“My team of content writers “bursts” creativity, so why should I waste any more priceless hours/days planning content? They're all talented, they're adaptive, they'll figure out what type of content to craft and to deliver on-the-fly!”
Let's assume that it is you who's uttered/thought the above question (or at least one differently formulated, but conveying pretty much the same idea)!
Our answer to it would be: “ then you should be even more motivated not to waste your team's outstanding load of creativity and remarkable talent by sending them out on the “battlefield” with no type of “ammunition” whatsoever, backed up by no strategy.”
They might just end up wasting all their talent and creativity doing “urgent fixes”, responding to unexpected content challenges, joggling between the time they would spend on writing and the time needed for planning future topics.
And here you can easily add all the frustration issuing from the fact that your competition will have taken the necessary time needed to understand what the users in your shared market need and, therefore, what they search for when they go online.
Now, wouldn't that be such a shame? Such a waste of talent and resources!
So, think about taking some valuable time to sketch your content outline as a “gift” (that's right!) you're making both to your team and to your visitors:
- for your team (although it might seem such a dread to spend a few days sketching, drafting, debating upon, brainstorming and coming up with a V1, V2, V3... Vn structure) it's a guarantee that their workflow will unroll as smoothly and as organically as they hope. Once the supporting structure of your website is set up, your information architect and your content writers will just have to comb through the existing material and “populate” those pre-established pages with high quality content
- for your visitors, it's also a guarantee that once they land on your website their own journeys will be as intuitively as possible. Everything will, by then, have been properly tested and ideally structured: where the homepage links to, how each page opens up a different sub-page, how all those sub-pages interact with one another etc.
And now that we've tackled the “why”, let's detail the “hows”, too!
Here are the main steps that we take whenever we design our own content outlines for the web development projects (whether they imply building brand new websites or revamping old ones) that we work on here, at our digital agency in Toronto:
1. Draft Your Website's Architecture
This is the very foundation stone of every successful website in the online landscape!
Although the process might vary to some extent from website to website (depending on whether it's a corporate presentation website, an e-commerce website or maybe a blog instead), you can easily boil it down to 2 main stages:
- you put together a structure with all the pages and sub-pages that will form your website
- you set up a content strategy before you stat writing any piece of content for your new (or your newly revamped) website
I bet you've sort of guessed these 2 steps already, haven't you? Just that probably you haven't yet labeled them as “must-follow” and included them in a whole content strategy, right?
It's during this preliminary stage that you set up and organize all your pages, including your navigation structure.
While putting together this structure you're actually trying to sketch your visitors' journeys/behaviors on your website, as well. Where will they be more likely to head to after visiting your homepage? Which are the pages on your website that he/she'll visit more frequently?
It's also the step where there's a lot of research to be done (nobody said it would be all just brainstorming and “bursting” innovative ideas; there a lot of “dirty work” involved here, as well): study your competition's content, “ask Google” what your target audience is usually looking for online, which are their points of interest, their needs etc.
The good news (for there is also a bright side to it, it's not just researching and putting together intricate structures) is that you get to be as loose as you want to at this point of the content outlining process!
Write down everything that crosses your mind, scribble notes, doodle, dare to come up with different visions of your website's final structure, feel free to revise and to constantly improve your draft! This is the step where you're allowed and even encouraged to do all that.
Later on, once you have all your content strategy and content structure set up, it will be far more difficult to apply changes without risking to affect your website's whole information architecture.
Therefore: feel free to express all your bold and daring ideas. Now it's the perfect time for that!
2. Jot Down Your Content Ideas
OK, so now that you have the whole “skeleton” of your website put together, now that you can easily visualize what role each page plays in the big “puzzle”, how about starting to liven it up with some content?
Take baby steps, don't rush in to write long descriptions of all the future posts! Instead, start with a brainstorming session where you put together the topics and headlines.
So, topics and headlines! By now, after all your research that you've "enjoyed" doing during the previous step of your content strategy planning, you must already know which are the many points of interest of your future visitors. Rely on your findings for jotting down your future topics and, from there, try coming up with some possible headlines, too.
It will be a good idea to try and put down some possible keywords, too, and even maybe to write down some short descriptive sentences about each topic that you will have settled for (we guarantee you: these sentences will be “gold” later on, when you start to actually write content for your website).
Note: try remaining as “flexible” as you've been during the previous step. “Populate” each page and sub-page with possible topics and headlines, but take them as “hypothetical”, don't be afraid to revise and to replace them with more suitable ones if the context demands it.
3. Plan The Content That Will “Populate” Each Web Page
Now it's time to go deeper into your website's “skeleton” and, after you've jotted down ideas of topics and headlines, to actually outline what type of content will populate each page.
Will there be image galleries, tables of contents, slideshows, embedded videos? And if so, how will they be distributed on your website? Feel free to write down a few words about your possible future posts, headings and sub-headings, everything content-related that crosses your mind at this point.
Plan all the types of content and their place on your website and you'll thank yourself (or at least your team will definitely be more than grateful to you) later: once you can see the big picture, it will be so much easier to just get down to work and to actually create the content itself.
Let's sum up these three major steps that any “healthy” content outlining process should include:
- setting up your website's architecture
- writing down ideas for each one of your web pages
- conceiving and structuring the specific content that will populate each one of the pages
And this is how we do it! This is how we structure the content that's “scheduled” to breathe life in the websites that we build here, at OPTASY.