This series outlines our project process through the lens of our development of the new 4SiteStudios.com. In this post, we will discuss our process for developing a content strategy and user experience for our new website.
I tell the team here at 4Site that we are all strategists. We don’t just build websites for clients, we help them solve complex business challenges with creative content. We strongly believe that everything we design and/or build for a client should be informed by their content strategy.
We begin every client project with a Discovery and Planning phase. Our goal is to better understand our client’s business goals; communications and marketing strategy; and the needs, motivations, and behaviors of both internal and external stakeholders. Once we are equipped with that knowledge, we co-design solutions with our clients, weaving them into every step of the process.
It was an interesting exercise of going through this process with ourselves as the client. We just wrapped up the planning phase of our new website, and want to share how things went to give you a sense of how we could partner with you on your next project.
Content Strategy at 4Site
The critical first piece of Discovery and Planning for us is developing a content strategy. While most organizations have some form of content strategy when we begin working with them, we are typically developing a strategy for a specific campaign or helping the organization to rethink the strategy they have in place.
Coming out of this process, we provide clients with a Content Plan, which includes our high-level recommendations for solving their business goals through this project; audience assessment and user personas; key messages and message hierarchy; information architecture; content type definitions and models; and page inventory. At the conclusion of this phase, our clients understand how content will be organized, presented, and used to communicate their key messages throughout their new website.
Defining Our Need for a New Website
When we sat down to begin work on the new 4Site Studios brand, we realized our current brand is a bit bipolar. We operate as two separate companies - we have a large list of clients we do event videography and video production for, and a long list of clients we develop Drupal websites for, but there is very little overlap between the two. Most of our video clients don’t know we do content strategy and build websites, and vice versa. Seeing this as a hinderance to the growth of the company and expansion of relationships with existing clients, we set our main goal for the rebrand to establish ourselves as a full-service digital creative agency, not just a production house or a Drupal shop.
As most digital agencies, we quickly decided to use our new website as the place to tell the story of who we are as an agency and showcase the full breadth of services we can offer to our clients. We felt we the new website should quickly, and consistently, communicate our new brand to existing and potential clients, and showcase our work in a way that speaks to our capabilities as an agency.
We were in a good place when we kicked off the planning process. I had just completed developing a marketing and communications plan for the agency, which defined our business goals and objectives for the next year or so. We skipped the upfront steps of setting project goals and objectives because we wanted the new website to drive our larger business goals, not arbitrary goals we set for our new website.
After the team reviewed and gained consensus on our marketing goals and objectives, I performed a content audit and dove into Google Analytics to find out how people were using the site, what content was most popular, how people were finding our content, etc. It was bad - people didn’t spend much time with our content; there were tons of broken links and errors; content was not optimized for SEO; and there were lots of contradictions in messaging across pages. To make matters worse, the site was architected in a way that didn’t allow us to easily make any improvements to the website markup or page layouts.
After I met with the team to present my findings, we determined it would be quicker to go back to the drawing board and create the new website from scratch versus trying to re-architect the existing CMS. We had an entirely new brand, new target audiences, and a more focused set of business goals; the original website was not designed with any of this in mind. By building an entirely new website, which we will be building on our own distribution of Drupal, we can focus our efforts on creative execution rather than bug fixes and platform optimization.
Developing the Content Strategy for 4SiteStudios.com
I began our content strategy process by developing a set of user personas for the target audiences we defined in our communications and marketing plan. Through a combination of interviews with members of the team and colleagues in the industry; doing an analysis of our current and past customers; and a bit of social listening, I was able to get a good understanding of the needs of our potential clients, how they search for agency partners, and what motivates them to select a vendor.
I then mapped out brand pillars and statements to our audience needs to develop a messaging framework that would inform how we right content for key landing pages and informational content. The idea behind it is to always talk about topics and ourselves from the client perspective. “This is your need and and here is our solution to your need.” Make our content about the reader, not about us.
Once I had the key messaging in place, and a good sense of what content was most important to our personas, I proposed a sitemap and page inventory to the team. This was possibly the easiest review I ever had of a proposed information architecture for a website. Two small changes, and we were done.
Lastly, I extrapolated from our marketing plan, existing content, and the new information architecture the types of content we will need. Our content needs were fairly consistent with what we have on the new website, but the architecture needed to drastically change for easy of management and flexibility in presentation. I worked with our developer and site builder to define the key fields for each content type, and define relationships between them as necessary. I then developed recommendations for content portability using microcopy and SEO.
And, voila! Our content plan for the new website was done. Below is a copy if you would like to reach the entire thing.