Expert Approval for Our Content Strategy

Our team has successfully implemented two huge content strategy projects (Undergraduate and more recently Postgraduate) yet we’re always looking to improve our skills in this area. Lisa and I attended the latest Nielsen Normal Group (NNG) training on Content Strategy to pick up even more pointers.

We weren’t disappointed. It was a really inspiring and practical course, full of great ideas for techniques to help with content creation, and client buy-in.

We came back fired-up with loads of ideas to improve our processes and firm up our strategy – I left with a long ‘to do list’.

And the even better news? Turns out that by following the guidance from NNG and other experts in content strategy, we’ve done a fantastic job at the University, and we can take pride in what we have achieved so far.

Approval from the experts

Affirmation from a room-full of content professionals that the work we are doing is; absolutely the right thing to do to improve our websites, pretty advanced and even admired – followed by requests to share our best practice with others…well, wow!

It sure felt like a pat on the back from our peers that understand what we are trying to achieve, and a real boost to the team just when we needed it.

Top five tasks on our content strategy ‘to do list’

So, on to our to do list, here’s just the top 5…

  1. We’ve created a really good content strategy for Postgraduate – now we need one for the rest of the University
  2. Apply content strategy to our content strategy – pull out the top five principles and use them everywhere as keywords in our communications
  3. Create a University-wide tone of voice
  4. Use the results of our content audits in a more visual way to help colleagues see the benefits of our work, and the improvements made to usability, readability, accessibility etc
  5. Share Google’s outline about how to get good search results – and how we already do this in our content guidelines, and the training we deliver

Discover for yourself

If you’re interested in where we got our content strategy inspiration from – and more importantly why content strategy is so important for websites – there is a wealth of guidance available.

I’d recommend ‘Content Strategy for the Web’ by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach. It’s a really easy read, and pretty much a step by step guide that has lived on my bedside table for many a month.

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Content Governance: People, Processes and Policies

I’m not sure why I’ve drawn the short straw here: I get to introduce you all to the idea of content governance. Wait, don’t leave yet!

2005: we had websites with no direction

We only have to roll back about 10 years to see what our website was like with minimal governance. We had duplicated content all over the place. There were sites that didn’t follow our branding. We had a team of content-putter-uppers who just did but didn’t ask why.

What’s changed?

We still get asked to “just build a website” or “stick some content on this page”. But, nowadays, the answer is just as likely to be “no” as “yes”.

This is because we have content policies, style guides, training and the right people: our content governance.

Going mobile is helping us with content governance

We’re using the Go Mobile programme to reinforce the importance of governance. There are some elements to making it a success: people, lifecycle, style guides and training.


With each new project we’re making sure we have at least one named editor. This means we’ve got a person in post whose job it is to manage the website and its content.

We’re still not 100% there. Web editor roles are often part of another post at the University. We are getting some accountability. And we’re working on making sure content editors have enough time to edit.

Content life cycle

Each Go Mobile site development isn’t just a project with an end date. We’re planning reviews of site content to make sure we’re maintaining quality.

We’re working with editors to introduce content management tools. These include editorial calendars, analytics and Siteimprove.

Style guides

We’ve had a set of web content standards from day one. We’ve just not been good at letting people know about them or enforcing them.

Go Mobile is raising awareness not only that our standards exist but also of their importance. These are not rules for the sake of it. They’re there to help our site users access the content they need on all devices.

If content doesn’t meet our standards, we have the authority to say it doesn’t go live.


We can’t write a style guide, leave it hidden in a cupboard somewhere and then moan if people don’t use it! So we’ve developed training to help communicate our standards. We’ve produced a demo site that presents our new content design in the context of our standards.

Beyond Go Mobile

Through Go Mobile, we’re developing a skilled group of content editors. They are responsible for our web content and will be ambassadors for maintaining quality websites.

We’ve bench-marked our sites. We know how well they score for readability and whether they follow our new standards.

We’re planning to review sites around 6-8 months after they’ve launched. This will help us make sure we’re maintaining quality.

Content governance covers much more than I’ve outlined here – if we can get this right though, we’re well on our way to managing our web content effectively.

Let us know in the comments how you keep on top of content quality. Do you have any formal content governance?

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Top 5 Tips: Content Calendars

It’s essential to continually plan your content to ensure it’s up to date and answering your users’ questions. Content calendars (or editorial calendars as they’re sometimes referred to) can help with this.

You can use a content calendar to map out content that will be needed at different points in the year and the deadlines for publishing content.

Read on to find out our top 5 tips for content calendars:

1. Map out key events or activities throughout the year

The best starting point when creating a content calendar is to map out key events and activities throughout the year. This could include recruitment campaigns, events and funding opportunities. You’ll then be able to identify tasks you’ll need to complete associated with each activity. This will include when you’ll need to produce or update content and source new assets.

Adding activities that take place on an annual basis will also help to identify when the busiest times for content production will be.

To help map out these activities, use our calendar template (PDF: 28.9KB, University login required).

2. Be selective with the information you include in your calendar

There’s a variety of details you could add to your calendar. Some details you might record include:

  • what content is needed (depending on the activities you need to support)
  • where on your site your new content will appear
  • the people responsible for writing and editing content
  • deadlines for writing, editing and publishing content
  • other teams that may need to be involved – will you need to contact the Corporate Web Development team (CWD) to create a new page on your site?

However, remember that the more information you include the more complex your calendar will become.

Focus your calendar on the top priorities, and consider eliminating the bottom priorities to make your calendar easy to use and maintain

Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, Brain Traffic

It’s therefore important to be selective with the information you include so that your calendar is easy to understand.

3. Choose a calendar tool that works for your team

There are a variety of tools you can use to make your content calendar –  software like Outlook or Excel, or online tools like Trello. Deciding on the best tool to use depends on the amount and complexity of the information you want to record in your calendar.

For example, the CWD team first used Excel for our editorial calendar for this blog as it allowed us to record and filter a number of things. These included post categories, tags and whether a post would include an image or be a feature post. It also allowed us to easily assign authors and editors to posts. Although excel worked well, we now use Trello for our content calendar as it includes additional features, such as email notifications when tasks are due.

Learn more about Trello by reading Emma C’s post on Online Task Management with Trello.

Whatever tool you use for your content calendar ensure it works for you and all of your team.

4. Plan in plenty of time to produce content

Make sure you plan enough time to produce and update your content, or gather new assets.

Remember you may need to wait on other colleagues to provide information or request support from other teams, such as CWD or the Press Office.

Although it’s important to plan as much as possible, there will always be last minute content requests.

An editorial calendar should be a flexible, ever-changing live document – one that’s updated according to the comings and goings of your business

Chris McMahon, Sticky Content

Chris McMahon recommends scheduling in time to deal with unplanned content.

5. Share your calendar

Richard Prowse from the Digital team at the University of Bath recommends sharing your calendar:

this will demonstrate to those not involved in the editorial process that you have a considered and measurable plan for content.”

Richard Prowse, University of Bath

Sharing your calendar with customers is also useful when negotiating deadlines. The calendar will make them aware that if they are late in providing information it could delay when content is published.

The content calendar illustrates the other work you have scheduled in, and might also help to minimise those last minute content requests.

References and further reading

Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, Content Strategy for the Web, Brain Traffic, 2012

Chris McMahon, Create an effective editorial calendar, Sticky Content, 24 October 2014

Chris McMahon, Fill your editorial calendar in 5 steps, Sticky Content, 31 October 2014

Richard Prowse, How to create an editorial calendar, Bath University, 6 July 2014

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Conference Review: Institutional Web Management Workshop

At the end of July I attended the 2015 Institutional Web Management Workshop at Edge Hill University. Here I met colleagues responsible for the design, development and content of university websites across the UK.

The title of the conference was Beyond Digital: Transforming the Institution. A series of plenary talks, workshops and practical masterclasses addressed the theme.

Digital transformation

We heard from a few institutions who have achieved transformation to new digital services teams. They recognise that digital cuts across all of the university’s functions. It is not the sole preserve of IT or marketing and communications departments.

“The web is something the university has.
Digital is something the university is.”
Mike McConnell, Business Applications Manager, University of Aberdeen

The University of Bath’s Digital Team have adopted an agile approach to the creation and delivery of content. This approach allows them to deliver products iteratively and often. We use elements of this methodology on the Go Mobile programme. And are looking at ways to apply it throughout our working practice.

Spotlight on user needs

User needs

If you’ve talked to anyone from our team recently you’ll know we’re all about user needs. I attended a masterclass run by members of Bath’s editorial team on working in an agile way. This focused on the role of user stories in the development process. User stories help to frame requirements for products from the user’s perspective. For each user task identified a series of user stories are written, following the format:

As a… (user type)

I want/need… (task)

So that… (benefit)

The development team use these stories to find solutions that are focused on the user and meet their needs.

Many other universities are working on website projects just like Go Mobile. In a recent overhaul Liverpool John Moores University reduced the size of its website from 12,000 to 1,000 pages. They did this by focusing on what pages users were actually visiting. What’s more, all their content was brand new!


The conference was extremely valuable. It was good to hear from the people successfully leading transformation at their institutions. And great to meet new people in the same line of work to share ideas and experiences.

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Experts to Inspire You

We like to keep ourselves up to date with the latest developments in the web industry by reading. A lot.

We read books, articles, websites and blogs and thought we’d pick some of the quotes we really, really like. Hopefully you can spot why…


“When I look at a web page it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory.

“I should be able to ‘get it’ – what it is and how to use it- without expending any effort thinking about it.”

Steve Krug
Don’t make me think

“It is very important that your website is visually pleasing. However it is much more important your website is useful.”

Gerry McGovern
Killer Web Content

Your content is important

“Language is at the heart of communication, and the only purpose of a website is to communicate.”

Seth Godin
The First Rule of Web Design

“Your writing is important. At the end of the day, you’re a person communicating with other people.”

Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee
Nicely said. Writing for the web with style and purpose

“If the heading is the hook, the summary is the line that pulls you in. The summary gives readers all the information they need to decide whether to read on or not.”

Gerry McGovern
Killer Web Content

“A person who produces content without understanding the tasks the content needs to support is a dangerous person indeed.”

Gerry McGovern
The Stranger’s Long Neck

“With the limitations of the mobile screen as a guideline and a barrier, you’d naturally have to write differently.

  • You’d get to the point.
  • You’d put the most important information up front.
  • You’d remove all the marketing jargon and fluff.
  • You’d write short declarative sentences.
  • You wouldn’t use a long word when a short one would do.
  • You’d make every word earn its place.

Writing this way isn’t just good for writing for mobile. It’s good writing for everyone.”

Karen McGrane
Content Strategy for Mobile

Going mobile

“Use going mobile as a lens to make all our content better regardless of platform.

“It’s a big chance to create a better user experience by improving the quality of our content. Let’s not waste it.”

Karen McGrane
Content Strategy for Mobile

“The work you do now, to structure content for reuse and get it ready for mobile, is going to also make that content more prepared for wherever the future takes it.

“Considering all the different devices on which your content may be displayed forces you to focus – to take stock of what’s really important and to get rid of things that aren’t.”

Sara Wachter-Boettcher
Content Everywhere

Your messaging

“Messaging is the art of deciding what information or ideas you have that you want to give to – and get from- your users.”

Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach
Content Strategy for the Web

“Use the mobile screen’s constraints to help prioritise your primary, secondary and supporting messages.”

Karen McGrane
Content Strategy for Mobile

“You must have an ending to your content that is a call to action. Good web content is always task-focused, and the best ending allows your customers to go about completing their tasks.”

Gerry McGovern
Killer Web Content

A final thought…

“Today, many websites are damaging the reputation of the organization. Every time someone finds the wrong content or clicks on a broken link, the brand is hurt.”

Gerry McGovern
Killer Web Content

Feel inspired

So, do you feel inspired? And can you tell why we like these quotes?

These experts all advocate good writing practice to improve the website experience for all.

They all absolutely, utterly agree on one thing: content is king.

You don’t have to be a designer or a developer to create a useful, successful website at the University (we’ll do that for you) but you do have to care about your content.


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