Managing web content

In my introduction to writing for the web, I identified three challenges for web writers and editors:

  • impatient users
  • missing context
  • content management.

If you Google ‘content management’ you will find plenty of advice about selecting content management software. A large site may indeed need this; most can get away with a spreadsheet or small database.

Even if a site doesn’t need content management software, it does need a content manager (whatever their title). Someone needs to take responsibility for ensuring that content standards, policies and procedures exist and are followed. In an ideal world, every site would have a managing editor with the skills, knowledge and – perhaps most important – the clout to undertake this role.

We don’t live in that ideal world, but if you are creating or editing content for a new or redeveloped site, you have an opportunity to establish the standards, policies and procedures that person will need. (Of course, a site owner who has hired an editor can already be counted among the enlightened few who value their content!)

Get started

Before you can start writing or editing anything, you need to know what the site is for. Many websites exist because someone told the owner they needed one. Every piece of content on a website should help a visitor complete a task, or support a key business objective. So you need to know what the objectives of the business are, and what tasks a visitor is likely to want to complete.

Once you have documented that, you can start on the content inventory. This means identifying every piece of content on the site and recording information about it. At the very least, you need to know:

  • what’s on the site
  • why it’s there (what visitor task or business objective it supports)
  • when it was last reviewed
  • when it should be removed.

You can record additional details if you wish – file type, word count, location, file name, language, an assessment of quality, metadata and more – but these first four are essential. An added benefit from a site inventory is that it can help you identify the content that’s missing: the key pieces of information your customers still phone you for.

Establish your style

Most editors create a style sheet for virtually every editing job. But in the context of a website, most designers and developers will assume that you’re referring to CSS – Cascading  Style Sheets – that establish a site’s visual design, not its language.

Nevertheless, an editorial style sheet is an important tool for maintaining the quality and consistency of a website’s content. It is arguably more important in web writing than in other forms of publishing because content is likely to be developed and updated over time by a number of writers and editors. Without a comprehensive style sheet, each person will make the decisions that seem best at the time, and they won’t all be the same.

A style sheet can be expanded to a guide which includes information about the voice and tone to be used, the approach you will take to writing hyperlinks, and tips on web writing.

Document your workflow

Content doesn’t just appear on your site by accident. It’s the result of a process of planning, writing, editing (of course!), approval, publishing, reviewing and updating. Eventually it’s removed from the site (or it isn’t removed, creating clutter and confusion).

Quality content relies on a process that documents who’s responsible for each step – ideally, this is part of the site’s managing editor’s role.

Maintaining content

On most websites, visitors are looking for current information: what’s the price of that fridge today? If a site has information about past events, that information must be separated from current and future events, and clearly labelled. So effective content management includes a review plan – every piece of content must be reviewed and updated regularly (how often depends on the site and the individual piece of content).

I can help

Contact me for a review of your site management processes.


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