Content Planning for and Launching a Responsive Site: An Editor’s Perspective

By Jennifer Ford

Launching a new website presents a host of concerns. First, what kind of site does your audience need? Is it a store? Is it a blog with regularly published news? The most important consideration is your intended audience and researching what they need and trying to create it.

As a web editor for a healthcare publisher, I was tasked with launching a new web-based clinical journal for healthcare providers. Because I have done my research I know that my intended audience is using tablets and mobile devices as much if not more than a desktop, and more than the general public. So, I knew from the start I wanted this new site to be responsive. One consideration you need to make when planning for a responsive site is keeping the site design simple because website elements shift and reform as the size of the screen decreases. You don’t want a lot of drop-down menus and you don’t want users to have to click more than a couple of times to get to where they want to go. Another thing to remember is that as the display of your site shrinks to fit the size of the screen that displays it, certain items may “disappear,” like images or ads.

Starting from scratch, I wrote a business plan for my publisher that detailed my reasoning and a structure for the new responsive site. Here I’ll share some of the resources I used to create the plan.

First, I went to fellow Web Editors contributor Gazalla Gaya’s site, “Web Content Blog.” In one very helpful post, Gazalla details some tips for planning a site launch using a content map. The resource she suggested for creating a content map is the slideshare presentation on web content strategy by  from Content Marketing Institute. To build a content map, identify the goals of the owner of the site and the goals of the readers, and prioritize your content based on this. My plan described my mission statement, my audience, the goals of my readers, the goals of our business. It was helpful to see the way reader and publisher goals overlapped or didn’t when I built the content goal map.

Website wireframe built with Google Drawings.

Website wireframe built with Google Drawings.

Then I used the content map to create a wireframe of the site that showed the menus and essential areas of the site. I presented it to our artists and e-media team and they were able to translate it into a responsive site design. It took a lot of guesswork out of what should go where on the site and helped make my reasoning clear to everyone involved. I also was able to plan for a lightweight site design with a limited number of menu items and site areas that would easily resize to various screen sizes and form factors. The web and design team created mockups of several different screen size displays and we made tweaks based on them. We launched the site in September and have already had great feedback from readers.

If you take just one thing away from this, it should be this: When planning a site launch, do research about your audience and be deliberate in creating a site plan that is tailored to their needs. And giving readers compelling content will give you the added bonus of appealing to the Google Hummingbird algorithm, which, to steal a page from a Website Magazine webinar on SEO, values content that “delights humans.”

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Time to Revisit Your Content Strategy?

by Alan Eggleston

Happy New Year! The change in calendar year is often the trigger to revisit your content calendar and your whole content strategy. If January or February is a down time in your organization, this is a perfect time to do one.

Does your current content work?

Photo by Victor1558 by Creative Commons license.

Photo by Victor1558 with Creative Commons license.

Many web editors often do a sweep of their content at this time and decide any big changes. This may happen at other times of the year or more often than once a year, such as at change in fiscal calendar or concurrent with annual share holder meetings, but often New Years is a convenient trigger. Maybe now is when you decide when that time should be and plan for it.

A more useful strategy is to revisit your analytics at least quarterly and adjust your content strategy based on site performance. Online publishing is amazing for its quick turnaround –  make that work for you.

What does your data tell you?

A deciding factor for changes in content direction is website performance. Take a look at analytics and decide what your stats are telling you – is your current content working and thus worth continuing, or do the numbers tell you that readers want something different? Are visits down or perhaps never really up in the first place? Do visitors stick around or do they come in and get out quickly? Do they visit a lot of pages per visit or do they hit where they enter and leave? Do they arrive at the home page or come in to the site in-depth? Where do searches bring visitors and what do they do when they arrive? Are purchases up? Have you experienced growth in any of those numbers? Analytics can provide you with a ton of great strategic information.

What is your search performance?

Another decision, and one where many web editors historically have been weak, is about search performance. How does your site do in a search? How many of your visits are from searches and how many from people who simply know how to find you? What search terms are they using, and are they the search terms you were expecting (and upon which you base your optimization strategy)? Which search engines are driving the most traffic to you? How many come to you by outside links or by social media and what does that say about your link and social media strategies? What is your search strategy and is it working (do a search audit to find out), or should you rethink that as well? If you don’t have a search strategy – a strategy to improve how your site is found in a search – now is the time to start working on one.

Search performance is often tied to search engine policy. Have you read and followed search engine guidelines or are you unwittingly running afoul of their rules and being punished for it?

What are the search engines telling you?

If there’s any possibility your site isn’t performing well in a search – and, thus, not driving traffic to you – it is worth your time and energy to register for and use search engine webmaster tools. First determine which search engines are driving the most traffic to your site. It may not be Google like you think. However, Google in particular will provide you a lot of feedback if your site is doing something wrong – if they can’t index your pages, for instance; if you have troublesome links; if you aren’t measuring up to their standards. And Google will often suggest changes to help you meet their needs and allow you to resubmit your site for indexing (a “reconsideration request“). If they’re penalizing you, finding out why and doing something about it is a great benefit. Explore the other search engine webmaster tool sites to see what they can tell you and help you fix if they are key to your search strategy.

Google introduced major changes to its algorithm the past couple of years that may have affected your search performance. Are you aware of them and how running afoul of them could affect your site performance?

  • Google Panda* – filtered for poor quality content such as unreasonable duplicate content.
  • Google Hummingbird – entirely rethinks search to add nuance, handle questions, and adjust for mobile search.

*Panda and Penguin were folded into Hummingbird.

Panda could affect your search performance if you run a lot of duplicate content or if your content is of little value in Google’s eyes. Google is OK with duplicate content for globalized sites where different versions of a site contain regionalized versions of the same content. But to aid sites, they introduced the “canonical tag” for URLs to distinguish original content.

Penguin could affect your search performance if your content contains low quality links, including link farms or doorway pages and spammy content and links in your comments sections, such as in blogs or news sections.

If any of these algorithms may have dampened your search performance, now is a good time to rethink how to revise your content to remove the penalties. For instance:

  • More actively administer blog comments to eliminate comment spam, which is rampant.
  • Recode content to add the canonical tag for original content.
  • Make sure writers create only original content and that editors filter for duplicate content (run a search on segments of content to look for duplicates).
  • Eliminate gratuitous link trading and external links that don’t make sense for your content.
  • Revise major current content to build more nuance to improve search performance.
  • Strategize how to build nuance into your new pages to improve search performance.
  • Ensure your site is designed to handle mobile, which Google has also said is now important.

Growth is about improving the search

Today, content is about more than providing interesting text on a page for readers. It’s also about how you attract readers to your page and sustain readership. It’s as much about how you build the page and work with search engines as it is about publishing itself. As you rethink your content calendar – now, at New Years, or at any other time of the year – think about how you bring the reader to you.

Content Strategy for Higher Ed: Tips from Confab

by Rebecca Del Giudice

On November 11-12, 2013, Confab: Higher Ed took place in Atlanta. This was the first time that Confab, a content strategy conference founded by well-known content strategy expert Kristina Halvorson, held a session focused on a particular industry.

While I did not attend Confab, I did sit in on a great recap session put together by the folks at Meet Content, a web firm that specializes in content strategy for higher education. At the recap session, some of the people who had presented at the conference shared summaries of their own talks and what they had heard from others. There were also several people who had attended the conference and gave their views on the most important takeaways.

As someone who provides content strategy and editorial support to higher education clients (among others), I found the session very helpful. Here are five themes that emerged:

Empathy: One of the big themes of the conference, and one that every editor can relate to, was empathy. As Lisa Maria Martin, User Experience & Information Architecture Specialist at The George Washington University, said in her talk, “People make content. And people have feelings.”

The theme of empathy resonated with many of the recappers. Empathy means understanding your audience’s needs, and it also means finding ways to work with your content owners (in the case of higher ed, this could be everyone from the dean’s office and alumni relations to faculty and students, etc.) Sometimes in our day-to-day struggles with making and maintaining great web experiences, we forget to look at our work from others’ point of view. That could mean remembering to value your business partners (who may not understand what you do, but who contribute institutional and academic knowledge). Or it might mean taking a step back and thinking about how your latest web page or social media post looks to students, and whether or not it is meeting their needs. Staying in our silos with our blinders on does not allow us to grow and to help our audience get the information they need in the best possible ways.

The mobile mandate: Many of the recappers, especially Jenny MacIntosh of Boston University,  talked about the impact of Karen McGrane’s talk. McGrane, the author of an influential book on mobile content strategy, mentioned some striking statistics from the Pew Internet survey:

  • 35% of Americans still have no internet access at home
  • 20% of Americans have no internet access at all
  • 91% of Americans have a cellphone, and
  • 63% of Americans are using a smartphone

What does this mean for editors? It means we must champion mobile. The fact that a significant percentage of Americans, including prospective students, can only access our content via their phones, provides a renewed sense of urgency to ensure that our websites are easy to view and engage with on mobile.

Reuse and transmedia storytelling: The concept of COPE (create once, publish everywhere) resonated with Confab attendees. It is more important than ever in this era of shrinking budgets and understaffed departments to leverage content in as many ways as possible. But with this idea comes the equally critical idea that you should be prepared to meet your audience where they are. This means determining what stories you want to tell and making sure those stories can be told across multiple channels, not just where your university is comfortable or has an existing presence. One example came from Ma’ayan Plaut from Oberlin College. In her Confab talk, she mentioned that in one case she had posted an event to Buzzfeed instead of to Oberlin’s social media accounts, because she knew that was where her target audience was. 

The idea of transmedia storytelling takes COPE a step farther. It asks you to leverage the same story on different platforms, but also to take into account that you may tell different parts of the same story and the platform determines what you highlight. For example, you might have created a series of alumni profiles that includes interactive video, still photos, and text with pull quotes. You may decide to pin the pull quotes on Pinterest, post the still photos to Instagram, and highlight the interactive videos on Vine, and you might put all of the content on your website. For each channel, take into account how your audience engages with you and what parts of the story will resonate the most.

Speak in a language your audience understands. This one is near and dear to most editors, and in higher ed it’s no different. We struggle with overly wordy, non-web friendly text that our colleagues want to post on the website. Remember the empathy theme and look for ways to help your colleagues understand why it’s important to use clear, easy-to-understand language and avoid jargon. Jargon will turn off prospective students, alumni, and others who visit your site. Jargon is another example of lack of empathy, because it is as if you don’t care that your audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying. One recapper recalled a great suggestion: look through your analytics and search logs to see what terms site visitors are using. Do those terms match up with the vocabulary you’re using on your website?

Make students the hero of your content. As an editor in higher ed, you should ensure that the content you review puts the spotlight on students, not the college, whenever possible. There is a natural tendency to make the university the hero in an effort to promote your school to outsiders. But showcasing your amazing students is the right way not only to support their achievements, but also to show how much students can thrive at your institution.

For more on the Confab Higher Ed event, check out Meet Content’s recaps and the Confab site.

Disaster Planning for Editors Part II

In last month’s post, I reviewed some of the ways editors can prepare for natural (or national) disasters. This month, let’s take a look at disasters of a very different kind.

Public relations disasters
Public relations disasters are, of course, on a far smaller scale than acts of war or mother nature. PR disasters don’t cause loss of life, but they do cause loss of business, reputation, and possibly revenue. A PR disaster might be a precipitous drop in your company’s stock price, the resignation of a CEO, or a scathing customer review that goes viral. Here are some ways you can prepare ahead of time so when disaster strikes, you’ll be able to react quickly:

  • Think through scenarios. List some scenarios that are likely to happen to your company. Some examples might be: Your company stock sinks; your CEO, owner, or president resigns; stockholders complain about a company policy; a customer’s complaint goes viral on social media; one of your products is recalled; trolls hijack one of your social media campaigns and bombard the Internet with negative messages about you, etc. There will likely be some scenarios that are very specific to your company’s line of work that you will want to consider as well. What would you need to know in each scenario? How would you want or need to change your communication processes?
  • Identify legal and compliance approvers. Communications in response to PR disasters usually require additional approvals beyond that of your regular communications. Who needs to approve stock- or executive team-related special messages, for example? You might need special compliance approval for any stock-related statements, or you might need sign-off from members of your company’s board of directors if you are dealing with a CEO resignation or other high-profile change in management.  Know who the approvers are before you need them to approve anything.
  • Meet with your PR and legal colleagues now. Talk about the approaches to communication they would take in situations such as a steep drop in your stock price or an irate customer whose complaints have been picked up by the media. Ask them what you cannot say in these situations and what types of language you must avoid. Ask them what you can do (if anything) to try to help assuage the situation.
  • Determine the lines of communication. If a negative review comes through your social media accounts, who is responsible for sounding the alarm, and who needs to be informed?  If the board is about to fire the president or hire a new one, who will give your team a heads up so you can update communications as necessary? Make sure you have established relationships with the people who need to keep you informed and vice versa.
  • Start drafting communications in advance. If you take the initiative to draft some templated language now, you’ll have more luck influencing the messaging than you would during a crisis when everyone goes into paranoid mode. Offer to create drafts that could be tweaked to accommodate different events or situations. The drafts should have some of the basic elements you recommend, such as brevity, calls to action, links to more information, and limited legalese.
  • Keep an up-to-date content audit file. Every web team should perform a content audit on a regular basis. This audit should result in the creation of a master file that lists all of your content (websites, social media profiles, etc.). The file should include page URLs, titles, keywords, publication dates and author names, and any other data your team needs. If your content audit file is current, you can quickly figure out what needs to be updated following an emergency. For example, if your CEO resigns, you should be able to open your audit document and search on keywords like CEO. You will quickly see pages and sites (executive team bios, quarterly messages, CEO social media accounts, etc.) that mention your CEO’s name so you’ll immediately know how much content needs to be updated.
  • Figure out how you will leverage social media. If your company is on social media, how will you address a customer complaint or negative company publicity? Sometimes taking too long to respond to a situation via social media can make things worse for your company, so make sure your social media team has clear guidelines on when to engage or not engage with an angry customer or customer reactions to negative company news.
  • Document the plan and train your team. Once you have put together some basic guidelines with your legal and PR colleagues, include this information in your new hire training, content manuals, style guides, etc. — wherever you have documented processes for your communications.

Go through your PR disaster plan a couple of times a year with your team so everyone will have a refresher and know what their responsibilities are if something happens. Hopefully you’ll never need to implement your plan, but you’ll be glad to have it ready if disaster strikes.

Disaster Planning for Editors, Part I

When you think about disasters, you probably think of hurricanes, earthquakes, or acts of terrorism. You probably don’t think of editing! But those of us who edit websites, applications, and social media should have a strategy for when disaster strikes.

If you live in an area that’s prone to weather events or earthquakes, you probably already know what you’re supposed to do to protect yourself. You should have a first aid kit and potable water, food for your family and pets, etc. If disaster hits when you’re at work, you likely know where you are supposed to go if your building is evacuated. But what if the disaster takes down your servers or makes your website incredibly slow? Your IT department probably has a plan for data recovery and server backup, but do you have a plan for communicating with your customers?

Here are some ways you can help your team prepare for a disaster well before anything happens.

  • Know what your most business-critical channels are. Which website or application needs to be restored first? What social media channel has the most followers/fans so you can prioritize your messaging?
  • Make sure everyone has a backup, including you. If an unforeseen event impacts your team’s availability, you should have a designated team ready and waiting to step in.
  • Distribute an emergency contact list. Each staff member should have an emergency contact list (include cell or home phone numbers and home email addresses).
  • Secure remote access for critical team members. Make sure your fellow web editors, content managers, and developers have remote access to your content management system so they can update the website from home (or a designated work space, if your company has a back-up work location) if needed. Have your team test out their remote access to make sure it works, especially if they are using home computers.
  • Build helpful error pages. This is good usability practice, but it becomes critical when your website is inaccessible. Don’t use the dreaded  “404” error page. Work with your developers to find out what the experience will look like from a user perspective when all your servers go down. Is there a way they can ensure your audience sees a custom message from your company? Create an error page that includes helpful links to other applications that might still be accessible and phone numbers for customer service. Include links to your social media sites as well, because if the disaster has only affected certain areas and is not widespread, you will likely still have access to your social media accounts and can update your customers through those channels.
  • Determine who will need to approve emergency messaging. When something unforeseen happens, your company will likely want or need to issue a statement. This could mean that people who don’t normally approve your content will now be approvers. Make sure you know who needs to sign off on any emergency statements instead of trying to figure it out in the midst of chaos. (Find out who the back-up approvers are as well, in case the designated approvers are not available.)
  • Be supportive and helpful. If there is a national disaster that does not impact you directly but your company wants to comment on it, make sure your messaging is nothing but helpful and empathetic. Some companies have made the mistake of using a tragic event to promote their product (for example, American Apparel encouraged customers “stuck inside” during Hurricane Sandy to use the time to shop their website; Epicurious suggested that customers try their cranberry scone recipe in response to the Boston Marathon bombing). It’s far better to say nothing than to offend people or take advantage of a tragic situation.
  • Know which reputable charities your company supports. If customers might look to you for suggestions on what they can do to help, make sure you give them accurate information. Know your company’s stance on charities before a tragedy happens and do your research so you don’t direct your customers to an organization you don’t know anything about.
  • Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What questions would your customer have for your company in the event of a disaster? If your company provides an essential product or service, what expectations might customers have about your availability during or immediately after a disaster? Any messaging you craft should address these expectations.
  • Review your content with the disaster in mind. Rethink your existing and planned content in light of the event that has occurred. Is there anything on your website now that you should remove or edit to reflect what has happened (either from a factual or empathetic standpoint)? Or is there content you have scheduled that you need to postpone or scrap altogether?  For example, say you were planning a series of travel articles about the Gulf Coast, but the Gulf was just struck by a deadly hurricane. You will likely want to postpone that series until the coast has recovered from the damage. (Don’t forget pre-scheduled email newsletters, partner content that you might not directly control, and quarterly or monthly communications will need to be reviewed too.)

In my August post, I’ll review how editors can help plan for a very different kind of event: the public relations disaster.

“Content Strategy for the Web” – Key Points

by Alison Lueders, Great Green Editing

My summer reading tends toward mysteries – Dan Brown’s “Inferno” – that sort of thing, But this month I read Kristina Halvorson’s “Content Strategy for the Web.” Ideally web editing occurs within the context of a content strategy. Here are some key points to ponder while you sip that cool lemonade or iced tea.

Some definitions

We don’t create content for its own sake. It usually exists to meet some organizational objective.

According to Halvorson, “Content is what the user came to read, learn, see or experience.” And content strategy does several things:

  • “defines how you are going to use content to meet business objectives
  • guides decisions about content throughout its lifecycle
  • sets benchmarks against which to measure the success of your content”

Content strategy crosses disciplines, including:

  • messaging and branding
  • web writing
  • information architecture
  • SEO
  • metadata strategy
  • content management strategy

Sound complicated? It is, but Halvorson exhorts us to “call it what you want – just get it done.”

Web writing – “a whole lot more than smart copywriting”

Halvorson describes web writing as “the practice of writing useful, usable content specifically intended for delivery online. This is a whole lot more than smart copywriting. An effective web writer must:

  • understand the basics of usability design
  • be able to translate information architecture documents
  • write effective metadata
  • manage an ever-changing content inventory”

I hadn’t seen this distinction expressed quite like this, but I found it helpful.

Developing a content strategy

The book describes the steps involved in developing a content strategy. While these can flex significantly in practice, the basics include:

  • stakeholder alignment – getting key people to support your content efforts
  • audit – identifying what content you currently have
  • analysis – understanding the world in which your content lives
  • core strategy – setting the long-term direction for all your content initiatives
  • content – defining the substance, structure, workflow and governance of your content

People

It’s telling that the last 4 chapters of the books discuss “people issues” – from content job descriptions to governance approaches to ways to pitch content efforts to upper management.

In my experience, it’s not developing the content or implementing the technology that’s the biggest challenge. It’s managing the people issues.

Adaptive content – what does it mean for web editing?

In discussing the future of content, the book makes the point that “we need to start thinking about content as something that lives beyond a particular publishing platform.” So true. As web editors, is our work really confined to one platform? Or is our focus increasingly on content, regardless of form?

Bottom line: The book sums up the importance of content this way: “Better content means better business.” I really believe that. The book does a great job of explaining why this “no-brainer” idea is both important to understand – and really hard to do right.

What books about web writing and related topics do you read? Share your favorites here!

Do It Well: Addressing the Mobile Market

By Cathy Hodson

In a recent webinar on Responsive, Adaptive and Progressive website design that I sat in on, Bill Cava, the “chief evangelist” of Ektron, said that the proliferation of mobile devices is disrupting many businesses. He gave the examples of the newspaper business, which has traditionally been a print business but is and has been transitioning toward delivery of online and mobile content; and cameras – why would anyone want a standalone camera any more when you can snap an arguably good photo with your phone? Professional photographers might disagree with that, but Cava went on to say that it is predicted that there will be one BILLION smartphones in the world by 2016. If our heads haven’t already exploded from information overload, that is.

The mobile invasion
If you haven’t begun looking at how to address the mobile device market with your website and communication plans, you need to. According to a recent Pew Research study on smartphones, 56 percent of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, with Android and iPhone owners accounting for half of the cell phone user population. In another recent Pew study on tablet usage, the researchers found that tablet adoption has almost doubled over the past year. “For the first time, a third (34 percent) of American adults now own a tablet computer, including almost half (49 percent) of those in their later thirties and early forties and a majority (56 percent) of those in higher income households.”

There are still hold outs. Maybe you know some of them. According to Pew, one third (35 percent) have some other kind of cell phone that is not a smartphone, and the remaining nine percent of Americans do not own a cell phone at all. So some people do still have a life.

Pew goes on to say that “ownership is particularly high among younger adults, especially those in their twenties and thirties (although a majority of Americans in their mid-forties through mid-fifties are now smartphone adopters).” Eighteen percent of Americans age 65 and older now own a smartphone, compared with 13 percent in February 2012.

Tablets Skew A Little Older
Tablets, on the other hand, also according to Pew Internet Research, skew a little older than the smartphone market. “Unlike smartphones, which are most popular with younger adults ages 18-34, we see the highest rates of tablet ownership among adults in their late thirties and early forties. In fact, almost half (49 percent) of adults ages 35-44 now own a tablet computer, significantly more than any other age group. Adults ages 65 and older, on the other hand, are less likely to own a tablet (18 percent) than younger age groups.”

How much mobiletraffic?
For my company, a nursing association, mobile traffic now accounts for 20 percent of the traffic that comes to our website. We implemented responsive design across our website in May, and we are looking forward to seeing how this helps our traffic numbers, particularly during our Annual Meeting in August.

Mobile design is a challenge for everyone involved in delivering content. Responsive design is one solution – one website catering to many devices. There are other solutions out there, and it is up to each company to decide what is best for their needs. If your company has not begun to consider addressing the mobile market, I suggest you get moving. The Information Superhighway continues to move at the speed of light. Don’t get left behind.