Thursday, December 18, 2008

Content Strategy Can Help Kick Your Landing Page Addiction

Two things that bug me the most are doing unnecessary work and doing redundant work. Both drive me crazy and both come into play when talking about content strategy and custom landing pages. By custom landing pages, I’m referring to stand-alone (not part of your main Web site) Web pages that are built to support an individual marketing campaign or product launch. Traffic is driven to these pages by adding links to ad campaigns, emails, online banners etc.

My gripe is that most of these pages are not needed and redundant. In almost all cases, there is a page for this product on the company’s Web site. But for many reasons, the marketing group decides to create a new page, rather than use the page they already have.

Here’s how the break room conversation usually goes:

“Hey, I see you guys built a landing page for your big promo for our left-handed rakes. Why didn’t you just point that traffic to the product page that we just updated last month?”

“Well, that page is dull and boring. We wanted something with more compelling and flashy content. Ya’ know, something fun and catchy. The landing page has video!”

“OK, but didn’t you guys work on, and approve, the content for the product page we have on the site?”

“Sure, but that’s just a, ya know, normal Web page. We really don’t pay too much attention to what goes there as long as the facts are correct. The landing page is like, advertising.”

“So why do we have product pages on the Web site?”

“Dude. If we didn’t have product pages on the site, what else would we have?”

“But how will our customers ever find the product page if we don’t do anything to drive traffic there?”

“I dunno? Hey, we could put a link on the landing page!”

“No! The product page should BE the landing page!”

“Now you’re just talking crazy talk. We can’t put that kind of content on the Web site. Oooo donuts…”

Sure you can have fun, compelling, “advertising like” content on your site. But nobody thinks to ask for it.

A good content strategist will ask the missing questions:

  • Why is this page in the design?
  • How is it going to be used?
  • How is anyone ever going to find this page?

If your product pages are too dull, flat, and inflexible to be used as landing pages for and ad campaign it’s way past time to fix the product pages! Building custom landing pages just costs a lot of money and hides the problem. If the content is really that good, then use it on your main site.

When you understand why each page on the site exists, you can do a better job of designing the content to serve that purpose. Product pages are supposed to sell the product! So of course they should be like advertising. If it takes video and funny, casual content to sell your product, put that stuff on your product page!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Content Strategists' Salary 20 Grand Higher than Tech Writers'

A quick survey of average salaries for Content Strategists vs. Technical Writers shows exactly what I thought - Content Strategists get paid a LOT more - about $21,000.00 a year.

Content Strategist Average = $73,000.00
Technical Writer Average = $52,000.00

Average Salary of Jobs with Titles Matching Your Search

Content Strategist


Technical Writer


I have a long and proud background in technical writing, so I can confidently say that the two jobs are not that different. Most tech writers that I worked with were certainly capable of writing all kinds of material, including marketing and promotional (soft) copy. They frequently deal with HTML and XML, and are comfortable dealing with the technical intricacies that trip up many content strategists who come from journalism or corporate communications backgrounds. I've seen tech writers turn into excellent content strategists.

Content Strategist hiring trends over the last several years shows a repeating cycle with January through March as the low point in the cycle. Who know what will happen next year based on our current economic troubles, but if you are thinking of making the leap from tech writing to content strategy, you have a few months to get your resume ready and work on your interview portfolio.

I have a whole chapter in The Web Content Strategist's Bible about getting your first job as a Web Content Strategist. Also, you can find a good listing of Content Strategy jobs here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Content Strategy Gets World-Wide Attention

My own version of "you know you're a geek when..." is, I know I'm a geek because I check my server logs daily, just out of curiosity. I'm always amazed at where my site visitors come from. In the last few days, visitors to have come not only from all over the U.S. but also:
  • Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada
  • London, England, United Kingdom
  • Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
  • Philippines
  • Jamaica
  • Paris, France
  • Mumbai Maharashtra, India
  • Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Kenya
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Amsterdam, Noord-holland, Netherlands
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Hong Kong, Hong Kong (sar), Hong Kong
Pretty amazing, and I don't believe it's an accident. People all over the world are running Web development projects and once you understand the value of content strategy, it just makes sense to learn more about it and incorporate the practice into your development process.

From now on, whenever anyone asks me why I think content strategy will take off as a professional practice, all I have to do it point them to my server logs. It certainly looks universal to me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Content Strategist by Any Other Name

While looking at the state of the Content Strategy job market yesterday, I noticed that there are still a lot of jobs that are listing "content strategist" type job requirements using different job titles.

We are going through the same that that information architects had to go through a few years ago. The need for a new job function usually becomes clear long before we all settle on a standard job title. So when looking for a content strategist job, be sure to check out lots of other job titles as well.

Here are just a few of the titles I saw that had job descriptions with a lot of overlap with content strategy:
  • Communications Strategist
  • Content Development Specialist
  • Online Communications Manager
  • Web Content Producer
  • Web Editor
  • Web Content Specialist
  • Web Content Coordinator
  • Content Analyst
  • Web Publisher
  • Producer - Web Editing and Publishing
I'm sure there are others, and every job you see with one of the titles is not going to be a good match, but they are still worth checking out.

If you get one of these jobs, please push to change the job title to Content Strategist. The sooner we can standardize the title, the sooner we can begin to standardize the job tasks and get good salary numbers. We can use this information to push for higher salaries and to make sure the market is competitive for those of us with these skills.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Content Strategist Job Postings Up Dramatically for 2008

Despite an economic recession that apparently goes back to December of 2007, job postings looking for Content Strategists are up 74% from April 1, 2007 to Oct 1, 2008 according the the job index site (

Over the same period, the postings for Senior Content Strategists are up an astonishing 93%! (

It seems that the value of having a content strategist as part of the core project team is being recognized, and more importantly, companies are willing to pay for it!

In looking at the graphs for the last several years, it seems that job postings go down with the new year. But if current trends continue, and the economy starts to pick up, I'd look for a boom in content strategist hiring for mid-year 2009.

If you are thinking of making the jump into content strategy, NOW would be the time to work on your portfolio and fill in as many gaps as you can.

Monday, December 1, 2008

New Content Strategy Template - Editorial Style Guide

As promised a couple of weeks ago (OK, it was actually a couple of months ago) I just uploaded a new Editorial Style Guide template as another purchase bonus for The Web Content Strategist's Bible.

An editorial style guide is a must have for every Web content project. You just can't avoid making, and documenting, decisions about word usage if you want to have any kind of consistency in your content. Even when I am the only person writing content, I forget what I've decided and have to spend time going back through what I've written to see how I used certain terms. Plus, you must get sign-off from the client.

The first three editorial decisions that I ask the client about are always:
  1. What do we call this thing we are working on? A website, Web site, or Website?
  2. How do we refer to this particular website? At UPS we have a constant argument about vs.
  3. Do we, or don't we use the serial comma.
I know these issues sound a bit word geeky, but if you decide these and a hundred other things upfront in an editorial style guide, you can avoid having the answer these questions fifty times a day. And trust me, people will have strong opinions about these issues.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Content Strategy for Obama's

Here is a very interesting article about things our new prez should be thinking about, content strategy wise, for his new website,

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Content Strategy and Web Analytics

Web Analytics is the process of collection, measurement, and analysis of user activity on a website to understand, and help achieve, the intended objective of the site. Now I’m not suggesting that as a content strategist you need to be a Web analytics expert. There are plenty of smart people who make a whole career in the field. But Web analytics does need to be addressed as part of a complete content strategy.

At a minimum, I include two analytics-related sections in any content strategy document I create:

WCMS Impacts
Get a basic understanding of what Web analytics package is going to be used, and then find out what information needs to be included in each Web page to ensure that usable data can be captured for each user visit. Does the WCMS need to be able to capture analytics-related information as part of each page’s metadata? Often some kind of process completion or campaign ID must be assigned to some or all HTML pages. If new fields need to be added to the WCMS input templates, this needs to be captured and documented in the project’s requirements so that this work can be added to the overall project size and scope.

What Do You Plan to do with the Data?
Web analytics data will be analyzed by many departments with their own interests, but from an overall Web content perspective, I want to make sure that we address at least these three items:

  1. Optimize the top 10 entry pages. Once we have a reasonable amount of data, plan an analysis to identify the top ten entry pages for the website. Obviously your home page will be high on the list, but you may be surprised at some of the others. Maybe a deeply buried help page will have just the right keywords to show up in a large number of Google searches. For these unintended entry pages, think about adding links with compelling titles to try and entice some of these users into your main marketing or functional funnels.

  2. Analyze the bottom 20 pages. Again, when there is a good amount of data, plan to look at the 20 least frequently visited pages. Make some guesses about why no one is going there. Is it just very obscure content? Are the pages just too hard to find? Are the wrong titles or keywords used? Then decide what to do with the page:
      • Leave it as is
      • Re-write the content
      • Delete the page and the content
      • Delete the page but condense the content and include it on another existing page

    This should be an ongoing exercise.

  3. Understand the main task abandonment rates. You can’t set a goal to improve something until you know where you currently are. So when your project first launches, make sure that the correct data is being captured for the top four or five tasks you want your users to accomplish. For these tasks, figure out how many users are starting the task but not completing it. Once you have a good understanding of the abandonment rate for each task, then you can start making site changes to try and reduce this number.

Web analytics is a powerful tool for measuring and improving the site’s content. But you can’t do everything at once. Start with the basics, learn how the system and reports work, and build from there.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Selling a Content Strategist's Value

Here is an excellent article about the value that a content strategist brings to Web development projects run by an agency or third party. Content for these projects is often late and/or sub par because of issues on the client side that no one is tasked with managing. There are often emotional and political issues around the client’s existing content that are best handled by an external content strategist who can help the client sort good content from bad and re-write around other issues.

“With agencies or third-party development projects, someone is needed to keep the paying customer on track with content rewrites, or to plan and act on the rewrite plan. More often than occasionally, that paying customer can delay a project by not prioritizing the content rewrite, not providing enough resources to the rewrite, not meeting deadlines, and providing inappropriate content.”


Read more.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Content Strategy Job Board

I just added a content strategy job board to that sucks in Web content jobs from all over the Internet. The filtering is still a bit off, but the current set does have great content strategist listings. I'm working on making the listings more relevant.

If you are looking for a Web content related job, this is a great place to start.

Also, I get a lot of traffic that is very Web content focused. If you have an open job that you are trying to fill, you can list open jobs on the new Content Strategy Job Board as well. The cost is just $49.00 for 30 days.

Take a look and let me know if you have comments or questions.

Content Strategy Job Board

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Want to know what I think is big right now? Content strategy."

In a recent interview, Rebecca Lieb made some great comments in support of content strategy. Rebecca is Editorial Consultant to ClickZ and former Editor there for the past 7 years. She is a frequent speaker on interactive marketing issues around the world.

Here is what she had to say to Search Engine Marketing Vox:

Question: We’ve run online marketing tactics polls with
the usual suspects popping up in the top ten: Blogging, Email marketing, Search engine optimization, Pay per click, Social networks, Affiliate marketing, Blogger relations, Viral marketing, Corporate web site, Online public relations.

Want to know what I think is big right now?
Content strategy. Content as marketing, and marketing as content. Buinesses are finally realizing what’s long been true: if you have a web site, you are a publisher and you have to think like one. The same holds true for bloggers, of course, as well as in e-mail. This whole digital thing is about content. You can’t do SEO without fresh, original, frequently updated content. Since leaving ClickZ as a full-time gig, I’m working with all sorts or companies and organizations to get their content on track, both strategically.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Goes into a Content Strategist's Portfolio

So how do you prove that you have great Web content strategy chops? I've been asked this question several times lately and I'm not sure that I have a great answer. A nice portfolio may not be necessary if you are interviewing for a full-time job. But if an agency wants to hire you on contract, they will usually have to sell you to the client, and to do that they will need a current resume and it really helps to have an attractive portfolio. So what goes into this portfolio?

Here are my suggestions:
  • Writing samples. Writing and editing are still a large part of the job, so you have to show that you are a very competent writer.
  • A Content Matrix sample. When interviewing potential new hires, I'm thrilled if the candidate even mentions that they understand what a content matrix is and how it is used. Show up with a sample as a client, I'd be thrilled.
  • Editorial Style Guide TOC. Just show me enough to prove that you understand the idea and could write something similar for me if needed.
  • TOC for other Content Strategy Documents. If you have done a content analysis or other client-facing documents, include a sample page or two and a TOC.
  • Annotated website screen shots for sites you worked on. Take a screen shot of a page of a site you worked on and annotate it with text explaining your contributions to the project.

OK, that's a good start but I'd love to hear your ideas! Please leave comments or send an email to with you ideas for how to create a kick-ass content strategist portfolio.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Job Ads for Content Strategists Jump 21 %

I just posted a new article to with a very interesting graph showing a 21 percent increase in jobs posted looking for a content strategist for 2008. The graph also shows a clear, repeating hiring cycle with much higher demand from May to July.

Read more - Web Content Strategist Jobs on the Rise

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Content Strategy and the Editorial Style Guide

One project job that consistently falls to a content strategist is the creation of an Editorial Style Guide that is specific to that project. This important content strategy document contains style guidelines that are specific to client and project at hand. The style guide may well offer some exceptions to the AP Stylebook (or whatever has been defined as the official style book). It is critical to maintain a consistent style throughout your project with regard to spelling, capitalization, abbreviations and usage. This helps ensure that the message is strong, clear, cohesive and professional.

The process of creating the style guide can feel a lot like the movie, Ground Hog Day. You have the same discussions and arguments over and over again. As “word people” it is easy for some of these discussions to become rather passionate. We tend to have strong feelings about these sorts of things. “What! You don’t use the serial comma? Are you still using teletype machines and trying to save on transmission bits?”

It’s best to just give your professional opinion on these items, then bite your tongue and let the client have their way if they make seemingly silly decisions. “You want to hyphenate the term ‘Web-site’ in your content? Sure. Fine and dandy.”

The easiest way to approach the creation of a new style guide it to have the basic structure set up in a template that you can use over and over again on different projects.

What? You don’t have an Editorial Style Guide template you can use? Well, I just might have something to help you out added to The Web Content Strategist’s Bible bonus downloads soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What is Content Strategy? Other Voices

Anyone who does content strategy work spends a good bit of time trying to explain and define the practice of content strategy.

Luckily, since most of us are like, ya know, writers and stuff, we seem driven to write things down. I took a shot at the question a few times here on this blog and in The Web Content Strategist’s Bible , but there are other rock star content strategists who are also trying to tackle this question. It’s a lively conversation, please jump in!

Rachel Lovinger
Back in March of 2007 Rachel Lovinger wrote a ground-breaking article and licked off quite a conversation on the BoxesAndArrows site. The comments are still piling up as the conversation continues. Rachel is a Senior Content Strategist for Avenue A Razorfish.

The Philosophy of Data:

Kristina Halvorson
Kristina is the founder and president of Brain Traffic, a content strategy, information architecture, and web writing agency in Minneapolis.

She created a great presentation explaining content strategy to the user experience community:

Kristina also created and moderates a Google Group on content strategy. Please join and contribute!

Colleen Jones
Colleen is a user experience consultant with a strong interest in writing and persuasive content in the interactive space. She recently tackled the question on her blog with two great posts:

Jeffrey MacIntyre
Jeff works as a freelance writer and content strategist for a number of leading agencies out of Brooklyn, NY. Jeff created and maintains a very deep Google Knol (unit of knowledge) on the subject of Content Strategy:

There. That should keep you busy through lunch! Let's hear your take.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Content Strategy for Application Content

Sure, everyone wants to write the sexy marketing and persuasive content, but if your website contains online applications (pages that are really small programs that collect and/or display data etc.) then you may be missing a golden opportunity to show your value as a content strategist/expert and create a content strategy that makes the applications much easier to maintain.

Usually, text that is part of an online application is coded into the application itself. This is fine for small items like field labels and column headings, but larger blocks of content may be better handled outside of the application code. This is especially true for content that will change regularly such as copyright dates, version numbers, requirements, product cross-sell/up-sell, etc.

If this kind of text is programmed into the application code, the whole application may need to be re-deployed just to make a simple date change from 2008 to 2009. Re-deploying the application will usually require a complete cycle of testing and QA and can get expensive.

There are many ways to handle separating this content out of the code. There is a lot of talk about structured content and XML, but a simpler method may be to simply use your existing WCMS to generate small HTML fragments (just the stuff between the body tags), store these fragments on your production servers as a file, and have the applications just insert the file whenever the page is rendered. Small WCMS changes may be required, but that would be a one-time thing that could pay dividends for years. Once you have this method in place any changes needed to the text can be made quicky and easily without impacting the application programmers.

If all of this sounds like backwards Chinese to you, the key here is just to ask. This may be something that the developers have not even considered that could save them a lot of time and hassle down the road. If so, they will probably be glad to help you work out all the technical details.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Content Matrix Master Template Available

You guys asked me to help make creating your Web content strategy deliverables a bit easier, so here you go. I just added a pretty cool content matrix template .xls file to the download area for book purchasers. If you are already a customer, you should have received and email from me by now with a note about the content matrix template and the link to the download page.

This content matrix template has 44 columns and captures everything that I could think of regarding the content development and editorial process. I tweaked it with a bit of color coding, column filters, frozen frames, and development phase identifiers. This is pretty much exactly how I use a content matrix in my big projects.To try and make things are clear as possible I also added twenty, or so, rows of sample project data so you can see examples of what the data looks like that goes in each column.

Even having done this dozens of times before, it still took me about four hours to type everything in and get things exactly like I want them. It should save you at least that much time, so grab a copy of the content matrix template, add your own name and company logo, hide the columns that are not needed for your project, then take a long lunch on me!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Content Matrix Question Answered

I’ve received several versions of this Web Content Strategy question, so I thought everyone might be interested in my answer.
“Regarding the content matrix spreadsheet you say we need, are you suggesting that we list every individual block of content that needs to be written or deployed? Won’t that get really big after a while?”
To paraphrase Zoolander – yes, your content matrix may get really, really, ridiculously big. I’m not just suggesting that you do this, I’m saying that it is mandatory. You must capture, assign, review, and track every bit of content that needs to be created, or you will just be lost.

So capture everything. If a page just has a title and a link, capture it. How many versions of the footer do you have? Capture them all. Capture everything:
  • Help popups
  • Error messages
  • Promotional messages
  • Email templates
  • Forms
  • Downloads
  • Rollover text
  • Hover text
  • Text on applications
  • Everything!
Otherwise when that product manager comes to you and says, “hey, you know that product information I gave you two weeks ago? Well I need to make a few small changes. Is it too late,” how will you answer? If no one has started on that page yet, it may be OK. If it has already gone out for translation, then just put it on the list of post launch updates (add another tab to your content matrix for these items) and fix it then.

Stay tuned tomorrow for some content matrix help.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Attract Customers with Content

Here is a link to an interesting white paper on how to attract and retain customers with content. With a focus on valuable, relevant, solutions-oriented content this strategy will not only be important to customers, but will also be the kind of content that Google naturally loves.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What You Need is Called a Web Content Strategist

I see this kind of thing all the time in job postings for Web content professionals by agencies who still don't get the whole Content Strategy thing -

Seeking a Website Editor/Content Editor/Content Producer/Consultant

Here is some of the job description and requirements listing:

"This leading integrated agency is looking to take on a Website editor to work with one of their prestigious clients. You will be involved in managing the content strategy, structure and style of the project. You will be ensuring all content meets and upholds the tone for the site, developing and approving the site content and liaising with external 3rd parties. You must have at least 5 years relevant experience ideally within an agency environment, be a great team player and have the ability to edit and format a vast amount of content across a variety of formats."

It’s cool when agencies start to realize that what they need is someone who can not only write and edit content, but can also plan the content effort and consult with the client. But it’s a little frustrating to see even agency people struggle with how to describe the position. This is pretty much a dead-center Content Strategy gig and what they need is a Web Content Strategist.

OK, rant over, we will get there eventually. Everything takes time so I’ll keep plugging away. It did sound like a good job though and the pay was decent at $US 84,000.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Content Strategy" vs. "content strategy"

I have a Google Alert RSS feed that sends me mentions of the phrase "content strategy" in the news and on blogs, etc. Just noticing that I see the term used in two, very different ways.

I see the term content strategy (no caps) used very loosely to mean the kinds of content that is being created for the reader/user/viewer. A TV station might refer to their content strategy as planning on showing more locally produced projects. Or a Web site creator might say that they have a content strategy that calls for mostly user-created content. This is a perfectly valid use of the term, but really not what I'm talking about in the context of this blog or my Web Content Strategy book.

Content Strategy (with caps) is usually used to describe the broader, professional practice of CS including:

  • Client consulting
  • Content reuse planning
  • Content development project plans
    Editorial Standards
  • Identifying and training content authors
    Assigning and reviewing submitted content
  • Technical planning for content delivery
    CMS issues
  • Content Governance
  • Editorial calendar
  • Content maintenance and archival plans

In my mind it's very similar to how I see "site architecture" vs. "information architecture." Site architecture is usually used to refer to the navigational structure of a Web site, the site's structural hierarchy. Whereas Information Architecture refers to the professional practice of IA including all the consulting, inventory creation, wireframe development, prototyping, and usability/user experience work that they do.

At one time, these two terms were used somewhat interchangeably, but as IA gained recognition as a broader practice, there has been more distinction between the terms. Content Strategy is not quite there yet, but as more rigor and discipline go into content planning and development (in response to late projects due to late content) progress will be made.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Great Content Strategy Slide Show

Kristina Halvorson, who runs the web content strategy consultancy Brain Traffic, developed a great slide show that fits perfectly with my ideas about why content strategy is important, and how it fits into the overall development process.

Take a look!

Content Strategy
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: content webwriting)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Study Shows U.S. Corporations Increasing the Use of a Social Media Content Strategy

Social Media in the Inc. 500: The First Longitudinal Study
Conducted By: Eric Mattson, Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D.

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research recently conducted one of the first statistically significant, longitudinal studies on the usage of social media in corporations as a major part of their online content strategy.

The new study compares corporate adoption of social media between 2007 and 2008 by the Inc. 500, a list of the fastest-growing private U.S. companies compiled annually by Inc. Magazine.

The study shows that these fast growing corporations are using social media, such as blogs, at and increasing rate.

See all the details here:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Content as "Compound Interest" is a Great Content Strategy

Lyndon Antcliff at is one of the few SEO guys that really "gets" content. Not the idea of tuning content to rank highly for a specific set of predefined keywords, that's old school SEO. New school is creating a content strategy that uses content like compound interest, it gains value over time because people are getting better and better at using Google.

Search engine watchers are reporting that people are using more two, three, and even four or five keyword phrases when they search. The idea that a smart SEO guy can think of all of these phrases ahead of time is getting more ludicrous by the day.

The long tail is finally hitting the search engine world and the only real SEO solution is what Google has wanted all along - just write a lot of great, original content. The more great content you have, the better the chances are that some of it will be relevant and rank highly for these new, longer, more detailed Google keyword searches.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Content Strategy" Mentions on the Rise

I try and keep track of how often people are talking about the idea of "content strategy" online and things are trending up.

I have a Google Alert feed for the term and each month I get more responses. The same for mentions on Twitter. Maybe I should also start to track open Content Strategist jobs also. Like I don't have enough to do :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Content Stratergy Interview

Here is a great interview with Web content strategist, Kristina Halvorson from Brain Traffic about what SHE thinks content strategy brings to the table. Her views are exactly in line with mine and what is in The Web Content Strategist's Bible.

"Content strategist: Responsible for helping to define the content — what it is, what it says, where it will come from, and how it will sound/read. I think another critically important role, here, is that the content strategist is responsible for monitoring what’s being suggested or reguested — it’s not as though the content is just sitting in a drawer somewhere, waiting to be pulled out at the last minute. Do we have the necessary time and resources to produce what’s being proposed?"

Well done Kristina.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Upcoming eBook Additions

As promised, I'm working on a couple of new sections for the book. As I see the need for more information, I've made a list and started to work on new information.

The first two sections to be added will be:
  • Content Strategy for Search Engine Optimized Content - I won't claim to have an secrets of tricks here, just a few proven, best practices that should always be followed.
  • Writing Structured Content for Rich Media Online Applications - Here I'll talk a bit about writing content that will be used by Flash, Flex, AJAX or other rich media applications.
I'll post here when the ebook has been updated and do my best to contact everyone who has already purchased the book. You will always be able to download the latest version at no charge.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Is Your Web Site Content Sustainable? Kill as Much (or more) Content as You Create

How many pages are there on your site that NO ONE has visited in the last year? If you have a large site I’ll bet there a lot. Maybe 10% or more?

Someone in marketing decided that you just HAD to have a page about whatever so it got built, and it gets updated. And nobody is reading it.

Here’s an interesting article from Gerry McGovern about the True Cost of Content.
An organization that had a 4,000 page public website decided to do a major audit of content quality. As a result, it got rid of 1,000 pages. It didn’t get one single enquiry for the deleted pages. A 100,000 page intranet deleted 60,000 pages. There was not one single enquiry for the deleted pages.

Whenever we do a Web content project we build a content matrix to guide the way. An important part of all my projects is a tab on the Spreadsheet titled “Clean Up?”. As I’m working my way through content that might be affected by the project, I keep a list of pages that a suspiciously lame that I think could afford to get the axe. When I have a few extra minutes I’ll run a Web Trends report and see if I can justify taking them down.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Speak Nicely About Your New WCMS System - Even if You Hate It

As a Web content professional, when you get a nice, shiny, new version 1.0 of a new WCMS system, I promise you will have a long list of things you hate. Absolutely hate. It’s too slow, workflow is buggy, it’s too hard to use, HTML generation takes forever, where did my changes go, and on and on. Once you start to use it, you will find a hundred things you wish were implemented differently. Be very, very careful about how you talk about this new, and admittedly, ugly baby. You will be living with it for a long time.

I learned this one the hard way. To get all the benefit out of a WCMS, you will need a lot of people throughout the organization to play a part. We made the mistake of being very vocal about early problems. We complained for hours about how painful it was to get even a small amount of work done. So much so that now, years later, I still get a huge pushback every time I try to pull an outside department into the WCMS development process. They heard so much bad news about the system when it first launched that now when they hear the term ‘WCMS’ used, they run the other way. Suddenly they are swamped and have no time to participate as a reviewer in WCMS workflow. “Can you just send us a hardcopy that we can mark up?” No, we can’t. That causes all kinds of problems. That’s why we have workflow.

One by one, we have addressed the problems and limitations of our early system. It is light years better than when we started, but THAT message is not very interesting and no one hears it. All they remember is how the content team had to work until midnight every night to get a meager amount of content through the system and generated and they run the other way. It’s too late for us. I’ll be fighting this battle for years. Don’t make the same mistake.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Content Reviews in the WCMS and Scope Creep

My WCMS lets me send anything out for review and comment through a system controlled workflow; complete pages, individual modules, or images. Logically, most reviewers prefer to see an entire content page rather than just a module, so they can view the change in context. The problem with sending the entire page out for review is that they then want to make changes to the entire page, instead of just reviewing and approving a small change.

Everyone thinks they are a writer and wants to reword and re-write content that is factually correct. In my experience it’s about a 50-50 chance that they will actually make the content better with out-of-scope edits.

Sure, a few extra CMS changes to a content page should not be a big problem. But we are working on dozens of projects at any one time and they are all tightly scoped and staffed. Even a minor change to all of them would blow up our project plans, not to mention the impacts on translation word counts and schedules.

I try to manage this process by:
  • Regularly contacting subject matter experts and asking them to review site content while we are not working on that part of the site. If they find changes they can submit them for regular maintenance (non project) work.
  • If a content page is very large (an FAQ page for example), I send only the CMS module that changed out for review.
  • When I send content out for review, I send a detailed manifest to each reviewer that lists, in detail, exactly what changed on each page.
  • If I get comments back on existing content that was unchanged as part of the current project, I tell them it is out of scope and tell them how to submit the change as a maintenance request.

The thing I find most helpful is the detailed change manifest. If I can show a reviewer that the content he wants to change has nothing to do with the current project, and has also been live out on the site for some time, and that they could have submitted a maintenance request at any time if they had only looked at their content, they usually back down and agree to defer the change to maintenance. Often, the maintenance team is able to get the change out earlier than if it had been tied up with a non-related project.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Site Re-design = Site Re-write = Lots of Time

I like to keep up with my friends in the Web agency world to see how life is back on that side of the fence. Everyone I talk to these days is doing a site re-design of one kind or another. The opportunities to build a brand new big, enterprise Web site have passed. So now it’s all about re-design and re-launch.

The thing that they all seem to be having trouble with is forgetting they also have to re-write. A typical re-design is not just a graphical facelift; it’s a fresh look at customer needs and a changing competitive environment. So a great deal of time is spent on analysis and figuring out how to best address a complex series of user needs. And rightly so. But what frequently gets lost in the project plan is adequate time to re-write the entire site.

As you change design, page layout, and information architecture, you insure that it will be impossible to have any kind of automated script run to migrate existing content into the new design. Content will be chunked in new ways, with new pages, and new WCSM content templates (or even a completely new content management system). This is not a cut-and-paste exercise.
In every case I’ve been exposed to, the content re-loading has completely blown out the project plan. What was planned to take two weeks takes two months and twice as many writes/editors as planned.

Think about how long it took to write all the content in an existing site, it’s probably years. You simply can’t re-do all that work in a few weeks. Every piece of content will have to be looked at and restructured to fit in the new page layout and templates. New pages will have to be created, new messaging will need to be written, and new index pages will have to link all this together so that new navigation systems can be coded and generated.

Add to this new content management functionality, that may or may not work properly at first, and you are looking at project plan nightmare.

I see this all the time and the solution is really simple math. Take the new CMS, figure out how long it takes to build a new module, estimate the number of modules on an average page, figure out how many pages have to be generated and start multiplying. It’s not difficult, but the numbers are so terrifying that planners and managers just don’t want to think about it.

I speak from experience here as I was involved in a complete site re-design that was completely derailed by the time it took to re-write all the site content in a new WCMS. In the end, it took a full year get the new content written in the new WCMS, translated, and generated out to working HTML.

If you are in this kind of project, step up and talk about the 900 pound gorilla in the room. I know it’s big and scary, but feed it now or feed it later. Either way, it’s going to eat a ton of time and money.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Black Art of Estimating Translations

Almost all the source content that we spit out of or WCMS goes out to our vendor for translation into 32 languages. They constantly demand accurate estimates of word count changes for each language (so they can make sure they have adequate staff in each language), but can never give us a good method for determining this estimate.

For changes to content that has been previously translated, the best we can do is to count all the words in each affected sentence, add up all the changes, then reduce the count by about %20 to account for translation memory savings. But sometimes translation memory automatically takes care of %75 of the changes and sometime almost none at all. For us, there is just no way of knowing which it will be until it runs through their system.

If anyone has a better way, I’d love to hear it!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Distributed Content Creation - Another Consultant Fantasy?

It’s probably on page two of the WCMS sales guy’s Powerpoint deck - “Our product will allow a subject matter expert, anywhere in your organization, to edit and create Web content.” When I was pushing WCMS solutions as a consultant, I talked about this all the time. Sounds like a great idea. And if you have a simple site that is published in one language for local consumption, it is certainly doable. But if you have a complex site and buy into the other big sales pitch, “single source” content, then things get tricky in a hurry.

There are two main problems I see all the time with being able to push content creation out to subject matter experts:
  • Complex Interfaces - SME’s in your organization already have a job to do, they might create content every now and then, but not very often. If the WCSM is hard to use and understand, and they have to be re-trained every time you want them to do something, they just won’t do it.
  • Complex Content Reuse - It is hard to get occasional WCSM users to think like people who use it every day. They don’t think about the potential impacts of a change they are about to make. If they are editing a content module that is reused on eight different pages, they need to check and see if the edit is valid in all contexts. If not, then they have to create a new version and hook that new version up to the page with all the correct metadata… they get in over their heads pretty quickly.

Here is an example of what I’m taking about. You have a product page that says your product is guaranteed for 90 days. You re-use the module that contains the “90 days” text in all your product pages. If the guarantee on one of your products changes to 180 days, and the product manager is tasked with updating the product content on the Web, he very likely to just go to the WYSIWYG editor, change “90 to “180″ and republish the page - not realizing that he has just changed the guarantee to 180 for all product pages because the module is re-used. They just don’t think like a Web content specialist, it’s not their job.

After a few of these high-profile screw ups, even if the mistake gets caught and never goes live, the SMEs will start to find reasons why they are just too busy to take on the job of updating Web content and the job will come back to the Web editorial staff.

The best way to make this work is to very carefully carve out specific content that can be maintained outside of the editorial department and building this content in a very simple manner, with as little re-use as possible, so the SME can be confident that they are not causing problems by making their changes.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Real-Time Publishing - Reality or Consulting Fantasy?

Can you publish something directly to your organization’s Web servers? I’m talking about pressing a button on your PC that moves new content to your staging server, verifying the change and pressing another button to move the new content directly onto your production server and see it go live. Can you do that? Are you being told by your WCMS consulting team that you will be able to do that?

Well, you better find out. In transactional Web sites for large organizations, this is pretty rare. But it is part of the sales pitch and every WCMS consultant’s Powerpoint deck, and almost no one ever questions it. Sure, it’s technically possible, but is it culturally and organizationally possible? Often not.

If you purchase hosting from a third party, then the chances are better that, for a price, you can make immediate publishing work. But if your organization runs its own Web servers, then you may have a problem. You have to deal with a team of gatekeepers who’s mission is in complete conflict with your mission. You want to publish fast and often, they are only concerned with keeping what is already live on the site up and working. They live in fear that something you are about to upload will bring the entire site down, so they will create an impressive gauntlet of approvals, signoffs, wait times, and procedures to slow the whole process down to a crawl.

In my organization, we have a whole team of migration specialists who keep the staging and production servers completely isolated from the rest of the company. If I want to get new content up on the site, I have to open a migration request, they have to approve it (in other words, they have agree that my content change is worthy for production), my team then creates a TAR bundle that get’s FTP’d to the migration team, they unbundle it, play with it a bit, then schedule a migration to staging. Some updates sit in staging for 4 or five days before I can get them up to the production servers. And oh, they don’t do any migrations on Friday or after hours unless you pre-arrange to have someone standing by.

So if you THINK your shiny new WCMS will allow you to push new content out 10 times a day, you need to find out who actually controls your Web servers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

“Just get some contractors,” Does Not Work with a Complex WCMS

Back when we did all of our writing in Word then tossed it over the fence to a team of HTML programmers it was easy to take on large, surprise projects. We just hired a few writer and HTML developer contractors and put them to work. It was an easy process. But with a complex WCMS, that’s just not an option. The general estimate here is that it takes about three months of full-time work to get someone up to speed with just the WCMS basics.

The learning curve for using our WCMS system is huge. You not only have to deal with the normal problems of what to write and who is the subject matter expert, but now you have to figure out how to build the content, using a variety of content types and presentation templates. Some of the content you may need to change may be reused elsewhere in the site so it takes someone knowledgeable to figure out where it might be used, and if the proposed changes apply in all contexts. Then there are the workflow issues… don’t even get me started.

Anyway, it’s something to consider when deciding to implement a big complex WCMS system. If you have an unpredictable workload and large projects may fall into your already %110 allocated lap, then you had best start training the admins and support staff now. You will need them eventually, and when you do, you won’t have time to train them.

WCMS Projects and Offshoring

When a WCMS project is viewed as an IT project, it falls into the kind of project that might be sent off shore for development. I still contend that a WCMS implementation has a strong IT component, but is really more of a BPM and change management type project that requires serious involvement from those who will be left to live with the system long after the programmers have moved on. Having the developers separated from the content authors by 5,000 miles and 12 time zones makes for a difficult collaborative process.

In Offshoring in an ECM Context, the author talks a bit about what might work when offshoring a CMS project and a few of the things to watch out for.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Case Study - Changing “Filler Content” into “Killer Content” Increases sales by %142

A great case study on how just rewriting content with good Web writing guidelines and the customer in mind can provide an amazing ROI. By focusing on editorial content they took a site that had no growth in traffic or enquiries since 2002 and generated the following results:
  • From the 10th page to the 1st page of search results—and quite often the very first result—for many important keywords
  • Unique visitors up 84 percent
  • Visits up 208 percent
  • Page views up 129 percent
  • Returning visitors up 194 percent
  • Unique enquirers (remarkably) down 10 percent
  • … but sales up 142 percent!

Study Group Web Content Improvement Case Study

Friday, February 1, 2008

"The Web Content Strategist's Bible" Just Released

After talking a big talk for quite a while, I finally dug in and wrote the book. Trying to get everything I know about Web content strategy out of my thick skull was no mean feat and I certainly would not say I've covered everything, but it's a start and a great introduction to the practice and full of good information. There is plenty here for someone new to the idea of content strategy as well as lots of process advice and personal war stories that even the most seasoned veteran will find useful.

So why an ebook?

I hope to have a lot of conversation about this topic and look forward to adding more information based on your suggestions and things that occur to me in my day-to-day work as managing editor for a the website. I'll use this blog to keep track of Web content strategy topics I plan to add and keep you informed when I put up a new version of the ebook with additional information.

Free Updates for Life

Because I hope to make a lot of ongoing changes to the ebook, I'm offering free updates for life to anyone who reads the book and takes a few minutes to write me with comments and suggestions. Tell me what I did well and what needs more work.

User-Friendly URL Generation - A Must Have

One of the really good decisions we made early on was to make sure our WCMS captured and generated a human-readable URL structure. Quite a few WCMS systems still generate nasty, query-based URLs that look like :$^%$*^(7876**&(*&97659%8650

You really need to be able to look at a URL and know exactly what page on the site it represents. Real URLs that look like: give you a way to talk about site areas and particular pages with a common taxonomy that everyone understands.

When someone tells me, “We have a problem with the ‘hammer’ product page in the ‘tools’ section,” I know what they are saying and what page they are talking about.
Besides the fact the search engines can’t do anything with a long, query-based URL, the site owners usually can’t either. I love that I can look at a URL for a page on my site and instantly know where it fits in the site structure and what the content and navigation should be.

Keep the query string out of the URL.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Will our current writers and editors “get” the new CMS?

I get this question all the time from others in the process of implementing or selecting a web content management system. Honestly, the answer is maybe half will. The other half will either hate it so much they move on to something else, or just not get the idea at all. When we were rebuilding our big corporate site using the new WCMS, we probably went through 30 or so contract writers and editors. Only about 15 really, really came to understand it.

Until there is a clear winner and standardization for web content management systems (similar to MS Word in the word processing market) training will continue to be a huge problem for those who need occasional content developers to help during crunch time. The learning curve for our complex system is so long that bringing in contractors is often not an option.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Slow Progress for WCMS Systems

Here is a cold look at the WCMS market about 2004 - close to the time when we were actually experiencing many of the problems mentioned in the article - Web Content Management Systems: Find the Appropriate Solution

The author’s final summary mirrors my own experience - a large complicated WCMS can work for big companies and governments, but at very high initial, and ongoing, cost.

“Even the most thoughtful projects may be misguided,” suggests Adaptive Path’s
Jeffrey Veen. “Over and over I’ve heard the same complaint about these projects,
‘Turns out, after all the budget and time we spent, we really didn’t need a
content management system at all. We just needed some editors.’”

They didn't know what to call them, but they really needed a Web Content Strategist or two.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Beauty of Having On-site Developers

Having in-house programmers who can modify our WCMS interface is a luxury that many WCMS users don’t have. It really comes in handy for the small changes that wouldn’t justify a consulting engagement. I had an example this week.

User testing showed that new and infrequent users just didn’t get how we were indicating required fields in our online forms. We had been using bold text to indicate a required field, but most new and inexperienced users were just missing that and entering something in every field. So we tried a few solutions and found the one that tested the best was putting a small gold diamond next to each required field. I know, there must be a standard somewhere that we are violating, but that’s not my sandbox. It tested well and customers seemed to like it.

The problem came in trying to describe the symbol in translated text. Some of our WCMS help popup templates don’t allow for graphics. But they do allow special characters such as TM symbols etc. I was afraid to just write text like, “Required fields are indicated with a small gold diamond.” due to translation issues. Our translation vendor does not have the best record with Asian languages in these matters. I was sure I’d get an angry call from China asking why we were indicating required fields with a “baby glowing crystal” - or something like that.

So, in passing, I asked the WCMS programmers if they could add the gold diamond symbol to our toolbar of special characters. And bam, there it was! I love having these guys here.