Big content projects—the kind with lots of contributors, subject matter experts, and stakeholders—can get really messy really fast.
You know what I mean.
You’ve got multiple writers across different departments, subject matter experts without a writing background, or writers without subject matter expertise. You’re wrangling legal teams, SEO specialists, content creators, and content uploaders. And, to top it all off, everyone is sending/saving/uploading content that is formatted differently.
In short, it can be chaos. Which is why so many companies rely on content templates to keep everyone on the same page.
Templates to the rescue
We think templates are essential to the content process, especially if you have more than one cook in the content kitchen. Not only do they allow you to keep everyone on track (no one forgets the headline when there’s a required field for it in your system or a box for it in your text document), but they can also help your team think strategically and holistically about the content they’re creating for each page.
“By knowing what’s going to go where, you have a better idea of what needs to be written, and how much needs to be written about each message element.”
– Roger Parker
How can your templates accomplish all this?
By incorporating the right elements—for strategic thinking, SEO-friendliness, usability, and, of course, on-page content itself…
Including a few strategic elements (like those we suggest below) in every page template will help your content creators stay focused on company goals, user goals, and the content that will support them.
If you already have page tables, consider incorporating them into your templates. (Page tables are strategic breakdowns of each page of your site and may include page goals, prioritized content, and maintenance concerns. If you want to learn more, we recommend picking up a copy of Content Strategy for the Web.)
If you are creating templates from scratch, make sure to include strategic elements from the start. And if you’ve got a template without strategic elements, it’s time to weave them in.
Here are a few elements you may want to include in your templates:
- Maintenance considerations (How often should this content be updated? Does it have an expiration date? Are there any time-sensitive numbers or info on the page?)
- Audience (If you have multiple audiences for your site, which audience is this page targeted at primarily? Is there a secondary audience that may click on this page as well?)
- Purpose (In one sentence, describe what this page is trying to accomplish)
- Audience questions (What questions are your users trying to answer by coming to this page?)
- Technical considerations (Does any additional technology need to be developed or included on this page?)
- Phase two content (Is there anything that needs to be added to this page at a later date? Why and when? What additional supporting content should be linked to this page or added to this section when phase two budget or goals kick in?)
- CTA (What call to action must be included on this page?)
SEO & usability elements
In addition to audience, purpose, and strategy, SEO and usability can (and should) be accounted for up front by including them in your templates. SEO and usability elements, which so often go hand in hand, may include:
- Key words to focus on
- Meta descriptions
- Browser titles
- ALT and TITLE tags
- Friendly URLs
- Literacy levels/scores
- Technical requirements (“put a pause button on this page’s scrolling content,” for example)
(Not familiar with SEO and usability? We recommend reading SEOMoz and Jakob Neilsen’s Useit.com.)
Even if you aren’t focused on SEO, it’s always a good idea to include usability elements, as well as browser titles and meta descriptions, which impact users as well as search engines.
On-page content elements
Make sure you don’t forget the on-page content (which, if you already have templates, is probably what you’re starting with). With pre-determined templates, you can make sure that your content creators not only address the headline and body copy for each page, but also:
- Images, graphics, and video
- Sidebar items
- Link lists
- PDFs and other downloads
- Forms (including form fields, required fields, and intro language)
Depending on your project, you may want to include some or all of these elements—or you may want to have several different content templates for different sections of the site (a video library, for example, will have different content requirements than a landing page, though both can benefit from the strategic and SEO elements discussed above).
Strategic templates in GatherContent
GatherContent was designed with a strong focus on the value of content templates. To these ends; it has the functionality to allow you to quickly build out the kinds of strategic templates discussed in this article, and to collaborate on them.
As well as useful for building templates—GatherContent also acts as a good place to keep your templates organised and in one place. This helps you avoid messy email attachments and server-based systems, and allows you to export your structured content directly into your CMS (saving you even more time and hassle at the content upload phase).
A few samples
If you’re on board with the idea of templates, but aren’t sure how to format them or get started, never fear. Here are a few sample templates I’ve used for my own projects. Notice that they focus on different elements, but also have some overlap.
Feel free to download and tweak them for your own projects:
A template for articles
A template for web pages
It’s time to tame the chaos
It’s time to put that chaos back in its place (which isn’t in your content project). And your next steps are pretty simple. To summarize:
- Download one of our sample templates or build one of your own.
- Decide what strategic elements, SEO elements, usability elements, and on-page content elements are relevant to your project.
- Work these into your new template. Remove anything unnecessary or irrelevant.
- Make your templates electronic so that you can keep everything in one place, stay organized, track progress, and eventually export everything into your new CMS.
- Deliver the templates to your team. Explain each element and why you’ve included it. Communicate deadlines and expectations and let them know where to find the templates and how to use and save them.
- Start creating and gathering content!
Any template tips you’d like to share? We’d love to know what you include in your content creation process!
This is a guest post by Gigi Griffis. Gigi is a content strategist and web writer specializing in travel, technology, education, non-profit, and wellness content. In 2010, she quit her agency job and started Content for Do-Gooders, where she helps clients solve messy content problems around the world. You should follow her on Twitter.
Photo credits: Christo de Klerk, JFA McNair.