When we started working on the redesign of the Pasadena City College (PCC) website we were presented with the daunting task of sorting through over 33,000 pages of content. Their current website had no site structure or organization. The majority of the pages had out-of-date, inaccurate information. Another hefty chunk were just duplicates of the same content, while another good portion were mysteries, with no idea of when or how they were created. On top of the massive amount of content in front of us, we were also faced with A LOT of content owners. Each area of the college owned different files of content — some they had created, some had been inherited, and some were orphans.
After kicking around a lot of methods on how to tackle this, we finally decided we had no choice but to purge. Say bye to 33,000 pages of content and pretend like we were starting from scratch. And so we set out on a quest with one goal in mind: what should be on the college’s new website?
The process required a lot of time, thought, and meetings — lots and lots of meetings. But, when the new website was launched it had a fresh look with up-to-date information (not to mention it was about 30,000 files lighter). Hindsight 20/20, we made some mistakes, prolonging an already arduous process. But, if we had to do it all again, I would still say, “purge, baby, purge”.
And, in case we do ever have to do it again, we came up with our big lessons, the 5 must-dos when beginning a website redesign project that includes a lot of content creation for a lot of content owners.
1. Develop a content strategy
Having a content plan from the start on how you will attack the content process will make the work you do more purposeful from the start. Create your own strategy, use an existing one or a little of both. For us, we found a lot of great content strategies and tips, but none that took into account the aspects unique to this project — budget, timeline, and the institution itself. So, we developed the PCC Content Strategy, heavily based on the “Core Model Content Strategy” from information architect Are Halland. The Core Model focuses on the core tasks users need to accomplish and helps maintain focus on only necessary content. We used Halland’s theory, processes, and tips, and then created a process that would work for PCC.
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2. Gather tools to make your life easier
The one thing we knew from the very beginning was that there were going to be a lot of people involved, a lot of stuff to keep track of and a lot of time was going to pass from start to completion. Our tip? Don’t do what we did, which was not have clear tools selected beforehand. Instead, find the tools and set up a process for using them before you begin. Here are the tools and resources that ended up helping us the most:
- Writing Style Guide: We developed our own based on the AP style guide. Whether you do that, or just adopt an existing one, have it set before you begin. This will make sure that what you write at the beginning and what you write at the end is consistent (i.e. fewer revisions in the end. yay!)
- Trello: We didn’t use Trello at the beginning, but how I wish we had! Trello is a free project management tool that allows you to organize and collaborate in a very flexible way. It kept us sane and I highly recommend it – FOR EVERYTHING! Learn More About Trello.
- Google Drive: Every time we worked on a new area, they got a folder in Google Drive. Everything — meeting notes, site outlines, resources sent from the area themselves— went in there. The project took a long time to complete, so having everything in one place (and knowing where that place was) to refer back to was key.
- GatherContent: This is where we actually wrote the content. It allows for writing, collaborating and organizing. Plus, it has workflows that help you manage the project. It’s a bit of an investment, but if budget allows, get it. Learn More About GatherContent
3. Find out about everything that exists at the institution
“Everything” may sound a little dramatic, but it’s true. There is a lot that goes on at a college, resulting in a lot that will go on the website. Some of it should be there, some of it has to be there. So, start investigating — what programs exist? How is the school organized? What are the items that legally must be on the website?
To start answering these questions, we used the college’s current website (ok, so we didn’t completely purge) as a starting point— just to help identify the programs and areas of the school, knowing some may no longer exist. This was followed up with fact finding from key stakeholders to gather more information and fill in holes. From there, we put them in a long list, with notes about what each program/area was. We didn’t focus too much on the organization for the list. Our goal was simply to capture everything that was going on, so we knew where to go next.
4. Meet and Listen to Everyone
It takes time, but it’s crucial. Before we wrote a single sentence, we met and listened to a lot of people. We met with key stakeholders to get a better understand of the college. Then, using our list of “everything happening at the school”, we held content workshops with each area and program. Together with the staff of each area, we dissected their programs, services, and users’ needs to help us understand what needed to be included on their area’s website as well as how what they were going to fit into what the rest of the campus was doing.
It took time, but meeting with each area of the college was probably one of our biggest successes. We learned a ton about the college. But, even more importantly, we got buy-in from the campus. The people we talked to felt part of the project, creating a greater set of ownership and appreciation for the process that was unfolding.
5. Understand the Big Picture
Pasadena City College is a big place with a lot going on. But sometimes with so much going on, it’s hard for people on the inside to know about all of it. Each area were experts in their area, but to pull this off we needed an expert on all areas. Having the same team meet and communicate with every area, allowed us to see the big picture. Our team made connections, spotted duplicate information across areas and knew who to talk to when we had questions. Understanding the big picture led to a solid content organization that built meaningful pathways for users to better navigate the new website.
These five tips just scratch the surface of all we learned about how to approach content in a major website redesign. We are working on putting it all on paper (aka the blog) to share. But, in the meantime, reach out with questions. We like to talk.