Posted: May 27, 2015
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again. Content is king.
We’ve been in the higher ed website business for quite some time now and can not stress enough the impact that high-quality, brand-driven content will have on the user experience.
In most cases, higher ed marketers are not short on great content ideas. Usually they’ve got more amazing stories than they have time to tell. The challenge comes with ensuring that this content ends up on the website in the right place, at the right time and for the right reasons. Putting a plan together to generate new content and manage existing content is the first step in keeping your website content as engaging and informative as possible.
Fair warning, this blog is a bit longer than the recommended 500 words. This was done intentionally to provide a complete overview of everything you need to know about website content, answering the fundamental questions of who, what, when, where and why (just not in that order).
Why You Need Good Content
There are several very simple answers to this question. For starters, you need good content so that users can find your site. Search engines have become the starting point for many prospective students as they begin to narrow their considered set. Imagine a prospective student is searching for a public school in their home state with an athletic training program. For your school to show up in the top 10 search results (because nobody clicks to Page 2) you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got content that speaks to the value of the amazing athletic training program at your school.
Once this prospective student gets to your site, it’s up to that same content to draw them in and encourage them to take the next step. Content should be engaging and friendly, clear and concise, direct and actionable. Some examples of engaging content on this athletic training page could be:
- Quotes from alumni who are currently working in the field
- Photos of students training with real athletes
- A link to download a brochure with more information
- An interactive map to showcase a new facility
Your website is more than a recruiting tool, it’s an ongoing resource for anyone involved with your institution. Good content keeps visitors coming back for more. Whether your target audiences are students, faculty, staff, alumni or community members, when they find what they are looking for (along with additional information that is relevant and helpful to them) they’ll be more likely to come back in the future.
How to Plan Your Content
You’ve probably heard the term “content strategy” floating around a lot lately. Taking the time to develop a strategy for your institution's’ future content is an investment that, when done well, will definitely pay off. A content strategy consists of setting goals, evaluating your target audiences and defining strategies that will inform all of your content decisions moving forward.
As you define your strategy, you’ll consider what types of content will best serve your users and what channels are the most effective to reach them. Website content can take the form of static written text, photos, videos, calls-to-action, promos, graphics, sliders, etc. You also need to consider the resources you have available and how frequently you’ll be able to publish new content. For example, if you’ve got a limited number of content creators, part of your strategy may be to repurpose one piece of content across several channels to get the most bang for your buck.
The information architecture phase of the website redesign is absolutely critical. IA should inform what content you need and where it should go. The goal of IA is to establish how information will be organized on your site. Once this phase is complete, you’ll have a very clear idea of where specific types of content should live, and you can start creating.
When to Create Your Content
A new design means a new format and layout for your content. Be sure to plan time, budget and resources into the project to ensure that your content is updated with the new strategy, IA and design. We’re big proponents of collaboration. In order to create the best final product, the information architect and graphic designer should work with content creators to shape both the structure and visual of the website content.
In order to keep your website content fresh and engaging for years to come, you’ll want to create an actionable plan for your content based on the approved strategies. A publishing schedule is a great tool when you’ve got a small team full of extremely busy people, as is the case at most institutions.
Higher ed marketers have a unique advantage when it comes to scheduling because many programs, events and initiatives have already been determined by the university calendar. Think about your peak recruiting periods and schedule content that appeals to prospective students during those times. Look at special events and fundraising opportunities to generate content targeted at alumni. Athletic events are a perfect chance to engage the local community.
Who Should Create Your Content
Perhaps you’ve got an outstanding marketing team that is more than capable of creating content that showcases your institution and communicates a clear brand message. Maybe you’re the sole marketer for your program and are expected to do it all yourself. Whatever the case may be, we know that there are a zillion other responsibilities that take the focus away from new content. Be realistic when planning what content your team can create. As I mentioned above, look for ways to repurpose your best content wherever possible.
For more recommendations of how to leverage other content resources at your institution, check out our recent blog on How to Find and Tell a Good Story. We recommend working with students, faculty, staff and alumni to generate content. Not only will this bring a fresh perspective, but it takes a little of the content weight off of your shoulders.
Where to Move Your Content
An often overwhelming part of launching a new website is adding in all of the content from the existing website. For many schools, this means moving thousands of pages of text, images, videos and more. Do not underestimate the the time and resources needed for content migration! This can take weeks, even months, depending on the size of your site, the resources you have and the simple fact that we all have other things on our plate.
After moving over all of your content, be sure to double check that everything (links, photos sizes, embedded videos, etc.) are working properly and are formatted to fit with the new design. We recommend having one owner of the migration process to keep it all organized and moving ahead on schedule. This person should have a migration team structured so that each member is responsible for migrating one section and doing quality assurance for another.
What Content Management Means
Another buzzword in the website world is “governance.” We’re huge fans of having a clearly defined governance plan in place to keep website content clear, consistent, and error-free. One of the goals of governance is to ensure that content meets the defined standards for tone, voice and messaging. Multiple checkpoints among content owners, content editors and content creators ensure that content is accurate and in line with the overall strategy.
When adding new content to a website, it’s very tempting (especially when you’re crunched for time) to publish a page and never look at it again. The problem with this approach is that content becomes outdated, inaccurate and just plain stale. It’s important that content owners (whether that’s your marketing team or individual departments) keep their content up to date with the most accurate information. Think about the message it sends when a prospective student comes to your site and sees campus tour dates from last semester. They’ll probably move on to the next school.
The moral of the story is, higher ed websites can sink or swim based on the quality of their content. There’s a lot that goes into creating and maintaining website content to provide an outstanding user experience and engage your target audience. If you’d like a copy of our content strategy workshop, or just want to talk shop, feel free to reach out. We’d love to hear from you.