Create a content strategy & manage content

 

This How-to guide focuses mainly on websites, and to a lesser extent social media. Developing an omni-channel digital content strategy is a broader challenge and not covered here.

Before you begin

What is a content strategy?

A content strategy is a document that outlines the steps you’ll take to make sure you have digital content people want to read, watch or listen to. It ensures your digital content serves an obvious purpose and your organisation’s objectives.

Why create a content strategy?

Improve the user experience

When you use a strategic approach to creating your digital content you’ll be making your users’ lives easier by giving them what they’re looking for at the right time. Without a strategy you’ll often find your content doesn’t actually meet your users’ needs. When you realise this, you’ll have to rebuild it.

Improve the quality of the information

A content strategy allows your agency or department to create high-quality content through:

  • knowing you’re only publishing genuinely useful relevant information
  • good publishing processes and standards (including approval processes)
  • consistent content structures
  • consistent messaging and branding across your business units
  • quality results in Google search rankings.

Streamline your content production

A solid strategy gives you a map to follow. It will make it easier to streamline production and plan ahead by creating better:

  • workflows
  • governance
  • understanding of goals
  • buy-in from management and stakeholders.

Gain confidence

Be confident your content conveys the right message and represents your brand across platforms.

Remove unnecessary clutter

Government websites are notorious for containing too much information, making it difficult to find, use and understand. A content strategy enables you to make deliberate decisions about the types of content that should be archived and a framework to make this happen within government.

Start research as soon as possible

Start research early, including researching user needs, testing, engaging external parties, sign-off times and costs. Refer to the How-to guide: How to do user experience (UX) research for practical advice and templates.

Engage your department’s digital team early

Engage early with your organisation’s digital team. They may be able to advise and support you.

What does the Victorian Government recommend?

All Victorian Government online services should create a content strategy to ensure any new or existing online product or service provides high-quality, useful information.

What standards must be met?

Branding

Apply Brand Victoria. Refer to the How-to guide, How to apply Brand Victoria (specifically written for digital).

Privacy

Comply with the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014, and only collect information you’re legally entitled to collect. You’ll need to craft and publish a privacy ‘collection notice’ (refer to the How-to guide, How to manage privacy or the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner website.

If your digital presence collects personal information, then the physical location of the servers where it’s stored must have the same level of legal protection for private data as we offer citizens in Victoria.

Accessibility

To comply with the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Disability Discrimination Act, and the WoVG standard ‘Conform to Level AA of version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)’, your digital presence must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.0 (WCAG) AA standard.

If your audience is primarily people with a disability (for example, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) clients), your site must pass the test for the AAA standard. Refer to the How-to guide, How to make websites and content accessible.

Manage public records

The Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) (under Section 12 of the Public Records Act 1973) sets the standards for managing the public records your department or agency creates. Always check with your department's or agency’s records or information management specialist first for the approach to compliance.

Refer to How to manage online records for more information or the PROV website.

 

Getting it approved

For a new digital presence (website or social media account)

If you’re creating a content strategy for a new digital presence, you must gain approval. This can be done with the appropriate governance body, your department’s Digital Management Committee (DMC) (or its equivalent).

For an existing digital presence (website or social media account)

Approval is not necessary. Departments and agencies are encouraged to determine their own compliance and report to the appropriate internal group. Once again check with your DMC (or its equivalent).

Check if you need extra approvals

Note: You may need extra approvals for content elements like branding. These approvals often come from different parts of the business. Check your department’s intranet for details of the approval process.

 

Section 1: Planning a new website or website redesign

Step 1: Define your business need

Try to capture the specific problem you are attempting to solve in one sentence. Be very clear about how information will help the department or agency achieve its business objectives.

A strong business need should be captured in an easily understood, single-minded goal.

Creating your goal

A good goal:

  • uses a verb (Create, Plan, Make, Build)
  • is specific about the type of digital ’thing’ you are creating
  • defines the audience
  • lists a measurable goal.

New websites

Are you thinking of creating a new website? If so, what's its purpose?

It’s extremely important to have a clear and strong purpose for creating a website, rather than just adding pages to an existing website.

Tip: Example of a good website purpose and goal

Purpose: Create a comprehensive online resource for people with disability within Victoria.

Goal: Generate 30,000 bookings within six months for a disability-specific service.

Step 2. Use research to define need states and user personas

Who are your users and what are they trying to achieve?

Every content strategy should start with the user. There are a number of research methods used to gather information about users, their interaction needs, and preferences.

Conduct research

Complete the research tasks below to find out as much as you can about your users and what they want to accomplish.

This will inform how information is structured, navigation pathways, user interface, and content presentation.

Tip: Before you do any research

Start by checking to see what research has already been done.

If you’re not sure how to do user research visit the How-to guide: How to do user experience (UX) research and talk to your department’s web team.

Need states should be understood before personas are developed, not the other way round. From these come user stories, pathways, journeys, and content priorities.

 

Research task 1: Need states

A need state is a basic human need or requirement at a specific point in time.

For example:

When Stacey’s car is beyond repair, she enters a need state. Her need state motivates her to evaluate new cars that will help her achieve her goals, such as ‘travel to work or shuttle children to school and activities.’

Research methods:

  • user experience (UX) research and testing
  • User segmentation (separating a customer base into sets that are similar in specific ways such as age, gender, and interests)
  • face-to-face interviews: user dialogue/meetings, on-site interviews, ‘shadowing’
  • surveys
  • other user feedback (for example, call centre staff, social media channels like Facebook)
  • email feedback
  • current web analytics (especially with site goals and trend information).

Useful resources: How-to guide: How to do user experience (UX) research

Research task 2: User personas

User personas are realistic characteristics of your key audience.

Each user personas has:

  • need states (goals)
  • motivations
  • frustrations of real and future customers.

They may consider:

  • why users will come to the site
  • top user tasks
  • what users are looking for
  • ages of your personas
  • gender(s) of your personas
  • locations
  • occupations
  • technological devices your personas use on a regular basis.

Research methods:

  • face-to-face interviews
  • user dialogue/meetings
  • on-site interviews
  • shadowing (working alongside the user as they try to achieve a set of tasks).

Useful resources:

Research task 3: The user journey

What are users doing in real life when they come to your website? At what points are they interacting with your website? Map the journey out from start to finish. It may be useful to do this visually on a poster, either with post-it notes or by drawing on a whiteboard.

Research methods: journey mapping.

For a useful resource, refer to the one-page Journey Mapping Tool on the Designing better government and information and services page.

Step 3: Organise your content

If you already have digital content your next step is to conduct an inventory, analysis, and re-write. This should include multimedia, web pages, images, case studies etc.

If you don’t have content, you should collect the final approved content as soon as possible as it often has important implications for the design, i.e. what needs to be emphasised, what needs to be given more room or more words, what templates are needed etc.

Identify content owners and engage subject matter experts to write and/or review content, if applicable.

Tip: Do it early

If you don’t collect or develop content early, you may have to change user pathways after they have been built.

 

Step 4: Conduct a content inventory and audit

What content currently exists? A content inventory collects a complete list of all content.

Complete the inventory tasks listed here to find out as much as you can about your content and 'digital ecosystem' (how all digital and social assets interconnect and interact).

Use the content audit template to record your results.
Content audit.xlsx Template - Content auditEXCEL (17.15 KB)

Inventory task 1: Gather information

Find out as much as you can about your content. Gather data about current site performance (if applicable). The emphasis should be on any patterns and trends in usage.

Content types

  • What sort of content do you have, for example, events, programs, case studies?
  • Were there common content types you can create templates for?

Usage statistics

  • What do the key usage metrics indicate, for example, page views?
  • How many users are there daily, weekly, monthly or yearly?
  • How does usage compare to past years?

Search terms

Are users’ search terms and phrases consistent over time?

Analysis

  • Are there any unexpected search terms used?
  • Are there are any consistent patterns?

Path analysis

  • Which are the most and least popular browse paths?
  • How does the path usage compare over time?
  • Are there any consistent patterns?

Content usage

Which are the most and least visited content pages?

Translation

Is there a need to include multi-lingual content for this audience and if so, to what level?

Research methods

  • Google Analytics.
  • Social media accounts and channels, for example, Facebook.
  • Content inventory and audit spreadsheet.

Tip: Has research been done already?

Check to see what research has already been done — especially about your organisation’s actual capacity to develop and service digital content.

 

Inventory task 2: Do a technical audit

Check your technical infrastructure and future needs.

Links to other systems

  • Understand how your content links to or shares data with other systems.
  • What are the digital touch points? For example, websites, tablets, phones and social media platforms.
  • Who are the people that interact with them? Are they only internal, external, or both?
  • What are the business processes and technology environment that support both?

Infrastructure

  • What technical infrastructure is available to you now? For example, Content Management System (CMS), events calendar, form platform, newsletter subscription.
  • What has to stay and what could/should be replaced?
  • Are any under construction or do stakeholders have ‘wish lists’?
  • Will you need to support event calendars (with booking functionality), program information portals, directories or photo galleries?

Privacy and security

Research methods

Talk to your technical people responsible for:

  • CMS
  • hosting
  • security
  • integrated IT systems.

Inventory task 3: Review and design your publishing workflow

Document the current editorial process for publishing content and consider how this process should be conducted in future.

Editorial calendar

This is a great time to recommend an editorial calendar and map out the remaining work on the project.

Digital engagement editorial calendar 2016.xlsx Template - Sample editorial calendarEXCEL (70.87 KB)

Style guide

You should also be:

  • thinking about what your content style guide should be, as this affects content, for example, not allowing FAQ pages
  • making sure each web page is findable and easy to understand.

Research methods

Inventory task 4: Review best practices

  • What other websites are attempting to solve a similar problem?
  • What websites are doing a great job?

Research methods

Step 5: Audit your content

Does your content meet your business rationale, user needs and content principles?

Conduct a content audit of existing and proposed content and review your content against your business rationale and the user needs (determined in Step 2 above.)

Content audit.xlsx Content audit templateEXCEL (17.15 KB

Set basic content principles to review your content against. Remember, the simpler, the better.

What is effective content?

Content that:

  • offers genuine value to readers
  • helps users solve a problem
  • is written in plain English
  • has a distinct, active voice
  • is short and actionable
  • is personal
  • is current
  • offers quality, not quantity
  • educates
  • conveys to users that you’re a genuine, reliable and trustworthy source.

Content principles

Analyse your existing (or new) content against your content principles:

  • how well does the content meet your content principles? (Give each page a score between one and five)
  • do you think there are opportunities to create or commission new content? Make sure you have hard evidence the content is really needed. If so, write lists of pages you think are missing, including who the audience is
  • summarise your findings and decide what the major content topics will be
  • continue to work on drafting content.

Section 2: Publishing great content

Step 1: Designing your content (and deciding on the best platform or channel for your content)

Now you have a stronger understanding of your current or future content and you know a little about your audience, it’s time to consider how to best design your content so that it meets the real needs of your audience, matched to their particular circumstance.

Map your topics to customer needs

Customers come to information discovery with different backgrounds, different discovery needs and different levels of engagement. Map your proposed content topics to customers’ needs via user segmentation and journey mapping tools.

Identify distinct sections

Identify and group related information into distinct sections as this will help to create a good user experience that is easier to navigate. A silo structure for a website is a way to organise the content of the site in a logical way. ‘What’s next’ links are then useful to guide your reader to other related content.

Create the ideal user journey

You can critique an existing service or design a new service by creating the ideal user journey. Use an ideation tool to create possible solutions.

Tip: The user journey will help determine multiple pathways

Users should be provided with multiple pathways to the same information and content.

 

Consider user modes

Consider the physical (which device is used when), emotional (what motivates them to seek information, services?) and cognitive context (education, formation of beliefs and attitudes, decision-making and problem-solving) of the information you’ve researched.

Consider channels

  • What channels would be most effective at reaching the target audience,  for example, web or mobile?
  • What content might work best (text, video, blog posts, data, images, documents, videos, audio files)?
  • Do you have copyright permission to use images, audio, video etc?

Establish guidelines

Establish content guidelines describing the tone and voice of your content. This will align and conform to your brand guidelines.

Document the following:

  • description of the target users
  • list of high-level topics that appeal to each segment
  • adjectives that describe the brand’s tone and style.

Make it discoverable for search engines: tagging your content

When you’re ready to have your web publisher publish the content, you’ll need to give them some extra details so search engines can find it. These are the metadata or tags. At the simplest level, these will be your title (up to 70 characters, with spaces) and a short description (up to 156 characters, with spaces.) Search engines publish a search result or ‘snippet’, which is your title and the description underneath it.

These are most effective when your title and description include one or more popular relevant keywords. Use Google Trends to do (free) basic research on current popular search terms. (Note that Google no longer looks at separate keywords, so you won’t have to add these to your metadata.)

For more information on how to research which keywords will work best in your title and description, refer to Google's guide to writing better page titles and descriptions.

Make it accessible

You have a legal responsibility to make sure all people can access and benefit from your information. For example, compliance may mean changing the colour scheme, providing clear and consistent navigation, and features that don't limit the user to a specific device.

For more information on making digital content accessible, refer to How-to guide: How to make websites and content accessible.

Step 2: Writing and socialising your content strategy

At this point, it’s a good idea to write down and share your content strategy. Your strategy should include the following:

  • Vision - What are you trying to achieve with this website?
  • Strategy - How will you make sure we achieve it?
  • Guiding principles - Key things content authors can check their content against to make sure it should be on the website.

Download the content strategy template

The template will help you plan web content that's easier to find, understand and use.

Content Strategy Template.pptx Template - Content StrategyPPT (1.31 MB)
Completing the template makes sure everyone can see and agree with the purpose of the website or digital content, and appreciate how to build digital and content at a high level.

If you don’t have agreement and understanding, there'll be continual disagreements and the digital asset (for example, the website) will be controlled by whoever has the most power, instead of by user needs.

Gaining consensus

Most digital assets have more than one contributor so it’s good to think about ways to make sure your vision is understood by everyone, not just the people who got the content strategy presentation.

Tip: Communicate the Content Strategy and vision to all involved. You might even hold workshops or use visual tools, such as posters.

If there’s no clearly communicated vision then your owners may react negatively, which means more work for you. Make sure you also include training as part of your rollout (training and marketing) plan.

 

Step 3: Documenting your future process for publishing digital content

It’s essential you document all the processes, procedures and ownership related to your content strategy. Doing this makes the information easy to find and helps new starters.

Create a style guide

Do you have a style guide? We recommend the Australian Government content style guide. It's been collated to incorporate usability best practice and is regularly reviewed to stay up-to-date. It includes helpful advice on how to write for the web, for example, choosing the right ‘voice.’

You can also provide feedback and get updates on changes by joining the Content design Google group.

Document tasks and owners

Who is involved in the content and how? Document tasks and owners including those that may have been assigned to a third-party.

Create an approvals process

What is your approval process to ensure content is of publishable quality and standard? Examples of this could be executive sign off, legal checks, usability Quality Assurance (QA).

Create a publishing workflow

This is related to the processes by which content is ‘made live’ on a website or digital channel. For example: distributed authoring, submitting requests for updates through a form.

Your publishing workflow should include:

  • how often you plan to publish and how you will forward-plan publishing
  • how you plan to ensure quality (for example, reviewers, link checker set up through the CMS or externally and how often it’s run)
  • any steps authors need to make to market the content (for example, social media.)

Create a measurement framework

Finalise your targets for success measures and plan for periodic auditing and review.

Your measurement framework should include:

  • how often will you conduct a review?
  • what outcomes will you measure (for example, audience growth)?

Measure using content performance using key performance indicators (KPIs) such as:

  • user satisfaction: to help continually improve the user experience of your service
  • digital take-up: to show how many people are using the service and to help encourage users to choose the digital service
  • completion rate: show which parts of the service if any, that you need to fix.

Step 4: Publishing your content

If you’re going live with a new website, don’t be afraid to launch with only a small amount of the most important content. You can add extra pages later.

What are your content creation triggers?

What are your triggers for producing content? Examples of this could be a roundtable forum to discuss content needs, communication strategies, external events, and programs.

Document your triggers in your editorial calendar at least three months ahead so you have high-quality content delivered on schedule and on time. Last-minute programs and requests will always come through, but you should have a plan outside of that.

Check your processes are being used

Check your agreed processes for publishing and quality are being used. Sometimes the processes are good in theory but not in practice. Don’t be afraid to modify.

Useful documents

Web Content Template: Use this template for an entire website when the site is more than just a few pages.

Web_Content_Template.docx Web content templateDOC (408.51 KB)

 

A one-page content strategy template for a few pages of digital content:

DPC One page content strategy.docx One-page content strategyDOC (194.95 KB)

 

Use this quality checklist to make sure each web page is findable and easy to understand:

DPC Web content quality Checklist.docx Web  content quality checklistDOC (238.7 KB)

Getting inside your user’s head: analysing search behaviours
A practitioner’s description of how people find government websites.

Step 5: Maintaining your content

Maintain your content by measuring success and adjusting your content strategy.

You should treat your content strategy as a living document you continually revise.

Engage in regular evaluation of your audience to better understand how content can be evolved to suit customers’ needs.

Revise, revise, revise

Revise your content against the review process you established earlier and implement a process for the removal of content.

Beyond site metrics

Go beyond site metrics and social media shares when analysing your content strategy performance. This includes testing to validate the user assumptions made earlier to ensure your strategy holds true.

Content revision checklist

  • Have a ‘Was this page useful’ with a free text field so you have a trigger to recognise content that needs improvement. See the How-to guide: How to measure performance.
  • Try to have a survey tool installed such as Hotjar so you can easily ask your visitors how you can improve their experience, and see where they are clicking the most on selected pages.
  • Check Google Trends to see what your users are searching for.
  • Have a regular chat with your audience so you understand what their needs are.
  • Run your link checker at least weekly.
  • Make sure a content owner is assigned to each page and review the content for accuracy at least once a year (more if you know the content changes regularly).

Step 6: Archiving content

Good triggers to archive include:

  • retirement of a program
  • low pageviews. For example, less than 1,000 in a year
  • a case study or news style content that is over a year old
  • duplicate content, whether it’s on your site or another site
  • poor satisfaction ratings (they indicate the content isn’t useful to users and if the content can’t be updated to become useful then archiving is a good alternative.)

Once you decide to close a site (‘decommission’ it) follow this simple but crucial checklist.

Website decommissioning.docx Website decommissioning checklistDOC (339.06 KB)

Related How-to guides

How to make websites and content accessible

How to design and develop a digital presence

How to apply Brand Victoria

How to manage ministerial content

How to use social media

How to measure performance

How to manage online records

Other good reads and tools

You can check your draft for clarity and ease of reading using online tools. For most purposes, the free online Hemingway editor is worth considering.

Join the conversation on digital

Get advice and share your insights about this topic with other digital practitioners on the WoVG Digital Group on Yammer (VPS access only).

Can’t access Yammer? Contact us by email: contact@dpc.vic.gov.au. (We may post your comment on Yammer for general discussion. Please tell us if that’s not OK.)