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Content Strategy Can Save Us All From Slobdom

by Meghan Casey on August 4th, 2011

With content—like everything in life—it's easy to fall behind. Things get busy, a few content pieces get neglected, and before you know it, there's a big sloppy mess.

Believe me. I know all about sloppy. Let me describe for you my bedroom circa two weeks ago. It was messy. Real messy. My clothes were everywhere. And, when I was looking for something, I found it by thinking about when I wore it last and using that information to determine its approximate place.

Fraggle Rock fans might be envisioning something like the picture below. You wouldn’t be far off.

Marjory the Trash Heap

My room, lots of websites

I’ve worked on a number of websites filled with the kind of clutter and disorganization that makes users as crazy as my room was starting to make me. Chances are, you’ve been there, too. So, especially if you’re newer to content strategy, I thought I’d share the process I followed—which was influenced by the way I think about my work—to get my room in order. Similar steps apply to our work on the web.

Enough with the chaos

The pre-Brain Traffic me would have put her clothes away any place she could find room. Not this time. I let some things I’ve learned from content strategy guide me.

Here’s how it went down.

Step 1

I pulled everything out of drawers, laundry baskets, and suitcases and conducted a ROT analysis.

  • R = Redundant (too many of very similar things)
  • O = Outdated (also, doesn’t fit)
  • T = Trivial (includes impulse buys I wore once or never wore)

I donated or threw out about 10 large garbage bags of clothes. What was left was two good-sized piles of clothes—one to wash and keep and one to put away.

Content Strategy Tip 1

Big websites aren’t better websites. Get rid of the ROT.

You’d be amazed at what a difference you can make in the content on your site by just eliminating the stuff that is redundant, outdated, or trivial. For smaller sites, you might be able to do this in one fell swoop. For larger ones, you might have to take it a section at a time.

Step 2

I inventoried what was left. Actually, I inventoried just the clean stuff as a representative sample.

As I started sorting, the logical ways to group my clothes became apparent. I did, however, modify my groupings as I went based on things like size and quantity (keeping in mind that I had stuff to wash that would need to fit this model).

  • Shorts: casual and workout
  • Long and capri workout/yoga pants
  • Casual tank tops
  • T-shirts
  • Long-sleeved casual shirts
  • Pajamas
  • Undergarments
  • Socks
  • Swimwear
  • Sweatshirts
  • Jeans
  • Dresses
  • Dress pants
  • Dress tops
  • Skirts

Okay, you get the idea.

Content Strategy Tip 2

Take stock of what you have.

Document what’s on your site—and in other places throughout your organization, for that matter. You’ll start to see patterns that will help you organize your content later. Begin here if you need help getting started with a content inventory.

Step 3a

I surveyed the space (dresser drawers, closet, armoire) I had available to keep my clothes. From a quick review, I realized that I would have to store some stuff elsewhere. So, I weeded out the off-season clothes and put them in one of those under-the-bed containers.

Content Strategy Tip 3a

Build a library.

If one of your goals is to regularly publish content to your site to ensure people see something different every time they visit, it’s a good idea to develop content based on timely triggers that you can pull out when appropriate. Similarly, keep a reserve of evergreen content you can use to fill in the gaps.

Step 3b

Next up was determining which space would work best for which categories of clothes. In my mind, I drew a site map of my organization model that looked a little something like the following graphic. And then I put everything away. But, some things changed as I went.

meghan's organization model

Content Strategy Tip 3b

Test your concept.

Once you have a solid idea for how your content should be organized, it’s tempting to put together a site map with a bunch of page stacks and call it good. In most cases, however, someone down the line will realize that some things just don’t fit. Do everything you can to make sure every piece of content that’s necessary to satisfy identified user and business goals has a place to live.

Step 4

Once I got everything put away and started reveling in my accomplishment, I got to thinking. The conversation in my head went a little like this:

“This will have all been a waste of time if I can’t figure out how to maintain it.”

“You’re right. It will all be for nothing if you just let it get disorganized and cluttered again.”

So, I made some guidelines for myself related to maintaining and governing my clean room. They are pretty simple guidelines. It’s following them that will be tough.

  • When you change in the evening, put the clothes you wore back where they belong or in the wash.
  • If there is no room in a drawer or in the closet for an item you need to put away, find something to store or donate to make room.
  • If you buy something new, get rid of something old.
  • Conduct the ROT analysis at the end of each season.
  • Um, do your laundry, instead of just buying new clothes that you don’t need.
  • If your room is still clean at the end of each month, splurge on something special.

Content Strategy Tip 4

Make maintenance and governance a priority.

When you’re thinking about what content to include and how it should be organized, keep the sustainability of your ideas and how you’ll know whether they’re working top-of-mind. A website that you’re not able to keep up with after launch can damage your relationships with your customers or visitors. And more and more, you’ll be asked to prove that what you’ve developed is worth the effort.

In case you’re wondering, I’m just over a week in and everything is still in tip-top shape. All it takes is discipline and a keen desire to leave the mess behind.

  • Lynn Boyden

    This reminds me of how I sorted out my wardrobe, but I took it a step further, and located clothing that I use together in the same place.  So I have a drawer in my dresser for workout gear, including the jogbras and the socks, the t-shirts and the stretchy pants.  I have a section of my closet for work clothes, and that is subdivided into tops and bottoms.  I have a section that keeps out-of-season clothes too, and when the weather shifts I switch them out.

    This maps to giving users the content they need when they need it, and thinking about how they use it and what they need next.  If they’re making an appointment, maybe they’ll need directions to your office.  If they’re looking at customer testimonials, maybe they’ll need product/service descriptions?

    Context is king!  Content is queen…

  • Meghan Casey

    That’s a great tip and analogy, Lynn. Thanks for commenting.

  • http://twitter.com/LaurenLicata Lauren Licata

    Great post, Meghan! I’ll use your tips when cleaning my room and thinking about content strategy. I think the maintenance and governance part gets overlooked and that’s why I (and many companies) end up back at square 1! Great and helpful analogy!

  • http://twitter.com/vjthree Vernon Johnson

     Dang you (I really mean thank you) for simplifying this overwhelming – at least for me – part of the content strategy process. Thanks for the post. I needed this. 

  • http://websuccessdiva.com Maria Reyes-McDavis

    Your ROT and content inventory are brilliant and so important to building a solid content strategy foundation. Focus is key… and leverage.

  • Mandi Wise

    Thanks for this post Meghan! I may have to borrow this metaphor next time I need to explain to someone how content strategy works.

  • Eric Wilinski

    Great post.

  • Eric Wilinski

    Great post.

  • http://twitter.com/KirstinWrites Kirstin Stokes Smith

    Very tidy & chock-full of goodies! (thank you for posting, Meghan)

  • Wai

    Great post – though I wish I spent nearly as much time organising my wardrobe as my content. ;-)

  • Anonymous

    Any blog post starting off with a picture from the Fraggles has to be good – and this one just got better!

  • http://www.c-e.com/ chrismoritz

    Not sure… ;)

  • http://www.wastepartsuk.co.uk/Products/Johnston_Sweeper_Parts.html johnston sweepers parts

    Don’t turn up your nose at consignment stores and yard sales. If you can see a vision beyond that 1970s fabric or some bumps and bruises, you can find some good deals.

  • Anne Haines

    I am STILL recommending this article to my content creators as a way to nudge them towards thinking more strategically about what they do – it’s one of the best starting places I’ve found for people who aren’t and never will be content strategists, but need to understand a bit about how this stuff works. (The Fraggles don’t hurt either.) Thanks, Meghan!

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