Website development: a content strategy process

The website development process has come of age and finally moved beyond the old models from print and advertising, one where we focus on the content that the user will engage with from the very start. Today we plan sites starting with content.

No more design it or concept it, have the client sign off on it and then worry about content. The days where it was left to some copywriter - not even an integral member of the development team - to work up a few pages of text at the last minute are over.  As dysfunctional as those models were, at least they were a step up from the software development style of building a website, where only a programmer seemed to know what was going on and no one could actually to anything or for that matter use the site for anything that you couldn't have used an Excel table for.

Today, great development teams start thinking about the potential content before anything is decided or added to make that content work best. As a content developer I'm thrilled and delighted that the years of arguing with a designer that one type of page needed more or less copy space and another more or less interaction space are over.

User-centric - Change takes time

For many years now designers and developers have been preaching "user-centric" and the like but still following the old print methodology - discovery, information architecture, design, template and develop - and at some point while the programming was happening on the approved pages, someone wrote the copy and organized photos. Of course, they probably weren't aware that titles could only be a certain length and that each page needed a subtitle to fit the design - too bad if that page content didn't really require one.
In the end, while there was improvement on making the features more user friendly, there still wasn't the connection between the content really being what the user needed. Perhaps that's where the idea of users not reading on the web came from?

Regardless, once the discovery phase is completed the new process gets moving starting with content: content strategy, information architecture, draft content, wireframing with draft content, design, content production, templates and development. While this may vary given the team or the size of the project, understanding what the site will offer the user is primordial to the site's success.

The battle to have Content Strategy lead

In general, many of the sites being built today are 3rd or 4th generation sites, thus everyone, including the client has learned a bit about what works and what doesn't. However, there is still a fair amount of work to do in convincing even the most savvy client that paying for anything remotely related to specific online content strategy is worth money.

When programming was a mystery it was relatively easy to get paid for coding. After all, few people really understood all that code mumbo jumbo so that expertise was worth something. So just what are clients paying for these days?

Now, with many sites being built around CMS that come pre-programmed with updated widgets for just about every new trend or gadget just a click away, we can actually focus on making a site work by making the content work for the user. You see essentially we're talking customerization. Our job now is to offer the customer or user something of worth - something they can find easily and use efficiently. That's how I think we should work - it's what I expect from a site.

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