Websites that work: 6 ways to transform your ContentOps

ContentEd 2019 speaker Padma Gillen explores six ways to improve your ContentOps for the better. 

There are lots of people in lots of organisations around the world right now who are thinking “I wish we had a better website”.

Sometimes they think a new design would solve it. Sometimes it’s a new content management system, or new navigation, or better search. Every now and then someone thinks that the content is important and maybe they should hire someone to write something decent. Maybe even a content designer! They sound good, don’t they? The trouble is, poor content isn’t usually a stand-alone problem. It’s a bit like unruly hair. You can chop it off or attack it with straighteners and it will look good for a while. But if you just do that once, you haven’t really solved the problem.

This is where content operations (ContentOps) comes in. If you actually want to *solve* your content problem, you need a radically different approach to how you create it in the first place.

“A shiny new website is not, and can never be, transformation in and of itself. The website is a result of transformation.” Mike Bracken

Here are some proven ways you can change your ContentOps model to significantly improve your content in a sustainable way:

1. Move from a subject-based approach to a user-needs-based approach

This is the biggest change you can make as an organisation. Instead of asking people to write something about your new product, find out what users care about in relation to that new product, and write something that speaks to that.

Let’s say you’re launching a new undergraduate course. You can talk about how great it is, how many options there are, all the ins and outs of each part of the lab the students will get to use. You’ll end up with lots and lots of content.

Do your intended readers care about that stuff? Who knows! You’ll need to find out, then tailor the content to meet their needs. Chances are you’ll end up with much less content this way and what you do have will be significantly higher quality.

2. Make data a central part of how you operate

To find out how users make sense of the content and what they care about, you need data. You may have analytics data you can look at, you may have previous research. You may need to do some new research. There are loads of ways to gather data these days – from checking out online forums to checking out Google Trends, to visiting the places your audience hang out and asking for five minutes of their time.

3. Centralise management of your highest-traffic content

There are many different ways to organise how you create and manage content. Often it’s done by people who aren’t digital content specialists, and they’re scattered across the organisation.

Believe it or not, in many of the largest organisations today dealing with content that really affects people’s lives – such as healthcare, law or financial support – if you can string a sentence together, you can have publishing rights. This doesn’t result in excellent content.

A central team probably won’t be big enough to handle everything that needs to be on your website. You’ll therefore need some devolved content creators, but make sure the central team creates and manages the content that most users care about (and oversees the rest).

By having a skilled team at the heart of your ContentOps, most users will have a great experience of your content.

4. Consciously create a workflow and stick to it

Without a clear, well-designed workflow, your content production process gets sluggish. Something that should be done in a week takes 6 months. And by the time it’s live it’s so compromised as to be pretty much not worth publishing.

By designing a workflow you know who does what, when, and how long they’ve got to do it. You can also see where in the process things are getting stuck and take action to remedy that.

5. Split ownership of the facts and ownership of the user experience

Many organisations call subject matter experts (SMEs) ‘content owners’. Often the SME writes and publishes the content.

On the surface, this makes sense. Who better to write about something than the person who knows most about it?

The thing is, creating digital content that works for users is a specialist skill in itself. If you have someone who is a specialist at something else spending their time trying to communicate what they know online, you are working inefficiently as an organisation and your users are getting a suboptimal experience.

Instead, let SMEs create source material and let content designers design and publish content. They each have a stage in the workflow where they get to do their thing.

The SME is responsible for ensuring what’s online is factually accurate and the content designer is responsible for making sure it works for users. Together, they own the content.

6. Go agile

This is a whole article in itself, but in short, it doesn’t make any sense to do digital content in any other way. Agile allows you to bring your content more and more in line with what users actually need, rather than what you think they need. It is the most efficient, lowest risk way to do digital.


By making these six changes, you will radically improve the efficiency of your organisation’s ContentOps, and as a result, you’ll radically improve your content – sustainably.

If you’d like to know more, I go into this in more detail in my book.

Padma will be discussing the importance of governance and workflow at ContentEd 2019.

If you’d like to advance your knowledge of content strategy, you can find out more about ContentEd, book a ticket to our next conference, or take a look at our blog.

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