Web strategy and Web site planing

Do you need a content writer or content strategist? Write to Vinita Amrit at vinswins2001@gmail.com A web strategy has two basic functions: to help you focus on what’s the real purpose of your site and set some guidelines for the overall development later on.

Its importance goes beyond the creation of the site, it involves also long-term decision for what concerns the business and maintenance of structure and content.br /> In case you work inside an organization the web strategy sets up an agenda that help various team know what are the leadership decisions and avoids discussions over in time. You shouldn’t think of this as a tool only for big corporate site or ecommerce, it’s useful for any kind of site, even a blog that needs to chose an editorial line and some tactics to increase the readership. I did some web strategy when I started planning this blog and it’s paying off. It’s not just marketing, at all, you’ll see in the next steps that you’re probably already doing some when you design or think about a new site, but you need some more organization to plan it right.

Web strategy in a nutshell

Greg Storey few years ago in an article on A List Apart wrote that theobjective of a site should be one sentence and one sentence only in good english that communicate the purpose. For my blog I would write: to establish Designer Break as a reference for readers looking for tips, news, reviews of what concern web design and its related disciplines. After that you should add a strategy to achieve it and at its most abstract shape could be summarized like this (citing Storey in his original article)

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Your strategy will define how you are going to achieve the objective you just developed. When it’s finished, the strategy will outline the who, what, and why of the website. A strategy for the above example might look something like this: To convince… anyone who wants to create better websites to read… A List Apart instead of… Reader’s Digest because… A List Apart actually has articles on the subject whereas Reader’s Digest contains none. That’s it. Strategy is served. As with the objective, the verbs in the top two lines of the strategy can be changed out but the last two lines must stay the same, because they identify your competitors and the rationale for choosing your site over the competition’s.

This is really about the concept of the site and, although a web strategy doesn’t get much into details, you can establish some more concrete guidelines for the overall creation process, have a look at this exemple form a library site of Berkley. in the next chapter I’ll show you some specific question you should ask your self to write down a successful strategy.

how?

J.Owyang_3_spheres_of_web_strategy.gifSo let’s get into details even if this is something theoretical that simply depends on you in the end. I like the approach J.Owyang took to explain it. He says a good webstrategy is a balance of 3 spheres: Do you need a content strategist or content writer? Write to Vinita Amrit at vinswins2001@gmail.com

I. community

: you need to understand which is your audience, you’ll have to do some users research and review traffic reports. This is something that needs to be discussed in its own tutorial, but generally I can say you need to look at the demographics of your public and their habits. Don’t think you know your users, look at datas and learn about them. It’s easy to make general assamption on personal behaviour or of people we know, but it’s better to look at facts. If you don’t have your own metrics because you are creating this sort of site for the first time do some research online, find papers on that. To know how your users behave is useful to give them content correctly. On the other side, what you need to know about users is their goals. What they really want. Why should they come on your site? What are they looking for? What needs of your users you can satisfy? So, this first part help you decide what users wants and how to give it to them. This steps also extends to consider the community into which you’re placing your site. Are there any competitors? Who could be my partners on this? google_hidden_strategy.jpg

II.business

: now think from your point of view. What’s your site for? do you really need a site? It seems like a stupid question, but you should really think about it. Sometimes there are other ways to share your info or service depending on what it consist and who is your clientele. Assuming you need the site now define its goals. they can be both,long-terms or short-term goals. For instance the long-term goal could be to become the main reference blog in your niche and a small term goal would be to write 10 articles a week. It really depends on your brand strategy and on your audience. Ask your self: what makes my site better than others? what’s important for my business? what experience and mood I want to communicate? This involves also a market research to know who are your competitors and how you can do better than them. Do you need a content writer or content strategist? Write to Vinita Amrit at vinswins2001@gmail.com Another important step is marketing. I’m not talking just about ads, even your personal blog could use some marketing if you want to increase your readership. I’m quite sure you’re already thinking about Twitter. Well yes, social networks, Twitter, facebook can be very powerful to get traffic, but as usual consider your audience. Do they actually use facebook and twitter? For instance, this is a bilingual blog, I run the main version in Italian, but in Italy Twitter doesn’t seem to be a trend yet, I only have 4 or 5 italian subscribers there. Intead on my Facebook page the majority of fans are Italian. Check which social network is the most used by your audience, don’t assume is the most famous. Moreover, today twitter and facebook are often chose by readers as analternative to RSS feeds. Another increasingly popular function of twitter is as a tool for customer care. Don’t forget your site is either about content or about a service. How can you expand those two things beyond your domain? If you’re offering a service you can go mobile and create apps for smartphone, you can create apps for facebook, you can create awidget and release an API for your developer fellas. If instead you provide info you should create content that can be syndicated, which is reusable, which can be shared. Monetization is something the most part of sites count on. There are many ways to earn money online, you should pick the most appropriate to your site model. Advertisement is not really the most successful nowadays, but you can get the best from it by displaying targeted ad or ad campaigns. Something similar is sponsorship, another company that is financing your project. Syndication it’s an option, in both ways. You can get paid to display content from other sites or vice versa. Affiliation is a technique used very often, you could have seen it when somebody was advising a particular webhosting and gave you a code, or more common, links to amazon books in a sidebar. You get paid for purchases. Many successful sites have earned money by the so-called exit strategy, when they have been bought by other major companies. OnlineStrategy_Schema_LR.jpg

III.technology

: you should have a general knowledge of all the tools needed to build your site at least to know which are the limits you’re gonna face (financiary and technicals). What kind of site you need? it’s enough a blog? you need a static site to share basic infos and contacts of your company? is it a site that’s going to be updated often and by many personel of the team, so probably requiring a CSM? Are you planning to use a lot of multimedia content? do you need collaborative tools on the site? are you thinking to include third party tools (slideshare presentations, embed videos, widgets, and so on)? Do you have particulare requirements for the design (i.e. keep the colors of our logo)? To understand which tools and how they’ll be used it’s important to prepare your team, to decide deadlines, to estimate your costs.

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Resonance from Continuum on Vimeo.

Conclusion

You saw this is a technique that applies to any genre of site, but a company has different needs and goals then a blogger. Study in depth your case and do some research in advance. You could have found a little bit daunting that to outline a good strategy requires a wide range of expertise, but as Owyang suggests,you can chose to learn what needed or you should delegate(which is not at all easy). In my country we have a saying that goes:”when someone thinks he can do everything probably he’s good at nothing”, but my personal advice is to try to learn a bit of everything. You’ll be an expert of your own field but it’s useful to know the basics of all the other aspects involved in the creative project in order to have the big picture and take the right decisions.

Originally published by eng.designbreak.com

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Content Strategy to plan a website part 2

 

This time I’m going to talk about content strategy, one of the most important and neglected aspect of the design process. I decided to create a series about planning a site after I got some positive feedback from the first chapterwireframes and concept, and because Nick Finck said so. And you don’t let down Nick Finck.

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ContentNapkin_MacIntyre.jpg

content strategy

The web is content. seriously.
People go on the internet to find informations, to do something, to solve a problem. Either way you’re looking for content. It sounds obvious that is the key element of your site, but usually, during the design process it’s the last thing we worry about. Why? Well, usually we think it’s somebody else’s job, or we’re going to use what the marketing has prepared or we think we pretty much know what we want to say. No biggie.
Wrong.
I’ll show you in a while why this is so important, but first let’s see what exactly content strategy means. Please, also remember that when I say content I refer not only to text or copy, but to data, video, audio, images, etc.

what does content strategy involves?

Quoting Kristina Halvorson, a real guru on the subject, “content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.
Content strategy helps you understand not only what content needs to be created, but why.”

It comprehend several aspects:

– editorial strategy: defines the guidelines that govern the content. Values, tone, legal concerns, user generated content, and so on. It also includes the editorial calendar and content cycles.

– metadata strategy: identifies the type and structure of metadata to help the publisher organise, use, reuse the content in ways that are meaningful to the audience.

– seo: edit and organize content on a page or across a site to increase its potential relevance to specific search engines keywords

– content management strategy: the technology to capture, store, deliver and preserve an organization’s content. Choose the tools to publish and maintain the content.

– content channel distribution strategy: what means you’ll use to distribute your content.

Ok, pretty quick and not very detailed, but that should give you the general idea of which are the expertise and functions of a content strategist.

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ok, but why?

Yeah, but still I can’t exactly understand why this is so important and I should get into so much trouble for it.
Here some good reasons:

– SEO: don’t deny it, it’s an inflationated word but you do care about it. Here I don’t have any magic tricks, but you can style and organize your content to be more effective for search engines. You should be able to insert some keywords without ruining the quality of the copy. It’s very useful to get a very specific audience on your site which also mean that if you have targeted ads it’ll help your convertions having more click through.

– Design: ever wondered why the nice templates you show the client are never really the same once in production? That’s because you used some place-holders and Lorem Ipsum having just a general idea of what was going to be on the site. If you have the real content at your disposal you won’t break your very well planned user experience at the last minute.
Another reason to plan content before designing the site is that design actually tries to communicate something in relation to the content and the brand. If you don’t know what you’re designing for you won’t create something that helps the content and the brand spirit. (never mention Lorem Ipsum to content strategists, they literally loose their mind. if you do it by mistake, run.)

– Usability: yes, I love this word. And content has a huge role in it. I mean, it’s important to have a clear and understandable interface with simple navigation and so on, but then, if the content fails to be helpful and readable we wasted our efforts.

– Persuation: let’s face it, today everyone is a publisher and you need to catch your reader attention. You want to communicate something and if you can break through it doesn’t hurt.

– Brand: “good content add luster to the brand” says Colleen Jones.

All right, now we have a general idea of what content is and why we need some strategy.

teach me, baby!

Let’s get into the real stuff: How can I put in practice this concept? Karen McGrane is some sort of goddess explaining this and make sure to check the slides at the end of the chapter. I’ll try to summarize the most important steps.
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She uses a very effective model to visualize the process that occurs planning a site from a content strategist point of view KarenMcGrane_contentstrategy.jpg

1 – Product Strategy: consider what is your product for, what values does your brand stand for, and how you plan to make money (by subscription, by ads, etc.)

2 – Planning: you need to know what message you want to communicate and which content features will support that message. plus, consider which tone and voice you should use accordingly. Ask youself if you need to create new content and how long would it take to source or develop it.
It’s in this step that you should plan which sections and topics you’ll have on the site (shop, demos, customer service?) If you have a product think of what you want to say about it (it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s better because) and plan which additional features you need (blogs, video, podcast, social networks, infographics.)

3 – Sourcing: Check what content you have ready and what’s missing. Then decide if you’ll create the new one or you’ll source it from third party. Actually to understand what you need or even what you should keep or delete you should refer to what is your business goal. And of course your user’s goal.
In this step you should do a content inventory. It’s a very important thing and I’ll give you more details later with more care.

4 – Creation: decide who is going to create the content and in case it’s not you prepare some guidelines to give them. You need to decide as well who is responsible to review, edit and approve it. Figure out what legal or regulatory approvals you’ll need and the quality control measures.

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5 – Governance: consider what will happen when the content will be up on the site. You should plan how often to update it and which metrics use to track the content performances.

I mentioned that you should do, and then keep updated, a content inventory. It’s really what it sounds like, a list of all the content you have on the site. Usually a excel table. Sarah Rice share her model here or Jeffrey Veen gives another exemple here. At the beginning of a project it’s useful to know what you’ll work with. List the content and try to categorise it by tone, accuracy, consistency, relevance, and so forth. It helps Information Architects that now have the means to know what is possible and what not in their planning, and it helps writers because they want to know where their work is needed, not just randomly write stuff.
For a more practical guide check the link to Veen I gave you few lines above, it gets into details about an optimal process.

quality content

The process for a content strategy we’ve seen so far it’s really good but I think you may like to look at it from another perspective: how to create some quality content?
Colleen Jones has written an article on UXmatter about that, let’s see if I can shrink it a bit for you here. To ensure content quality a style guide isn’t enough because it usually address only word choice and brand voice. We should instead use some content heuristics.

– usefulness & relevance: consider if the content meet the business goals and the user interests. If you’re positive that it’s useful now try to understand when it will expire. in a couple of words, it’s timely and relevant?

– clarity & accurancy: first of all you should make sure that you’re content is understandable for readers and it’s logically organized, but it’s also very important to avoid typos and grammatical errors. Check & double check. yeah, check one more time.

– influence & engagement: use influence and engagement techniques trying to make it effective and appropriate for the context.

– completeness: Make sure the content icludes all the informations users may need or want about a topic.

– voice & style: the content should always reflect the editorial and brand voice, obviously adjusting to the context (sales VS customer service). try to convey the brand qualities, having a style and keep it consistently. In the end check that your content read, sound and look professionally crafted.
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– usability & findability: you probably already know the rules, create a content easy to scan and read. Usually this means to keep it short, good hierarchy with headings, bulleted lists, master the white space, and so on. However findability needs much more effort. Use appropriate metadata and some guidelines for seo without compromising the quality of copy. Check if the user can find content searching specific keywords.

These are some useful guidelines but still, you should get an expert opinion, do usability testing and and check users feedback. Additionally always use a content inventory and analysis.

content analysis

Assuming you now have a general idea of the process for a content strategy and you may have already done your content inventory, you should check for significant problems with these content analysis heuristics that Fred Leise has listed on BoxesAndArrows.contentInventory.gif

– Collocation: content should be easy to find for users, so you should collect it and make it available in one area (by subject, author, date, etc.) Depending on the quantity you could also use subsections.

– Differentiation: use separate, meaningful, well labeled sections for different content.

– Completeness: all content should exist, there’s no excuse anymore for 404 errors. It’s your job to make that content available.

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– Information scent: a good site will provide users with strong clues as to the content that can be found clicking on a link. Use good labeling, don’t made-up words in navigation, try to meet users expectations.

– Bounded horizons: use good navigation clues and hierarchical structure to let the user quickly learn how long the search could take. Avoid that sense of labyrinth when browsing the site.

– Accessibility: always make sure your content it’s easy to find through navigation. Content is useless if it can’t be found.

– Multiple access path: users think of content in different ways, they should be able to take multiple path to reach it. Provide search filters by document type, author, date, additionally to subject.

– Consistency: consistency helps the user build a mental model of your site to easily navigate and find content. Ensure conistency across the whole site providing the same structure of elements and conventions.

– Audience – relevance: you may have a diverse audience so make sure site labeling and organization it’s relevant to all your audience segments.

– Currency: content should be up to date. Check it periodically and could be useful to put an expiration date on all content in your cms.

There’s so much to say on this subject and I don’t have the space here. Check the reference I listed below as usual in the “Get to know more” section, but I would suggest as a good start the Braintraffic blog, Kristina Halvorson’s place, which has tons of practical tips on content strategy. Karen McGraneMargot Bloomstein, and Jeffrey MacIntyrewho runs Predicate, LLC are the other names to follow in this business if you want to learn more. Kristina Halvorson has also recently published Web Content Strategy, obviously a must read. I’ll soon get my copy.
finally, the Knol on Content Strategy is a wonderful starting point to found everything related on the web.

I hope you enjoyed this article and if you did share it so we can spread the word 🙂 If you have any question I’ll try to answer everything in the comments or you can get in touch on twitter.

 Originally published by eng.designerbreak.com

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Concept and Framework To Plan a Website

vimeo-clip-page

When planning a website the first important steps involve just a pen and a paper. It’s crucial to understand what we are creating and its nature. To list the purpose, the expected content and draw its structure will be our first concern.

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What Kind of Site Do I Need?

This should be our first focus but we will probably have an answer only at the end of this article.
I mean that the nature of our site will vary in relation to the ammount of content, of our ability and knowledge of the instruments, and the characteristics we require.

For instance:

you may want a place to present your business and usually a static website is enough;
you may want to keep clients or friends updated with your activities and a good solution would be a blog or even twitter if you’re concise;
you may want to create a social network as you have seen many having success in the latest years and in that case you’ll need something powerful while also getting your hands dirty with php to deal with dynamic contents;
you may want a place to list some works you have done in your own field and you probably want to go for a portfolio.

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As you see there are many possibilities which may vary even by your skills: Are you a css ninja or do you prefer to pick a free template for your blog? Are you practical with php or do you prefer to use a CMS to make your life easier?
All choices to consider before you start, but you can clear your mind following the next steps.

List Your Content

It’s really as simple as that: take a paper and write down what you want on your website.
Let’s say you are a photographer and you want your personal site. You know you will put a lot of pictures, maybe a gallery to collect them and different categories, each with its page; definetely you want to give your contact info and if you are willing to share maybe also a few words about you: what you do and anything you feel like saying.

Ok you have listed all these things on your paper but now you can decide how to organize them.
Split them into pages. For our exemple we already have enough content to create an home page, several pages of pictures divided by category, a contact page and an “about” page. Well, it is also true that nowadays are getting popular one-page sites for portfolios, so if you are fancy enough.. But for the sake of the article let’s consider our first scenario.
Good, now we have at least 4 pages. Let’s see what they really look like.

Draw Wireframes

Wireframes are small mockups of a page with a schematic representation of its elements.
In a practical way I mean you need to draw your pages and what they look like. Start drawing a section for the header on top of the page and one at the bottom for the footer.
You can decide where to put the navigation: you want it in the header or maybe in a sidebar?
Choose where to place your text, your headings and in this case your pictures.

I usually start with something really schematic and as soon as I make up my mind about what I want I go into details and I draw all the little things as I imagine them. Take a look at these examples of wireframes from many designers: some are quite near to the final version of the site and others are just the sketches of first ideas.Sketch1Wireframe #1 on flickr
Sketch2Wireframe #2 on flickr
Sketch3Wireframe #3 on flickr
Sketch4Wireframe #4 on flickr
This is also the moment to build the fundaments for yourinformation architecture by creating a small flowchart of how your pages will be connected among them and with which hierarchy.
This will help you create your navigation which is key for theusability and the information architecture of your site. Two aspects to take good care of through out the whole process of your work.

Update:I copletely forgot to add the presentation that Nick Finck,Donna Spencer and Micheal Angeles performed at the SXSW interactive 2009. Slides + audio, you couldn’t have a better help. Remember to show some love to the authors on their blogs and twitter.

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That’s pretty much it for the moment.
You can draw your wireframes by hand (like I love to do even with horrible results) or there are several programs to do that professionally, generally used by designer who need to present a project to a client.
Next steps should be to write down your content and create your graphical interface. We’ll have time to talk about these topics later on. (psst, subscribe to know when)

If you have questions or you want to discuss different scenario and purpose to apply this technique we can share our ideas in the comments.
Check the related links I listed below to get to my resources or similar stuff I found around if you want to know more about the subject.
If you liked the article and you think someone else could be interested share it.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

originally published at http://eng.designerbreak.com

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