can be made directly before the page is published.
- Final SEO optimization (URL, meta tags, etc.)
Once your content has been finalized and approved, your SEO expert can make a final pass for technical optimization to ensure that your content is indexed according to your search engine objectives.
Whether for a site overhaul or a new creation, the issue of content should be seen as a “project within the project” that needs to be addressed alongside the online project kickoff given its impact on the project’s design and, especially, its success. Content is a key factor that you should not overlook.
While this project is particularly heavy during the initialization stage, it continues with varying volumes throughout the site’s life, and the methodology you set up before launch will help you be more productive and follow best practices.
Published on Digital Mag