Why websites are like sourdough.
OR Getting more work from existing clients.
OR both of the above.
Websites are like sourdough because they are not ‘set and forget’ projects. Websites need continual updating and nurturing. Otherwise they turn sour. (Although unlike sourdough, a bad website doesn’t attract flies. That’s a good thing.)
Most designers understand websites should be dynamic, changing feasts of information continually audited and cleaned. On the other hand, clients see updating websites as difficult, best left for a rainy day, much like spring cleaning.
So how do you suggest a website is ready for updating? It’s not by highlighting inadequacies – dissing doesn’t impress or influence. Instead, introduce this process, it’s systematic and based on cold hard facts.
It’s a perfect way to get more work from existing clients.
Website content plan
Many large organisations have a content strategy. Often aligned with their business strategy, it is sometimes written to initiate a cultural change or shift.
Either way, they are best done before the website design. And done well, they form a solid foundation to manage a website – especially for a SME.
Website content plan document all assets in a website. It’s a library of reports that ideally could be part of delivery / rollout of a website design but it could be a review – an additional service to an existing client, or a means to identify new business.
This is what could be included:
The content catalogue is a spreadsheet listing all the content on a website and the activity for each page. It’s a dynamic document that is constantly updated. It can be as large or as small as is appropriate. It can be incredibly detailed, listing blocks of content, or it could be higher level, listing pages.
Column headings may include:
- page name
- number of visits over a discrete time (six months?)
- the page owner
- date for content review.
On the smaller scale, this could easily be a manually updated document. For larger, sophisticated websites the solution might be a shared document linked to an analytics program continually trawling your site to count visits.
A content review doesn’t just document the content of a site, it assesses the content with suggestions of what’s relevant and what is not. What content to keep, what to update, and what should be removed.
An audit involves making judgements. It can be a review against business goals and strategies. It can reveal gaps in content as well as where the site might get bogged down in too much detail. We all know that the easiest way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time – the same is true for a website content audit.
Here are three ways it could be tackled: you can start by reviewing
- just one section of a site,
- the most visited pages, or more importantly,
- the least visited pages.
The recommendations might include rewriting to make the language clearer, the call to action more visible or a tweak to align a page to brand values better.
Designers have always supplied guidelines for logo usage – this is much the same, a style guide defining rules for maintaining consistent content on a website. It’s become more important as programs like wordpress have decentralised and democratised online publishing.
Like any brand style guide, this should document:
- Graphics: colour, font and image guidelines
- Editorial: acceptable acronymns and abbreviations. How to format dates/numbers. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, it might be a reference to a suitable styleguide (such as the Australian Government styleguide)
- Brand: the voice and tone of the site forms as strong part of an organisation’s brand.
The styleguide is a dynamic document owned by everyone in an organisation. Ask those responsible for publishing the most common mistakes made by content providers and include that in the next iteration.
If it doesn’t exist, writing a style guide is great content for a whole-of-organisation collaborative workshop.
An editorial calendar is a central document to coordinate what content needs to be updated and when. It outlines who is responsible for the update and when the update should occur.
This could be a planning device as simple as a shared calendar to keep the content team on track and prevent last minute surprises. The goal is to agree on responsibility: who is doing what and when it will be done.
It breaks down the content of a site into bite-sized chunks that can be (because of the styleguide) safely delegated to others to review/rewrite as/when needed. It shares the responsibility for keeping a website up to date, and relevant. And better than that, it can keep a designer in work, with regular updates to images, text and design scheduled and therefore, hopefully, budgeted.
A website content plan is perfect as part of a website rollout, but it could be done as an audit or review to assess the currency of an existing website before a redesign. Similarly the process could be part of a regular (six month?) website health check.
Either way, a designer is more than able to take responsibility for the process.
Want more information like this delivered to your inbox every Wednesday? The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.
Carol Mackay is a graphic designer with 30+ years experience managing Mackay Branson design, a successful Melbourne design studio co-founded with Greg Branson.
In 2018 Carol pivoted from client-driven work to (re)join Greg at the Design Business Council. There she uses her experience to help designers build robust businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.
In 2018 she co-founded the Clear Communication Awards, and the Business of Design Week. Both will be run in 2019
Carol has the mindset of a designer and the focus of a business-owner. Her special skill is comprehension – the ability to listen, understand the situation and use design to translate complex messages into plain language.