Five Time-saving Tricks for Forward-thinking Content Strategists

Posted In Content Marketing, Industry News - By Ryan Stewart On Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 With 0 Comments

Modern enterprise web redesigns are kind of like the weather here in Chicago. If you don’t like how the process is working, just wait a minute. It will change!

Over the last two decades, the discipline of content strategy has borne witness to continual change around both technical and human workflow processes. If you’re a content strategist who works on giant websites for corporations and organizations, chances are your daily tasks have changed quite a bit.

One thing that has not changed, and likely never will, is the need for content to move. In multiple ways:

  • It moves, or migrates, from the old platform to the new one
  • It moves forward in evolution, becoming more streamlined, more relevant, and more engaging
  • And ideally, when it launches, it will move the end user—to shift their mindset, to learn something useful, or to drive a transaction or behavior

In designing workflow diagrams and task lists to help our teams and content stakeholders understand “how the sausage is made,” I’ve identified five new practical ways to re-think content deliverables and processes for the modern age. While these pertain mostly to enterprise websites, many can apply to digital apps and products, kiosks, and e-learning experiences as well.

1. Spend your time focusing on the future, not the current state

For years, we’ve begun each project by dedicating weeks of our time to detailed content audits and inventories, lovingly documenting in a spreadsheet everything about the current-state content. Names and URLs of every page. Number of assets and file names. Quantitative and qualitative details on the volume, recency, value and more. If you’ve ever done it, you appreciate the level of detail that goes into it, not to mention the (helluva lot of!) time. Today, we’ll do anything we can to avoid it or reduce this level of effort. Our favorite methods include:

  • Start with some (very) productive conversations. Many organizations are well aware that they have published too much content. So sell to the stakeholders the concept of “purging before the moving truck pulls up.” If you have to, use one of the more friendly euphemisms here: “Sunset.” “Retire.” “Humanely put down.” (Kidding about that last one.) Once they’ve bought into this idea, rather than document that which will be “killed,” meet with individual content owners in auditing work session breakouts and go through the site to identify sections and pages you can simply leave behind. Don’t worry about this soon-to-be-retired content falling through the cracks. In the words of a recent Disney princess, let it go.
  • Turn to technology. Use URL-scraping software such as Content Insight’s Content Analysis Tool or SEO-focused tool Screaming Frog. For a nominal license fee, an experienced content strategist can quickly procure a quantitative pull of the number of pages, files, and documents. It’s a snapshot that can be sorted and filtered to infer helpful insights, or at the very least, know what subset of the content to take a closer look at.
  • Use current content as “source only.” Take a quick look at what’s there today to get a sense for what source content lives where, building a down-and-dirty section-level qualitative analysis. Then take a leap of faith by defining that which will be much better —the future state content, and use your analysis only as direction for the writing team to pull source content.
Want to get insights from your own content? Take a look at our free bonus PDF and get the know-how you need to audit your existing content.

2. Plan your content in iterative batches

Putting together a Content Plan for a large website can be an intimidating ask, and there are many ways to tackle it. We’ve found the fastest way from Point A (old site) to Point B (new site ready to launch) is to iterate the plan as you go.

Here’s a quick step by step:

  • Start with the easy stuff. Begin with a High-Level Content Plan that floats with the section-level site map. Speed is your friend here. Just identify the large top-level buckets where the content will live. Take each of these buckets and create a hypothesis for the sub-sections that might live underneath. And at this point, identify the gaps. Depending on the purpose of the site, a “gap analysis” today may not require as much analysis as it does ideation. Look around and get creative: What ideas do you have for making the content better? What available content types are the company or organization not taking advantage of? (Vertical-oriented, mobile-optimized video, anyone?).
  • Now go for the details, bit by bit. With the high-level in hand, batch out your page-level outline in detail, conducting iterative reviews and gaining buy-in from stakeholders on the previous batch each round. In this way, your content plan can cumulatively build on itself and become more clear and detailed each step of the way. Work in lockstep with the UXA as the template structures are being defined—this lets you add detail around the structures of the page as you go.

Like an impressionist painting, the content plan may feel a bit fuzzy at first. That’s to be expected when you work this iteratively and quickly. But each step of the way, your Content Plan gains more and more clarity and fidelity. And one thing to remember: it’ll never be truly finished, nor should it be. Even at launch, the content’s job has just begun.

3. Take advantage of every migration shortcut you can

Of course, moving hundreds or thousands of pages of content from a dinosaur-like non-responsive experience to a modern platform is daunting. The notion of a months-long manual copy/paste process gives those of us who have been in the trenches for a decade or more PTSD-like flashbacks. But today’s tools offer ways to handle the build much more quickly and efficiently. Here are some tricks to try:

  • Give your copy+pasting fingers a rest. Maximize efficiency and minimize man-power by leveraging an API-driven content gathering tool like GatherContent. (Yes, I realize this may call my journalistic integrity into question, but I’m being 100% honest when I say it’s saved us weeks of time by eliminating the need to migrate modules into a platform like WordPress or Drupal!).
  • Give markdown a try. Get the content team—even the copywriters!— using markdown language to edit content directly into code without having to go through a developer or a QA ticketing system to do so. Markdown is a semantic-based language that is a step simpler than HTML and allows non-coders to easily create text mark-up. So for article-type pages that have only italics, bold, ordered / unordered lists, it allows rounds of content changes to bypass the developers, and lets the content team participate. We use tools such as SourceTree or Tower to then merge the content with the code, leveraging the same version control system developers use. Takes a day or two get used to it, but once you do, it can really streamline your migration and QA processes.
  • Use 301’s sparingly. If you’re concerned about SEO and 301 redirects going from one domain to another, we find that analytics can really be your ally. We only put 301s in place for the content and pages that matter to a substantial number of users. Often, there are many many deep, expired article pages that don’t require 301’s because so few users are visiting them in the first place. See rule #1: if the current content isn’t getting traffic, don’t worry about it falling through the cracks. Move onto the future and don’t look back!

4. Get scrappy about testing content – types, channels and topics

When you get to the point where your new content is beginning to take shape—but well before it’s finished—conduct some user testing to validate your guesses.

  • Recruit a team of real users. We use “Sponsor Users” throughout the process—the same, actual target audience members who have agreed to help shape the experience. And once you have them, why wait until actual copy and text exists? While it may feel odd, “testing” a Content Plan with a quick interview and discussion can go a long way towards improving the experience. Ask them about the top themes, topics and stories you’re recommending on your top-level pages. Have them review the site architecture and validate the volume and quality of your major buckets of content. Show them a few test headlines or home page features on paper. At that point the feedback is often head nods, but also tweaks and counterpoints, and occasional suggestions for pushing the content even further. And you get that feedback early, which let’s face it, is when you can do the most with it.
  • Use real content in the prototype. Another way to test content is by foregoing “lorem ipsum” and including as-real-as-possible copy and images in your prototype with both users and stakeholders. In this context, it’s very easy to A/B test calls-to-action, copy lengths and structures (on category pages, for example), and even headlines for voice and tone. Tools like Optimizely can help you easily set up more formal A/B tests, if time and budget allow.
  • Check your score. Finally, we always have writers test the readability of deeper page content as they write with free tools such as Based on standard formulas that measure basics such as word length, sentence length and structure and vocabulary, these tools can help you validate that copy is at the appropriate reading level for your digital audience.

No single method for testing content is perfect, but if you’re resourceful and mindful to do it, you’ll find that a little bit of testing goes a long way toward improving your overall content quality.

5. Stay on top of what’s available to you, to make your job easier

If you’ve read this far, it stands to reason you’re a person who appreciates tips and tricks. That’s what I love the most about practicing content strategy for enterprise sites in 2016. There are so many innovations designed to make our jobs easier, more efficient, and to inspire us to do it better. It used to be you had to go out of your way to find good content about making good content. Today, you can follow Quora threads, Twitter feeds and any number of blogs, newsletters and digests (including this ever valuable GatherContent blog) to gain truly valuable knowledge that you can apply directly to your job.

And you should. These days it’s clear that to be a leader in our discipline, you must actively stay on top of tools that help us shepherd enterprise content from A to B faster and more nimbly. So while I’ve put forth a few of my favorite practices and ideas for migrating giant content sets today, I realize they’ll be different tomorrow. And that’s one of things about content strategy that moves me.

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