Content Planning for Success

So you are building a website, and you need some content - otherwise known as a mix of text, images, and media. You could literally create anything...what do you do? It is really important to do some pre-planning as part of the content development process. Taking a few steps back and thinking through the requirements, goals, and writing style can significantly affect what you create and how it will be used on the website.
Think about how much easier it is to write something when you already have a well thought out, detailed outline. The same is true for content planning. Give yourself an opportunity to create a roadmap that includes not only what content you will need, but also a rubric for how to actually create it so that it is unified and purposeful.

Content Planning for Success

Use a Content First Strategy

There are many ways to drive a project. It could be through design, data, technology - the list goes on. It’s very easy to spot websites driven by design. They often appear beautiful, flashy and visually stimulating; however, you may find them lacking in purpose, thin or voluminous in text, and difficult to engage with. Using a content first approach ensures that you create websites that present the information you want to present and not content just to fill a particular design or technological set of constraints. Layouts, visuals, placements and pages should all support the content you want to present and not the other way around.

Forget Lorem Ipsum

While this strategy may seem contrary to more traditional methods of web design where the main focus is on the layout, we recommend putting the focus on content before the first wireframe is even sketched. A design first approach may create something that looks pretty, but it is generally filled with lots of lorem ipsum and media placeholders regardless of whether or not there is a real need for a particular section; maybe the designer just needed to balance out some columns. When a designer has to work from a real document that includes actual text, images, lists, headers, etc. it forces them into purposeful and supportive design.

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Planning Content First Actually Saves Time

If you have ever created a website using the design first approach, you will undoubtedly feel that it is a bit of a circular process. You may find that you are just creating extra text to fill a hole or that you don’t have enough room to make some important points. Inevitably, you will need to redesign the layout, and the cycle continues until you decide enough is enough and start to build...and sometimes, even when building, more site backtracking occurs.
Content First strategy tends to create a linear process where once your content is set, the design is created to support. From there, the site can be built relatively easily because all the pieces already fit together nicely. The extra time you spent planning and creating content first can more than offset time saved iterating on layouts. It also keeps you from creating content you don’t really need or want.

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Linear Process

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Circular Process

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Plan Your Content By Beginning With a Story

For thousands of years, humans have been telling stories in one form or another. There are many things we can expect from a good story, such as a purpose or point, a recognizable flow from beginning to end, something relatable, informative, or captivating, a conclusion or resolution, etc. It is important to always be telling a story when creating content. That doesn’t mean it has to have outlandish characters or some fantastic plot, but rather it needs to serve a purpose. Readers need to have a good reason to want to continue past the first sentence. And all the better if the reader was somehow changed by the experience.

Content Should Be Purposeful

Like a good news story, it’s important to include key pieces of information such as the who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s, why’s, and how’s in the overall body of your content so that a reader can understand the different elements and begin to form opinions. Every piece of content should have an explicit purpose; otherwise, you are just wasting the reader’s time. A purpose could be educational; for example, to learn about some latest feature your product offers. Or possibly for entertainment in that your readers will become intrigued, curious, and crave for more. Before you create your first piece of content, ask yourself “what do I want my readers to do or feel after they interacted with my content that they might not have done before”?

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Example of Content purposes:

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Educate on how to use my product.

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Generate interest in buying a service from me.

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Form an opinion about a topic or person.

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Provide answers to a specific and sought out question.

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Delight with breaking and humorous news.

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Create an affinity for my brand.

Plan Content For Your Target Audience

While this may seem obvious, it can’t be stated enough that you should create content for a specific audience. One thing is not all things to everyone. It is important to define who makes up the audience by creating persona profiles and then begin to list attributes commonly found among those personas. You may realize that your audience may react strongly in both positive and negative ways to the way you present content and how you execute on the content’s purpose. If you don’t do this important step, you may risk missed opportunities or even offending your target audience. This will allow you to create an effective, unifying content voice that will create the feelings of matching personality.

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Plan Content For Your Target Audience

While this may seem obvious, it can’t be stated enough that you should create content for a specific audience. One thing is not all things to everyone. It is important to define who makes up the audience by creating persona profiles and then begin to list attributes commonly found among those personas. You may realize that your audience may react strongly in both positive and negative ways to the way you present content and how you execute on the content’s purpose. If you don’t do this important step, you may risk missed opportunities or even offending your target audience. This will allow you to create an effective, unifying content voice that will create the feelings of matching personality.

The Content Voice

Content voice development is a branding exercise that can be applied to content planning. An effective content voice will have an easy time engaging with readers because it will be optimized to be relatable, relevant, and most importantly human sounding. People want to read interesting content created by other people not for or by machines. By using your content voice across your website’s content, it will feel very unified and welcoming, not disjointed or in conflict.

Start by creating a table or spreadsheet with 4 sections for the voice elements listed below. Try to choose 3-5 keywords that best describe how these elements should feel. You may also want to include 2-3 negative keywords as well.

Content Voice Element What it Means Example
Character The type of person speaking to the audience. Helpful, calm, smart, supportive. (Not fast talking, arrogant, bossy)
Tone The feel of the way the message is delivered as if speaking. Professional, warm, guiding. (Not parent like, too relaxed)
Language The type of speech used in communication. Confident, optimistic, technical. (Not critical, humorous)
Purpose The intention of the voice. Informative, collaborative. (Not selling, commanding, boasting)

Using the Slickplan Content Planning Tool

We believe that technology can be very supportive to planning effective content. Our engineers have developed content planning software that allows content creators to gather, organize, edit and plan a variety of content types. The content planner organizes content by intended website page. Then, with a simple drag, you can move content blocks for quick testing of multiple ordering scenarios.

Our tool also allows for content template creation, which can be used to increase consistency from one page to another and is especially helpful when multiple people are working on a project. This level of flexibility is great for freelancers, small teams, big companies, and agencies managing clients. Stakeholders, content creators, management, and producers can all interact, give feedback and participate in the content planning process from one centralized hub increasing planning efficiency.

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