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How to Create a “Content-Friendly” Product Workflow

By Momoko Price

Whenever I take on a new project, the first problem I usually have to deal with isn’t the content. It’s the workflow for creating the content.

Because more often than not … there isn’t one. Sigh.

Despite the fact that UX pros now advocate designing with real content, few digital teams think about content until after they’ve designed and built a prototype. As a result, copywriters like me are often brought in to “fix the copy” of an app or website once it’s 75 - 100% built.

Out of sheer necessity, I’ve learned the delicate art of implementing on-the-fly editorial workflows for all kinds of teams, from small startups to sprawling enterprises. It can be tricky, but once you’ve got a system that really works, the payoff in reduced stress, fewer revisions, and happier stakeholders (not to mention appreciative designers & developers) is HUGE.

Here are just a few simple tactics you can use to make web-app production workflows more content-friendly, even if you don’t have a content strategist on hand to help:

1. Create the role of “Editor.” Assign it to the best writer on your team.

Your developers are in charge of the code. Your designer is in charge of the design. Who’s in charge of the words?

… Exactly.

When you’re so familiar with your product you can click through it with your eyes closed, it’s all too easy to push features to production without actually reading any of the copy. This can result in instructions, prompts, and calls-to-action that are unclear, mistyped, or make no sense.

Someone needs to own the words in and around your product. You certainly don’t need to hire a full-time writer for this, but the official role of “actually giving a s--- about the words” has to belong to someone.

So: who’s it going to be?

2. Define what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ content is. Write it down. Share it with everyone.

If you don’t know how to distinguish good web content from bad, hire a savvy content strategist (A-hem!) to do a one-off assessment of your copy. Afterwards, you can repurpose their recommendations into a style guide your newly minted Editor — heck, your whole team — can rely on.

CONTENT STRATEGY TIP #1: One of my favourite content strategy hacks for larger teams is turning a list of writing do’s & don’ts into a Google Form, then getting people to check off all the list items whenever they edit, write, or proof a page.

I know, I know — it sounds totally anal .... but it works.

3. Add 2 new stages to your main production pipeline.

One will be for Content Creation (& Editing), and other for Content Proofing. Ideally, the Content Creation stage should precede the design phase, for a number of very good reasons. The Content Proofing stage should follow the design stage (i.e. your Editor should be proofreading PSDs with ACTUAL REAL content in them, so they can check for readability, fit & flow).

Avoid the temptation to isolate content from the rest of the production pipeline. I’ve come across project managers who put off integrating content into production until the last minute, out of fear that the added process will slow productivity.

In reality, scrutinizing content early on makes everything downstream run much more smoothly. And, for the record, I’ve never met a designer or developer who wasn’t delighted to work with real content once given the opportunity.

CONTENT STRATEGY TIP #2: Some stakeholders find it hard to assess content without some kind of visual layout. Use a lo-fi tool like Balsamiq to show how information & messaging will come together on the page without having to dive prematurely into in-depth page design.

4. Learn to recognize ALL words as “content” — and delegate accordingly.

One of the toughest parts about content strategy is dealing with “content blindness”: a widespread tendency to only recognize blog posts and marketing pages as “content”, and dismiss all other text (headers, buttons, form copy, menu items, etc.) as space-filling design elements or labels for a technical feature.

Don’t make this mistake.

Those bits & pieces of text — known as “microcopy” — are the signposts, instructions, motivators, and front-line customer-support reps of your website. They matter.

Thankfully, curing content blindness is easy. All you have to do is ask yourself one simple question whenever you’re considering a product change:

“Will this change affect any words in or around my product?”

If the answer is yes: Get your Editor involved and fix those pesky content issues first, not last.

Otherwise, take it from me ... they may come back to haunt you.

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