Awesome website! What's it going to say?

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If you’re working with us to rebuild your organization’s website, there has probably been a lot of hard work (and a lot of meetings) to get the job done. And the great news is, the new site should let you reach a lot more people.

But here’s the bad news: now you have to write your content.

Spreadsheets Fix Everything

We've seen this difficult task undertaken by lots of clients, and we saw patterns stand out after awhile. Clients who:

  • established the scope of the work early
  • delegated the work effectively
  • kept everyone organized

...got it done without too much pain. Clients who didn’t follow these three rules either tore their hair out trying to meet deadlines, or (more commonly) ended up pushing out their new site’s launch date.

Inspired by those success stories, and by Jake DiMare’s excellent talk on content strategy at Drupalcon Portland a couple of years ago, we built out a section of our process to include Content Plans. These are nothing fancy—just good old Excel spreadsheets and Word documents—but when you build them correctly, and get folks at your organization to follow them, you hit your launch date. And keep your hair!

Anatomy of a Content Plan

I’ve built out a content plan for a fake client (a university’s biology department) so that I can walk you through the structure. Here it is: Digital Loom Example Content Plan.zip. Please feel free to use and adapt this for your own projects.

We’ll start with the master spreadsheet (Digital Loom Example Content Plan.xls) that tracks every piece of content your team will have to write. The first sheet deals with the pages featured in the site’s top navigation. For each page, we’ve got a number, a title, author, the date it’s due, and its present status. The numbers we assign to pages let us have a shorthand (“hey, you’re late on 7 and 12!”) as well as indicating a page’s place in the menu hierarchy. Child pages get decimals: for example, the “About Us” page is number 2; its children are 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4; and the children of 2.2 are 2.2.1, 2.2.2, 2.2.3 and so on.

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This is kind of an amazing bio department. They reanimated Pasteur!

Note that there are some kinds of content too numerous to fit in here: Faculty, Staff, Courses, and News. To keep the sheet easy to read, each of those gets their own sheet in the Excel doc—but they all work just the same as this sheet does, tracking the same info for each piece of content.

As for the Word documents, these are templates for authors to fill out, one for each piece of content. There’s one for each type of content (Page, Faculty, Staff, Courses and News), because each type of content has its own special fields. For example, only Faculty have a “Courses taught” field, and only News has a “Date published."

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Be Flexible, Yet Firm

Even clients with really large amounts of content—for example, the Harvard Office for Sustainability—have found this approach helpful and time-saving. Of course, every project will be a little different. Do you have a lot of content editors? Google Sheets may be a better medium than Excel for the master spreadsheet, so that people can edit simultaneously. Do your writers find those Word documents annoying to fill out? Try giving them just a list of fields that each content type requires, and let them write up the content in whatever way is most efficient/comfortable.

The important thing is that you get your content plan organized early, get all your writers on board, and stick to it! As always, give us a shout if you want some help with that.

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