Dear Ditto,

My organization is redesigning its website, and I am responsible for making sure all of the content is prepared for the new site. I am worried that my coworkers aren’t understanding how much time this effort will take. Can you share some tips on how to get them to start this work early?

Advice from:
Stephanie Todd
Content Strategist & Experience Architect

We’ve all heard by now that content is king. It’s the reason why your visitors come to your site, read your pages, and follow you on social media. That said, we often find it’s one of the last priorities for many organizations during new website projects. Far from being an easy last-minute addition, unplanned content issues are some of the most common reasons that projects get delayed or go over budget.

Here are five things that could blow up your project’s scope and timeline.

1. Assuming your content will migrate “as is”

If you are going through the effort of investing in a full redesign, you don’t want it to simply be an exercise of reorganizing your content. Instead, use the time as an opportunity to take a critical look at whether your content is driven by your users’ goals or by your organization’s priorities—this is how you are going to “get it right.”

During our user experience discovery phase, we find that most website content reflects the organization’s internal structure and is not targeted to their primary audiences. We often see websites that need about 80% of their content overhauled and reworked in order to meet the end user’s needs.

2. Underestimating the content effort

One of the unhappiest surprises for many organizations is discovering just how much time and energy it takes to get new content ready for production. When we partner with clients, one of the first things we do is get a clear understanding of the content effort and work together to estimate what it will take to get to launch.

If you want your new site project to go smoothly, break down the content portion into production assignments and plan them down to the hour—this makes it really easy to estimate and plan for the effort.

For example: we can estimate that a 200 page website will require 400-800 hours for content management, production, and input for launch. If you are not planning this effort before your start your website, you are already at risk before the project even begins.

Here are just a few of the things you need to think about when planning for content:

  • Editorial management, workflows, publishing guidelines
  • Page templates/assignments
  • Editorial style guide
  • Copywriting, proofreading, and editing
  • Non-text asset production (i.e., images and videos)
  • Content input into the content management system (CMS)

3. Waiting too long to start the content work

One of the most common reasons a website doesn’t launch on time is because the content isn’t ready. When content is not planned for, prepared, or not entered into the CMS until the last minute, you won’t be able to identify any page layout problems or technical issues.

While content strategy should start before the user experience design, your content production work should begin when that process is about 80% complete. You should plan a minimum of 6-12 weeks for production, input, and launch (depending on the complexity of the project, sometimes more time is needed).

4. Finding the right people to write your content

Website writing is a unique style of writing that’s specific to the web—it’s unlike PR, technical, or print. If you are not using content strategists to create your web content, you may be writing for the wrong medium. What’s more, if you have multiple people writing content at the same time, you need to have one person dedicated to review all the content with final editorial oversight to ensure a consistent voice, tone, and style.

5. Thinking desktop only and not mobile first

You’ve put a lot of thought, time, and effort into creating great content for your new website—now you want your users to have a great experience using it. But you cannot choose how your users will access your site. And with mobile continuing its meteoric rise, it’s extremely important to make sure your content can go anywhere and adapt to any platform or device.

Before we start any project with a client, we need to get a lay of the land of your site to see exactly what we are working with. One critical part of our content strategy process is creating content models that give content an organizational structure without defining its form or presentation.

Content modeling includes identifying the following:

Content types: When well planned, a variety of content types can help diversify your message and maximize its reach. Go in blind, however, and you risk creating a disorganized mess of articles, podcasts, and slideshows that gums up your user experience and leads to hours of wasted effort. Define your content types ahead of time to ensure a consistent theme across all the different media types on your site.

Content elements: Once you’ve defined all your content types, make sure you know what elements you want in each. Does every piece of content need a heading and subhead, or would that be best left exclusive to articles? Do your blog posts need body images? Do those images need captions? Setting that all up ahead of time saves you from needing to get your development team to add them all in later.

Content definitions: What are the rules and logic associated with each element? How are these elements shared (dynamic or manual, optional or required)?

Governance and workflow: How will content be created? Who is responsible for creating content in the CMS?

Content modeling isn’t difficult, but it does take some time and effort. By spending the time on content modeling early on in the project, you will reduce the risks of missing important content elements later in the project.

A website design process should be a collaboration. If your partner in this experience isn’t talking about your content plans, then you may find your project running behind and over budget.

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