Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Content Entry

Have you ever arrived to help a friend move only to find that they're still packing boxes? This happens all the time; usually the final "push" involves cramming random loose items in the seats of your car- you know, that last picture from the living room, the blender, a bunch of hangers, and a basketball...

The thing is, no matter how well you plan for moving day, it's very difficult to accurately visualize reorganizing the stuff that fills your home into small cardboard boxes. It's like the ultimate game of Tetris--when the rows start dropping faster, you leave all kinds of gaps in between blocks while trying to keep up. Evidently, what's true about moving physical things is also true about moving information: there is probably more to move than you thought, and less time to move it.


"Moving In" to Your New Website

I've seen all kinds of stressful things happen during the content entry phase of a project. Sometimes, the content hasn't even been created yet, so the time that should be used for a mechanical process--entering and formatting it properly using the site's content management system--gets quickly used up by a creative one. Or, the content entry process gets put off until the last moment, leaving our client pulling frustrating and stressful all-nighters and becoming more resentful toward the new website they should be thrilled about using. Another comes about when clients try to avoid the procrastination scenario I just described by hiring a third-party to enter the content for them, but then find themselves disoriented and unfamiliar with their site later on.


With these pitfalls in mind, here are 4 simple ground rules for content entry:


Start Creating Content Right Away

This cannot be stressed enough. Content entry is a mechanical process, not a creative one. If you have not already done the creative work--writing, image creation, video and audio work, etc.--beforehand, you will certainly run out of time trying to create and enter content at this point in the project. What's worse, rushed creative is always sloppy. Once you've defined personas and made some headway into prototyping during the website planning process, you should be able to start creating content. Starting then gives you ample time to do it well.


Don't Waste Time Styling

Because we build as much of the website's design to be automated as possible by using site-wide CSS styling and content-specific templates, you shouldn't have to worry about any kind of styling during the content entry process. This frees you up to just focus on good writing--what do you need to say, not how big that headline will be.


Start As Early as Possible

We want to get our clients trained in using their website as early as we can. Once the site Whitescreen has been built and tested, it's fully functional, which means our clients can get started entering content then, even though the visual design hasn't been applied yet. It may not look pretty, but that actually tends to help users focus on the content rather than being distracted by how things look. In some cases, though, visual functionality (like a javascript-driven slideshow, for example) may not be in place until the design application process is complete. But entering slideshow images should be a much faster process than entering written articles like the one you're reading now.


You Don't Need a "Moving Company"

Moving companies have clearly perfected the skills of organizing, packing, and transporting household items. While individual items and homes are unique, the challenges and tools are the same from job to job, so you can trust that a mover will be able to handle getting your heirloom china from your old home to your new one in one piece. This kind of service may work wonderfully with homes, but it doesn't work very well with websites. "Moving in" to a website involves the same kind of work as using it long term, so it's to any site owner's advantage to get familiar with it as early and naturally as possible. If the first time you interact with your content management system is much later, when you're under the gun to get a press release up, it probably won't go very well. Moreover, every website has unique functionality and logic behind it, which presents an added obstacle to any third-party trying to enter its content.

Once the content entry is complete and any last testing has been done, though, the site is probably ready to go live...


Chris Butler | March 5, 2010 4:37 PM
Russ: That's a good question. It really depends upon the activity that any given post or article generates. There's a general process I follow in terms of promoting content--certain sites I always submit links to, plus sharing via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like, which only takes a few minutes. Once readers start commenting, though, that can take some time to read and respond. As far as my own engagement offsite--reading and commenting on other blogs and publications--that tends to vary as well. I'd probably estimate that I spend an hour a day on that kind of thing.
Russ | March 4, 2010 10:28 AM
Under *Engagement* you mention various ways to push the conversation. Following up on comments, participating in forums, etc. offsite, rep mgmt, and so on. How much time do you spend on this?
Chris Butler | March 4, 2010 9:27 AM
Suzanne: There are some great points in the article by Erin Kissane you've linked to. Her suggestion of content templates is a good one, too. I can imagine that a company like ours could do well with that approach, particularly in the area where the template provides examples. Having done web development for so long, providing actually helpful examples should be easier for the web company than the client. The only thing missing from the template--as far as I can tell--are suggestions for length and strategic focus of the content. The example they are showing is for a product detail page, but other pages, such as those that might describe a service offering or a core discipline, would need to have indications of what goals are prioritized (i.e. a reader should proceed to another page, or a reader should complete a call to action) and even what length of copy and type of imagery is appropriate.

Alex: I agree. Creating web content for many creatives has tended to be an imagery/graphics-oriented exercise. But written content is important for them, too. Being able to describe what you do, in addition to showing image samples of your work, is one of the primary ways to get prospects to understand what they're buying. Your website should do that in addition to inspiring them with the work you've already done.
Alex | March 3, 2010 9:52 PM
I think what @maggieb is talking about is much more common with creatives than others when it comes to websites. I and otherse like me who studied design, tend to redo my own website almost once a year. Maybe too often, but it just seems necessary. What @suzanne mentions probably doesn't hang us up much because our content is image-based and not much writing. This, like the first part, was a really helpful resource for those of us who would naturally make a simple website for ourselves but need to do something bigger for a client. Thanks for the insights.
Suzanne | March 3, 2010 8:32 PM
My experience has been that creating the content takes far longer than anyone really thinks it will, and not only that, probably can't be done by the marketing team working on the website. An article from A List Apart does a great job of showing why the writing process is much more complicated than most people would assume. The big takeaway is that there is a hidden process of getting the knowledge from engineers, designers, product people, sales people, etc. and translating it into good web copy. Just because you know your stuff doesn't mean you can write it in a way that web users can make sense out of it.
Chris Butler | March 3, 2010 10:28 AM
Jiliian: Thanks! That's the idea--to have a detailed resource, between this article and Part 1, on how it all works. I hope it will be useful for some time to come.

Katie: Very true. 301 Redirects used to be something people thought about after their traffic was negatively impacted by a rebuild--"wouldn't it have been smart if we'd..." Having a module built into our sites that allow users to create the redirects during the content entry phase is so important. Too important, in fact, to have been left out! Thanks for bringing it up. In fact, someone should turn our wiki entry on 301 redirects into a blog post...

Russ: I'm glad that distinction is helpful. It's helpful to us to remember, too. We advise our clients on strategy all the time, but it's critical to get the lingo right at the beginning, otherwise any authority you should have is undermined.

Maggie B: Right now, we don't have any similar case studies that show a succession of redesigns and rebuilds, but we probably should. As I said, we've done this for several clients, some of which have been in relationship with us for over a decade. I'll work on getting one into our Featured Projects section.

Ed Bryson: Thanks for the compliment, and for making it that far through the article! Next month's should be a less dense entry...
Ed Bryson | March 3, 2010 7:42 AM
Chris, another comprehensive piece. I like the combination of sophisticated process with the simplest tool at your disposal (e.g. gchat for coordinating the website launch). Makes a lot of sense.
Maggie B | March 2, 2010 8:17 PM
Seeing the timeline of changes to your site over the last decade was fascinating- makes sense a web design company would do so many redesigns. Do you have any similar case studies of doing one or more redesigns for clients? I'd love to see the transitions for a site in another, less creative industry. Also, are there any smart ways to save some money the second or third times around?
Russ | March 2, 2010 7:08 PM
You're nailing something about so-called strategy that's been bugging me for a long time. We've brought in plenty of "social media strategists" or "content strategists" and they all pretty much amount to guys telling us how to blog or use Twitter. I always want to say where's the beef but have lacked a way to say it that won't get labeled being out of touch.
Katie | March 2, 2010 2:39 PM

There are so many dead-on analogies in this newsletter. I especially like the comparison of content entry to moving day. The part of moving that always takes 10x the time I expect is dealing with clean out WHILE I move. Similarly, most people have legacy content from an old site that they need to sift through to determine if it stays or goes. That adds a ton of time.

Also, I couldn't help but think of 301 Redirects being equivalent to mail forwarding -- both incredibly important and often forgotten :)

Jillian | March 2, 2010 10:31 AM
Great newsletter, Chris. It covers all the "hidden" bases that many of our clients don't even realize exist when they initially plan a new website project.

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