January 18, 2018 by Hedgehog

Content, Content Strategy and SXA: A Hedgehog Live Chat

Jackie (Jacqueline Baxter, marketing specialist): Welcome to the first ever Hedgehog live chat, fitting for a new year. Our topic today is content; how it informs a site, how it influences various aspects of web design. Let's start with the basic question: how does content fit into a website build?

Melissa (Melissa Banks, senior web designer): Well, I for one believe it should be one of the very first phases of a project. Once you determine what a website is going to do and say, you can optimize the design to efficiently deliver that message.

Joe (Joseph Rega, senior SEO analyst): The Content Strategy should influence the design. Too often sites are designed well but don't allow the necessary amount of space for content to be added.

Elena (Elena Mosoff, senior solutions developer): 100% agree with Melissa. Content is one of the first things to cover when sitting down with stakeholders to discuss potential site builds: what are they trying to say to their customers and what type of content are they're going to put out in the web-o-verse

Andy (Andy Busam, digital strategist): Content should be written with design and development in mind. And design and development should be created with content in mind. They are two sides of the same coin. Too often these two practice areas are at odds with each other because of a lack of coordination.

Mike (Mike Shaw, client success manager): I think it is important to note that ‘content’ is a living beast. The beautiful part about a content management system is that it should allow for easy and rapid changes to content. Real time marketing is key.

Andy: Static content is so early 2000's at this point.

Jackie: Content is also a big umbrella; it essentially covers anything a company wants it to. I feel like the word is thrown around a lot

Joe: In this context, ‘content’ means copy and images.

Justin (Justin Grall, project manager): "copy and images” also includes brand, voice, style, etc.

Jackie: Those are things that should be decided early in the process. Or, you know, BE the beginning of the process.

Mike: I think Joe's point on a content strategy is key. It's impossible to create all the content because you're never done creating content. A site build needs a strong and pointed content strategy.

Joe: A good content strategy early in the process would set the foundation for good, all-inclusive design. I think designers are often told to “make it look pretty” or “choose a good font” but not told what the word count should be or what to do if the copy needs to be increased.

Melissa: I think too often when a content strategy isn’t considered it’s left up to the designers to “wing it,” and if we’re working with nothing it’s hard to determine which areas may need to be flexible and how they might change in the future.

Elena: Content types can require different design/development features; it's not all the same.

Justin: That’s why content strategy is essential through the process. At the beginning of the project life cycle it informs the design and development, and later it informs the content admin workflow process, including guidelines for content.

Andy: A good content strategy also seeks to answer some important questions from the outset: who are you talking to, what do you want to tell those people, why do you want to say that to them, and how do you want to say it.

Jackie: There's also a tendency for content creators to go back and forth with designers in a "I can make it fit any design, just show me what we're working with" vs "show me what you've written and we can design around it." A solid content strategy makes everyone less stabby.

Justin: A Content Strategist role needs to be included in the project makeup to help drive the decisions needed and to collaborate with the team. Based on project size and budget, this role will sometimes need to be handled by the lead marketer, the project manager or the creative lead – that should be determined early on if that actual job title is not already part of a team makeup.

Jackie: Are you implying that not everyone has an official Content Strategist? I'm shocked. Shocked, I say!

Justin: Too often, if the content strategist role does exist, they lay some initial groundwork and then come in at the end of the development cycle to enter the content and review. Having a content representative in the agile framework throughout the project, will decrease risk and reduce design/development do-overs/tweaks.

Elena: Ah, Justin, this is precisely the reason people have come up with tools like SXA for Sitecore. Those tools mean that content can circle back to the project life-cycle WAAAY earlier. The project I'm working on now? We're developing the site and changing design WHILE our content team is entering all the content.

Jackie: I was just about to ask if a tool like SXA alleviates some of these issues!

Elena: I feel like it does. At least somewhat. There's probably no way to completely avoid tweaks before a final signoff, but at least you can get in on the review process much earlier than in a standard project lifecycle.

Mike: As one of the content creators SXA is great because I’m just building pages based on out of the box extremely flexible components. Style and design can come later.

Jackie: That's my basic philosophy as well - as a content creator I don't have to wait for anything or anyone except the strategy. SXA is a huge step up in that regard.

Justin: SXA brings the team earlier in the process, which helps the content team make their own iterations once they see it on the page. As a bonus, they also usually find bugs or missing features before anyone else.

Andy: It does seem like a benefit of creating and editing content with SXA is that we're able to uncover new ways to use or implement components that may not have been considered yet.

Mike: One of my favorite quotes is a Mike Tyson one: "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." I think this is totally true with content strategy. SXA is great because it allows us to quickly alter our plan based on realistic impact of whatever is built.

Jackie: And SXA gives me an idea of what ELSE I need much earlier in the process. I feel like fewer developers want to throw coconuts at my head if I can say "can you build this too" while they're actively in the process of building components.

Elena: FOR SURE. No coconuts will be thrown.

Andy: I think this has been mentioned, but it's critical to remember that content strategy shouldn't be a thing that happens only during an initial site build. It should be an ongoing practice to stay relevant.

Jackie: We’ve sort of touched on that but I’m really interested in how everyone feels about this. There's still a belief out there that since content can be squished into any size box on any device, you can write it once and publish everywhere and call it good. A responsive content strategy, though, means figuring out if the content is valuable and/or useful on all devices, figuring out how much content can appear on a page in different devices, making sure headlines aren't cut off and important info isn't lost, developing alternate versions of images and copy blocks based on the platform, etc.

So, on a scale of 1-10, 1 being ‘not at all important’ and 10 being ‘DO THE THING’ how important would you say it is for a content strategy to be responsive/dynamic?

Elena: 10. I never use my laptop anymore. I do all my browsing on my phone. And all my shopping.

Andy: I agree with you Elena. It's a 10.

Joe: 10. Content needs to be responsive with a focus on mobile accessibility.

Mike: I don’t know how, in good conscience, anyone could build a site today and not consider responsive nature.

Justin: 10. We're only going to augmented reality from here - which will require even more content dynamic consideration.

Elena: Verdict - DO THE THING, Jackie

Jackie: I DO WHAT I WANT. In this case, I want to agree with you. I'd rank it a 10 as well.

Melissa: My understanding of “responsiveness” as it relates to content is that content should be different depending on if you are on desktop or mobile. I have a very hard time getting on board withchanging content based on the device you are using. If we’re worried about content being too long for mobile, then we should really be concerned about it being too long in general. 

Mike: But, Melissa, content could extend to copy vs video. When discussing responsiveness, a site's content should be able to adapt to any device or platform natively, and companies should use trending analytics data to decide what types of content to provide.

Andy: I think there are use cases where it is valuable to present significantly different versions of a website depending on screen size. That's a more interesting conversation to me than just converting 2-3 column websites to a single column with the same content.

Melissa: My concern is for people who use both devices who may browse on the desktop version of the site during the work day and revisit the site looking for that content later using a mobile device. It can be very frustrating to know that you had that content earlier on and now can’t find it.

Andy: I think that does happen, Melissa, especially for more functional/utilitarian types of websites. Sites that are driven by experience or engagement, maybe less so.

Mike: Absolutely a UX risk in this case, spot on. It’s something that should be tested thoroughly - best performing content types should always be shown more frequently until they aren't performing anymore.

Justin: This is probably a good time to note that content strategy is a team effort. It requires input from a broad range of disciplines throughout the process - User Experience, Design, Information Architecture, Copywriting, Development, SEO, Marketing, PR, Brand and business stakeholders.

Andy: And that's why great content strategists are unicorns.

Justin: Or teams made up of narwhals.

Jackie: That's the best mental image.

Andy: Did we address what happens to content strategy when there is no official content strategist on a project (where content is a critical element)?
Is it everyone's job? That feels like a cop out.

Elena: Do not make developers write copy... you will end up with a lot of Star Wars lorem ipsum.

Jackie: If it's everyone's job it ends up being forgotten. and to Elena's point (though Star Wars lorem ipsum is the best of lorem ipsums) it's not everyone's strength either.

Joe: It should be everyone’s job but the problem there is that people are focused on their individual tasks. Content doesn't have a place and keeps getting pushed off until the end...when it creates a problem.

Mike: I feel like without defining what is in and what is out of bounds for content strategy it is everyone's job though. First, question I’m going to ask with any strategy is "how are you reporting on this?" Strategy includes data collection and analytics plans which needs both strategists, marketers and developers to create and maintain. Reaction to any forms of data requires strategists, marketers and designers - possibly developers again. 

This is where most teams fail. The content strategist is the owner, responsible for the team but if everyone is involved, shouldn't they all know the starter and the why behind it?

Elena: It's probably more about it being someone's job to define what is whose job, rather than everyone's job to figure out what they should be doing. Yes, everyone should be involved. But someone should define it. Otherwise it's easy to miss or to just shrug it off as 'someone else is surely doing this'.

Andy: Yep. It's very easy for content to turn into a tragedy of the commons situation.

Jackie: Which creates a rush at the end when the team realizes none of it is done. And then come the coconuts. So how can you make sure everyone is involved without necessarily needing everyone to have ownership?

Justin: History has shown me that when there isn't a defined Content Strategist role - the ownership defers to either the PM, the Creative Lead or the lead Marketer. They typically drive decisions, but again, it goes back to the team to understand and own the content strategy and implementation within their various roles. There definitely needs to be definition beforehand - and when this is missed that is in fact when the coconuts start flying.

Jackie: There we go. I can get behind that

Andy: Me too. The answer is almost always "communication."

Mike: I tend to juggle a lot of coconuts so I can throw them whenever.

Jackie: It's good to be prepared

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