The Surprise Bomb In Your Website Redesign

Dana  Larson

October 28, 2013

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Many companies head into a website redesign with the belief that technology issues will pose the biggest potential threat to their project's success. This may indeed be true in the case of very complex technology integrations. But more often, the factor that's most likely to send your web project sideways is content. Surprised? If so, that just may be why it's the factor to which you need to pay most attention.

The role that content plays in a website design is often underestimated and undervalued, which can lead to budget overruns, blown schedules and sites that underperform. Here, we'll walk you through the four key Web content pain points and how to avoid them.

Pain Point #1: Clueless About Current Content Effectiveness

Quick, what percentage of your webpages do you think gets less than five page views in a month? The number is probably much higher than you think. In a quick study of a handful of our clients, including a Fortune 500 healthcare technology provider, we found that, on average, 87% of the total website pages receive five page views or less in a month. It might be easy to assume that those pages represent a tremendous amount of content that's just not pulling its weight, and for the most part it would be a safe assumption. But if one of those five page views on a page led to sales, then that Web page is not useless crap, it's just not your lead dog. Understanding what content is working and what is not is essential to any website project. But the more important question is why is it not working?

If the content is just not being found, that could be because the page is not optimized for search engines or the information architecture doesn't make it easy for the user to connect to that particular content. If the content isn't desired, that's another thing altogether. Whatever the reason, it's something that needs to be addressed. At Extractable, we kick off our content strategy by performing a content audit and gap analysis where we examine:

  • The effectiveness of content
  • The depth and breadth of content available to various user types
  • The appropriateness of content type (text, images, charts, slideshows, tutorials, etc.)
  • The consistency of tone and voice
  • The relevancy to the site visitor (based on persona needs)
  • How well the site-and individual pages-are optimized for search performance
  • How well the site-and individual pages-nurtures leads and assists in the conversion process
  • How well the content aligns with stated site goals
  • The findability and accessibility of content

We also take a close look at site/page analytics and user flow analyses to uncover insights about how users are interacting with content.

And we test content messaging to see what resonates with users. It's through this mining of information that we're able to uncover valuable insights that can be used to shape the content strategy and the information architecture in very useful ways.

We may find that there's a large bit of content that is decaying and no longer needs to be supported so it can be archived. Or maybe we find that there's a requirement for a very specific type of content to address the needs of a certain user type. Knowing that early in the project means there is time for it to be developed without scrambling to find resources or budget.

Pain Point #2: Lack of Content Alignment

When it comes to content, everyone has an opinion. The trouble comes when those opinions don't align. This can happen for several reasons. Maybe the business goals were not clearly defined or even agreed upon by the stakeholders at the start of the project. Maybe there wasn't clear brand or positioning messaging from which to build content. Or maybe there are just differing opinions—content is subjective after all. The good news is that all of these can be avoided with some simple planning.

At Extractable, we conduct extensive stakeholder interviews in the first phase of the project as a way to define business goals and uncover and address any misalignment early in the process. We then undergo thorough user testing that enables us to map the business goals to the user needs and create a cohesive content strategy. Finally, we develop a creative brief and messaging matrix—which sets the tone and tenor for the content—that is agreed upon by the stakeholders before any creative is commenced. The ability to get early buy-in from key stakeholders on the business goals and creative approach combined with data from user research greatly reduces the likelihood that your project will be plagued by content misalignment issues.

Pain Point #3: Insufficient Resources for Content Development

It's not unusual for clients to think that content development will be the easy part of their website redesign. Either they imagine they will have someone from Marcom write it or get a $50/hour contractor—and "and just bang out the pages." The reality is that writing for the Web is much different than for any other medium. And it's changing all the time.

A year ago, one could estimate content development for the Web fairly easily as a page was much more straightforward. Today, a page can be more like a complete, self-contained site experience all on its own. A single page may have 1,000 words of copy, multiple videos, interactive models and charts, rotating captions, animated illustrations and more. Each of these elements must take into consideration readability and scannability, the mindset of the user—(Where is he in the purchase process? What is his relative knowledge on this subject? What other products/services might he be interested in?)—search optimization factors, and more. Then you've got to decide what related content- such as related products, brochures, white papers, videos, case studies, etc.—will be displayed in promotional areas on the page. This takes a general understanding of the entire product and service offering as well as the content inventory. Add to that the need to develop traffic-grabbing metadata and content development for the Web can be a very intensive endeavor. And because the websites that perform the best (both with humans and search engines) offer the richest experiences—video, images, illustrations, charts, etc.—you'll also need to factor in extra time to create that content, too. Whew! That's a lot more work than writing a few paragraphs of copy for each page.

If your website features a product or service that is especially technical or otherwise unique and subject matter experts are needed to help develop the content, you'll want to factor in the SME's time early in the process. We also like to hold a kickoff meeting with SMEs to walk them through the website functionality and get them excited about what we're creating. We find that this level of inclusion leads to increased collaboration and engagement on the part of the SMEs. You can use the same technique with Legal teams. You might just find that you get through Legal review faster!

In short, don't fall into the trap of thinking that content development will be easy. Use experienced professional Web content developers and plan for it to take a significant amount of time. Do the math. If you think you can edit or create four pages per day and you have 100 web pages, that's a five weeks of content development work.

Pain Point #4: Effort Associated with Content Migration is Undervalued

Just because you're not rewriting or reworking content doesn't mean that a content effort can be overlooked. Content migration can still be a significant effort, especially for websites with thousands of pages.

At Extractable we try to use automated methods whenever possible, but there are times when content needs to be migrated by hand. How long it takes to migrate content by hand depends on a number of factors, including:

  • The difficulty of building pages in the CMS
  • The complexity of the pages that are being migrated
  • The experience level of the person performing the migration

When working with a CMS that we know well, it's easier for us to provide guidance around how long it will take for content entry. However, there are over 600 content management systems out there, and that's not including the homegrown versions. So if we were asked to make an estimate for content migration on a new CMS with an inexperienced person performing the migration, we'd probably need to allow for additional hours to complete the migration. Understanding that content migration is as dynamic as the website project on which it's being performed is an important step to ensuring that you properly resource this step.

All Hail the Content

At the end of the day, content is the reason users are coming to your website to begin with. It's not the court jester. As has been said so many times before, content is king. So stop treating content strategy, content development and content migration as optional components of your strategy and go all in. You'll avoid the royal pain that comes with budget and timeline overruns and be on your way to launching a website that delivers a top-notch user experience. Now that's the bomb!