Kill a tree, save your website? Content strategy in action, part III

A lot has been written about how driving content strategy from within an organisation is hard. And that’s true. Red Gate is pretty receptive to new ideas, so although I’ve not had a total walk in the park, it’s been a hike with charming scenery.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. Lots of people are involved in content, and depending on your organisation some of those people might be the kind who’ll gleefully call themselves “stakeholders”. People holding a stake generally want to stick it through something’s heart and bury it at a crossroads. Winning them over is not always easy.

(Richard Ingram has made a nice visual summary of how this can feel – Content strategy Snakes & ladders – pdf )

So yes, a lot of content strategy advocates are having a hard time. And sure, we’ve got a nice opportunity to get together and have a hug and a cry, but in the interim we could use a hand.

What to do?

My preferred approach is, I’ll confess, brutal. I’d like nothing so much as to take a scorched earth approach to our website. Burn it, salt the ground, and build the new one right: focusing on clearly delineated business and user content goals, and instrumented so we can tell if we’re doing it right.

I’m never getting buy-in for that, but a boy can dream.

So how about just getting buy-in for some small, tenable improvements? Easier, but still non-trivial.

I sat down for a chat with our marketing and design guys. It seemed like a good place to start, even if they weren’t up for my “Ctrl-A + Delete”  solution. We talked through some of this stuff, and we pretty much agreed that our content is a bit more broken than we’d ideally like. But to get everybody on board, the problems needed visibility.

Doing a visual content inventory

Print out the internet. Make a Wall Of Content. Seriously.

If you’ve already done a content inventory, you know your architecture, and you know the scale of the problem. But it’s quite likely that very few other people do. So make it big and visual.

I’m going to carbon hell, but it seems to be working. This morning, I printed out a tiny, tiny part of our website: the non-support content pertaining to SQL Compare

I made big, visual, A3 blowups of each page, and covered a wall with them. A page per web page, spread over something like 6M x 2M, with metrics, right in front of people.

Even if nobody reads it (and they are doing) the sheer scale is shocking. 53 pages, all told. Some are redundant, some outdated, some trivial, a few fantastic, and frighteningly many that are great ideas delivered not-quite-right. You have to stand quite far away to get it all in your field of vision.

For a lot of today, a whole bunch of folks have been gawping in amazement, talking each other through it, peering at the details, and generally getting excited about content. Developers, sales guys, our CEO, the marketing folks – they’re engaged.

Will it last? I make no promises. But this sort of wave of interest is vital to getting a content strategy project kicked off. While the content strategist is a saucer-eyed orphan in the cupboard under the stairs, they’re not getting a whole lot done.

Of course, just printing the site won’t necessarily cut it. You have to know your content, and be able to talk about it. Ideally, you’ll also have page view and time-on-page metrics. One of the most powerful things you can do is, when people are staring at your wall of content, ask them what they think half of it is for. Pretty soon, you’ve made a case for content strategy.

We’re also going to get folks to mark it up – cover it with notes and post-its, let us know how they feel about our content. I’ll be blogging about how that goes, but it’s exciting.

Different business functions have different needs from content, so the more exposure the content gets, and the more feedback, the more you know about those needs. Fingers crossed for awesome.