After too many years of organic growth, your corporation has a messy online presence. Sound familiar? Even though there’s no strategy, your sprouting content has followed some guiding principles. Identifying these is an important step to constructing a proper content strategy. Here’s how to dig them up.
Big corporates have been on the web for the best part of 20 years, doing what we euphemistically call “growing organically”. Now their online content is messy, overgrown and plentiful. It’s unhelpfully constructed. New growth spurts where it can; where nothing can grow content ages and dies without ever disappearing.
But even organic growth has some rules or patterns. These don’t deserve the name “content strategy”, but finding them is a step towards forming the crafted, intentional strategy that your company needs. When you know what caused the patterns, or where the rules of your untamed website came from, you’ll understand why your online content contains what it does, see what’s worked (even if accidentally), and work out what needs to change.
You just need to know where to look and what to look for.
What’s grown the most? And where does your audience look?
Organic growth is disorganised, but it’s not random. Take a look at what’s grown successfully. Which parts of your website are biggest? You’ve probably got some expensive microsites – what are they about? What’s most prominent in the navigation?
There are two possible explanations for the winners of the organic race for life. Their oxygen came either from your audience, or from within your company.
Find the content that looks important, and then check your analytics to see what’s actually popular.
- When prominence and popularity coincide, you’ve found good content. It’s probably obvious (“hey, we’re a chain of restaurants and our site visitors love our location finder – wow!”), but it’s good to know that your company’s hunches haven’t all been wrong.
- If something stands out from the rest of the garden but the stats don’t back it up, this’s more interesting. Someone is spending time and money – and maybe political capital – on web content that isn’t working. Who are they? Where are they from? Why are they so influential? And why aren’t visitors coming? (This is just a guess, but is it your CEO’s profile page?)
- In the opposite case – an untended but well-visited piece of content – you’ve found something that deserves your attention. Why do your workmates neglect it? Why doesn’t its audience matter?
- Then there’s the fourth category – unpopular, untended content. Delete it or find a better place to put it.
How are you and your team measured? And what are you meant to do all day?
You also need to examine your company. The web content that you have, especially before you start planning it properly, is an expression of your corporation’s main preoccupations.
There are clues in the way your company manages those of you who work on its web content. I’m not naive enough to believe that there’s a perfect thread connecting your annual personal performance reviews, your boring monthly team progress reports, and the job descriptions that you all supposedly work to. But these things all reflect what your company cares about, so they’ve been affecting the shape and size of your organic web-garden for years.
What are your team’s most important “metrics”?
What counts as success for your web team? Even though you’re working without a proper content strategy, this is the corporate world – you’re still measured somehow. Your boss probably uses the horrible word “metrics” to describe the measurable things that matter most.
When your web team is in its long monthly or quarterly meeting and there’s a heap of Powerpoint being projected, what’s on the one slide that matters? It’s the slide with the graphs and numbers and the comparisons to last year. It’s the “how we’re doing against our main goal” slide.
What is that goal? Total visits? Sales conversions? Form completion rates? Whatever it is, this is a major part of your accidental content strategy. (Let me guess: Your company measures your online sales, which are doing just fine while your after-sales service content is out of date and out of place.)
What do you talk about in performance evaluations?
You’re probably given an annual going-over by your boss and your boss’s boss – what do they care about the most when they’re trying to work out if you should get a bonus this Christmas?
Is it the precision of the content you work on? Is it the amount that you produce? The response you earn in social media? Whatever your bosses care about, it’s been guiding the company’s content for as long as it’s been on their agenda.
What do your job descriptions say?
A third way to decode the “strategy” of your messy, organic site is to look at what the people who work it have officially been meant to care about. Anything that isn’t measured, but was written into a job description, could be a secondary part of the puzzle you’re putting together.
Reading through the organic confusion
Once you’ve worked through the evidence that’s online (the things that are fittest after having survived the unplanned world of old corporate web), in your web analytics, and in your company’s self-measurement (job descriptions, performance evaluation criteria and team targets), you’ll know why things have ended up the way they are.
Now you have a starting point as you start working on a proper content strategy. Onward!
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