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Five Content Fundamentals to Save Your Project

by Robert Jacoby and Danielle Kellogg

In the daily turmoil and grind of a large website content development project, it’s easy to lose sight of the simple things. Keep these five content fundamentals in mind to save your team, your project—and yourself!

In all the project talk and planning around usability, design, technologies, and more—it’s easy to lose sight of the content, and the fundamentals that drive it.

Those other elements are important, of course, to a website project. But, remember content? That’s what’s driving your project. It’s why we’re here. The danger is that when content development is a project line-item (i.e., “develop content”), it gets treated like one.

But anyone who’s worked in the trenches in publications management appreciates that those two words cannot translate the level of effort required from a team of dedicated and talented writers, editors, and analysts over a sustained period of project time to create content (information) that is findable, useful, meaningful, valuable, and credible.

Let’s review five content fundamentals that will help save your team, your project—and yourself:

1. Good Content is Hard Work

2. Good Content Takes Time (and Care)

3. Good Content is the Focus

4. Good Content is a Team Effort

5. Good Content Needs the Right People

1. Good Content is Hard Work

Sound simple? It is. And is not.

A writer or editor who has developed Web content understands the effort needed to make good content. (Not just content, but good content.)

We all know that bad content is easy. Look at any large, enterprise-level website.

Good content is a “heavy lift” because it’s challenging on so many levels: for the individual, the organization, and for the content itself and its workflows. It takes analysis, research, writing, editing, and quality assurance. If that’s not enough, toss in a healthy dose of creativity.

In the early days of the Web, content frequently was developed by one or two people working together as a centralized team. Today, website content is a complex, constantly evolving output of an organization that lives alongside other communications, on and off the Web. We face content sprawl and working with (and sometimes at odds with) a community of content contributors and professional subject matter experts; and we’re charged with the combined task of content wrangling and herding cats. This is the hard work in the trenches of content development.

2. Good Content Takes Time (and Care)

Bad content is quick; good content takes time and care. There’s an art and science to good Web content development.

Done properly, Web content development requires analysis, research, creation, and multiple steps in a revision process that might include multiple stakeholders. (Remember, we’re information workers, not line workers in a widget assembly plant.) Good content is accessible, searchable, findable, useful, portable, usable, and contextually relevant. The needs of the website content owners must be balanced by the needs of the end-users. The sum of these efforts is a targeted, informed, creative result crafted for its intended audience.

Understanding the various components of good Web content helps everyone understand the need for time and care for its proper development.

3. Good Content is the Focus

In a project where large amounts of content are being developed, migrated, or transformed, content should be the focus of the project. That seems too obvious to say, right?

But how often have we seen content marginalized by its sexier cousins technology, design, or usability. When you feel the content sliding, remind yourself: it’s a content management system (CMS). It’s not a technology management system, or a design management system, or even a usability management system. The CMS supports the communication and information transfer from the content owners to their intended audiences.

So make your content the focus, the center. “Centered content” is taken out of individual hands and placed in a neutral location (picture the middle of a large table with many people at the table). Centering the content  helps everyone examine it in a Wikipedia-like model. This neutral location frees your team and frees your content. “Centered content” allows you to:

  • Be free of “ownership”
  • Emphasize mutual solutions
  • Focus on the end product and the end user

4. Good Content is a Team Effort

Good content comes by having a team of professional and experienced Web writers, editors, and analysts. They’ll “own” the content, becoming mini-subject matter experts over the life of your project.

As with anything else, one person cannot be the non-stop subject matter expert of all things. This is why you have a team: to efficiently leverage skills such as analysis, research, writing, editing, and quality assurance.

Successful content development teams should be learning throughout the life of the project. Develop workflows and “projects within the project” that will encourage team growth. You may also find as we did that specialized mini-teams (a “team within a team”) work best for target assignments, such as content inventory and analysis and webpage summary development.

5. Good Content Needs the Right People

Modern tools and technologies have spawned a rule of ubiquity: they are everywhere, so everyone is expected to know how to use them. This is (likely) no more obvious than with writing (and editing, analysis, and research): everyone has a keyboard, so that makes everyone a writer (or editor, analyst, or researcher).

But no one would think of putting on a basketball jersey and going onto the court with a team of professional NBA players. For information workers, it takes education, job experience, skills, training, aptitude, attitude, competence, judgment.

You see the point: Hire a professional, with the experience and skills you need, for your content development project.

Content Fundamentals to the Rescue

It’s too easy to get lost in the busy-ness of a large content development project. Refocusing on the content fundamentals could save your project, your team, and yourself. Content development is a “heavy lift” that requires time and attention, and it takes the right people coordinated as a team to build it out. The CMS is the structure; design is the trimmings. And the content—this is the foundation on which a website is built.

A shorter version of this article was published in CMSWire (August 21, 2014) under the title Content Development is no Walk in the Park.


Robert Jacoby has 25 years’ experience in publishing and communications. He has thrived in various settings, including agency, commercial, university, non-profit, educational, government, and professional association, in various roles, including Editor-in-Chief, Editor (Internet Technologies), and Director of Communications. In 2012 he earned a Master of Information Management degree from the iSchool at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the creator of the Website Governance Modeling Tool. His current position is Senior Content Consultant at Aquilent, in Laurel, Maryland.

Danielle M. Kellogg has over 20 years’ experience in project management and content strategy for print and digital communications. She has managed design and technology projects for business, non-profit, and government, in roles such as Information Architect, Content Strategist, and Project Manager. In 2011, she earned a Master of Information Systems Management from Hodges University, Naples, Florida. She earned her Project Management Professional certification in 2012. She is a Lead Content Strategy Consultant and Project Manager at Aquilent, in Laurel, Maryland.