In all of the project talk and planning around usability, design, technologies, etc., it's easy to lose sight of the content and the fundamentals that drive it. Those other elements are important to a website project, but content drives the project. The problem is when content development becomes a line item, it gets treated like one.
Anyone who’s worked in the trenches in publications management appreciates that "develop content" cannot translate the level of sustained effort required from your writers, editors and analysts to create content (information) that is findable, useful, meaningful, valuable and credible.
These content fundamentals will go far to keep your project on track.
1. Good Content is Hard Work
Sound simple? It is. And is not.
We all know that bad content is easy. Look at any enterprise-level website.
Good content is a “heavy lift” because it’s challenging on so many levels: for the individual, the organization and for the content itself and its workflows. It takes analysis, research, writing, editing and quality assurance. If that’s not enough, toss in a healthy dose of creativity.
In the early days of the Web, content frequently was developed by one or two people working together as a centralized team. Website content today is a complex, constantly evolving output of an organization that lives alongside other communications, on and off the Web. We face content sprawl and working with (and sometimes at odds with) a community of content contributors and professional subject matter experts. We’re charged with the combined task of content wrangling and herding cats. This is the hard work in the trenches of content development.
2. Good Content Takes Time (and Care)
Bad content is quick. Good content takes time and care. There’s an art and science to good Web content development.
Done properly, Web content development requires analysis, research, creation and multiple steps in a revision process that might include multiple stakeholders. (Remember, we’re information workers, not line workers in a widget assembly plant.) Good content is accessible, searchable, findable, useful, portable, usable and contextually relevant. The needs of the website content owners must be balanced by the needs of the end-users. The sum of these efforts is a targeted, informed, creative result crafted for its intended audience.
Understanding the various components of good Web content helps everyone understand the need for time and care for its proper development.
3. Good Content is the Focus
When a project requires the development, migration or transformation of large amounts of content, the content should be the focus of the project. Seems too obvious to say, right?
But how often have we seen content marginalized by its sexier cousins technology, design or usability?When you feel the content sliding, remind yourself: it’s a content management system (CMS). It’s not a technology management system, or a design management system, or even a usability management system. The CMS supports the communication and information transfer from the content owners to their intended audiences.
So make your content the focus. “Centered content” is taken out of individual hands and placed in a neutral location (picture the middle of a large table with many people at the table). Centering the content helps everyone examine it in a Wikipedia-like model. This neutral location frees your team and frees your content. “Centered content” allows you to:
- Be free of “ownership”
- Emphasize mutual solutions
- Focus on the end product and end user
4. Good Content is a Team Effort
Good content comes from your team. They “own” the content, becoming mini-subject matter experts over the life of your project.
One person cannot act as the non-stop subject matter expert of all things. This is why you have a team: to efficiently leverage skills such as analysis, research, writing, editing, and quality assurance.
Successful content development teams should learn throughout the life of the project. Develop workflows and “projects within the project” that encourage team growth. You may also find that specialized mini-teams (a “team within a team”) work best for target assignments, such as content inventory and analysis and webpage summary development.
5. Good Content Needs the Right People
Modern tools and technologies have spawned a rule of ubiquity: they are everywhere, so everyone is expected to know how to use them. This makes as much sense as expecting everyone with a keyboard to be a writer (or editor, analyst, researcher).
No one would think of putting on a basketball jersey and going onto the court with a team of NBA players. For information workers, it takes education, job experience, skills, training, aptitude, attitude, competence, judgment.
You see the point: Hire a professional, with the experience and skills you need, for your content development project.
Content Fundamentals to the Rescue
It’s too easy to get lost in a large content development project. Refocusing on the content fundamentals could save your project. Content development is a “heavy lift” that requires time and attention. The CMS is the structure, design is the trimmings, and the content is the foundation on which a website is built.