Tip 4 of 10 Planning website content is only important to the people who have done it.
What the heck is that supposed to mean? Well, if you have never planned content for a website before it could easily seem like a waste of time. It may just appear to be another task invented by an uber freak of organization. The reality is not that it’s going to magically make you super organized, but rather give you greater control of what the web understands your website to be about. In this article I hope you take away 3 things, why plan content, how to plan content & what planned content means to your success.
Before I get into the why, how & what, we should review the first 3 tips of your website redesign.
- 1st, Learn what the search engines know about your website. In tip #4 you’ll have the opportunity to set the record straight if the search engines were labeling you incorrectly. If they had it right, use your content planning to re-enforce and grow the labels you want.
- 2nd, Learn from your competition. Planning content as it relates to competition could be viewed much like a war strategy or battle plan. You will be taking strategic points on the map from your competition by carefully planning your content.
- 3rd, Knowing your visitor. Having content isn’t enough, you must write to the people that you know will be reading it. Keeping your reader in mind as you create a content plan should help every article reach the targeted user it was intended for.
So, why plan content? Well if you didn’t read the bullet points above, please review because there are 3 good ones right there. I’m going to take it even further and make it real simple. If you don’t plan your content, there is a good chance you won’t publish much of anything useful. Think of it as a measure of accountability. Like making a shopping list, you go to the store knowing what you need to buy and you’re a lot less likely to forget something. Sticking to the list keeps you focused on the task so you spend less time reading the packages of stuff you really don’t need. Like in my case, Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream 🙂 I’m guilty. Having a plan does a couple things, helps you see what is needed, helps you keep focused on the needs & away from off-topic subject matter and it gets you through the process much quicker & with some consistency. If I had a top 10 list for writing content, this would be #1 assuming you know who you’re writing to.
Now, how to plan content? Because we’re talking about pairing content (words, images, video, audio) with time (minute, hour, day, week, month, etc) I tend to favor using a calendar. Now depending on the nature of your content, you may need to leave room on your content calendar for ‘trending topics’ or things that you cannot plan per se. Many sites fit things like this into their calendar by just accounting for it. When there is something ‘hot’ in the news their site could take advantage of, they’re flexible enough to make room for it or push something to a later release to stay in a flow. Things you can do to extend topics is make a series, like this one. Take bigger topics and cut them into smaller pieces of commentary that will later be viewed as a comprehensive guide on the subject.
Content should have a perspective (usually the one of the author), purpose and prose. Prose, the verb, I apply to all forms of content because for me to believe it, it needs to feel natural. This may be argued depending on the circles, but it’s my opinion that the best content has a feeling of alignment with the source. When something feels forced or un-natural, the reader can often feel the content isn’t genuine or trust-worthy. How you plan your content could be the difference in whether or not people return to your site. People don’t typically return to a place they’ve felt unclear about credibility.
So, in summary, how to plan your content can be like planning anything else in life, a vacation, trip to the store or career path. Nonetheless, all content should have some key characteristics that validate it’s existence on your website. Those character traits should also align the content with the website’s mission statement, making it relevant and credible.
Finally, what does planned content have to do with success? The easy answer is Everything! Honestly, having a plan never guarantees success. Not having one though is probably best said this way, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” – attributed to Alan Lakein. I’ve heard this quote so many times, I couldn’t resist using it here. Imagine if for one week you did everything on a whim without any planning. How do you think it would turn out? I think you’d agree, probably pretty horribly. It seems clear to me that if you don’t plan your website content, you’re asking for a ton of headaches and trouble along the way that could easily cause the whole thing to fail.
Hopefully now you can understand the why, how & what of planned content. The last remaining questions I have are, will you do it? If you start, will you stick to it? I’ll leave you with this… One thing I picked up from Copyblogger CEO Brian Clark, is the idea of treating your efforts in ‘blogging’ or creating content like a media publication would. This is not a get rich quick endeavor, nor is it an easy job, so commitment is crucial. Thinking of yourself as a ‘blogger’ (just a blogger) doesn’t take you very far. So what, you’re a blogger… congratulations, now what? Instead, by treating what you do on your website like a media company treats the content they create, you will see things like a business owner. Start with an understanding of what you have to offer and what your specific goals are; your content plan will act as a road map to those goals that are 6 months down the road.
In the next part of this series we’ll attempt to organize your content, a lesson in information architecture.