Content Strategy for Ultra-Large Digital Presences

Thursday Nov 9, 2017, JBoye Aarhus 2017

The world is overwhelmed with web content. Yet many organisations publish content blindly and operate without a documented content strategy, exposing themselves to business risks and missed opportunities.

Content strategy is planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content [1]. It guides web content management projects to deliver business value. Effective content strategy relies on a variety of skills and disciplines, including marketing, communications, editorial planning, web development, user experience and analytics.

In this session we will cover:

  • The WHAT?
    Evaluating what you have in terms of content, skills and resources. Content audit, training needs, recruitment.
     
  • The HOW?
    How to produce quality content? How much to write? How often? What works online, and what doesn’t? What is content modelling? Which Web Content Management system to choose?
     
  • The WHO?
    Who is responsible for web content? Decentralised vs centralised content editing approach.
     
  • The WHY?
    Why does the content exist? Does it increase revenue, lower costs, improves customer experience? What are the goals, KPIs and success criteria for web content.
     
  • The NOW WHAT?
    Once the content is created and published, how do you keep the standards high and content up-to-date? Digital quality management, web governance, analytics, editorial calendar. How to communicate success, influence top management and advocate for change.

This session will suit anyone responsible for creating, managing or overseeing web content. It is relevant to web managers, marketing managers, web content editors, content management professionals, website owners, digital agency and technology vendor teams.

Find out more

[1] Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic

Content Quality in Devolved Authoring Environments

In the beginning, there was the word. It wasn’t content managed. There was no HTML. There were no templates, no workflows, and no CMSs. Things were easy. But then there was a paragraph, a heading; there were links, images, and interactive content. Before long, things got complicated. Updating words, webpages, and websites became hard work.

CMSs made this hard work easier. People without specialist knowledge of web development started to create web content too. It became possible to publish more content faster—except there was a catch. The CMS didn’t produce quality content. It simply published whatever it was that people entered into the system.

When I worked for a digital agency, we had a client—let’s call her Lisa—who was lively, enthusiastic, and always full of ideas. She was on a mission to make the world a better place. When she got access to the CMS and was put in charge of managing web content for a large hospitality website, she was excited. Within days, content was updated here, there, and everywhere. The site had it all: big red headings, enormous images, cryptic fonts that hurt your eyes. Never mind the emails to us with the subject line “Help!!!” when the CMS didn’t work wonders. Never mind the bloated code behind the scenes to accommodate Lisa’s very peculiar requirements. Never mind all the features that we developed specifically for her. When Lisa set her mind on something, there was no stopping her.

Interestingly, as a business manager, Lisa was knowledgeable, pragmatic, and determined. But armed with a CMS, she was a danger to herself and others. How could this be? Worst of all, Lisa was not alone. There were others. CMSs turned out to be a double-edged sword, and in the wrong hands, they led to large volumes of poor-quality content being published day in and day out.

Although CMSs have vastly improved in the last decade, and creating decent web content is easier than ever before, there are still lots of Lisas around, and they still produce lots of poor-quality web content. Why? The reasons are varied, but they boil down to four main ones:

Lack of skill—Without a doubt, limited knowledge of usability principles, writing for web best practices, and SEO get in the way of producing effective web content. But this is a problem that’s relatively easy to fix through training and professional development.

Lack of experience—Effective planning, knowing what to leave out—not just what to put in—and being able to predict longer-term outcomes is learned through experience. Accomplished web editors see beyond the excitement of creating a new site and can adequately plan for maintenance and support. However, amateur content editors focus all their energy on creating new content, and they don’t leave enough time and resources for the follow-up work and content updates.

Lack of time and other priorities—In large organizations, content editors are often working on the website on an irregular, part-time basis, alongside their other, primary duties and responsibilities. They often know that they need to do more, but they just can’t carve out the time.

Lack of support—In devolved content authoring environments, web editors usually have access to help in the form of documentation, training, and support. But getting the right help at the right time is difficult. One-to-one support from an experienced digital professional is effective but expensive—and, therefore, scarce. Documentation is often incomplete and out-of-date. CMS training courses conducted by the CMS vendors dive deep into the capabilities of the system, but do little to help with the specifics of a project at hand.

So what can we do to counteract the lack of skill, experience, time, and support? How can we avoid the disjointed, broken customer journeys that are so common in devolved authoring environments?

  1. Locking down the functionality is a common way of managing output. Use isolated fields for small chunks of content—enter the heading here, and insert your image there. Restricted styles and fonts and limited or no access to template development does the trick. But it’s easy to overdo it and end up with an inflexible system that no longer meets the needs of the content contributors.
  2. Training that is relevant and specific to the project and the implementation at hand is invaluable. Wider training for subjects such as writing for the web, visual design, usability, and SEO is often overlooked—and it shouldn’t be.
  3. Digital governance tools can help to diagnose existing problems such as broken links, spelling mistakes, JavaScript errors, and mobile issues. These tools are particularly helpful when the lack of governance processes have led to a backlog of problems.
  4. The art of saying “no” is a necessary practice. Vision and strategic direction are important, and they are as much about saying “no” to things that get in the way as they are about saying “yes” to things that really matter. Content editors should work within clear boundaries that encourage them to produce content that makes sense for the business.
  5. Healthy pragmatism is essential. Not all content is created equal. Oliver Weedon, digital transformation manager at the University of Westminster in the U.K., uses a garden analogy to describe the web ecosystem in higher education. In this analogy, “walled garden” is the content that’s really important and requires careful consideration. “Wildflower” garden is developed with guidance and direction from the web team. “Meadows” are websites that are free to grow and develop naturally, with only minimum requirements imposed. Treating all content with the same vigor is a losing proposition.

At the end of the day, quality content comes from well-defined processes, motivated content authors, and clear vision. Devolved content authoring shouldn’t be about giving people free rein, but it shouldn’t be about restricting their every move either. With clear strategy, established governance, and relevant training, a lot can be done to elevate the quality of content.

Decluttering your digital presence: thoughts on Web Governance and Digital Quality Management

In the documentary series Britain’s Biggest Hoarders we see entire houses taken over by junk – books, souvenirs, toys, clothes are all piled up, making everyday tasks difficult and time-consuming. Things that were useful and valuable in the past, are now impossible to get to, hard to find, or broken.

Inside the home of one of Britain's biggest hoarders
Inside the home of one of Britain’s biggest hoarders, Mirror.co.uk. Photo © SWNS Group.

If web managers are not careful, digital properties can quickly turn messy too. Web content grows at an astonishing rate. The web has grown by more than one third in 2013 alone, and reached 1 billion websites in 2014.[1] Every minute of every day hundreds of websites are created, 300 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube, nearly 350 tweets are sent and nearly 10,000 images are pinned on Pinterest. [2]

Managing large volumes of content effectively is hard. In fact, even keeping track of what organisations own can be a challenge in some industries. In Digital Clarity Group’s research on Digital Transformation in Higher Education, we interviewed institutions that own more than 1 million webpages over hundreds of websites and domains. Needless to say, manual content audit and quality control of such enormous amounts of information is impossible.

So what do you do with hundreds and thousands of webpages that keep multiplying, because the content management system makes publishing as easy as writing in Word? What do you do with the vast amounts of poor quality content which was created with the help of WYSIWYG but looks more like WYSIWTF?

Almost half of all the higher education organisations that Digital Clarity Group interviewed for the Digital Transformation in Higher Education research, use Siteimprove to regain some degree of control over the content chaos. Siteimprove is a web governance suite of tools which help universities (and other large organisations, for that matter) to find and fix broken links, misspellings, monitor website accessibility and manage SEO.

SiteImprove
Siteimprove Quality Assurance Overview. University of Dundee.

Siteimprove isn’t the only vendor trying to address the growing issue of content chaos in large organisations.  “Web Governance begins where CMS left off”. – says Gavin Colborne, Managing Director of web governance platform LittleForest. “The idea that organisations can manage their websites without any technical knowledge and that it’s a process as easy as using a word processor, is obsolete. Large, global organisations need a set of digital quality standards and best practices that are monitored, with the outcomes measured, on a regular basis. Content management is never a done job.”

LittleForest
LittleForest Dashboard.

“The key to effective web governance is integration with existing publishing processes and content management systems.” – argues Lawrence Shaw, CEO of Sitemorse. “People don’t want to use another, separate platform, just to check that they’ve done a good job. Time and time again we see organisations approaching web governance in a reactive, firefighting way. Reports on published content are piling up, but once the content is out there, getting content editors to fix the issues is hard. Sitemorse integrates web governance processes into the content management system, so that compliance checks are carried out before the content is published, not after.”

Siteimprove
Sitemorse pre-publication checks in WordPress.

The typical checks that web governance tools perform are broken links, spelling mistakes, SEO recommendations and automated web accessibility checks. UK-based software company Silktide, which is about to launch a web governance tool called Insites (currently in beta) tracks interesting new metrics such as mobile site issues, JavaScript errors and social media effectiveness. “We are not reinventing web analytics, like some other vendors. Our focus is on the new types of data and metrics that cannot be captured elsewhere, data that reflects the web governance needs of large, complex organisations today.” – says Oliver Emberton, Founder & Managing Director of Silktide.

Insites
According to the InSites report, the most popular status updates on this university Facebook page are those with ‘no words’ and video content.

Still, with all the data in the world, making changes that really matter isn’t easy. Technology can drive the change, but it’s the people, not just the technology, that ultimately deliver results. You can produce as many digital quality reports as you like, but those reports won’t auto-correct your website, and they will not magically translate into KPIs that make sense for your industry and your organisation. If your digital team has no authority and no influence over people who can implement the changes, then, well… best of luck with your numbers and your technology, but don’t hold your breath. CrownPeak Digital Quality Management (formerly ActiveStandards) was launched in 2005, and identified people challenges in web governance as critically important a long time ago. With Crownpeak Digital Quality Management, you get unlimited support and advisory as part of the package. “We know from experience that one size does not fit all when it comes to digital governance in large, complex organisations.” – says Tom Golden, VP International Sales at Crownpeak.

Crownpeak Digital Quality Management
Crownpeak Digital Quality Management (formerly ActiveStandards) dashboard.

Conclusion:

Web content grows at an astonishing rate. Thanks to modern technology, publishing a new webpage, creating a new website, launching a new online community is fast and easy. Or is it?

Predictable but unwanted side effect of decentralised content management practice is the decline in quality of the published digital content. Diluted brand, outdated content, broken links are only a few examples of issues which – if left unresolved – can affect customer experience and cause reputational damage.

The answer to these challenges is Web Governance – a set of rules and practices which allow digital teams to manage websites in a controlled and orderly way. In terms of technology, Web Governance and Digital Quality Assurance is a growing marketplace and is constantly evolving to accommodate modern content types, increasing customer expectations, and new regulatory requirements. Key technology players in this space today are: Crownpeak Digital Quality Management, InSites, LittleForest, Siteimprove and Sitemorse, however effective web governance is as much, if not more, about people and processes, as it is about technology. 

A Closer Look at the CrownPeak and ActiveStandards Merger

This week proprietary web content management system vendor CrownPeak merged with digital governance platform provider ActiveStandards. Jim Yares, former COO at CrownPeak, has been appointed as the CEO of the combined company.

CrownPeak isn’t as widely known amongst technology buyers as some of its competitors. CrownPeak’s partner network and user/developer community is relatively small, and marketing investments have always been modest. Nevertheless, CrownPeak found an effective niche by serving organizations with large, multi-site, multilingual websites, such as Lilly (pharmaceutical), Prudential (financial services) and ACE Group (insurance), to name a few. CrownPeak’s decoupled architecture, emphasis on security, and engaged, consultative customer support makes it an attractive choice for highly regulated industries and global organizations with international presence. CrownPeak was recognised as a “Visionary” in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management (WCM) for two years in a row (2014, 2015), which reflects solid levels of customer satisfaction.

crownpeak-activestandards

Although mergers and acquisitions in the WCM space are a fact of life, CrownPeak’s merger was particularly unsurprising. The senior team is made up of leaders with a track record of managing rapid growth, and with two rounds of venture funding firmly in the past, securing more funding and growing through acquisition was an expected next step.

For ActiveStandards, a digital governance vendor often considered alongside Siteimprove and Sitemorse, this merger represents an escape from drawn-out sales attempts generating lots of enthusiasm at the web practitioner level, but not making it to the C-suite. Post-merger, the ActiveStandards platform will be sold as part of the CrownPeak family under the new name of CrownPeak Digital Quality Management. This will make it easier to pitch the product at the right level. Whether a digital governance tool will bring success to the combined company, remains to be seen. Digital governance is not, generally speaking, an exciting topic that drives sales in WCM space.

At Digital Clarity Group we are often asked about the impact of an acquisition on the existing customers. Typically if a vendor gets acquired by a direct competitor, the risk to customers is that the acquisition is primarily targeting the customer base, and not the actual product. In this scenario, the product may get lost or forgotten post-acquisition, leaving existing customers in limbo. By contrast, an investment by a venture capital firm such as K1 is generally aimed at maximising profit. In this case, both the customer base and the product should get the attention they deserve, and that’s good news.

It’s worth pointing out that CrownPeak and ActiveStandards are both SaaS platforms which appeal to customers with similar sets of requirements. CrownPeak already had an application‐level integration with ActiveStandards before the acquisition, so in terms of technology, merging the two companies together is straightforward. However, technology buyers are becoming increasingly aware that good technology investments depend not so much on the technology itself, but on the service providers and vendor’s support services that can make the technology work in the real world.

And this is where customers and prospects of both firms should be asking some questions.

Successful WCM implementations rely on people – people who are motivated, knowledgeable and reliable. Support teams that respond to customer enquiries, developers that modify the product roadmap on the basis of customer feedback, service providers that have a continued strong partnership with the vendor. Mergers have the tendency to affect people and processes, so keep a close eye on the people side of things, and do a reality check every now and again to see whether the vision and the values you signed up for are still in place.

For a list of useful questions that you can ask yourself, your technology vendor, and your service provider at the time of acquisition, see: