Preparing content for a website is challenging. Doing so with multiple stakeholders is even more challenging. And doing it with hundreds of stakeholders can seem near impossible. The larger the company or institution, typically means more content that exists and even more opinions on which content reigns supreme. Everyone thinks their content is the most important and should reside on the homepage and, if left open to discussion, lengthy debates are sure to ensue.
That’s where the Core Model comes in. The Core Model is a content strategy developed by Are Halland that focuses on content that meets users’ needs rather than on content we think we need. For every website we build and develop content for — whether big or small— we use this content strategy to design the site from the inside out. When working with larger institutions, companies or organizations, we use this same strategy, but conduct “Content Workshops” to introduce core model thinking to stakeholders and work together to determine what needs to be on the site. These workshops take time, but in the end, deliver a well-thought-out website as well as greater buy-in from stakeholders.
Who Should Be At Content Workshops
Who attends the workshop is going to depend on the size of the organization. Ideally, there would be 6 – 10 stakeholders that represent at a variety of areas of the organization. These should be people who deal with content and/or have strong opinions on the website. For larger organizations, you may end up having multiple content workshops. For example, when working with Pasadena City College, we conducted content workshops for every major department of the school.
The 6 Parts of the Content Workshop
You’ve got everyone in a room, ready to prepare content, now what? Here are the 6 basic parts of a Content Workshop.
1. Introduce Goals and What Makes Content Good
The people at your workshop will come in with varying opinions, backgrounds and levels of content experience. Start out by setting the stage with the goals of the workshop and a clear definition of what constitutes good content. Doing so will help keep people on the same page as well as provide a launchpad of where you’re going. And if things start to veer off course (which tends to happen in group settings) you have a place to bring them all back to — your workshop goals and definition of good content.
Content Workshop Goals:
- Brainstorm what information needs to be included in your section of the website
- Identify the “core pages” in your section
- Create an outline of the information to be included on the core pages of your website
What good content looks like:
- Appropriate: it’s right for the user and for you
- Useful: Define a clear, specific purpose for each piece of content; evaluate content against this purpose
- User-centered: adopt the cognitive frameworks of your users
- Concise: Omit needless content
2. Identify Your Cores
Your core pages are where your website goals and the users’ tasks overlap. In step 2, it’s time to figure out what those cores are. To do so you need to first figure out the following:
- Users: Who’s coming to your website?
- Business Objectives: What are the organization’s end goals? What do they want to accomplish?
- User Tasks: What do users come to the site to accomplish?
The user tasks can be the most difficult thing for people to identify. Keep people from answering “what they think users want to accomplish” by diverting to fact. Use analytics from the current site, conduct task surveys or focus groups with real users, look at the market research of what users do on competitors’ sites — each of these methods can all be used to help identify the actual goals of users visiting your site.
Once your users, business objectives, and user tasks are defined, you can find your cores. The core pages are those where business objectives and user tasks overlap. These “Core Pages” will be the main pages of your site and the guide for what content the group needs to develop.
3. Identify Your Inward Paths
Once your core pages are identified, it’s easy to just want to start creating. But before you do, we need to plan your Inward Paths. How will the user get to each core page? There will most likely be several inward paths — googling specific terms, a link on the homepage or another area of the site, referrals from print collateral. Thinking about where users are coming from is another step in putting yourself in the shoes of the users and then planning content from their perspective.
4. Brainstorm the Content for Each Core Page
This is where you answer the question, what content elements do we need to make sure the user solves their task (while respecting our goals)? Using the user tasks, inward paths and business objectives as a guide, work as a group to brainstorm the most important things that need to go on each of the core pages. Don’t get bogged down in the details — just focus on a list of the main items of information a user is going to need.
5. Prioritize Content
Most likely, over half of your website visitors will be visiting your site on mobile. The next step is to take the content elements you have brainstormed for each core page and prioritize them with a mobile-first mindset. Ask workshop participants to think about a tiny phone screen. If that’s all a user has, which content items would need to be first? For each core page, reorder the content elements to prioritize content for a mobile screen.
6. Identify Forward Paths
The end is near! At this point, you have figured out why users are here, how they arrived, and what information you’ve given them. The key to the Core Model is figuring out where we want them to go next. These are called the Forward Paths. To figure this out, think about:
- After the user has solved their tasks, where do we want to send them next?
- Send them to places the user may not be coming to the site to visit, but are still important and will help you meet business goals.
- Forward paths could be other parts of the site or a call to action for users to complete a task.
Most importantly, when determining these forward paths, stay in the mind of the user. Why are they here and how can we frame the forward path so that they are compelled to follow the path you’ve set for them.
At the end of your workshop, you will have content outlines for each core page of the site and defined paths for how users will navigate through the site. From here, the writing can begin, developing content for each page based on the core elements identified during the workshop.
But perhaps the most valuable part of the content workshops is that they replace the debates of what should be on the site with a group of stakeholders who are enthusiastic about the content of the site. Participants leave the workshop accomplished — full of ideas and a clear plan of what content needs to be developed the site. Taking the time to collaborate and plan the site from the users’ perspective, unites your stakeholders and sets you up for a website that is clear, focused, and allows both you and users to accomplish your goals.
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