Content Mapping for Fun and Profit

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Designing your first web site, or performing a long-overdue refresh of an existing site, requires a significant investment of time and resources. In order to make that process more efficient, taking time to create a content map will serve as an excellent foundation for the life of the project (we’re big fans of foundations here at the Weblog Blog). In web development a bit of planning goes a long way.

In school when it was time to write an essay (remember those?) teachers often beseech students to create an outline first. The more (seemingly) efficient of us may have skipped this step, reasoning that it makes a lot more sense to just write the essay than it does to write about writing the essay. What we inevitably ran into was the dreaded page count. We’d be through the first page, maybe even part of the second, and then realize we’d said everything we planned to say and still had three more pages to fill. Those who took the time to learn how to properly outline never felt this tinge of fear and panic, nor did they learn all of the tricks of the trade to hit that page count (increase font size, line spacing, margins, headers…and so forth).

In much the same vein, creating a content map for your site helps avoid many of these same problems. Even better, the process does not require technical knowledge. In fact, one of the easiest systems uses the humble index card. This system, known as card sorting, involves standard index cards, pens and some Post-It Notes if you have them. It can be used to create the initial conceptual framework for the site, as well as for a basic usability test. The process itself is very straightforward: Using the cards, you create different categories for the types of content and pages the new web site will contain. If this is done individually, you can then compare how you sorted your cards with other members of the team. If this is done in a team setting (in a conference room with a large table for example) you can discuss the best ways to present the information to potential visitors to your site and generate additional insight as specific cards and their ordering is discussed and analyzed.

But how do you get from some index cards on a conference table to a polished, well-designed website? First, you’ll want to photograph the final layouts for future reference. From there, you can use any manner of software you are comfortable with – even basic word processing or presentation programs can be used to create the layout. Once the cards have been digitized, you can start to fill in the various categories with the content that will appear on each page. Another advantage of this system is that it allows you to quickly delegate tasks to specific departments/individuals based on the topic of the page and who is best suited for writing the content itself.

From there, working with your web developer, you can select a content management system that helps you create, maintain and update the website going forward. The good news is that this system will help your business grow and expand and, at the very least, will be much more interesting than that essay you had to write on the War of 1812 all those years ago. Should you have any questions about this (creating a content management strategy that is, not the War of 1812 or the Continental System) feel free to contact us and we’d be happy to help you. We might even have some index cards you can use.