Why Content Strategy
The goal of content strategy is to figure out what you want to say in the simplest possible way. Don’t overcomplicate the process – your main goal for the site should be obvious and easy to understand. The top level questions you should ask yourself before beginning any page are:
- What is the point of this site/page?
- Who do you want to visit it?
- What should they do/know before leaving?
Once you have basic answers for these three questions you can begin delving deeper into them to structure your content. You don’t want to overwhelm your audience, so at this point you should be liberal with excising content that is overly complex or not related to the top level questions.
You should ask yourself these questions for every new page on your site. Some pages will be self-explanatory and will not require as much deep work (i.e. a “Contact Us” page) while others may require more in-depth discussion.
One practical way of organizing content is a Word document with an outline structure for your site map. Don’t start writing anything until you have the structure of the site completely worked out.
Some questions you would want to ask yourself at this stage:
What is the point of this site/page?
(Some combinations of the examples below are fine, but you should not be trying to do all of these at once on every page.)
- Provide your unique information for this page
- Display media (video/photos)
- Share news
- Give contact or directional information
- Encourage visitors to take action (register for something, request information, etc.)
- Other things we haven’t thought of – this category is malleable!
Who do you want to visit it?
(You can refer to Google Analytics for help with these questions. If you do not currently have access, please fill out a Help Desk ticket.)
- Who is your intended audience? Students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, external media, peer institutions, etc.
- Is your intended audience your current audience? If not, how do you plan to reach your intended audience?
- How are people locating this particular page? Read our Google analytics primer for more information about accessing and understanding your analytics.
- Does the point of your page match your intended audience? If not, reevaluate.
What should your visitors do before leaving?
- This will be different for every page. Some pages (purely informational, for example) may not have a task associated with them. But if you want your interaction with your visitor to continue, there may be additional steps.
- Examples include: Find related information (you can tag content so that “related content” pops up); Subscribe or sign up (you can accomplish this with forms, links to e-newsletters, etc.); Share content on social media; Click additional links sending them elsewhere; Apply (undergrad or grad program applications); Donate money or volunteer time
Does this information need to be on your website?
- Does this information exist elsewhere? If so, link to it. Avoid duplicating information; this way, you’ll always have the most current up-to-date information possible. This also keeps the responsibility of for the accuracy of the information with the content owner (e.g., deadlines for applications, faculty profile information, list of nearby hotels, etc.)
- Should this information be public? Don’t use your website as your departmental file repository. If you need to share documents, explore using a shared drive or cloud services like Google docs.
- Do you have a lot of PDFs or Word docs? Consider making those regular web pages, so that search engines can find them.
These goals should be easily manageable and sustainable for your office. This can be accomplished by focusing in on a specific and clear goal that is measurable.
Vanderbilt’s Academic Strategic Plan
If you’re stuck, a good starting place for organizing your content can come from looking at Vanderbilt’s Academic Strategic Plan. These goals are:
- to pursue excellence in education by offering experiences that merge the advantages of a liberal arts college with those of a world-class research university
- to pursue excellence in scholarship, creative expression, and research that address important problems and questions facing our community, our country, and the world
- to leverage the many synergies between discovery, learning, and service across our entire community of scholars and learners to seek accomplishment and seize opportunities
- to be transparent and accountable to all the University’s constituencies
- in sum, to be among the very best research universities in the world
For more on the strategic plan, please visit the Academic Strategic Plan website.
Once you have your basic site map and strategy set, you can start thinking about the details. This includes layout, colors, graphics and the actual written content of the site. Vanderbilt Web Communications can assist with and/or consult on many of these elements.
Promoting Your Site
Congratulations, you have a perfectly curated, easy to understand and navigate website. Now what? Tell the world, or at least your intended audience. This can be done through a myriad of channels, you must decide internally which ones are right for you. Options include:
- Social media (see Vanderbilt’s Social Media Handbook)
- Cross-promotion (i.e. on other sites)
- Event calendar
Help and Assistance
The Vanderbilt Web Communications Help Desk is your best resource for getting timely answers to your pressing questions as your build your site.