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Web Development Strategy, Part IV: Steps To Develop Your Website Content

Content is a design requirement and prerequisite because it determines how to optimize a website’s layout. Its importance to designers, search engines, and users should make it a higher priority. In practice, however, most website structures and pages are designed before and independent of their content. As a result, websites are populated as an afterthought as opposed to being the primary driver that gives websites and their pages form and function.

For better content, creative design, and user experience, infuse these phases into your next website redesign.

One of the first steps in a website redesign process is determining what content you will keep, what you will discard, what content you will revise, and what new content will need to be created. The systematic approach for this effort is called a Content Audit.

Content Audit. When building a new website, existing content needs to be assessed to ensure it supports the new strategy and the data mined from your audience. What is learned from the Ethnography Study, Persona Profiles, Journey Map, Task Analysis, Card Sorting, and Information Architecture should inform you as to what content should be migrated and/or removed from the existing site. This is usually done on a spreadsheet for each URL on your existing site to be used as a roadmap for the new website pages.

Content Delivery Plan. The Content Delivery Plan is established to plan the creation, revision, or elimination of content by when, by whom, and for what reasons. This helps get people started on the content while other steps are completed in parallel. The needed content is listed with a description, a point person, and a due date. The new content creation schedule then becomes included within the master project plan.

Strawman Page Structure. Until this point, the concentration was on concepts, context, and the site’s overall constructs. The Strawman Page Structure is the point of transition to the page element level with a focus on each page’s purpose, its headings, subheadings, bullet points, and calls to action. The goal is to have just the bare bones of a structure to know what it will be populated with, and its “job” relative to its role to other pages on the site. There are no full sentences or eloquent prose but just placeholders to convey the essentials. The goal is to rapidly fill out all pages to the site with Strawman pages that will direct the next phase of development. Please note that the copywriting on these pages is simple, factual statements. It is written for the copywriters as fodder. It has symbolic placeholders to describe page elements like a photo, graph, video, etc. Along the way, it is common to notice missing pages, redundant content, the need to change navigation labels, and the like. The draft pages can be edited and revised over a number of iterations until the essence of each page is clear and cohesive with the rest of the pages.

Content Draft Versions. After the Strawman Pages are completed, they are given to the Content Strategist on the team or copywriter. S/he fills in the copy and releases each page as the first draft for approval before making a final round of revisions. It is then passed along to the design team to create page layouts and a homepage.

Content is king not only to search engines but to designers. Designing interior website pages and home pages before knowing what content will fill it is like putting the cart before the horse. To improve the performance of your next website redesign, do what your competitors probably aren’t – create content before designing it. Remember, “C” (Content) before “D” (Design).