What the heck is this “content” stuff you keep hearing about, anyway?
“Content” is a generic term that includes all the material you have on your website: text, photos, video, audio. A content management system (CMS) like WordPress is designed to let you add, edit, and remove content without having to mess with the site’s design or functionality.
WordPress includes four types of content out of the box:
- Posts, which are organized according to publication date
- Pages, which are organized hierarchically
- Menu items, which are links to different parts of your site or to different sites altogether
- Attachments, which are files you upload, such as images and PDFs
Here are some examples of different content types you can add through plugins or custom code:
- Team Members
- Portfolio Entries
- Real Estate Listings
Conduct a content audit
If you have an existing website, or an existing collection of documents that you’d like to include in your website, you need to conduct a content audit. That means taking a look at every single item and deciding whether it’s current, relevant, and supports your business goals. You also need to figure out whether there are any necessary items that are missing. It’s helpful to set up a spreadsheet for this process, even if you have a small site.
What types of content do you have?
If your old website is an HTML site, you may have entered everything as text on a page. But when you look at those pages, you’ll see you have different types of content that you want to handle in different ways. Were you adding each team member to a team page? Does it make more sense to create a team member content type that will automatically display a directory sorted by job title or name? If you’ve been displaying customer testimonials, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to show them anywhere and have them formatted automatically? Do you want past events to expire automatically?
If you need to include different information (like date, time, and location for an event, or job title and contact info for a team member), then you probably need to use a different content type (also known as a “post type” in WordPress).
Classify your content
If you’ve had a blog before, you are probably familiar with using categories and tags to classify your blog posts. Categories and tags are great places to put your keywords for SEO purposes, so you’ll want to plan them in advance, or review them if you’re importing an existing blog into your new site.
Other types of content can be organized according to custom taxonomies. Products can be organized into categories (e.g. rings, necklaces, bracelets) but also into collections which share a style but encompass multiple categories. Events can be classified by event type and courses by difficulty level. Real estate listings might be divided into sale and rental, or commercial and residential. Your developer can create any taxonomy you need, according to the requirements of your website.
Create your navigation
Once you know what types of content you have and how you want to classify them, you need to figure out the structure of your website navigation. Which items need to go on the top level? How deep is your navigation going to go (how many drop-downs)? Do you need a secondary menu? Do you need dynamic menus that show different things on different pages (e.g. all the sub-pages of the page you’re on).
Generally speaking, the broadest categories (all blog posts, all products) and parent pages go on the top-level menu. If it’s one of the first things a visitor will look for, it’s a good idea to include it in your top-level menu.
How do you figure all this out?
There are professionals who specialize in content strategy. They can help you conduct a content audit and organize your content to make it easier to build your website. Your designer or developer may know something about content strategy and be able to help you with this phase of your project. Depending on the complexity of your site, you might need someone with UI (user interface) expertise to help you work out your navigation.
When do I need to do this?
Content strategy should be one of the very first things you do when planning a new website. The website is built around your content, to display it in an effective way. Many functions of your site are determined by your content. If you want to show events, you probably need an event management plugin. If you want to sell products, you’ll need an e-commerce plugin. If you have a lot of photos to display, you might want a gallery plugin.
It’s a good idea to work out your content strategy before your discovery session. Without knowing what kind of content you have and how it supports your overall business goal, your developer may not be able to determine which features your site needs, and your designer may not have a very good idea of how to display your content.
Where can I learn more about content strategy?
Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach is still a great comprehensive resource. Stephanie Leary has an awesome book called Content Strategy for WordPress, which contains some developer-specific information but can be very useful for anyone who needs a website. You’ll also find some great articles over at the GatherContent blog.