Breakdown, go ahead and give it to me...
Before You Build Your Website, Develop a Content Strategy
How many times do you go to a website without a goal? Never, right? Most of us go to websites with very specific goals. Yet, if your association’s content doesn’t fulfill those goals, you’re wasting their time – even if you have the most stunning website design around.
On a scale of 1 to 10, a content strategy’s level of importance for associations is a 10. Yet, no one in my session raised their hand when I asked who had a content strategy – not a single organization out of about 100 in the room!
Why does content strategy deserve a 10? Because it connects your association’s value and purpose with your audience and their goals. Content management and governance provide the framework that your content strategy lives in. Let me explain: here’s the content strategy breakdown.
1. Assess your organization’s need for a content strategy.
You don’t have a content strategy (or you have an ineffective strategy) if:
- You’re overwhelmed at the amount of content you have.
- You’re unclear about each content item’s purpose.
- You’re uncertain about each content item’s value.
- You can’t identify and prioritize your different target audiences.
- You’re unsure of what successful content means.
- You’re going to put your hands over your ears and loudly sing, “It’s alright if you love me, it’s alright if you don’t,” if you hear one more person say, “I can’t find X on the website.”
2. Assess your organization’s readiness for a content strategy.
Is your association ready for a content strategy? You’ll more likely succeed if you have the following success factors in place.
- Staff can relate content to organization-wide needs, not departmental silos. A content strategy will not solve your silo problem. In fact, you need to break down the silos to have a truly effective content strategy.
- One person must have both the authority to make decisions about content and the accountability that goes along with it. Nice people who want to please everyone won’t get the job done. Neither will management by committee.
- Your organization’s mission, vision, and business objectives must drive content decisions. You must be able to prioritize and develop a plan that fulfills those goals.
- You must have the support of leadership and appropriate resources for this undertaking. Without it, you will fail. A great way to get buy-in and funding for content strategy development is to show leaders videos of frustrated members trying to accomplish their goals on your website. (It is easy to capture these reactions in usability testing. Ask us how.)
- You also must have the commitment of those on the content team. This isn’t a temporary project; this is a significant change in your organization’s behavior and priorities.
3. Research content strategy.
There’s nothing easy about developing, implementing and executing a content strategy. On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s about an 11. Read as much as you can, talk to others who have gone through the process, and attend webinars and conferences. Expect to spend about 2 months on research. Talk to experienced consultants who can guide you.
4. Develop and implement your content strategy.
First, you must identify your different audiences and their goals. They might not all want the same thing. What is important to them? What is of value to them? How do you know that? Why do you think that?
Don’t trust your members’ and users’ feedback explicitly. Sometimes they don’t know what they want, so they answer surveys based on what they think they want (or how they think you want them to answer). Look at their behavior, not what they say. Check website and email analytics. Do market research.
If you don’t have data to analyze, you will have to rely on surveys. Be very intentional about the questions you ask. Where are your members looking for information? Are you the source of information? Or do they find what they need through other sources like fellow members, vendors, new/traditional media, and other associations?
You also need to think about your goals – your mission, vision, and business objectives. Your content strategy must align with and support your organization’s strategic plan.
It takes 6 to 18 months to develop and implement the actual strategy. The content inventory analysis alone is a HUGE but necessary undertaking, because you have to know what you have – this is your starting point. What is learned during the inventory phase is of great, great value to you and your team – don’t take it for granted.
Web, social media, and print materials are all part of content strategy. And just to be clear, web content is not repurposed print content. Web is a different animal. Just because members and users like something in print doesn’t mean they’ll like/find/use it online and vice versa.
5. Implement content management and governance.
Your content strategy is a living document that must be managed and governed. Maybe your organization’s strategic plan lives in a big binder on the shelf, but your content strategy can’t and won’t.
All content needs to be tied to an objective. Content must solve a user’s need, answer a question, satisfy curiosity, or lead them in the right direction.
Be honest about the value of your content – not everything belongs on your website. If the data doesn’t show people using it, then they aren’t finding value in it, and it’s a waste of your resources.
You can’t please everyone, so please the most important people: your target audiences. Staff (and their egos) aren’t the top priority.
Content must be findable and consumable. Give people the search and navigation tools they need to find content on your website. If your members are using mobile devices, your content needs to be mobile-friendly – just having a responsive website design may not be enough. You do have a mobile strategy, right?
Develop simple workflows for each content type. Don’t stall the content process with workflow issues. One person – the one with authority and accountability – drives the content process. Everyone else understands their respective roles and responsibilities. Trust your team and don’t micromanage.
Most people have not been taught to write for the web. Provide professional development for everyone in the content creation and management pathway. We can give you some recommendations.
Pay attention to your organization’s real-world and cultural constraints, or your content strategy and governance will fail.
6. Commit to analyze, refine, and tweak your strategy.
Nothing stays constant. Your audience’s needs and interests will change. Your capabilities will change. You must constantly listen, learn, respond and anticipate so you are one step ahead of your audience.