Content first in web-site development?

Baffled by the fact that we ended up there again – a “great” web site, which despite all clever people involved doesn’t really meet neither the content owners’ expectations nor those of the web development team, I started thinking: What if one turned the entire web site development process upside-down? What if we would start with the content?

Over the last few years I’ve been involved in more web-site development projects than I can remember – campaign sites, event sites, project sites, and completely new company web sites. I’ve found that one of the most critical and yet most difficult parts of a web project, is to bridge the perspective of the content owners, e.g. product managers, and the web developers. These two perspectives tend to differ quite substantially, even though both groups usually share the same desire to build a perfect web site. So could there be a better way?

It struck me that a critical issue seems to be the content? The content production, to be precise. Too many times, I’ve heard content owners express their preference for a different channel that the new web site as the site doesn’t support the format of their content, or stipulates the max number of pieces, or demands a shorter headline, or… Too many times, I’ve heard web developers complain that they don’t get the input they need from the content owners in time, so they start developing based on general knowledge rather than on company-specific needs.

Because also when running a truly agile process, which partly is designed to overcome the problem I’m talking about, the project goal (i.e. not the overall marketing goal) tends to be formulated along the lines of “deliver a modern, technically smart web site which is flexible enough to cater for any type of content”. Consequently, a project manager with web development expertise will be assigned and the project plan will be defined based on the needs of the site developers. Content will be considered, no doubt, but in my experience, the questions asked to the content owners tend rather to focus on the target group, the user journey, and the overall objectives, than on the content itself.

Speaking in metaphors, the song will be written by great musicians, but the person responsible for writing the lyrics is only asked for input regarding the fans and the venue. With this set-up, there is an obvious risk that the lyrics won’t match neither the beat nor the harmony of the tune.

How about starting with content instead?
Assuming that the overall purpose of the site is to build brand and lead customers ‘from awareness to sales’, my new idea is to start from the publishing perspective. The process I have in mind would kick off with a discussion among content owners about very practical things:

web_start with content questions

Content owners usually have a pretty good feel for their target group, simply because sales arguments and striking marketing material is their daily concern.
I honestly don’t think it’s very productive to ask these people to train web developers on the target groups’ needs overall, so maybe a better way would be to ask the content owners specifically about the formats they will deliver and on where each piece would fit in the customer’s purchase journey?

Based on this, the web experts would have a good opportunity to bring their perspective and experience to the table and discuss web user behaviour, functionality available, etc., thereby triggering the content owners to start thinking about web-suitable production and content flow already long before the web site is designed!

I believe this type of a fact-oriented, practical, discussion could solve some of the problems that seem to follow suit in basically every web project, mainly due to differing perspectives between the two groups who actually produce the site, i.e. the functionality and the content developers. Just because content can be changed, doesn’t mean its production should be scheduled late in a web project. What if, in the era of content marketing, this would rather be the starting point?

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Have you already tried this? Please don’t hesitate to share your experience below –  I’d be eager to hear.
(And if you’d be interested in trying, give me a call!)

Blog first published on LinkedIn December 10, 2015

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