TNT6: What Content Strategy Really Means for Higher Ed

Kate Johnson 
Senior Web Content Strategist, University of Denver

The audio for this podcast can be downloaded at

Announcer:  This is one in a series of podcasts from the HighEdWeb Conference in Austin 2011.

Kate Johnson:  I've been a DU, I've been doing content and DU for, I'm working towards six years now. And just to kick off, I was kind of interested. I'd love to get a survey and just get a sense of sort of the state of content in higher ed and what you're all doing. So how many of you are, you know, lucky enough to be able to dedicate yourselves full time to working on content? Oh my gosh that is fantastic. I'm so excited. And how many of you have people on your team, other people that are doing full time content? Oh my gosh, this is so huge. I bet if you'd asked this two years ago, there would've been almost no hands in the air.

And then how many of you out there are supermen and are those people who are in one-stop shops and you handle everything yourself? Oh, and I maybe love you even more because with everything that you have to work on and all the skills that you have to have and everything that you're willing to dedicate the time to come here and talk about content so bless your hearts all of you.
01:00 Oh man. I'm off the, can you help me, I'm off the screen, someone can come help? Hi, can you come help me adjust the projector? But, so I'm starting off talking about what content strategists do but you can't see. And I'm starting because content strategy has ah, blown up huge in the past couple of years. It really wasn't a thing until two and a-half maybe three years ago. And so it's become this huge buzz word and it's great because people are talking about it but the one disadvantage to something being a gigantic buzz word is that it can start to lose its meaning or it can start to seem like a fad.

And sometimes I hear people talking about it in the Twitter verse or in person and they talk about content strategists kind of us people who like talk about leveraging things a lot or synergizing a whole lot. And I, there's a guy in my field who actually said this that, I guess my uhm, my dimensions must not be set right but that when we get really busy we may not have time to do all that strategy stuff.
And those verbal quotation marks were actually really there and I thought to myself, I laughed myself for a minute but then I had to stop and think like what a great image of how some people are thinking of content strategy as this set of sort of fuzzy documents and plans and, you know, and things that you obsessed over that actually add a whole lot of time to our projects and we're just trying to get our work done.

So if that's one of the impressions that's out there, so what do content strategists actually do? If you're new to the field or if you're just starting to read the documentation or go to the conferences, you would be forgiven for thinking that they are full time dedicated to making infographics because there are a lot of them out there and some of the most fun honestly I had working on this presentation was Googling content strategy and diagrams and seeing what came up because there's at least a hundred different things and they're pretty and they're complicated and there are a lot of arrows and circles. And content strategists get very excited about them.
And I don't mean to knock the infographics because they exist for a very real reason and they serve a purpose but when you're sort of in higher ed and you're on the ground and you've got to get your projects out the door and your new sites updated and you're maybe arguing with the dean about what your voice and tone on the website is going to be, it could be very easy for these to seem esoteric and like they're not really related to your life.

But there's a reason they exist, there really is. That's because content is complicated. It is, and one of the first things that content strategy acknowledges openly acknowledges, which I love is just content is messy full stuff, you know. Content can be painful and it's a factor that it includes so many elements of people in processes and skill sets and work flows that, it's just always going to be difficult and it's not because you're doing anything wrong. It's just the nature of the beast.
And so all the different ways that can be complicated that we can run into in higher ed, a lot of its people, you know we run into, we work with people across a lot of different departments, that can be faculty and deans and administrators and any level of staff and all of that involves personalities you have to deal with and politics that you have to deal with and people may have entirely different ideas of what the goal of a website is or what uhm, what makes of an acceptable voice and tone and so you're negotiating all that. That's even before you get to the content and where it maybe coming from and whether you know, you have a faculty trying to write something. We've had front desk staff, who 25% of their time was dedicated toward writing content.

Some people are outsourcing content. Well then there's photographers and videographers and you're dealing with all of this. You've got all the places you push content out to, podcast, email, newsletters, you know, you could go on for ages. Maintenance, how are you going to judge if things are successful when we deal with a lot is technological limitations?
You know with our resources sometimes the systems that we have can only do so much to give people the kind of content they want to present and we have to deal with that. And I, I literally could go on and on for ages thinking of things but, and then there's big one that we deal with in higher ed which is that uhm, often if you're any kind of essential content person, usually, not only are you kind of working your butt off trying to create really good content of your own and maintain it, you're also trying to facilitate other people. You'll have to create content and make them create really great content and maintain it, which is this whole other layer of complexity and teaching and soft people skills and things.

Just curious, how many of you, along with creating content have to deal with other people who are creating their own content? That's what I thought that's just about everybody. So that's higher ed life for us.
So it's good though that I'm not here to be intimidating or to give you the sense that there's some huge high mountain that you climb to the top off. The fact is basically if you're in this room, you're already doing some element of this. If you're getting some kind of content together and you're getting it pushed out and you're getting people to agree on it, you're already doing this Herculean task. It's just that you're doing it kind of intuitively and figuring it out as you go and I, uhm, I was a content strategist two to three years before it was a thing I even know.

I was a web editor and I just figured out that sometimes I just had to do what it took to get stuff done and I had to, I had to wrangle people and I had to organize huge work flows across all kinds of departments and it didn't matter and I didn't think about it that much, I just got it done. And I started to to realize that there are certain things that made it easier as it worked from project to project and that's the heart of what content strategy is.
So what strategy does for you and the reason you should care is that it takes this very complex, tangled, confused sort of a process that involves people across departments and having to know things and having to organize things and it starts to pick it apart and untangle it and look at it systematically. So the idea is that it's giving you a sort of consistent set of tools or ways to attack things. So that you aren't having to start from scratch every single time and sort of intuitively figure out how you're going to manage things.

So it's not about the fussy reports and the, the leveraging and facilitating and things. It's about giving you a set of tools that actually simplify your life. So how do you take content strategy and how does it simplify your life? To do that, you had to get yourself a process and ah, not in the sense of like, like, oh yeah, yeah when we do content we talk to this person. I mean, no, I mean literally you write down on a piece of paper pull it out like this is exactly what we do step by step.
And this is great for a couple of reasons. The first being that when things start going wobbly with the project which they almost inevitably will in some level, then you have something to refer back to. So when you have this client who comes to you and says, you know there's no way that we could ever draft content until the pages are built in the CMS and so we can draft it right there in the CMS. No this literally happened like a month ago. It's true story

So something like that will always come up and you can refer back to it like this is our project, this is our process, this is best practices and this is what we shall do. The other reason is that when you're both running multiple projects at the same time, and my team can easily be handling 20-25 projects that are all turning and of course they have different levels of commitment from us and amount of time we're spending and they're in different places but the idea is I could never track across all those projects if I weren't consistently using a process and that we're just kind of shooting from the hit all the time.
To work your process has to be flexible and you want a solid backbone for it but you need to be able to uhm, to flex it as you work with different clients. I'm going to walk you through a process that we have and the set of the tools that we use but I'm not at all presenting them as perfect or even as the final product because pretty much literally every client that we worked with at the end we stop and think, you know I just wished if we had asked them that way earlier it could've saved us a lot of pain and suffering. Or we gave them this tool but it was too complicated and they had a hard time with it so maybe we can simplify that.

So it's all about adapting. Either adapting to the particular project or adapting your process and moving forward. And in a sense to me that's kind of the ethos of content strategy is this adaptive learning of a, of a complex sort of process.
And maybe the most important thing of all is that whatever process you set up has to truly be realistic and you have to look clear eyed at the number of people and the amount of time that you have because it's so easy to get ambitious coming from a writer/editor background like I do. You think plans are great and shiny and it's great you can do all of them. And then you set yourself this entire to-do list and when it's more than you have time for that actually weighs you down. It throws the fun in your to-do list and it can't get done and it becomes this hassle that you don't need in your life. But if it's a set of tools that's manageable that you really can slide into your uhm, the staff and resources that you have, all of a sudden it's boon, it's the tool that's helping you in saving your time. So that's soaky.

I'm going to talk about our process that our team uses. A disclaimer, this is not any sort of an exhaustive content strategy process. There are a lot of great steps but I'm not going to talk about that you could use. Everything from audience analysis to SWAT analysis to governance guidelines, there's all kinds of stuff.
But this is intended to be more of a sort of boots in the mud. Everyday this is what we're using and this is what with the minimum amount of buck that we have, the biggest bang that we've been able to get out of it. And, secondarily just about our team so we, it's like a lot of us, so we're a central team and we're in a very, very decentralized organization so our departments have a ton of autonomy about, around their content.

And so we work on our own central content that we have a little more control over but then we also work a lot with clients and again trying to facilitate in whatever way we can in getting their sites up and so, because that's where we use the process most heavily and it comes most in handy, I'm going to talk about that a lot but it also, it's very scalable and it translates the content that you're generating yourself so you can keep those both in mind as I'm talking.
And the tools, I'm going to show you uhm, a set of images of these tools that we have. I'm just going to throw up the images so you get a sense of what they're like but afterwards I'm going to give you the URL to a site where you can go and download any and all of them that you find helpful and so no need to try and read them all or write stuff down in a hurry because all will be accessible to you.

And this, this is my one infographic that I have made for you so, soak it up please. So that's as good as it gets. I just wanted to, to give you a sense ahead of time what our process looks like that we'll be walking through. It's kind of big, long convoluted things so we start by prioritizing and sorting the sites we're going to work on. Before we gather the information we need and that's all before the actual content production happens. And then we have some post launch and maintenance work that we do. All right let's get started. Prioritizing. So we are in higher ed and all of our lives, this is a reality for us.
I work at a mid-sized institution DU. We've got about 11,000 students and our, the umbrella of our website covers somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of pages depending on who you ask and how they're counting. And we have two full time essential content people, me and a wonderful web editor and I know how incredibly lucky we are to have two essential full time content people. I know that's relatively unusual and yet still with that number of pages, there's uhm, you know, we can't even a small percentage of that we can't look at it in any sort of a reasonable detail.

So we have to pick off right from the beginning deciding how many resources we can allocate to a project. And so we have this sort of three tier system that we created and it's entirely based on how much the sites mapped to our institutional priorities. The idea being, if you have this idea for prioritizing things, you get out of that loop of making sites for whoever screams the loudest. 
So we start with our level one sites that map most closely to our goals. Uhm, with our institution and I imagined with most of  yours, those goals are incoming students, increasing applications, of long-term increasing fund raising which we try and do through sort of relationship building across alumni and parents-students. And something we've just started talking about is branding in and of itself being a goal.

And so this first tier sites tend to be our academic unit sites most commonly and with them we have a very hands-on process where we, we meet with them, we hold their hands, we explain. We go through processes for them. They generate pretty much all the concept themselves but we work closely together. So one example would be, this is huge division, website we did academic division which is natural sciences and mathematics.
Level two sites pretty logically. While they contribute to the goals, it's a lot more indirect and they may have some, they, they largely point inside that they may have some external audiences as well. So again the process is very scalable and so, they still run this through the same process but we interact with them at certain critical points of it. One of them would be sort of site mapping and one would be a good content review but other than that they're moving through on their own.

So an example is student outreach that we did because that uhm, it bases current students also it may have some external facing if perspective students and their parents are doing some deep, deep research. So you want it to be solid but, but it's not top tier. In our level three sites, we're working really hard on this process. The long-term goal is that it'll be pretty much entirely self-served. We want to give them a set of very robust tools and set them up in the beginning and then mostly they'll go through it on their own and, I have to admit it kind of hurts my heart as an editor person to know that something's going to get published out there and I haven't looked at all the words if you come for print it all but it's just higher ed life and you can only, you can only do what you do and if you put too many resources into this you can't make the top level sites great. So I've had to give in to that.
So these tend to be almost entirely internal facing sites. Usually they're really small, they wouldn't have to be but they usually are. Our records management site is a great example. It basically is a list of how you store different records. That's all it was.

So we've decided now what level sites hit and so we know how many resources we're going to allocate to them. And so we do this project pick off and we do the same one with everybody. And this is where we need to collect some of the really basic preliminary information and these are things like why the site needs to exist at all. If they have an even remotely realistic idea of when it should launch, who the stakeholders are and this is great to find out early on because you get your first ideas of if there's going to be some political weirdness that you're going to have to deal with and then what they need technically from the site and whether we can even provide that for them.
\And some of these questions had have problems early on because you may find out the site doesn't need to be there's no reason like this could be, it could be very easily be served by a page on someone else's site. Or they want some sort of functionality that actually some sort of external to all maybe social media already provides that we couldn't mention we built for them. So this is what we do with everybody. This is the first tool that you're going to be able to download later if you like. This is a Word document that we give to everyone and they just fill in the blanks and they post it back. We use Yammer as a, a collaborative tool for every project that we work on. And if you're not familiar with it, Yammer is a social medial tool specifically for the workplace and for my clients who are a little nervous about it I call it Facebook for work because it, it functions very similarly and you write posts and you can upload documents and it's a great space for us because you create this private groups nobody else can see and one you can track the whole conversation across the timeline but also documents like this will always be there to refer back to.
So say our developers are working on the site, they can look back at this point and see what the director needs to be named and whether they need redirect, things like that. Once that's finished for everybody here especially with the top tier sites beginning to work content and IA start kicking in together. So this is the next part of gathering information. It's more in-depth but it applies both the content and IA. So what we do is we sit down with them personally with a set of questions. We don't give this them to fill out and that's because the questions are more complicated and contextual and sometimes you need to ask a follow-up question or word things differently to get to the information that you really want.
The kind of information we're getting here are things like more specifically what are the goals of the site? Really what's it going to do? What are the tasks that users need to complete? What are the problems it's going to solve for you, for your department? And we've started at this point just brainstorming metrics throwing them out there for things that might possibly measure whether the goals are being met and I really like doing it this early partly because, you know it gets the seed in our minds right away that they're going to be measuring this after launch. And also maybe this is just me being idealistic but I'd like to think that it shapes the way that they're thinking about content in that all the pieces that they're working on are going to need to do something very specific. So I need to write it in the sense so whether it's going to accomplish a goal for them not just to be, you know spewing stuff out there.

We cover the branding and key messages at this point. We make sure they have them and that they fit into the universities' branding hierarchy and that they're compatible. It's a great time to find out really realistically what kind of staff they have to work on their sites because I'm going to harp on maintenance in this presentation because I feel like it's one of the biggest problems I see not just in DU but I think across higher ed is outdated content because how often do you get into an academic units website and it says upcoming events, the most recent one is three months ago.
Or how often do you get to a news site and the most recent news event is nine months ago. And I just feel like that's so detrimental to your brand and really says something about how much the organization cares about communicating and so I'm trying to do a lot of things to make through that but out of day content doesn't happen.

So here we're going to find out realistically how many people can help create the content as well as how many people can help maintain the content and we keep that in mind. We've established all this we are getting on to IA. We have a user experienced designer and he works on building the site maps with the top level programs, he will actually co-create the first version of the site map and then they go back and forth and they refine it.
With the second level sites it's more likely that he'll give them a tool and they build their own site maps and then again there maybe some back and forth while we refine it. We make sure that those actually work. A content, so DUX designer owns this part of the process but content still does have a role and so we keep an eye on this so that we keep an eye on the labels, what's going on in navigation to make sure that the language is, you know it's a real human being language and also that it doesn't have some sort of funky connotations that can sometimes sneak in when non-content people aren't thinking about it.

And this is also our time to head off some content weirdness before it gets big tried into the site map and becomes a lot harder to deal with later. So that's things like content that isn't there and sometimes that's because the client never thought of it in the first place, sometimes it's something awesome that we know that we can do that they may not have thought of so we can bring that up.
It's a great time to avoid needy content, again that's keeping your content up to date kind of thing because everybody, really they get enthusiastic about the site and they think it's so fantastic that they'll update a uhm, they'll update a profile of a student on their homepage every single day and if we can try and think someone really going to collect that information and write that and make those changes. If not maybe we can head that off right here.

Unnecessary content, this is a great time to catch that old bear of uhm, we have it so we're going to stick it online because we have it and we've always had it online so anything like, my constant battle is I would love to see the end of the letter from the dean.


This, thank you. If there's any way I can make that happen, uhm. Well that's, that's an idea then you still have to get the dean to accept not having it on the website, it's just very...
Audience 1:  There's no sign of it I remember a meeting...


Kate Johnson:  Something we can propose. What we're uhm, right now it's just accepted and everybody has it across all their sites. We're trying to work with, the best I can do right now is all right post launch we're going to look at this in a few months and we're going to see what kind of hits you're getting on this, maybe when two people have hit it maybe they'll acknowledge that it's kind of useless but we also have, we have things where, you know, they have calendars from academic programs from two years ago because someone might want to see what the calendar was two years ago. And so anyway this is where we can head off some of that unnecessary content.

Site map signed off/on, this'll work content really gets into it and we first start with meeting with people and we talked to them about the process first before we even get into the writing for the website of things. And obviously with our first tier clients, we do this much more in depth. With the second tier, it might be sort of an email conversation or a quick conversation or something.
The reason that can be an in-depth conversation is because work flows are going to vary a great deal depending on what's going in the department. So this is where some of that sort of human knowledge kind of stuff can kick in because you maybe dealing with the department which truly happened recently where they say the first draft has to be written by a committee of 20 people. The only way it can be done and we have no choice. Or you may, they maybe outsourcing writing to somebody, you know a pro. So you never know.

So this is where we have to sort of debriefed them and find out what's going on about who will get their information and write it, edit it, approve it. This is a great time when we start to get uhm, we find out some of that weirdness whether it's, we talk about maybe somebody is going to be editing things but personality wise they're difficult or somebody's going to be approving things but she is notorious for missing her deadlines and so then we're like well truly give her a deadline that's two weeks ahead of when her real deadline is.
And we can, we can help them work through some of that and be set up to work. This is a point where we give them one contact person that works with us. They just get one because I've been in a situation in the past where I was working with the academic department where a faculty member had very strong feelings about how one section of the site should function and their director of communications had very strong other feelings about how that site should function. And it came to me to mediate that somehow and when you're not even in that department it's nearly impossible. So they're not going to do that anymore.

One person goes through all of that and funnels the resultant content to us. We'll talk to them about what's going on, if they're having a hard time but we're not going to negotiate the problems. Say, when they say if the work flow filled out, we map it on to the content inventory and oh my gosh do I love the content inventory. This is my favorite web invention since the beginning of time. And this is, so we give everyone a sample of an inventory and we move it onto them to fill out with our top tier clients we might fill out more of it.
But the idea is they get an example of how to do it. We just used ah, a simple excel spreadsheet and every, every page gets a row and every column check some piece of information about that page and I, I love using a laser pointer. I don't get to do this enough in my life but everywhere... So they start by talking about the unique page ID for every page. A UX designer, when he creates the site map, he already gives, you know, every page gets its unique ID. So it's very simple for them to fill it in and it's a way for them to really track every single page that they're going to need.

Then everybody tracks basically, you know, what we called a basic idea of what they might need from that content, and then they all check their photos for example. When you're a little farther on in this spreadsheet, depending on what their work flow is there maybe all kinds of different things they need to track if they have, maybe different people are writing things and then they need to track who but maybe not, maybe they don't need that column.
Maybe multiple chunks are going to be going through approval so maybe then you need to track that. And so you're going to be given all the columns you want but everybody has this maintenance section, right there. And here's where they check how often it needs to be updated and exactly what it is and my goal is that everything goes out there. There's a page that has a date on it that it goes up there and so they know they have to go back to it later.

And again, one this is great for a post-launch when they have to maintain things. The other reason it's great is because they're thinking about it as they're writing this content. They're thinking about how frequently they're really going to have to update this and if they can manage it. Another tool we get them is we, this is we call the page template. Content strategists call things mainly with different names but just stick with content page template for us. It's a Word document that we give them and it's basically a series of blanks for them to fill in and so for every page of content that they write, we ask them to stick it in this page template.
This is the only way I have found to make sure that everybody has keywords and descriptions for every page when they're going to enter it in the CMS. We even asked them about old tags because the CMS is going to force them to put in an old tag when it's time to enter the content so they're going to need it. And our pages have, you can't read this, but our pages have an optional right rail and usually it's a persistent piece of content with contact information across all our pages but this is a reminder to them that they can switch that up and they can stick banners and then things like that and this is a reminder to them to be thinking abo3ut this which they often wouldn't be otherwise.

We also give them just a few general content tips which I love and I thought you all might find useful as well. The first is to break up sites into sections and never try and take on the whole thing as a block partly because that gets pretty intimidating and people sort of give up by the end but partly because timewise it's so much more efficient than having one person writing a whole website and everybody else is doing nothing.
And then it moves on and one person's all the editing instead one person does a section and that turns on to editing or approving while they're writing the next section and it's a lot more functional. The thing is I could never imagine doing that without a content inventory. It would get way too crazy especially with the big site. So those two kind of go together. I love this one, I came up with this one. It's that you, everybody, every page is a Word document and so we asked them at the beginning of the Word document to start it with the page identifier for that page and this is great because once you get it all in one folder all the pages are in order and you can sort of read through them in order of the page outline, the site outline or uhm, sorry about that, or even better when the, when the, when you can line them up against the content inventory and you can line up one column against the folder and you track across then you know automatically that you have every page.
Another cool one is when you go to talk to your subject matter experts for your site, often this is faculty members, it could be administrators or anyone but often it's faculty, don't go to them and ask them to write three pages for your website. Instead just sit down with them and ask them questions and write down their answers. It's great for a couple of reasons, one of which is when they're verbally telling you something that they know, they're going to talk like a human being and they're going to use that human being language. You can take them and put straight into your site because that's what's going to be very beautiful for the web. 

Another reason is it's going to save you a lot of time in that if they are going to sit there and compose pages and try to make them perfect, they're going to spend a lot of time doing that that you going to have to wait on and also if they do do that and spend a lot of time making their pages perfect, they're going to be really resisted to giving it back to you and having you edit it for the web and you're going to have a battle there, so you may.\So you can avoid all of that by just, it seems like it might take longer to write it yourself but in the long run, much, much faster.
So walked them through how the process is going to work for them. Now we get to actually how they're going to write for the web. It's one of the hardest things that we deal with and I'm constantly thinking on this and trying to make it better. The reason why is that good content is incredibly hard and I've been doing content in one form or another for my whole adult working life and I still struggle with how do I write something so that it's really task focused, that's really user focused but it also communicates our brand messages in the way that we want to, it can be in art form.

So you're asking the people to buy into that sort of thinking and working that hard on their content. Also, I'm sure we've all run into our voice and tone. Academia does not like a simple voice and tone and they think it sounds dumb down. Well I think it makes you sound like a really good communicator. So there's that clash all the time.
And I'm telling you almost every time they are just going to want to cut and paste the content from the current site without looking at it because the site works perfectly fine so why are you coming to me and telling me I'm supposed to spend all this time messing with something that already works. So these are the challenges you're facing.

One of the most successful ways that we've found to teach people in how to write for the web is the seminar. We've tried one-on-one conversation. We've tried word hand, documents the handout and this is the one thing I've seen people really respond to. It's just the presentation that I did. I used to do it live all the time. Either one-on-one with clients or I'd set up cross campus once every now and then and close to the start I showed them you know, the heat maps, the eye tracking maps and people somehow that really clicks for them when I can show them, you know, not just look at how the eye skipping around the page but look at those whole big lands of blue right there that nobody is reading and how long did you spend writing that whole big vast wasteland of blue?
And seeing that I start there and then from there I move on and talk about all the ways that applies to writing but this gets me some buy-in and I just recently, it occurred to us that why not just record this and put it online so I don't have to be doing it in person all the time. So we just threw it up on YouTube as green chats with my voice over it and so you'll get a link to that if you find it helpful. Then I had one guy come to me after this presentation and say, "You know I saw your presentation I just realized I have to rewrite every page on my website." And it just gave me like the warm fuzzies like I cannot believe like, I had a reason to exist and I'd accomplished something. So, so this has been a great tool for us.

We give everybody a style guide and that it is just, there's an institutional style guide, which covers the uhm, all the basic institutional terms that need to be common but then...
This is a real quick thing, it's a few pages and it just addresses the style issues that only come up on the web or that come all the time on the web. So there's a few things like here's how you write the word email,the words click here shall never be a link ever and we shall not put up any pages that say under construction ever. So it's not allowed, that move away and we'll put the pages up once the date is actually there.
This is a relatively quick took you could implement if you don't have a lot of time and it, even the little things like having phone numbers always displayed the same way across your site. They're small but when people are skimming through, it gives the sense that you know, you're consistent and you know what you're doing in your professional organization so this little thing could get you some mileage if you really get people to use it.
Not too long ago we started using content models and this is, we found certain types of content are going to be repeated across many sites on our website. So far we've just started so we're just talking about academic units and so far we've done one for faculty profiles and for degree program descriptions because, yeah, so these are the most common things we're finding. We hope, I think over time we may do more.

But, so the idea here is rather than asking all these clients to go and sort of from scratch figure out how to write these very marketing intensive pages, we're not giving them an example that we already know that is written in terms of users interests and things like that. So here for the faculty profile pages, you know, we've tried and started out with the sort of research they're doing, which perspective students care about rather we're starting with where they got their BA which  with a lot of people will tend to do. And so we basically just give them these holes that they need to fill in and we try to, this red text calls out some kind of content that is very interesting that'll be great to have but it does require updating so if you can't  invest that amount of time don't use it.
We're just giving them all the tools we've learned that the fact is that we just walked into the room and tell them, you know what? Your content is terrible or it has been terrible and we're going to tell you how to not make it terrible. You're going to get sort of limited buy-in when you do that and so I've learned you really do try and have to be the jumping, cheering cheerleader as much as you can and get them really excited about doing it themselves. The couple of success I ever had were people that you know, we talk to them enough that they got excited and wanted to invest the amount of time that you have to invest to do content well.

And so rather than walking in there as lecturers, we try to walk in there as their best friends and tell them, you know, find out what their pain points are and that's one of the questions we asked back in the Q&A about IA and content, you know, where are your problems and your problem is... Yeah, all these people get to our apply section but then they're not filling out the application form.
Well let me tell you if your contented this you can up those numbers a lot and then they'll get much more excited about it. So they produced all the content and now we get to the point of editing it. It may, depending on the site it may come to our department for edit as most of them do to some extent except for maybe lowest tier ones. And here's the point when you just really, really have to prioritize because you can't edit all the pages.

Even in our highest level sites we found that we can't like closely line at it all the pages even in our big academic units and with them we closely edit the top level pages and we may even write some of their top level marketing pages. And when we get down to some of the really bottom informational pages, we try and find, you know, you often find the set of consistent sort of problems and so we write them up a notes page.
And these are the kinds of problems you can fix. You can break up your paragraphs. You can put subheads here. Avoid these really general huge marketing terms and replace them with specific proof points for example, here are some proof points from the organization. And then the onus is on the client to actually go and apply those to their content but hopefully we've got them excited enough and cheery enough they really want to do that.

As much as possible we try and do a final proof of everything before it goes into the content entry phase. Just a real quick one in the sense of looking for huge glaring problems or under construction pages or you know, eight months solid content things like that and to make sure that all the content is there because our CMS, CMS driving us insane, when people get there and they just don't have content for a page. So we've gotten through content and then this is the process a whole web team has its own, you know, process that content is only a part of and we designed and developed everybody does a QA for launch to look for problems and then launch and everybody's excited and the clients are very excited and happy emails are sent back and forth.
So the client often tends to think they're done at this point but what what content strategy brings here, one of our strengths is that, you know, you have launched this fragile, young, dream website out into the world and it can't stand on it's own. It's going to wither and die if you don't continue to interact with it.

So we have to have, we have sort of a post-launch conversation about how this is going to be maintained. And with the highest level clients, that's a meeting where we sit down and chat. With others it may just be an email but the idea is to impress upon them that their site has a life cycle but it's not just launch and leave. So looking back at the information, we had them put in the content inventory and set a very specific schedule for when they're going to do updates. And we show them how to set up automatic reminders for themselves and our CMS allows you to set a reminder for every page if you want. It will email you and tell you when that page needs to be updated.
If your CMS doesn't have that functionality, outlook reminders can function just as well but the idea is to have something automatically telling you when you need to do updates. And we also talk about how are goal is that every site, every page is read at least once a year because there's content that may not have a date in it but it can over time sort of become suddenly irrelevant or sort of gradually out of date and we just don't want to get into that stage where on a big site there are pages that you haven't read in three years. We're trying to make this a policy for everyone.

Then we talk about measurement. And this is something that I think has been underutilized, not just with us but across higher ed in general. And so we try and, we set, we decide on a specific set of metrics out of the ones that we brainstormed earlier in the process and we make sure that they're tied very closely to the specific goals that they talked about.
And the most common ones will be based on analytics but you can be creative and sometimes analytics, there maybe solutions everywhere. For example if they're big goal is we want  people to be able to find this information on their website maybe you measure how often your front desk staff is answering questions from people looking for information that's on your website. So you can think about real world just what is it that really determines whether your site is doing what you wanted to.

So we've learned that these, these metrics need to be specific enough that you really can act upon them because every academic unit that you talked to, their goal is going to be to increase applications or it's going to happen which is great and it's what they want. But so many factors go into that both on the site and off the site that if application numbers go down what's the thing that you go and fix on the site. There's no way to pick that apart.
So instead we try to look for things that are so specific that they can tell you what needs to be fixed. For example look at this page and there's this page sending people to apply the way that you wanted to but there's whole set of pages where they're sending people. And that way they can look at those pages and try tweaking things and then try, you know, measuring it again. So the idea is we walk away from this where they have a set of metrics that they're going to measure.

On the very highest level sites we may actually measure some of them ourselves so we can judge the impact that we've had but mostly the onus is on the clients here too. So here we go, this is, I've walked you through the whole process and given you the set of tools, these are all of them. My goal here is for you guys to go home and to pick something and start using it on Thursday and just maybe pick one thing and think about what your pain point is and what is driving you insane whether that's trying to track tons of documents all at the same time or whether it's you know, arguing with somebody about what voice and tone is actually reasonable for the website.
So, so I challenge you to go and download one of these and change it and modify it and make it work better or make it work for your specific situation and I would love that. Here's your website and of course the presentation will be online and you could find it there but I'll also tweet this URL on TNT6 afterwards so you can find it there.

And there you go. And also please, please contact me. I love that I geek out about the stuff all day long and so I love to hear what other people are doing and what's working better than what I'm doing already and so just come and talk to me. Thank you.


Audience 2:  Can you run through your staff and what their roles are?

Kate Johnson:  Sure. So on our team we have, there's a director of our team managing us and then we have our user experience designer who covers design and IA basically and two developers and then two content people. So uhm, me and Valerie and between the two of us we can do a lot of the same work in the sense that when we need to we both end up editing content things but essentially I try and look at it more strategically and I build processes and I build tools like this and I do maybe more of the people wrangling than she necessarily does and then she'll work on more of the kind of simpler projects not that there's not always people wrangling with those as well. Yes?

Audience 3:  Can you talk about brainstorming methods?

Kate Johnson:  Hmm.

Audience 3:  Can you talk a bit about what that help controls?

Kate Johnson:  Yeah it's not, you know super developed or advanced how we've done it just yet.
I mean really we sit, we're sitting at the table and we're like what are some possible ways that maybe we could measure this and generally they don't throw anything out at first but we say something like well what if a lot of people come, you know, from this page to get to the right page. What if, if your goal is getting more people to your site in the first place, you know, what if we could maybe look at organic referrals from search engines. And so often they won't maybe have the web know-how to say exactly what the numbers are but they can sort of get what we're saying and say, well you know it's really more important that our, our parent-students are finding in essence so we can try and figure out what metric that could possibly be.

So yeah, we try and throw it out for just ideas and put it on Yammer and say keep on adding to this conversation as more ideas come up for what you can do. And so that's, it's still a challenging one but we're working on it.

Audience 4:  Can you or your team receive a sent notifications about when is the update going to go? The reminder? You know one of the higher policing?

Kate Johnson:  That's, so policing or governance is a tricky one. In most cases, I mean in theory we would have this whole set of rules and the authority to go in and make sure people do these things and partly because we don't really have the authority and partly because we haven't really had the time to check up on people. We really haven't been doing that too much. We, we spot check when we can. We really generally won't follow up to make sure that people update things except for if there are some really important sites and important things that we need to make sure then, yeah, for the same page they could set themselves a reminder and we could as well. So then we could go and check on that.

Audience 5:  Any more questions?
Kate Johnson:  Right?

Audience 4:  Very nice Kate. Thank you.

Kate Johnson:  Thank you.