To think, just a few years ago, content strategy wasn’t even a part of our vocabulary! Now, it’s the first critical step in almost every website we develop. In case you’re new to this term, at Top Draw, content strategy is the process of planning, developing and managing online content that is focused on creating the best possible user experience. Here are just a few of the tools we use to help make that happen.
Personas are personal profiles of customers. For complex websites that we manage on a long-term basis, it’s important for us to fully understand the wants and needs of people within various target audiences. We can accomplish this by creating a fictional character within each group who represents that segment of customers. Persona characteristics can include demographic as well as psychographic traits:
- A summary statement or quote that this individual would say about how the company’s products and/or services relate to their lives
- Common questions/frustrations
- Personal weaknesses and strengths, along with long and short-term goals
- Typical “day in the life” schedule
- Technographic influences and expertise (technology, social media, etc.)
Though we don’t typically go through the extensive exercise of defining personas for smaller projects, we always keep this type of information in the back of our minds when assessing customer needs.
An experience map can be as simple as a one-page chart or a complex flow diagram that extends beyond online interaction to define every touchpoint a company has with its customers. These types of extensive experience maps can be especially useful for ecommerce websites.
Here’s an example of a simpler experience map we created for a client with 3 distinct target audiences. The main goal was to assess the needs of each group and outline how to connect with them. In this case, we answered these questions:
- What do we ultimately want each group to do?
- What about the company or its products/services are important to each group?
- What site features would help influence their decisions to act?
We then consult this tool as we collaborate on home page design, navigation menus, calls to action and the site architecture in general.
While persona development and experience maps are not tools we use for every project, we do perform a content audit every time we are re-developing a website. This step allows us – and our client – to assess the quality and status of existing content and identify content gaps. We also look at analytics during this stage to see what pages were getting the most and the least amount of traffic. It’s interesting how often we find pages that our clients feel are critical to their website, yet the numbers tell us actually aren’t of interest to their visitors at all. Our content audit is typically a spreadsheet that lists every page of the existing site and columns for:
- The number of visitors
- Descriptions of each specific content piece on each page
- Comments or recommendations from us on how to improve the presentation or placement of info
- The status of existing content – our clients review their site and fill in this column with entries such as Current; Needs Updating, Delete (outdated), etc.
The content audit is a collaboration tool that we, and our clients, use to track and analyze existing content. When this step is complete, we then take all the research we conducted about the company and their customers and construct the site plan.
The site plan is the foundation of a website. Designing a website without a site plan would be like starting to frame a house without a blueprint! The site plan looks like a flowchart and organizes a site into sections that make the most sense from a user point of view.
For projects where we incorporate search engine optimization, key phrases are balanced with usability to determine page names and site organization. After we’ve done all the heavy lifting, we use a nifty tool called SmartDraw that makes the actual flowchart extremely easy to create.
When content within a website gives us a little more of a challenge, a card sorting exercise is my go-to. This is where we doodle on our whiteboard walls or, even better, grab a pad of sticky notes and develop a site plan by literally moving pages around until the structure works for organization, usability, templating and more. Card -sorting with clients is especially effective and a great way to really get to know our clients and their business needs.
Prototype/Design Handoff Notes
Not necessarily a “tool”, but tracking and passing along all of the information I collect from client interviews and collaboration, my own research and the details I learn as we go through the steps above is critical to our process. At Top Draw, our team consists of experts who each specialize in a different area of web development. During the content strategy phase, a site plan gets passed over to one of our talented designers, along with comprehensive notes and specific components that need to be incorporated into the design – items like calls to action buttons, home page features, blog category suggestions, footer links and much more. In fact, I look forward to mini brainstorming sessions where we review our project notes and our designer begins to storyboard out visual concepts. This is where creative solutions move from planning into the first stages of a website!
Content Requirements List
There are many, many pieces of content that need to be developed, or gathered up, for a new site – home page banner messages, call to action text and button names, form fields, general messaging, not to mention all of the images and graphics that add visual interest and help to “set the tone and tell the story”. We help this process with a content requirements list – another spreadsheet that itemizes all of the components we have included in the approved site design. This inventory list helps keep us all organized as content is developed and populated into a new website!
As we near launch, one of the checklists that we run through is from a content strategy point of view. We ask basic questions like:
- When visitors first arrive on the home page, is it immediately obvious what the company does – specifically?
- Have we met all of the project goals that we outlined in the proposal?
- Is it easy for visitors to find the information they’re looking for and take the next steps, which result in a lead for our client?
- Have we incorporated all of the content considerations that we noted throughout project development?
As you can see, content strategy follows a Top Draw project from the beginning to the end – and beyond…
Effective content strategy shouldn’t just be about what happens during site development. In fact, we like to think of websites as more of a process than a project, so it’s important to create guidelines that help a website evolve after launch. Content governance can include a wide range of recommendations:
- Defining roles and responsibilities regarding the management of different sections of the website
- Editorial calendars that specify how often content should be updated, added and re-evaluated
- Style guides and specifications that ensure consistency and continuity throughout the site
- Suggestions for topics/type of information presented
- Basic guidelines about goals for the website and/or specific sections or pages
And there are many more that could be added to this list.
That’s enough for now!
At Top Draw, we believe that our content strategy tools and expertise is one of the factors that sets apart from other web development companies in Edmonton. Not only do we pull out different tools for each website, we continue to add to this collection as new projects present new challenges. There are also many online tools that we take advantage of, but that’s a whole other blog post…!