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Content-gathering tactics for larger projects

Most of it has been advice centers around the type of client I usually work with… the service-based entrepreneur with around 10 pages worth of content.

You’re thinking, Christine, I have clients with a lot of content. I’m not sure if this process will work for them.

I totally get it…

Over the last 25+ years, I’ve done my fair share of work for larger businesses or those more established businesses whose content accumulates because no one has looked at it with a critical eye or, they just have a lot of content.

You’ve heard me say this before – the biggest stumbling block for clients is their inability to visualize what will happen with their content. As a result, they don’t know where to start.

As designers, if we focus our efforts on making that “visualization” easier for them, we’ll see a reduction in, if not, complete elimination of content delays.

For bigger projects, I deviate a little from my normal content-gathering process:

USE KEY LAYOUTS

When working on larger projects, I use key layouts or layouts of key page views. On a smaller site, you might be able to layout every page without a huge effort. On a larger site, you might have 20 or more pages that use the same page layout. You might have multiple bridge pages that link to “child” content in a dropdown menu.

In my process, I present key layouts during the wireframing stage. I use “lorem ipsum” text — just like on the homepage wireframe — to represent the content of the pages that will use this proposed layout.

Your timeline for a large project might look something like this:

  • Discovery
  • Strategy consult
  • Homepage wireframe
  • Key layouts as wireframes
  • Styling
  • Homepage content due from client
  • Homepage concept
  • Remaining content due from client
  • Additional page layouts (flesh out key layouts in color here after styling is approved)
  • Development
  • Launch

REVIEW CONTENT OFFSITE

If possible, pull their existing content off their old site and ask them to review it in a new location. I get it that some sites might just be too big for this.

Google Docs is a great tool for this. Set up a master sitemap document and link their content pages from it, so everything is accessed through one document. This will also make it easier to find and load content during development AND you’ll have clean, well-formatted content to boot because you’ll put that responsibility on your client.

In stepping away from the context of the old website – which tends to become too familiar – clients will notice things that they would have overlooked before.

MAKE SURE YOU ARE CHARGING FOR CONTENT STRATEGY

Are you the one pulling content, formatting it and making notes to your client? Are you charging for this?

Here’s what I used to do… I assumed the client would provide organized content and when they didn’t – I’d step in to keep the project from stalling. I’d end up outside my scope because I didn’t anticipate that this help would be essential in keeping the project moving. Then, I’d not want to tack on additional cost to the project for my time… sound familiar?

Assume all clients need some level of content strategy.

I factor content strategy into every proposal. I don’t line item it. It’s just part of the process, like creating wireframes or styling.

Here’s one way to figure out what content strategy is costing you. Note the time you spend on the following:

  • Content strategy fee (initial audit + how to apply design across content) = $_____
  • Formatting complex pages (sales pages, homepages, custom pages, etc) x number of pages = $_____
  • Formatting simple pages (Terms & Conditions, simple or shared layout pages, etc) x number of pages = $_____
  • Add a few hours or percentage for back and forth with client = $_____

Add these all together for your approximate content strategy fee. Again, I don’t line item this fee – it’s just part of the overall cost. If my client works with a copywriter, I can generally reduce my content strategy cost to just a couple hours of my time (which is really the whole point).

What I didn’t realize, is just how much work I was doing… until I worked with a copywriter. It was such an eye opener – having content sorted and handed back to me saved me so much time. Time I hadn’t been charging for. Time I didn’t schedule.

As you work through these bigger projects, rely on your design process to stay ahead of your client. And most importantly, make sure you are charging for your expertise.

Have you run into any snags with gathering content for big projects? How have you handled them?

Designers and freelancers, you’ve heard me say this before – the biggest stumbling block for web design clients is their inability to visualize what will happen with their content. Here’s a few slight deviations from my normal content-gathering process for design projects, specifically some effective tactics for bigger web projects. Read on for more tips...

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