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Website Project Management: Managing Content Development

written by: Haley Montgomery • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 5/23/2011

Part 1 in this series of articles on project management tips for website projects offers some basics of online communication and tips for creating web-friendly content, establishing a content linking structure, and guiding content developers.

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    Developing Successful Website Content

    The first step in successful website content development is understanding how website content differs from other types of communication. Although other forms may impart the same information, the experience is very different. An internet user's view of a website is almost entirely under his own control. There is no binding or folding to control the flow of information and no page numbers providing a sequence. Even if website links are presented in a specific order, the user can click them any way he desires. Search engines can offer entry into a website at any page, not just the home page. Effective website content addresses these unique qualities of online communication.

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    Communicating Online: Best Practices

    Following are five guidelines website project managers can use when overseeing website content development.

    Website content should be…

    1. Brief

    Edit content down to the most necessary for serving project goals. Offer synopses and overviews with the option to click for more. Opt for bullet points versus paragraphs when capturing the attention of users, and break up text with headings and subheadings.

    2. Above the fold

    The newspaper preferred placement holds true for website content. Keep the most vital content at the top of the page where scrolling is not necessary to view it. Web users generally follow an "F" pattern for scanning content, first viewing from top left to top right and back. Then, they skip down and repeat the left to right sight line before scanning to the bottom of the page. Maximize the areas most often scanned with synopses and links to most important content.

    3. Cross-linked

    Encourage visitors to click around within a site. Anticipate user needs and provide appropriate links so they are less likely to click out to a competitor website.

    4. Targeted search-friendly

    Search engines are by far the most prevalent way users find information online. Bulk up website content with targeted key words visitors might use to find the site. Utilize HTML programming features like META tags, ALT tags, and page titles to include more key words.

    5. Layered in depth

    Because visitors to a website span from the mildly curious to the avid proponent, website content should offer information for each level of interest. Create a content structure that provides information from general to specific as a user clicks through the site. Top or entry level pages might include less text and more graphics while deeper level pages could be more text-heavy.

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    Establishing a Website Content Structure

    Follow this five-step process for organizing content ideas into an effective website content linking structure.

    1. Determine what the website needs to accomplish.

    How will visitors use the website? What role will the website serve in an overall communication system? Define specific content purposes before writing begins.

    2. Brainstorm a list of target audiences.

    Will visitors be industry-specific professionals or general information seekers? How familiar will potential visitors be with the website themes and content? Determine what types of visitors are preferred for the site and target content accordingly.

    3. Correlate online needs and marketing messages with specific audiences.

    What types of information will each website target audience need? What will the company or organization need to communicate to those specific audiences. List types of content valuable to each audience, even if content needs overlap.

    4. Categorize information across overlapping audience needs.

    Evaluate the list of content needs for each target audience. Begin to pull overlapping information into website section categories, and define audience specific categories. Minimize repeated information and maximize cross-linking.

    5. Create a workable linking structure to meet a cross-section of those needs.

    Establish link names for each category of information that will be readily understood by the target audiences. Organize specific content into sublinks and establish content descriptions for each proposed page.

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    Setting Website Content Guidelines

    Based on the website content structure established and the proposed page descriptions, offer developers these five content parameters for each content section.

    1. Keyword lists

    Brainstorm lists of keywords and key phrases applicable to each content section. Use online key word tools to generate additional key phrases. Encourage content writers to optimize verbiage using the selected key words.

    2. Target number of words

    Offer content developers a maximum number of words for each level of information, with the fewest words appearing at the entry level.

    3. Headings and subheadings

    Encourage content writers to organize content using key word heavy headings and subheadings. Information broken down into sub-topics will be easiest to absorb for online users.

    4. Page titles and meta descriptions

    Be sure to request a unique title and description for each content page provided, as well as a specific list of key words for each page. Website programmers will use this information to optimize the pages for searching.

    5. Visual aids

    Ask content developers to provide any images, photographs, and graphs supporting their content. Graphics can convey information at a glance, prompting the user to read more. Include opportunities for visitors to take content away from the site through downloadable and print-friendly versions of content.