by Paula Land
Want to make your content intelligent? Start by making it manageable.
Managed content is content that is accounted for and tended throughout its life cycle and structured into a system that supports its intended uses.
Content management has two aspects:
Both aspects require an understanding of what content you’re managing, why you’re managing it, where it’s stored, who owns it, how it’s distributed, and any other factors that impact its effective management.
How can you establish that understanding? With a content audit – specifically, an expanded view of what a content audit is often thought to include. To audit for content management issues, you need to look beyond standard metrics and also evaluate the people, processes, and technologies involved.
To conduct this kind of expanded audit, you need to do four things, as detailed in this article.
Editor’s note: While this article focuses on web content, these tactics could be applied to any kind of content an organization might want to manage.
A content management project may be initiated in an organization by an IT team that has to support technology that may be outdated and not performing well. Or the project may be initiated by a marketing or content group that wants to take greater control of the way content is authored and published. In either case, getting all the stakeholders involved up front is key to making sure that the project has all the appropriate input.
This kind of collaboration requires breaking down organizational silos to create a cross-functional project team that includes content, user experience, and technology. Before people make decisions, they need a baseline understanding of the content for which the system is being designed.
Even before the team delves into the content, however, it’s important that everyone understands the project context: Why is the content project happening? Why now? Who will be affected? What are the requirements and goals against which success will be measured? Stakeholder interviews with all the people involved in content planning, creation, distribution, and management will provide an opportunity to capture current processes and pain points and map the gap between the current state and the future state of the content.
At this stage, you need to establish who owns what content and who will make decisions as to its fate. You will probably discover that some content is managed by people who know little about the subject matter or about the audience. You will almost certainly discover that some content is managed by nobody.
Get up close and familiar with the content itself. Unmanaged content is probably out of date and may no longer be useful.
Content analysis involves the complementary processes of creating a content inventory (finding out what you have) and performing a content audit (finding out how effective it is).
Obviously, you can’t analyze (and ultimately manage) what you don’t know you have. A content inventory tells you how big your project is. It answers questions like these:
The content management system you would design for a website of 50,000 pages with lots of videos, dynamically generated content, and complex functionality is very different from the system you would build for a simple 200-page site with static HTML pages. A template and component inventory (often the task of a user-experience designer) should be done as well, so those requirements can be taken into account in project scoping.
The creation of content inventories, which used to be a tedious, manual process, has been improved by tools like the Content Analysis Tool (CAT). (Full disclosure: I own the company that created CAT.) An automated inventory enables you to get started quickly with a rich set of data about your content and a framework within which you can add information for the qualitative audit.
Example from a website inventory generated by the Content Analysis Tool (CAT). This screenshot includes the following column headings: URL, Type, Size, Level, Title, Page Views, % Exit, Bounce Rate, Unique Page Views, Avg Time on Page, Entrances, Word Count, In Scope, and View.
During the audit process, you build on the data gathered about the content during the inventory. When you perform an audit, you add the qualitative evaluation, which determines which content will be migrated (or retained, if the project is not a migration project), which content needs to be revised and how, and which content is fine as is.
Determining what to migrate and the differences between the content’s current state and its future state has implications for the design of the new system. If there’s a problem with content remaining on the site long past its useful life, a system requirement might be to automate content expiration or archiving. To enforce regular review of published content, many systems support sending periodic alerts to content owners to remind them to review and renew or remove content.
Content-entry templates can also be designed to require that unique metadata (titles, descriptions, keywords, etc.) be authored for every page. If content reuse is desired, the system can be designed to support a “create once, publish everywhere” (COPE) model. And, of course, that includes managing output to multiple devices.
If you want to automate a migration, the audit can be expanded to look for the issues that will make automation more or less difficult. For example, look for issues like hard-coded pages or fixed-width images and tables that won’t fit into the new templates. In general, the more structured and regular a content type is (and the more similar the destination template is), the easier it is to automate migration. For example, press releases tend to follow a fixed structure and may be easy to carry over. Hand-crafted landing pages, on the other hand, may be best migrated manually.
The flip side of designing the system to support the content is designing it to support the people who will be using it. In a recent newsletter, Gerry McGovern wrote about the problem of IT departments not focusing on usability.
“The core problem is that the culture of IT is all wrong .… Many IT departments buy the system before they have even defined the need. For example, it is standard practice for IT to buy a content management system, and then hand it over to communications or whoever and say: ‘Fill that with content.’ The use of the system is irrelevant in traditional IT. What matters is the system itself, and all its technical bells, whistles and futureproofing mirages.”
We incur a lot of risk when the implementers are working without input from the experts in the content and without an understanding of the processes of the people who create and manage it. We risk creating a system that supports neither the needs of the content (current and future) nor the skills and work styles of the people in charge of that content.
But we can’t blame the IT team for handing off a difficult-to-use system. Professionals in content strategy and user experience need to be involved early so they can help select the CMS, create the templates, and establish the workflows.
We don’t do business users any favors when we hand off a system they had no part in selecting or designing, that they don’t know how to use, and that doesn’t work the way they work. Part of the stakeholder interview process has to address the way people work and their level of comfort with the tools they’re being asked to use.
Look at the current toolset and find out what people like and don’t like about it. How is content routed for collaboration, review, and approval? Does it make more sense to build that process into the content management system or to have people continue working as they’re accustomed to, providing it isn’t inefficient or leading to errors? Those technical bells and whistles Gerry McGovern referred to may be overkill for business teams – or, at minimum, the system may need to be designed to keep the technical complexity behind the scenes rather than forcing nontechnical users to interact with it.
When a company is considering implementing a CMS, often it replaces a set of tools and draws from various content sources. The technical team or business analyst needs to evaluate the current tools’ functionality, and the content strategist should also be involved. Identifying which content lives in which systems, what types of content are being stored, and what role each system plays in the current environment will help drive future-state requirements for storage and workflow.
Knowing how content is intended to be distributed across channels signals specific needs for templates and distribution functionality. Working with business analysts and developers, the content strategist can make sure that the content input templates will enable content structuring and reuse. An often overlooked aspect of designing a CMS is making it friendly for the authors. Again, someone familiar with the content is best suited to provide input into elements like template and component names or the labels on form fields.
Before you “hand off the keys,” here are some things you’ll want to do to increase your chances of adoption and long-term success.
The return on investment for the effort is well-structured, well-managed content and empowered content owners.
The Association for Information and Image Management recently published an article entitled 23 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Implemented a Content Management (ECM) Project. This article speaks to the importance of focusing less on the tool and more on the strategy as well as the importance of understanding the content first. Here are some excerpts:
We should have narrowed the scope of our first project.
If you are replacing a legacy system, beware of poor information quality! Garbage in, garbage out. If the information is bad, you will lose the support of the business even if the system is great.
Clearly define your business goals and objectives as a first step.
Not all content should be migrated into a new system.
Focus on getting the strategy right, not the technology.
It’s frequently said that content management is a process, not a tool. Like any good business process, it should be grounded in a solid strategy and based on a shared understanding of the goals and planned outcomes. It should be predictable, repeatable, and well-governed.
If your organization is considering a content management initiative, plan to do a comprehensive audit. Gather perspectives, analyze your content, assess organizational readiness, and, finally, hand off the keys to the system. This approach ensures that everyone on the team is on board and operating with all the information needed to create a truly intelligent content environment.
For more on content management, see these articles:
Want to learn more about content audits, content management, and intelligent content in general? Register for the Intelligent Content Conference March 23–25, 2015. Use discount code ICC100 (valid until March 20) to save $100.
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Paula Land divides her time between being a content strategy consultant and a technology entrepreneur. As founder and Principal Consultant at Strategic Content, she develops content strategies and implementation plans for private clients ranging from nonprofits to large technology companies as well as partnering with other agencies on large-scale projects. As co-founder of Content Insight, she is the impetus behind the development of CAT, the Content Analysis Tool, which creates automated content inventories. Follow Content Insight on Twitter at @content_insight. Paula is also the author of Content Audits and Inventories: A Handbook (XML Press, 2014).
Title image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski, Content Marketing Institute