Late content causes project delays, and can ultimately stop your deadline in its tracks.
One of my biggest challenges whilst building and growing our digital agency was getting content developed with clients. This became such a challenge that on multiple occasions it nearly put me out of business. Clients would only cough up their remaining payments once websites were launched. Delays in content would mean that website launches were delayed— which as well as just being a frustrating cycle, was a cashflow nightmare.
After a few near misses, I found an approach that helped keep my projects on schedule, and my sanity intact.
As well as getting me paid on time, this approach made the whole web development process a lot more pleasant, more efficient and more predictable. It also resulted in better websites, with better content.
There are two simple components of this approach (neither of which are incredibly new or complex):
Going ‘content-first’ is primarily a switch in mental models. It involves rearranging (and sometimes merging) already existing processes.
Rather than starting out with design work; like thinking about the structure of your website, the layout of your pages, and what visual design works best for your clients … you start with the content. What content works best for your clients, and their audiences?
You start with a concern for the message that you are trying to express; what they are trying to say and do, and how best to arrange different chunks of information to communicate this message.
At the end of the day, it is the content that will help you achieve your goals
The intricacies of a content-first workflow can vary, some people argue that rather than simply altering the order in which we would traditionally design interfaces and canvases, and then create the content, the idea is that we should merge the two processes absolutely.
This more purely agile approach enables content creators to work side-by-side with designers to construct websites. While this is obviously amazing as a means to align understanding and to encourage a consistent output and experience, the possibility of this working depends largely on your specific team and your specific clients.
In this article I’ll talk less about the specifics of your organisation, and discuss more generally how you can use content templates to instigate, as well as simplify, the content-first approach with various stakeholders.
Once you’ve made it clear to the relevant stakeholders that you’re going to focus on the message first, and that they’ll be getting their hands dirty developing content before seeing any fanciful buttons; you can introduce them to the idea of content templates.
I’ve found that explaining content templates early on resolves a lot of the pressure and anxiety of a content-first approach.
…”Can you please just tell me what a ‘content template’ is.”
A content template is a tool that helps you to collect high quality content from the people who write it. Content templates are documents that include a breakdown of all the individual chunks of content that will be appearing on a web page; the contributors proceed to simply fill in the spaces with the required content.
Each individual piece of required content will be introduced and explained with guidelines and examples to help authors understand the purpose of the content they are contributing – it’s audience, context and the style in which it should be written. This is a great way for everyone to validate why each piece of content exists.
Content templates are especially useful in large website projects where there are lots of different ‘subject matter experts’; each bringing their own unique perspectives on the products or services being communicated.
There are five components that should always be included in content templates:
Here’s a complete example of the template for our friend Dino’s members page:
This is how you might template a product page for a lawnmower product:
As you can see, the templates consist of three main sections:
You can choose to be as detailed as is necessary with the supporting information you include as well as with the examples for copy. Get to know your authors and what they need to produce the content you need.
As a rule of thumb I would always go back to the five essential components and make sure they’re referenced: audience, purpose, context, meta data, and rules.
Using content templates is a brilliant way to collect all the content you need for your project. As we’re all aware, however, this is just the start of the process.
Following the collection of your content, it’s likely there will be a process of review, approval, and editing.
How this development workflow looks is hugely dependant on the specialists in your project, as well as the involvement of different stakeholders. You might be lucky enough to have a legal team to grill your content, you might not be 😉
Depending on the file format and storage of the templates, you can approach the editing and approval workflow quite differently.
There are some tools out there that can help with this part of the process:
I hope this has been a useful introduction a key part of my content development process. You now see the value in a content-first approach takes time, but using guided content templates can make this a whole lot easier. It also sets a healthy expectations, and allows you to collect good quality, targeted, and structured content. To get the job done well.