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.

Process is not a dirty word

By Rebecca Del Giudice

Several years ago, I was doing contract editing work for a client and we were talking about an overhaul for his content-heavy website.

“Is your content calendar up-to-date?” I asked. I remember the look on my client’s face: suddenly he was like a child who did not want to eat the spinach on his plate.

“I don’t like to waste the team’s time with a lot of process,” he said.

Ever since that exchange, I’ve taken note of the tendency of some teams — across industries — to have a negative view of, and therefore a strong aversion to, any kind of process. Many people have had negative experiences with consultants coming into their companies and imposing bureaucratic, unrealistic processes on their work. Or they’ve worked with archaic project management or software development teams that seem to use processes as roadblocks.

But as most editors would attest that process — whether they’re talking about editorial, QA, or development — can provide a framework that tends to reduce firedrills and make a team more efficient.

But how do you convince a team of that?

Here are five ways to approach process creation with your team:

1. Meet the team where it is.
If your team has utilized process successfully in other places, e.g., they are deploying scrum methodology with great results, or their sales team is a well-oiled machine, use these as models. Find out from people in those departments what has worked and what hasn’t, and how they got to where they are now.

If your team, on the other hand, doesn’t even like to answer emails or document anything, understand that you need to start slow. Don’t overwhelm them with an outline of a lengthy, complicated start-to-end process. Start with one step — e.g., having a brainstorming meeting to lay out some ideas that could form an editorial calendar, or institute the practice of having someone own the final proofreading of every marketing piece that goes out the door.

2. Don’t use the word ‘process.’
Nobody wants a bureaucracy — including you. Don’t get hung up on terms and technicalities. Instead of focusing on the how, emphasize the why — the ways in which this new method of executing work will benefit everyone. For example, say you are establishing a faster, clearer process regarding the ownership of and response to feedback forms on your website. Emphasize how your customers will benefit, and by extension your company. Or if you plan on doing an annual content review of your web properties, don’t dwell too much on the effort involved; emphasize the fact that updating and correcting old posts will help improve search results and how your brand is perceived.

3. Make it a team effort.
Make it clear not only that you are willing to shoulder your fair share of the work, but that your suggestions are not perfect. Even if you are in a position to call the shots on every strategy, engage the team and encourage everyone to share their ideas. Give people ownership, and they will often exceed your expectations.

4. Look for tiny improvements.
So your coworkers just spent one week brainstorming and building a social media calendar. Don’t wait until the end of the year to see if the calendar helped the group’s bottom line and output. When the first article is posted, talk about how well it was received. Noticing small steps along the way helps reinforce the value of the process you’ve put in place.

5. Be humble, and admit when things aren’t working.
When I was working in a large corporation, I often saw executives who would swoop in, change everything that the person before them had worked to put in place, and then look away when the changes wiped out processes that were working. Leave your ego out of it. If a new process isn’t effective, regroup with the team and talk about how you’re going to address it. Maybe your new system just needs a few tweaks, or maybe people need more training. Or maybe it just wasn’t the right idea for your organization.

Be open to change — you, your colleagues, your customers, and your company will all benefit.