Starting with content strategy to ensure successful website development [case study]

Apr 4, 2017

In my last post about website content strategy elements, I urged nonprofit communicators to put content at the beginning of new website development projects. In this case study, I shed light on how one nonprofit communicator, Markus Stadelmann-Elder did just that, with success.

Markus is the Director of Communications at Maytree: an organization doing work in the area of poverty reduction. In 2015, Maytree announced a new strategic direction, with a focus on taking a human rights approach to addressing the systems that create poverty. With the new mission and strategic direction came a rebrand. And with a new brand, came the need for a new Maytree website.

“When we contacted Marlene, our site was close to eight years old (with some changes to navigation over the years) and reflected Maytree of the past,” explains Markus. “With our new focus on poverty and rights, we needed a site that allowed us to have a new conversation with our core audiences.”

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Markus knew that the new website would become Maytree’s main communication tool and that it needed to:

  • Highlight Maytree’s work and that of its partners
  • Highlight Maytree’s latest thinking
  • Provide access to training and tools

“To make sure that our website reflected our new mission and brand, I knew that we had to get it right. We needed a clear understanding of who our target audiences were for the site, how they consume content and what content they’re looking for. We wanted to be clear about the content we need to highlight, what content we wanted to move from the old site to the new site, and what content we no longer wanted to feature. And, of course, we needed to be in agreement over how to structure the site’s navigation.”

Putting all of this together, Markus identified that a strong content strategy would ensure that their new website would meet their expectations.

Creating the strategy for the new site

To develop a website content strategy for Maytree, I worked with Markus through a process that included research, consultation, analysis, and, at his request, a little touch of coaching. Here are some of the steps we worked through:

  • Review of background materials, including communication plan, website content audit, website analytics and the existing Maytree website
  • Research calls with internal stakeholders: members of the Maytree team responsible for leading key programs and policy work
  • Periodic briefings/consultations with Markus to provide updates and to make decisions
  • Drafting, review and refinement of the web content strategy

Critical step: understanding the needs of Maytree’s site visitors

There’s one step, important to any communications project that many nonprofit communicators skip: developing an understanding of key audiences and creating marketing personas for them. Because it’s so critical to website development, I build it into my website content strategy package. Markus completely embraced this element and its value:

“The full process of developing the content strategy was of value. It allowed us to take the time to think through some of the core website goals – and how those goals could be met with strong content (since content is what our audiences would be most interested in). But for me, the most valuable aspect of the process were the interviews with key stakeholders.

“Marlene interviewed our senior management team to understand who their audiences were, what they saw as their core work, and what should be communicated (and in what way). She put together a detailed persona document that described the key personas for the new website; in addition to a detailed description of who they were, the final document stated:

  • What the persona’s technical skill levels were
  • What information they would be looking for
  • What action we would like them to take after visiting the site
  • What key messages we had for each persona

“While we could have done these interviews on our own, it was helpful to have someone from the outside do them. Marlene probably heard a few things (and asked follow-up questions) that we could have missed.”

Content strategy to inform website design and development

I asked Markus how having this website content strategy helped him as he moved on to the next stage of the project: designing and building the site:

“The website decisions we made came right out of the content strategy document. For example, for the site to be successful, within the content strategy we identified the top three key actions to be taken on the site. This helped to identify the key functionality that we needed to add.”

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According to Markus, many of the other important decision for the new site flowed out of the content strategy as well, such as:

  • The individual sections
  • The language used to describe what Maytree does
  • The language used for the labels

Markus explains how the website content strategy also helped to keep the web development project on track: “With the strategy in hand, we could also review the development of the site – and identify when we weren’t following the original strategy. We always tried to stay true to the personas identified.”

Markus recommends: invest in strategy

“I always knew that you should start with content for a good web design. Content strategy defines your audience, what content will be accessed, and how it will be accessed. Having a content strategy in place before we thought about design and coding meant that we felt much more comfortable about the whole process.”

Markus attests to the value of investing in content strategy and recommends it as a starting point for any nonprofit website development projects:

“I do recommend that nonprofits allocate a portion of website budgets for content strategy. The amount depends on the overall budget, but it’s probably around 10-20%. While this may seem high to some, it reflects the importance of creating a content strategy in the overall project. The process is incredibly valuable and will save you so much time in the long run. You will have a much better understanding of what you’re trying to do – and have a much better sense of whether your website is actually meeting your requirements.”

Need my help with website content strategy?

If you’re convinced of the value but know that you need help pulling it all together, check out my Nonprofit website content strategy package.

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