Sustainable Content

Last Updated: 10/10/2013

Most of our communication is intentional. We speak because we want to inform or to persuade. We have a goal. Before we make a speech or publish a brochure, we usually spend some time spelling out our intentions and goals. We develop a strategy.

Web sites are not different. They are deliberate communications, geared towards a specific audience, with specific informative and persuasive goals. We should have a clearly defined strategy for our web content.

Content strategy is important – if you are working on web content, you should consider reading Erin Kissane’s excellent “Elements of content strategy.” Here are some key ideas on content strategy:

Who is your audience?

Who is the site for? Is it for prospective students or for current students? Parents? Is the audience different for different areas of your site?

What is your goal?

Is your goal to inform or to persuade? Is it both? What information about your department should the reader be able to find?

Is your content sustainable?

Here’s Erin’s explanation on why sustainable content is important:

“Sustainable content is content you can create—and maintain—without going broke, without lowering quality in ways that make the content suck, and without working employees into nervous breakdowns. (p. 6).”

… the reason most content is not properly maintained is that most content plans rely on getting the already overworked to produce, revise, and publish content without neglecting other responsibilities…

Hoping that a content management system will replace this kind of human care and attention is about as effective as pointing a barn full of unmanned agricultural machinery at a field, going on vacation, and hoping it all works out. (p. 12-13).

And here is our checklist to ask yourself about your content :

Do features of your site require periodic updates?
For example, if you have decided to have a news block, how often will you update it? It is better not to have a news block than to have one displaying stories from 2008.

Do you have the resources to produce the content?
Let us say you have put a slideshow on your front page. You have now committed to producing news stories and good images to accompany them. Do you have a camera, a photographer,  image editing software and someone who knows how to use it? It is better to have a text-only page than a page with a bad photo inserted at the wrong resolution.

Do you have the support to maintain your content?
Do your supervisors understand that someone in the unit will have to dedicate their time to content updates and that the commitment will likely increase over time as the site gets more complex? Is there a long-term plan for the site? It is best to match the ambitiousness of your site to the support that you have.

Next steps: Can someone help me develop a content strategy?

In summary, here are the steps you could take in planning your site:

1.     Define your audience.
2.     Define your goals.
3.     Create a content plan that matches your audience and your goals.
4.     Evaluate your plan to make sure that you have the resources to implement it.

Content strategy is just one of many aspects of preparation that goes into creating a quality web presence. Luckily, OIT can provide you with comprehensive help in planning your site. We can inform you about our web services, connect you to the right people on campus, and even help you develop a content strategy. Web consultations are available free of charge to all CU-Boulder units and individuals. Learn more about web consultations.

Text by Kosta Tovstiadi