Content management is like having a garden. Everyone appreciates a beautiful garden, but few want to toil in the heat that makes it all possible.
You can’t just plant content on a site and let it go. Just as a garden becomes overgrown or taken over by weeds when left unattended, content does too. You have to constantly care for content so it thrives and stays beautiful year after year.
Maybe that’s why so many experts refer to the process as a content lifecycle.
1. Plan: Audit, Analyze and Strategize
A good garden begins with a good plan.
The content climate
If you planted a garden without knowing what grows best in your climate or in your soil, you’ll probably end up working really hard with no growth. The same is true with content. You have to know what you’re starting with. And a content inventory is a good place to start.
A thorough content inventory should answer the following questions:
- How much and what types of content do you have?
- What’s happening in social media or your company’s community blogs?
- What is marketing promoting or planning to promote on the website and through third parties?
- What articles or press releases have corporate communications released?
- What offline content, including printed brochures and broadcast campaigns, have been created?
- What types of CMS are you using?
- What kinds of templates have been created?
- What is the structure of the CMS?
With a garden, you have to have the right tools and supplies on hand. With content, you have a number of tools to use from customer focus groups and usability tests to call center feedback and formal research from third parties like Forrester Research or Javelin Strategy. Your content wheelbarrow should also contain best practices for accessibility and SEO. Of course one of the most obvious tools is the Web CMS and platforms. Are you going to use mobile, desktop, tablet or all three?
Dig into the details
Now that you’ve gathered the information, it’s time to analyze all of it. Get your hands on some of this rich data. More than just looking at traffic patterns and page views, you’ll need to see where customers come from and where they go to next. Find out the value of the content.
What CMS templates do you have to abide by? Reach out to business partners. If it’s not a legal mandated content project, get them involved anyway. It’s always easier to accommodate new regulations early in the process than later.
Diagramming the garden
To build a garden, you have to make an outline for where the garden will go and how the plants will be arranged. For content, you make an outline with a Content Strategy document. It can be as simple as describing who you are talking to, what you want to do or achieve with this project, why the customer should believe you, where (platforms) you want to talk to them, and how you want to measure the success of the content.
2. Planting: Author or Create
Now, that you have the right supplies and you know the goals, you can begin planting -- I mean writing.
Word documents are the preferred method for creation. But content breaks differently in a word document than in html in a Web CMS. If you have access to the CMS, try creating content right in the system. You’ll get a more accurate representation of how it will look in the end, and you can plan to get the right information above the fold.
Watering and weeding
After you create a rough draft, you’ll pull the content weeds (content that doesn’t have a purpose). Then you’ll sprinkle the right SEO rich keywords into the content. Was that analogy a bit too much? Okay, then you’ll need to pull out some of your tools for usability or accessibility best practices.
Finally it’s time for feedback. You write content and send it out. You make revisions and send it out again for approvals. But instead, you get more feedback. Partners who haven’t been engaged in a solid strategy resort to the old “I’ll know it when they see it” method. It’s like blindly throwing a bunch of seeds on the ground, seeing what pops up and then planning your garden.
To avoid this, conduct content sessions with partners where you summarize the content strategy to keep everyone focused. Partners feel more engaged and part of the process and are less likely to change direction unless it’s a direction the team agrees to.
3. Harvest Time: Publish
Putting the content into the content management system for publishing may be done by you or someone else. No doubt you’ve accounted for everything so it goes in perfectly without a hitch. (Not likely.) If your company is like most, something in the CMS has changed, a new patch, process or code implementation. So you may have to consult an expert to get the content to look as intended.
Then, you’ll put it through quality assurance testing and business testing to make sure you got it right. And if you haven’t addressed it before now, take down old content that you might be replacing.
4. Maintain: Archive
The garden is in, and everything’s in bloom. But this is no time to ignore the garden you just planted. Just as weeds and pests can destroy a garden, content that is not well cared for can destroy a website, and a brand, for that matter. It needs to be revised so it doesn’t become out of date. It needs to be monitored and measured to see if customers have reacted to it, commented on it and shared it. And much like a garden, it needs to be pruned so it doesn’t become overgrown.
Post-launch, you may want to ask yourself:
- Are customers finding the content?
- Are customers buying the product or service (conversions)?
- Is your call center experiencing more calls or less calls to the call center?
- Are industry experts talking about the changes you made to the site?
- Is there a buzz generated?
- What approaches do you have in place to evaluate it in the future?
If you approach content like a garden, your content will most likely be something to be admired.
Title image courtesy of yuris (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: To read more by Lori McNabb: