They say timing is everything. While that’s true for most situations in life, it’s especially important when considering your content. Why? Because whether it’s a redesign or a site migration or both, your content plays a very important role from both a brand and a user perspective.
Most people have heard of content strategy but to some, it might still feel abstract or even optional. Or maybe you think you’ve captured some of the elements of a good content strategy, but wonder if you’re missing other crucial aspects of the process. What are they? Which documents can help simplify and streamline your goals and progress? This is where it’s a good idea to pause to understand your content process (if you have one) and how certain milestones can help make sense of it all.
Vive la Différence
“Do we really need both a content audit and a content matrix? What’s the difference?”
These are two questions I’m asked often, by both clients and colleagues. Yes, you really do need them both and both serve different aspects of your content strategy.
A content audit is basically the starting point where the current state of your content is assessed. The content matrix is a living record of your content as it changes shape and evolves into your future. Although they are both “just” spreadsheets, they tell completely different stories.
Assessing Your Current Content
The content audit can be, and often is, both qualitative and quantitative but it’s rarely just quantitative. The reason for that is if you want to get it right the first time, you’ll want to identify opportunities and gaps based not only on existing SEO, analytics, data, and research, but also user experience (UX) and content strategy best practices.
Technically, you could base your content strategy only on data, but search engines aren’t users. At some point, you’re going to need to look at your content through human eyes to really understand its value and potential. Ideally, you will also want to implement voice and tone in natural, conversational language that resonates with users. If your content was written a long time ago, if content is being published without an editorial calendar or an approval process, if you’ve only been concerned about SEO stuffing and not paying attention to the usefulness or organization of your content, then chances are, you’re driving users away.
While conducting a content audit, a content strategist will get a feel for the existing site structure as well as note navigational issues, organizational patterns, redundancies, inconsistencies, broken links, outdated copy, misspellings, departures from brand voice and tone, URL issues, and other potential content problems. The audit, often included in a greater experience audit, acts as a springboard to discussions with relevant stakeholders, including development and marketing teams, content authors, SEO, and any other key decision-makers about which pages need to be kept, killed, edited, consolidated, or reorganized and the content strategist will provide the rationale for any recommendations.
Based on these discussions, the content could take a new direction, triggering changes to the information architecture (IA), and potentially other deliverable areas such as governance, design, and technical/development considerations.
Building Your Next Chapter
The content matrix is a similar-looking spreadsheet to the content audit that delivers your map to the future. Creation begins the moment a new IA is approved. While it mirrors the main navigation, it goes into much more granular detail, accounting for every page and piece of content on your new site.
In addition to providing columns for unique ID, template or page type, it can also show the depth of the new site, existing URLs and any new URLs to be created, SEO meta descriptions, title tags, and even map to copy decks for updated copy to be used on the new site.
Unlike the audit, the matrix is an ever-evolving document, malleable and moving forward through your migration and redesign. In many cases, it is considered the single source of truth because of its scrupulous attention to detail. Ideally, there will be one point person to manage the content matrix, working on it daily until launch.
However, many different practices can have access to this document to guide and record their own work. Content teams, copywriters, content authors, the development team, SEO, UX, and others can all find value in the content matrix as a project moves toward migration and launch. If changes need to be made, the content matrix will be adjusted. As new pages are added, new rows are populated in the matrix. At any point, a new person should be able to pick up this document and make sense of it, especially in conjunction with a visual representation of the IA.
Successful Content Strategy Never Stops
A successful content strategy never really stops. Once a migration or redesign is complete, it’s not really over. You can always refer back to the audit to see how far you’ve come and in time, start new audits to keep assessing the value of your content. You can use the matrix to plot new changes and keep evolving your content offerings, and rest assured that your content is keeping users engaged, clearly representing your brand, and most of all, telling your unique story.