Published on: April 21, 2016
Every project begins with high expectations and open minds, but the devil lurks in the details of delivery. It’s easy to gloss over critical assumptions about who will produce, enter and approve the content—and to underestimate how much time and training may be required. A clear understanding of these assumptions can mean the difference between launching your new site on time and on budget—or facing painful delays.
At the outset of a project clients and agencies tend to focus on a shared vision of the desired end state. Clients gather requirements and input from a diverse set of stakeholders with different goals and expectations. Agencies look for clues about a prospective client’s expressed (and unexpressed) wishes in order to set the right expectations with high-level approaches instead of tactical solutions. As a result, proposals tend to reflect “top-of-mind” needs—all with roughly equal priorities—rather than focus on the details of final project delivery.
Read the fine print to ensure a successful launch
At the end of every proposal, contract or statement of work you’ll find assumptions about roles and responsibilities. These assumptions usually include statements about how content will be entered (“authored”) into the content management system (CMS) and who is responsible for authoring and reviewing.
Clients and agencies should take a close look at these assumptions and consider their impact on the final project delivery. Proposals should be adjusted to be sure that allocated resources, budgets and timelines account for content authoring, training and QA. This may mean prioritizing some features and functionality and backlogging others to ensure the successful completion of the project.
Here are three common content strategy assumptions that everyone on both the client and agency teams should understand to ensure a successful website launch.
Assumption 1: “The client is responsible for entering all content into the content management system.”
This basic assumption can have an enormous impact on the schedule and delivery of your project. It’s easy to underestimate the level of effort and coordination, especially during the early stages of a project, when the launch date is months away.
The final handoff will be a “moment of truth” when you take true ownership of your content and content workflow, so it’s smart to review the proposed content strategy, which should include a complete content inventory, content audit, gap analysis and well-defined content workflows. Dedicating time and budget to these content strategy activities will pay dividends by:
- Engaging your internal content team early and identifying any gaps in their ability to produce the required amount of quality content in the time available.
- Giving project stakeholders and managers the information to prioritize efforts and triage features for launch or post-launch. If content resources and budgets are limited, knowing what is feasible—early—helps stakeholders set realistic expectations and make realistic post-launch plans.
- Identifying outdated or seldom-used content, as well as popular, high-value content that should be migrated or adapted to the new website. In many cases, legacy websites contain good content that simply needs to be reviewed for accuracy or re-structured.
In the end, a well-executed content strategy not only ensures a smooth implementation, but can also lead to better business outcomes and a greater return on your CMS investment.
Assumption 2: “The client will have completed a vendor-approved CMS training program.”
Basic, vendor-supplied training should be an assumption in any agreement that involves designing and implementing a new CMS or upgrade. Your team should take advantage of this training to gain a basic understanding of the authoring experience, including rich text editing and markup; separation of content and presentation; media libraries; and workflow and publishing routines.
But training should not stop there. Out-of-the-box CMS training is not a substitute for hands-on experience with the new system. A customized, hands-on training session is critical to a successful hand-off between the team designing the CMS and the team that will be using the CMS.
Even seasoned authors are likely to need orientation to the way the new CMS has been configured. And as websites move away from strict “paint-by-number” page templates to more flexible page layouts and content components, the need for customized training and documentation becomes a key part of a successful delivery plan.
Assumption 3: “The client is responsible for final content QA.”
Some form of quality assurance (QA) is likely to be included in your agency’s statement of work, but an important distinction needs to be made between functional QA and content QA. In most cases, the agency is responsible for making sure that all requirements are met and that the site or application functions as expected. That’s functional QA.
It’s usually the exception when an agency assumes responsibility for reviewing the quality of the authored content, including making sure that there is no misplaced or missing text; checking links to be sure they don’t return errors; and proofreading for spelling, grammar and punctuation, and adherence to brand and editorial guidelines. That’s content QA.
Content QA can represent a significant percentage of the overall authoring effort, as well as a test of the review and approval workflow, as issues are identified, re-authored and resolved. You can reduce good deal of content QA time by reviewing and approving content before it is authored in the CMS.
Your project plan should reserve time and budget to implement a “pre-CMS authoring” workflow with customized .doc templates or worksheets that mimic the fields and structure of the CMS. Cloud-based content staging tools like GatherContent allow clients and agencies to collaborate in real time and incorporate tracking, draft states, discussions, version control and other workflow features that eliminate the confusion of managing multiple overlapping .doc files.
Content-first approach helps deliver projects with sustainable success
One pretty safe assumption is that content is the primary reason people will come to the new or improved website. So you and your agency should be sure the proposed scope includes the content strategy activities and services you need to prepare for a successful project launch:
- Content audit and gap analysis that defines the level of effort required to migrate and author content
- Audit of organizational readiness: Do you have up-to-date guidelines? Experience using the CMS? And dedicated internal/external resources for pre-CMS drafting and the critical “content push”?
- Customized training program that builds on “out-of-box” CMS training
- Testing and acceptance plans that incorporate content QA cycles
A “content-first” approach to design, development and delivery can ensure that the initial excitement is maintained throughout the project lifecycle—from initial proposal to final edits—and that you have the tools and confidence to sustain your vision when you take the reins.
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