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You're redesigning your website. Fabulous! Who's taking care of the content?
Yes, yes, of course, you need more intuitive navigation, and your design is tired and needs a facelift, but what about your content? In too many web redesigns, planning for content comes last, when it should come first.


Users visit websites for content – to read, to learn, to assess, to compare, to buy. And they'll return, time and again, if the content is useful, relevant, interesting, entertaining, up-to-date. We all know it's true: Content drives readership on informational, promotional, and e-commerce sites.
So why is it that planning for content in a redesign happens late – or sometimes doesn't happen at all? Why is it that the bright shiny new website gets populated with dingy old worn-out content that no one's paid attention to for months, maybe years.
"After we finish the design templates, we'll populate the site with content," someone on the redesign team will say, as if fresh content just exists – somewhere – ready to go. In big, easy-to-assemble slabs. On shelves in some enormous storeroom.
"Hey Ed! Go get that content from the storeroom. We're ready to load it into the site."
What content?
It doesn't exist.
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.
Why does this happen? In the drive to redesign, too often the focus is purely visual. There are dazzling new designs, clean grids, fresh photography, appealing colors. And no content.
The redesign becomes a book without words. A business plan without a business. "There is no there there." (Gertrude Stein)
Don't get me wrong: Redesigns are essential. And when design is combined with content and functionality, everyone wins. Especially the end user. Here are some examples of strong, successful redesigns that included a good hard look at content:

Crisco. Promotions, recipes, tips, videos, and contests keep this content fresh and engaging.
Best Buy. An engaging corporate site that captures the energetic personality of the brand through lively content.
Albertsson Hansen Architecture. Magnificent images (which are themselves, the key content) combine with warm, approachable content to avoid the pomposity so common on residential architectural sites.

These sites aren't perfect. There's always room for improvement, the next redesign phase, and the continual process of content creation and maintenance. The point is this: In each of these redesigns the content was considered, planned for, analyzed, created, and managed as part of the redesign.
I'm sure you have examples, too. Please share.
Content is an asset
In their influential book Web Redesign 2.0: Workflow That Works, Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler acknowledge the all-too-common practice of leaving content to the last minute:
"Late content is consistently one of the biggest reasons for project delay..."
"The task itself and the resources needed to complete the task are severely underestimated."

Goto and Cotler's advice for dealing with late content?
"Accept it. Plan for it. Charge for it."

That last statement – "Charge for it" – is particularly telling. Goto and Cotler are writing to Web designers, so, purportedly, these Web designers will be charging their clients as they wait for this "late content." It's holding everything up. And costing more because of it. The proverbial bottleneck.
It seems as though the creation of Web content has fallen into the seam, somewhere between the Web Design Agency and the Client – and neither is responsible.
There is a different way.
Plan for content – deliberately
Instead of planning for content to be late, as Goto and Cotler warn, plan for content:

  • Get content experts on the redesign team from the beginning.

  • Analyze the content that already exists: is it current, relevant, complete?

  • Analyze competitors' content: what can you do better?

  • Interview subject matter experts.

  • Work hand-in-hand with the information architect and the design team.

  • Clarify how content will address user needs.

  • Determine what new content needs to be created: everything from key messages to product stories to detailed explanations to white papers.

  • Create interesting, relevant, appropriate content – that appeals to end users, search engines, and, of course, the client.

  • Create a plan to refresh the content going forward.


Yes, it's a big job. Maybe that's why it's easier to redesign the content you already have. Rather than rethinking it. But be careful. If you redesign your site without rethinking your content, you cannot achieve the success you seek.

Continue reading "Redesigning Your Website: Who's Taking Care of the Content?" ... Read the full article

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hi, I’m Gwyneth Dwyer. Nice to meet you.

I’m Director of Writing Services for Larsen, a design, marketing, interactive, and branding firm with offices in Minneapolis and San Francisco. I have the very fun job of leading Larsen’s award-winning writing group and overseeing millions of words written for Larsen clients. (Everything from product names, taglines, and campaign themes to Web content, marketing literature, ads, and articles.) On any given day I’m weighing in on the smallest grammatical detail — and the biggest creative concept.

I’m also the editor of inSights, Larsen’s popular e-newsletter. I’ve been published on MarketingProfs.com and in the Design Management Review.

Before joining Larsen in Minneapolis, I ran my own writing services agency in Boston, working with fantastic clients such as the Harvard Business School Publishing Division and Addison-Wesley publishing.

One of my core beliefs is that the most exciting, effective creative work results when writers and designers collaborate. At Larsen, I’m fortunate to work with talented writers who think visually — and amazing designers who understand the power of words.

I invite you to read my posts and comment! Blogging is a conversation.