Why outstanding content development is critical
If you’re considering redesigning or updating your website, you know that strong content is one of the most effective ways to differentiate your brand online and drive business success. You’re also aware that web content projects are fraught with issues. With today’s powerhouse design programs, imagery is easier than ever—but great content is still a mystery to most. Copywriting, because of its original and precise nature, cannot scale the same way many other forms of content do—such as product images, logos or video.
With search engine optimization such a driving factor, it is essential to write precisely what you need to communicate. Here is a proven approach to enterprise content management (ECM) projects that works with any software.
- 1) Scope the work projects
- 2) Inventory what you already have
- 3) Make an outline of the new, high level site architecture
- 4) Plan your writing assignments using a 3 writer: 1 editor scale
- 5) Lead the team to success with clear creative direction
- 6) Empower yourself to manage the process
Why enterprise web copy demands a new content management paradigm
Of course, there are detailed tactics for each step – and those will follow – but first, it may help to understand why we recommend a new paradigm. One third of Fortune 500 firms just like yours embark on a web site redesign project in any given year—and most of the team members on a truly large enterprise web content project are often first-timers on a project of such scale.
From a content perspective, an enterprise-scaled site is fundamentally different from a “new web site” or a “web site refresh”. While this article can benefit anyone with a large web site project to complete, it’s written particularly for the upper mid-market or large-scale concern because enterprise-scale projects have unique concerns around people and processes. High-cost, resource-intensive Web content management (WCM) projects leave many organizations dissatisfied. Poor technology selection is sometimes the culprit, but more often the issue is people and process.
To launch sooner, improve acceptance and optimize satisfaction, implement these best practices:
- Keep stakeholders engaged throughout implementations,
- Use pilots strategically, and
- Simplify functionality where possible
Hallmarks of enterprise web projects
Enterprise web content projects generally entail hundreds – even thousands of pages. They are built dynamically, with pages created from a database – and serve the needs of several audiences. They are central to the marketing and sales success of the organization, and some form of content management is used to coordinate the effort and organize the content.
STEP 1: SCOPING YOUR CONTENT DEVELOPMENT
In the S.I.M.P.L.E.© methodology developed by Write2Market, the first step is scoping. Before scope and scale can be considered, tech-savvy marketers ask “which CMS should I rely on?”
Most companies rely on content management systems because of the scope and scale of an enterprise site. The new project is often an impetus for investing in a new CMS. But content management systems won’t write the copy for you. You need a foolproof, organized plan and approach to your web copywriting before you involve the CMS as a repository. This isn’t easy. That’s where Write2Market’s experience with website redesign projects comes in.
In this article, we share metrics and approaches to save you the time and trouble of learning on your own. Since most web site redesign projects occur once every three years, this is the first time many have needed to “retool” online design and content to something more aligned with the company’s latest thinking, branding and strategic direction. Our system will help you discover strong copy, clear calls to action, and messages that are on brand for major organizations like yours.
Managing scope creep
Like all major projects, web site redesign projects grow. As you calculate your best estimate of all the work involved, multiply it by three for a margin of safety in budget and resource allocation. As the project gets underway, often more departments become involved than you originally scoped—and generally for very good reasons, as the web site is fundamental to the organization’s business process.
The better you evangelize how successful your project well be, the more people will get on board… but the more mired down the project gets, the more people will demand updates or want status reports.
If you buffer or triple estimate, you’ll be able to take on the additional bandwidth. This is why smart interactive project directors outsource substantial areas of the project’s development—including creating graphics, pages, code, and copy—so that they can manage the process and the direction.
9 DEPARTMENTS TO INVOLVE EARLY IN SCOPING CONTENT DEVELOPMENT
These groups often get involved after the project is launched. Proactively socialize the project with these groups during scoping to mutually set guidelines and parameters of engagement:
- IT or Technology
- HR – the site is a recruitment tool
- Benefits – the site makes some claims about employees
- Legal – the site makes claims about service or product guarantees
- Finance – what is the financial green-touch money for your car, your commitment for the site, how do you justify the expense, is there an online sales component?
- Public relations – this may be a springboard for winning award campaigns or media outreach
- Customer relations – new opportunities to streamline and automate
- Shipping and receiving – with an online sales component, they’ll want tight integration
GETTING A HANDLE ON SIZE OF YOUR REPORT STRUCTURE
Each department involved will require separate communications. Each group is a stakeholder with specific and individual concerns touching your web site redesign project. Proactively manage as much of this as possible.
STEP 2: INVENTORY YOUR CURRENT CONTENT AND COPY ASSETS
Your current web site has a variety of assets you may consider using in your revitalized site. Even if you HATE the current site, it’s somebody’s baby, and inventorying it will help your project succeed and stay socialized. Assign a team to inventory the current site and create repositories for certain kinds of reusable resources. In the structured content approach, an organization breaks up its messaging into meaningful chunks. Brochures, catalogs, web copy-almost everything can be created by assemblage. This is why clear field definitions are more important than ever.
Many firms feel they provide clear field definitions if they describe the field and its character length alongside a few hundred pages of “no-no’s” from the Brand Style Guide. A few strong examples are better than pages of guidelines. There are three categories of reusable property you’ll want to have organized and available to your team:
. 1) Tools. These snippets of functional code do specific things— like locate your distributors on a map, login to your Intranet, or export your newsletter.
. 2) Copy. Depending on the way your existing site was created, you may have swaths of reusable content, like tables full of current product descriptions, executive bios, and news archives.
. 3) Imagery. Many sites have an investment in photography or illustrate that is portable into the new site schema. Organize folders for these images, such as product icons, executive headshots, and the like.
Then keep, refresh or discard.
These are the only three possible outcomes for any bit of content on your current site. Even the slightest edit—dates, or headquarters location—puts it on the copywriting pile.
STEP 3: MAKING THE OUTLINE FOR YOUR CONTENT DEVELOPMENT NEEDS
You have your stakeholders and your vision. Next, you need to create a high level architecture for the site—clumps of information and function. For the outline, keep it high level so you can begin to assign resources.
Determining which part of the web site is assigned to writers, and which parts are assigned to the database designer, is one of the first tasks. In designing the database of a site, the names of fields can read very much like bullet points—especially for product-driven companies. Many web project directors decide that “table column head names” will do, and later discovers that those cells are limited to some arbitrary character count and can’t handle the company’s expanding hierarchy of services.
To avoid this issue:
- Complete the data architecture and data migration projects for the site before you finalize the copywriting component.
- Even if some data tables appear redundant, make sure your column heading data and row data are distinct.
- In your project plan, as the data architecture and data migration components of the project are finalized, have the writing tasks end just after. That way, any components of the site not foreseen in the data architecture and not addressed by the database can be assigned to the writing team while the team is still fully staffed.
STEP 4: PLANNING ASSIGNMENTS
You have a creative direction and know your assets. What are the gaps between your available team and their current workload, and the deadline your stakeholders have in mind?
Roughly estimate how big your technology department is—and what resources they can dedicate to the project. Do the same for your marketing and public relations team. How much time can they commit to the web site redesign in the next 30 days? 90 days? 6 months? Decide out what copywriting, design, and web development team and resources are available in house – then shop around for the right talent to flesh out your team.
You could hire an interactive agency, but given a tight budget you may want to orchestrate teams the way an agency would; coordinating the project timeline for design, content and development yourself, and managing those teams more directly. That means hiring:
- A graphic design firm specializing in web design or a web design firm;
- A development team that can handle technical integration
- A copywriting or content development team
- An SEO firm
Some firms have all resources in house—the copywriting component is probably the most eclectic. Only a few firms specialize in written content development in an enterprise environment. Many interactive agencies or design firms rely on you—the client—to be prepared with copy. SEO firms may be willing to put together a slate of keyword ads and sponsored placement pieces, but they often do not want to write the copy it takes to rank organically in search engines.
Thumb rules for writing
The average professional web copywriter can belt out ten pages a day of expert, engaging copy. A powerhouse proofreader can commit 20-30 pages. Thus, for every three writers, you’ll need one full time copy proofer. To maximize copy throughput on large projects:
- Group assignments around subject matter so that pods of writers and editors can grow expertise in a particular area
- Have all editors share an editorial guideline document with common mistakes and usage facilities particular to your firm
STEP 5: LEADING WITH CREATIVE DIRECTION
Explaining the meaning and goals of your site to your team can be one of the hardest parts of a successful project, especially for the creative teams working on your content. Brand design guidelines only manage the technicalities of expressing your brand online. These are complex and often, too big to internalize.
One of the best methods we’ve found to keep everyone on the same page—literally—is the “painted picture.” The person responsible for the outcome—the results—of the project takes a couple of hours, alone—without phones and internet—and writes down or verbalizes what the site needs to accomplish, and for whom. This is an emotional piece, filled with as many details as possible, and written in a conversational style. The painted picture is useful for communicating with your stakeholders, and for simplifying conversations regarding how the site will function.
This website will be really important to ________________because ____________. For the first time, it will allow____________. The people who use it are ____________. When they’re on it, they feel___________________. Our business is transformed because of the site.
For example: I imagine our first visitor. Let’s call her Linda. Her problem is_____________. And when she finds this site by _______________, she then _______________ and the result is, within moments, _________________________.
4 ways to maximize writers’ efficiency
You can create one voice from a team of many writers if you follow these four careful practices developed at Write2Market as we create content for dozens of sites across the country—and across the brand/voice spectrum.
1) Develop sample docs ahead of time. With enough sample material, an expert writing team can write like anyone you need them to emulate. Develop 2-3 pages of sample material with the tone and style you want for the entire site. That way, thousands of pages can be coordinated through the talent and ability of writers who get voice. It’s just like providing sample designs or photos to artists—you constrain the style.
2) Create a design template for every type of page your web site delivers.
3) Use design templates to assign work to writers—that way, one writer can address a number of different content blocks.
4) Consider using a custom database interface for the writing team, so that although they write “in context” on a page template, the actual words they write are translated into the database or content management system field by field.
STEP 6: EMPOWER YOURSELF TO MANAGE
6 real world strategies for orchestrating enterprise operations and communications
Managing stakeholder expectations from the outset will give your project the organizational lift it needs to succeed. Some ways to successfully orchestrate expectations:
- 1.Establish a regular meeting to discuss progress and concerns with stakeholders. Members of this group can be recognized as the web site resign project direction board. Call it… monthly.
- 2.Establish a regular report for each stakeholder group to apprise them on progress in areas they are concerned with. Call it… weekly.
- 3.Involve the stakeholders as a group in the project plan and timelines.
- 4.Involve stakeholders as a group in defining responsibilities and penalties for shirking responsibilities, such as lack of review privileges as the project moves forward.
- 5.Establish key deliverables from each stakeholder—with alternate paths if stakeholders do not deliver material on time. (A stakeholder loses oversight privileges if they fail to keep up with the project plan that they helped author!)
- 6.Outsourcing portions of the project that can reliably performed outside of the company, where there is some insulation from the back and forth of internal debate. You don’t want your creative team worried about making the finance group happy.
ENTERPRISE WEB CONTENT DEVELOPMENT THAT WORKS
Your enterprise web content project can and will go smoothly if you respect a few ground rules, which are, of course, S.I.M.P.L.E.©
. 1) Scope the work
. 2) Inventory what you already have
. 3) Make an outline of the new, high level site architecture
. 4) Plan your writing assignments using a 3 writer: 1 editor scale
. 5) Lead the team to success with clear creative direction
. 6) Empower yourself to manage the process
Your job is managing the process and ensuring that you are free to do so. You must have conversations with team leads, and guide them to the end result. Keep the vision fed with strong content, strong imagery, and strong code. Armed with the S.I.M.P.L.E. approach, we’re confident you won’t fail, and the fact that you’ve read this article means you’re far ahead of the game.
If you’d like to talk to a Write2Market enterprise web content development expert about how we can help you redesign your site, weigh in on social media aspects, and support your content development, let us know! We love this kind of work and we’re happy to share stories—and learn more about yours.