Building a content-driven web site requires a strategy of multiple strategies (a meta-strategy). It can sound daunting, but it’s not. There are 6 stages and, if you keep them straight, they keep you on the straight path to growing your business.
Stage 1: Business Strategy
Your underlying business goal meets your operative assumption on why and how (e.g. by what specific action) an audience will respond. This is tougher than it sounds to do on one’s own. Often, we’re too close to our business, too enamored with our own services or products, and too sure that we really know our audience. If we don’t get clarity in this stage, the rest doesn’t work. This means that, if you’re launching a marketing plan, be it with a web site or social media, the company’s core thought leaders and stake holders are involved – especially them.
Stage 2: Content Strategy
An underlying story or marketing premise will drive our content. We need to settle on what that story is about, and we need to think through it from the perspective of the audience, not only our own needs and perspective. The moment the content strategy takes the audience out of the center, and puts *us* in the center, as the business, we’ve ensured that the content we generate will be disengaging and ineffective. You can’t just toss away content strategy and move right to content, either — otherwise, you get a jumble of purposes and perspectives unrelated to any coherent goal of the business or the audience. The content appears random and the user experience suffers at a fundamental level. Your content strategy should take into account your business strategy.
Stage 3: Technical Strategy
The site platform, or CMS, needs to have the flexibility for collaboration and continually iterating and evolving the story and the content. If you can get away with an open platform like WordPress, rather than some drag and drop builder, you’ll have the greatest flexibility. Open platforms are designed like a Dremel tool – you can add attachments, and do just about anything with them, as your needs evolve and your campaigns mature. Build a flexible, modern content-friendly web 2.0 layout if possible, and make content pre-eminent. Avoid rigid layouts that force content to take a back seat to design. Your technical strategy should take into account your content strategy.
Stage 4: Design Strategy
Weaving the mix of text, illustrations, photography, video, and special features, with design elements (like buttons and boxes), and design styles (like fonts and colors) is an act of translation. Thought will be given to the user’s experience (UX) – how people actually use or intend to utilize the site. The user interface (UI) will compliment that by making it delightful to use and attractive to look at. Technical components that require coding or setup will help bring these together, along with content, to achieve the result. In a content driven site, form follows function. The content isn’t forced to fit a design, but the other way around. You don’t want a beautiful design that won’t actually get visitors through the interactions you intend. Likewise, you don’t want your well thought out process hampered by an imposing design schema or muted by an overly conservative one. Design isn’t first, but it’s key.
Stage 5: Evolution Strategy
You’re not done, just because you’re done. Evaluate, test, rinse and repeat. If it’s a content-driven web site, it is about the audience. You need to get a minimum viable product (MVP) live and in place so you can actually start collecting data that allows the site to evolve. You’ll likely make adjustments to the user interface design (right now, the design is a working theory) as you learn more about how users are actually experiencing it. Your content strategy will evolve and grow based on how your audience interacts with it, and the data you gather. You will continue this process over the lifetime of the site, however long that is. After all, your audience is evolving too. Nothing is static. If you ever lose that open mind to continually learn something knew, even in a field where you think you know it, you’re likely to look up one day and be detached from an audience who is now listening to competitors.
Stage 6: The Strategy for Continual Engagement
You’ve got a web site, but so does everyone else. You need a marketing strategy to engage your audience in a way that evolves as they do and the market context does. A set of content campaigns that come out of strategy, and lead to other content campaigns, and still others, can ensure enough ongoing fuel to keep your site burning brightly and never growing dim, stale, or irrelevant.
MadPipe actually advises clients through all of these stages, even though it’s stage 6 we’re really trying to get you to. The web site is a vehicle to get somewhere, get out, and get started. It’s not an end itself. No matter how much we might think of it as a big project one starts and finishes, it’s really a way of embarking on the best and most fun part of growing a business – engaging our audience. For help through all of these stages, contact MadPipe.